Exploring Perceptions of Key Events in a Qualitative Research Class: Applying Some Principles of Collaborative Analytic Inquiry in Practice
The Qualitative Report
Key Events in a Research Class: of C ollaborative A pplying So m e A nalytic Inquir y in
Janet C. Richards 0 1 2
Qualitative Report 0 1 2
0 Richards, J. C., & Haberlin, S. (2017). Exploring Perceptions of Key Events in a Qualitative Research Class: Applying Some Principles
1 University of South Florida , USA
2 Janet C. Richards and Steve Haberlin University of South Florida , Tampa, Florida , USA
Part of the Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies Commons Recommended APA Citation of Collaborative Analytic Inquiry in Practice. Th e Qualitative Report, 22(12), 3139-3153. Retrieved from http://nsuworks.nova.edu/ tqr/vol22/iss12/4
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Exploring Perceptions of Key Events in a Qualitative Research Class:
Applying Some Principles of Collaborative Analytic Inquiry in Practice
Little research portrays collaborative analytic inquiry in practice. Drawing on our dual lenses, we, a professor
and a doctoral student in an advanced qualitative methods course, applied principles of collaborative analytic
inquiry to construct new understandings about key events that occurred during an advanced qualitative
research class. Using asynchronous e-mail communication, we shared, affirmed, and questioned each other’s
and our own storied recollections of moments of joy and learning intertwined with some challenging issues.
To begin our inquiry, we planned and negotiated our responsibilities, voiced our concerns and questions
pertinent to the project, and avowed our willingness to risk emotional vulnerability and discomfort as we
confronted our truths. We also studied the extant literature to learn about analytic inquiry since our work,
followed some tenets of this research method. We conducted our work in three phases. In the third phase of
our study we documented what we believed were significant, problematic issues in the course and responded
to each other’s and our own assumptions. Our reflections helped us establish the value of collaborative
analytic inquiry to create space for self-study. In the process of our work we came to recognize that the broad
themes in our research, although not generalizable, might occur in any teaching context.
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This article is available in The Qualitative Report: http://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol22/iss12/4
Exploring Perceptions of Key Events in a Qualitative Research
Class: Applying Some Principles of Collaborative Analytic
Inquiry in Practice
Little research portrays collaborative analytic inquiry in practice. Drawing on
our dual lenses, we, a professor and a doctoral student in an advanced
qualitative methods course, applied principles of collaborative analytic inquiry
to construct new understandings about key events that occurred during an
advanced qualitative research class. Using asynchronous e-mail
communication, we shared, affirmed, and questioned each other’s and our own
storied recollections of moments of joy and learning intertwined with some
challenging issues1. To begin our inquiry, we planned and negotiated our
responsibilities, voiced our concerns and questions pertinent to the project, and
avowed our willingness to risk emotional vulnerability and discomfort as we
confronted our truths. We also studied the extant literature to learn about
analytic inquiry since our work, followed some tenets of this research method.
We conducted our work in three phases. In the third phase of our study we
documented what we believed were significant, problematic issues in the course
and responded to each other’s and our own assumptions. Our reflections helped
us establish the value of collaborative analytic inquiry to create space for
selfstudy. In the process of our work we came to recognize that the broad themes
in our research, although not generalizable, might occur in any teaching
context. Keywords: Collaborative Analytic Inquiry, Key Events,
MeaningMaking, Qualitative Methods Course
Truth is not to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born
between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic
interaction. (Bakhtin, 1984, p. 110)
We are a professor of an advanced qualitative research course (Janet) and a doctoral
student in the class (Steve). In this paper we describe how we employed some principles of
collaborative analytic inquiry and asynchronous e-mail communication to respond to each
other’s and our own recollections of key events that occurred throughout the semester. Our
partnership took place immediately after the semester ended when our impressions of events
remained vivid and we could look back on our experiences to “recall, consider, and reconsider
(Rubinstein-Avila & Maranzana, 2015, p. 245)
(also see Hickson, 2011)
Inviting a Fellow Traveler to Join the Inquiry
Knowing inquiry is a knowledge-building journey, as the professor of the class, I (Janet)
was committed to reflexively uncovering and considering key events in the class that were
1 Note: all student names are pseudonyms.
sometimes troubling to me and perhaps students in the class. I considered this venture as a type
of self-study because I recognized I needed to know more about my performance as a teacher
of qualitative research. But, I needed a way of seeing beyond my own views- a sounding board
–another voice and fellow traveler – some “other” to help me in my journey of coming to know.
Therefore, I invited Steve to engage with me in the research to provide insights only available
through collaboration. A number of reasons prompted me to ask him to join me in the study. I
knew Steve well. He was a doctoral student in two of my qualitative courses. He was keenly
interested in research, had good observation skills, and regularly e-mailed me his impressions
of significant moments in the advanced qualitative class. I recognized we would make good
partners and I trusted his insights. We also have similar writing styles. We write to see what
happens, to come to know, to discover, rather than plan out everything ahead of time. And, we
trust ourselves to find our way in our writing journey. Equally important, Steve had his own
concerns about course events to untangle and sort out. Thus, I believed our teamwork would
benefit both of us.
Why Collaborative Analytic Inquiry?
Scholars characterize inquiries along a continuum. For example, at the emotive end of
the spectrum, evocative researchers bridge the gap between the aesthetic and biography. They
write stories about highly emotional personal experiences, such as loss and pain that “move the
reader to feel the feelings of the other”
(Ellis & Bochner, 2000, p. 744)
. Falling on the analytic
side of the scale, other researchers engage in a style of exploration that is more cognitive and
useful for purposeful analysis of events
(Ngunjiri, Hernandez, & Chang, 2010)
. Our aim was
to explore, and make sense of our perceptions of significant incidents in a qualitative research
class. Therefore, considering our research as a type of self-study, we deemed it appropriate to
turn to a more traditional form of self-reflection and writing. “There are many ways analysis
via self-study may be accomplished, and the term collaborative analytic inquiry applies to such
To structure our analysis, we used the following principles set forth by
. We participated in critical reflection, presented philosophical perspectives to support
our inquiry, and reflexively dialogued with each other. However, when we neared the
conclusion of our journey, we made a decision to forgo what
the finale. In keeping with our postmodern philosophical orientations, we considered it
inappropriate to develop and present theoretical understandings of our discoveries and
understandings to broader social phenomena. Along with
Ellis and Bochner (2006)
, we have
difficulties making positivist statements about the world, or producing theory from any form
of qualitative research. Adhering to
Ellis and Bochner’s (2006)
claim, we believe there are
many truths and consequently we want to “encourage multiple perspectives, unsettled
meanings, and plural voices” (p. 438). Thus, we cannot reach conclusions “about the human
condition or something that holds true for all people at all time”
(Ellis & Bochner, 2006, p.
. However, we admit while our discoveries are situated within our own contextual
experiences, similar occurrences might hold true in the context of the larger social and cultural
landscape. For example, student-student and student-teacher interactions are often fraught with
tension in every teaching/learning context.
Writing as Inquiry
Throughout our journey of self in relationship with each other we were mindful of
Richardson and St. Pierre’s (2005) powerful view of “writing as inquiry.” Writing and
informally talking about our writing with each other (e.g., prior to class, a few phone
conversations, a meeting in Janet’s home), forced us to make our thinking transparent and
exposed our socially constructed beliefs and values as they applied to our realities. Writing also
allowed us to confront our vulnerabilities by reconsidering and questioning our personal
perspectives about the moments and dynamics we considered important in the class
Adams, Holman Jones, & Ellis, 2015; Sawyer, Norris, & Lund 2012)
. Interpreted through
Deleuze and Guattari’s (2004) notions of rhizomes (i.e., a continually growing root system),
our writing partnership helped us consider fresh viewpoints and opened up new entry points
concerning our perceptions and beliefs
. Consequently, as we wrote, we
gained insights that served as a vantage point heuristic to help us understand each other and
ourselves. In other words, our shared communication served as a source of raw material for our
Taking First Steps
At the close of the semester, prior to initiating the inquiry, we spent approximately a
month exchanging e-mails about how to structure the study. We collected our thoughts about
our research efforts, delineated responsibilities, and discussed issues of concern.
Janet: Those who engage in collaborative inquiry speak about the importance of finding
“the right fellow traveler”
(Chang, Ngunjiri, & Hernandez, 2013)
. Steve, I know you and I will
be great fellow travelers. We’re both captivated by qualitative research and we’re avid writers
with similar writing behaviors. We already have a good working relationship - you as my
student and I as your professor in two qualitative research classes. And we both want to revisit
and make sense of events that took place in the advanced qualitative class. But, we still need
to make sure we know “the rules” of what we call “collaborative analytic inquiry,” and apply
these ideas to our study.
states, “It is…somewhat surprising that with a few
notable exceptions… almost all qualitative studies have tended not to make explicit… the ways
in which co-authors work together” (p. xviii). Let’s heed what Gershon says. Without a doubt
our separate realities and interpretations of events may vary. So, as a first step, we need to
consider and make explicit how we will react if one of us challenges the other’s interpretations
Steve: I agree we’ll work well together because we already have formed a good
relationship this past year in two qualitative classes. To tell the truth, I don’t know how we’ll
work out any differences we may have until we have to work out our differences. But, I’m
not concerned about challenging each other. I have confidence we can work things out. Yet,
we do need to find out more info about inquiry. I want to read more -learn from those who have
traveled this road before us. For instance,
Martinez and Andreatta (2015)
offer some good
points in their analytic collaborative autoethnography. They wrote separate autoethnographies,
read each other’s stories, asked questions, and honestly answered those questions. We don’t
plan to write an autoethnography. Our work is not autoethnographic. but I have confidence
we’ll be honest.
Janet: I like the part you wrote about honesty- honesty as we each know it according to
our perceptions of the world. Now, as
advises, I want to share some more
questions and concerns I have prior to beginning our collaboration. How much should we/can
we each reveal about ourselves to each other? Does being honest mean telling all? For example,
cautioned two students who contributed to her work to not share anything they
would later regret “because they might be concerned about how… their professor, saw them”
(p. 20). Yet, I think we have to reveal a considerable amount about our beliefs and perceptions
to ensure this inquiry is honest and trustworthy. However, being honest might impact our
emotional vulnerability. We’ve got to be aware of vulnerability and still speak the truth. It’s an
act of faith.
Another big issue we’ve got to figure out is how we can disclose what we each perceive
as key events in the class when significant moments, in all probability, will often involve
students in the class. Ethically my concern is the involuntary participation of study participants.
describes this dilemma as “situational ethics” arising from moments in the field
that require researchers to act from their hearts and minds and acknowledge their interpersonal
bonds to others” (p. 4). It is almost inevitable students will be “implicated in our stories”
(Chang, Ngunjiri, & Hernandez, 2013, p. 13)
. If and when that happens we have to delete all
mention of events tied to these students, or we need to get students’ permission to involve them
in our inquiry. Perhaps we might use pseudonyms. That might work. We don’t need to submit
an Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocol because the IRB doesn’t consider this study as
research since it involves our own perceptions. But we need to be especially cautious with what
we reveal, as there are always ethical tensions in qualitative research connected to the
confidentiality and privacy of study participants. IRB Human Subjects Guidelines note that
invasion and/or privacy or breach of confidentiality can be ethically wrong or present risk of
harm to participants. For instance, I worry participants might be alienated from friends, lose
jobs, or feel embarrassed or guilty. I also have a concern that makes me think of the
argues power is relationships - meaning power
determines relationships at any given time. I dislike acknowledging this because it sounds
hubristic but, whether we consciously admit this or not, as the instructor of the course, I am the
one who has power since you are a student. Because of power differentials, I might dominate
the inquiry and repress your voice. I worry you will keep silent about how I, as the professor
of the course, might have contributed to some of the low points and challenges in the semester.
Please don't think you’ll hurt my feelings if you speak the truth as you see it. One last comment:
might the blending of our separate voices be misread as a narcissistic, navel gazing partnership?
How do we guard against self-absorbed solipsism?
Steve: I, too, am concerned about the involuntary inclusion of students in the class. Yet,
how do we give detailed accounts of key events without implicating them in the process?
) advice on “ethical proofreading” can help. Prior to publishing
qualitative research, she suggests reviewing the article’s language to ensure it is descriptive as
opposed to judgmental, providing context for unflattering descriptions, and asking some of the
participants to read the manuscript to check for accuracy and provide feedback. She also
suggests researchers should review the article’s language to ensure it is descriptive as opposed
to judgmental, provide context for unflattering descriptions, and ask some of the participants
to read the manuscript to check for accuracy and provide feedback. We engaged in member
checking by e-mailing a copy of the article to participants, of which only one replied. The
participant held some different perspectives (e.g., students that should be highlighted in the
writing) but generally agreed with our depiction of the course experiences. Besides all of these
checkpoints, let’s make sure to remove certain material, or provide amorphous accounts to
avoid implicating students. One of the positives of a collaboration is we have each other to
crosscheck these ethical decisions.
Of course, power does play a part in this collaboration. I will do my best to be truthful
with my reflections. Though, I must admit I worry slightly about having my voice repressed in
this process. As we move along in the piece will my “writing voice” be suppressed, or molded
to fit your writing style, or preference? But, power, as
argued, is not simply a
negative or repressive thing that makes us do things against our wishes. Power can serve as a
productive, positive force. In our writing collaboration, I believe the power you possess as my
professor will probably entice me to work harder, write better, improve my skills, and push me
out of my comfort zone---and I believe this process has already begun. And, I think our best
defense against solipsism is to make sense of our individual and collective narratives but also
help provide meaning, depth, and value for others who might read this work.
Moving Forward on the Journey: Studying the Extant Literature: Phase Two
Once we figured out our responsibilities and made a pact to be honest, even if honesty
caused us discomfort, our next step was to determine how we might proceed. Therefore, we
carefully studied the extant literature and collaborated on what information to include. Since
there is not sufficient information about what collaborative analytic inquiry entails, our mission
was to learn as much as we could about a methodology in which researchers engage in analysis
of a community to which they belong. Accordingly, we read Carolyn Ellis’ writings on
autoethnography (2004, 2007, 2009) and Ellis and Bochner’s Communication as
Autoethnography (2006). In addition, we studied Laurel Richardson’s
(Richardson & St.
Denzin’s work (1989
), and chapters in Holman Jones, Adams, and
Ellis’s Handbook of Autoethnography (2013) that briefly mentions and minimally describes
analytic autoethnography. We also examined Chang, Ngunjiri, and Hernandez’s (2013)
informative text, Collaborative Autoethnography in which they offer tantalizing tidbits about
analytic inquiry. Then, concentrating solely on collaborative inquiry, we read Gates’ (2014),
paper entitled, Un/comfortable Collaborative Inquiry. Gates discusses pitfalls of collaborative
inquiry, such as being afraid to tell the truth because the truth may be painful to a writing
partner and withholding views on points of disagreement so as not to offend a co-writer. We
also learned collaborative inquiry has possibilities for deep discussion and opportunities for
challenging a writing partner’s existing ideas beliefs and therefore offers generative
possibilities and shared understanding
As we continued to discuss Leon Anderson’s (2006) article entitled “Analytic
Autoethnography,” we recognized his ideas characterized some dimensions of our work as we
envisioned it. For example, we were full members of the research community and planned to
be visible in the study. We also intended to engage in critical reflexivity that would lead us to
deeper levels of analysis and meaning making
(see Chang, Ngunjiri, & Hernandez, 2013)
only philosophical concern was the final step proposed by
- linking what we
discovered about ourselves and others to wider cultural, political, and social concerns
Adams et al., 2015; Anderson, 2006)
. Instead, we sought to reflect postmodern practices by
regarding our experiences as unique to our context. However, at the same time, we also
recognized the larger discourses and practices of our world might be applicable to other
teaching situations. Our readings also helped us recognize that (1) two theoretical perspectives
particularly situated and supported our inquiry interdisciplinary symbolic interactionism with
postmodern propensities (Bochner & Ellis, 2001); and, (2) the discipline of phenomenology
that in part studies an individual’s lived experiences (i.e., phenomena) from a first-person point
(Bayne & Montague, 2011)
. In the following section we briefly describe these
philosophical approaches and connect their ideas to our research.
Introduced by George Herbert Mead in the 1920s, symbolic interactionism asserts
human beings act in a manner that matches their interpretation of the meaning of their world.
As individuals interact within their social context they generate meaning in relationship to what
(Carlson, 2013; Reynolds, 2003)
. Succinctly stated, the meaning people make
of things emerges from social interaction with others. Symbolic interaction theory addresses
the subjective meanings people impose on objects, events, and behaviors. Subjective meanings
are significant because it is believed people behave based according to what they believe and
not just on what is objectively true. These meanings are addressed and modified through an
interpretive process. In particular, symbolic interactionism offers a pivotal assumption that
embodies collaborative inquiry - the importance of social interaction.
) phenomenological philosophy, phenomenology emphasizes
the meaning people make of their lived experiences and strives to understand their perceptions
of lived experiences
(Bartholomew, Gundel, & Kantamneni, 2015)
. Calling it “descriptive
psychology,” Husserl positioned phenomenological work as a systematic study of the content
of one’s experiences
(Kaüfer & Chemero, 2015)
. Exemplary phenomenological researchers
possess open, curious minds that blend meaning of experience, psychology, and the content of
study participants’ conscious expressions
(Bartholomew, Gundel, & Kantamneni, 2015;
. As Finlay (2014) sees it, the challenge for researchers is to go beyond what they
already think they know, and “remain open to new understandings” (p. 122). In essence,
researchers must “bracket” aside their habitual understanding. In this way, researchers develop
a persona of openness, a capacity to be surprised and aware of unexpected and unpredictable
(Dahlberg, Dahlberg, & Nystrom, 2008)
. Consequently, rather than entering our
relationship with preconceived notions, as collaborative inquirers we must keep an open mind
to what might emerge from our own reflections and individual and collective interpretations of
Turning Inward: Studying Ourselves: Phase Three
Janet: Now we’ve entered phase three of the inquiry Steve and crossed what
and Guattari (2004)
call a plateau, emphasizing that a plateau is always in the middle of what
one is trying to accomplish. In this final phase, we move on and study our perceptions of key
events in the course. I’d like us to begin with the text I chose. My thinking was (and is) that I
needed to make a radical shift and offer my advanced qualitative students some theoretical
ideas beyond constant comparative methods to analyze data. I chose post-structuralist theories
because they provide theory to support one’s research.
But, the post-structuralist philosophies of Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, and the like, were
difficult for me to understand unless I engaged in considerable repeated, close readings. I
worried constantly that students hated this text and were sorry they had to purchase it because
they could not get any meaning from it. Perhaps other faculty worry about the texts they choose.
Other than Samuel, the brilliant, young man who seemed to know everything about the
poststructuralists, until mid-semester, students in our class struggled to comprehend each chapter.
But by mid-semester, they included notions, and theories from the text in their mini research
projects and by the end of the semester, all students inserted concepts from the text into their
presentations. Regardless, I messed up because I did not offer sufficient guidance early in the
semester. Looking back, I expected students to read and understand the text on their own. My
expectations were too high.
Steve: I certainly don’t believe you “messed up.” As
notes, the idea of
learning through experience can be described as the art of being present and the willingness to
get in touch with our worlds. What would be worse is, as a professor of the class, you remained
ignorant of the fact that students struggled and needed your help early in the semester--- or you
dismissed the notion that students at the doctoral level even needed assistance, that they should
be able to figure it out on their own. Rather, you are now in a position to take what you learned
regarding the text and use it to better teach incoming students in your next advanced qualitative
class. You wanted to keep students on the cutting edge of the field, and anytime you push the
limits, you risk challenges and the inevitably learning curve. But I’m not implying students
should not struggle in their studies.
Janet: Steve, remember, you can’t hold back your thoughts, like
about. You did give me a different way of looking at my actions. But seriously, how did you
feel about the text? Remember, we already discussed Foucault’s ideas about power and
relationships. You can and must be honest with me. We need to look deeply into ourselves to
discover our innermost thoughts, so we see where “those thoughts might take us, separately
(Wyatt, Gale, Gannon, & Davies, 2011, p. 134)
Steve: You’re right. My biggest challenges during the course involved making sense of
Jackson and Mazzei (2012)
text and comprehending the post-structural theorists and
figuring out how to implement this knowledge in research. But it’s not because you didn’t help
us understand the ideas. When I first read the text, it felt like I was reading in a foreign
language; the ideas were completely alien to me. The authors contend that in using the theorists’
ideas on power, gender, desire, and other concepts, one could graduate from traditional
approaches to data analysis, such as constant comparative methods and interpret the data
through the lens of these philosophers to gain much richer meaning. The problem was that, as
an emerging scholar, I was still gaining familiarity with constant comparative methods and not
quite ready to embrace the “next best thing.” Second, I was unfamiliar with the theorists in the
text. Therefore, how could I analyze data through their eyes when I really didn’t understand
what they wanted me to see? After many close readings and class discussions, including one
with an awesome guest lecturer you invited--a professor who employed post-structural analysis
in his work-- I began to grasp the concepts. I even used
) ideas when
scrutinizing data for my third mini-inquiry. By the last day of the course, I actually felt like I
had a decent understanding of how to use post-structuralist ideas in my work. I truly believe
most everyone seemed much more comfortable with post-structural ideas and how to use them.
You pushed us out of our comfort zones and, though it was challenging and took time, learning
took place. Research suggests students engage higher levels of engagement and learning when
faculty members challenge students academically, and value enriching educational experiences
(Umbach & Wawrzynski, 2005)
. And the final presentations showed a quantum leap in our
thinking level/data analysis...what a difference from the start of the course. As scholars
question the level of rigor in college classrooms, for learning and growth to happen in
academia, students must experience some type of challenge, questioning of assumptions,
struggle with understanding and dissonance (Campbell & Dortch, in press). Nevertheless,
Janet, I think professors might worry that if they challenge students too much, course
evaluations will suffer.
Janet: You are right about professors being concerned about their course evaluations.
But I still think I could have done better. As I’ve said in class, I don’t consider
poststructuralism as “the next best thing.” Rather, post-structuralism is just one of a number of
ways (along with constant comparative methods) to analyze data. For example, some scholars
believe constant comparative methods do not tell the entire story of an inquiry because this
data analysis approach looks for what is and ignores what is not (of course no inquiry can reveal
the complete story). Anyway, I now use “post” theories and concepts when appropriate, to
support ideas and statements I make in my research. Now think about these questions. How
might I have met Samuel’s learning needs? What was the biggest issue you for you in the class?
Did you hear other students complaining about the text? Maybe I worry about my students too
Steve: Your question regarding Samuel’s learning needs made me smile and think of
the elementary gifted students I teach. Like Samuel, they are far advanced intellectually, but
must often “suffer” through the curriculum at the same pace as classmates; I think this is unfair.
Samuel, and students like him, would benefit from the principles laid out by
student’s Bill of Rights (gifted or otherwise). Among these rights, students need access to a
rigorous, complex, and challenging curriculum and should be able to accelerate through the
curriculum at an appropriate pace. In addition, they should have choices in what to study and
how to pursue that learning. For Samuel, this might involve studying post-structuralist theorists
or theoretical frameworks with which he was unfamiliar or wanted to further explore for
dissertation purposes. It could mean asking him if he would like to assist in the instruction of
the course—he would have been a wonderful tutor for students struggling to understand the
text. Of course, these are merely suggestions. My “biggest” issue in class also related to a lack
of differentiation. At times, the overall pacing of the course felt too slow me. It felt like I was
always waiting…waiting for classmates to finish their work, waiting for them to present—so I
could present again. Personally, I wanted to move faster, to learn more, present more, and share
more. Unfortunately, the situation reminded me of research suggesting advanced students often
spend a quarter to half the school day waiting for classmates to catch up
(Webb & Latimer,
. It’s frustrating since I didn’t have control over how fast the course moved, or the
curriculum, and I didn’t want to say anything to you since I might upset or offend you. So, I
slowed myself down to meet the pace of the class. While completing a fourth inquiry project
would be challenging given time constraints, I wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea—since it
would allow me to further refine my skills. Nevertheless, this would have caused problems for
others in the class who were trying to meet the minimum requirements. Oh yes, I heard a few
complaints about the text but not many. Classmates said it was just too hard to understand. At
least one student said she needed to learn more about the basics of data analysis (i.e., constant
comparative methods) rather than spend time on “post” endeavors. But not to worry—anytime
you challenge students, there’s sure to be some kickback, some resistance.
Janet: You mention how some students slowed you down. I agree that this was a BIG
issue with me - they slowed down other students and me too. That happens sometimes in the
advanced qualitative course because students have varying experiences in the prerequisite
class. My opinion is that some learn a lot, and some don’t and those who lack prerequisite
understanding need a review. However, in our class there were not only some students with
varying learning experiences and understanding. A few were unmotivated students. They were
often late to class and they were absent too much. In fact, Maya, the student who sat next to
me in class, whispered to me one night, “Dr. R., too many students are always late.”
So, that’s the night I made this announcement – “Students are complaining that other
students are often late. Please attend class on time.” But the late students continued to be late;
they did not seem concerned about my announcement. They continued to be late.
Steve, do you notice a pattern here with me? I do. Writing to enact these memories
helps me make sense of my attitudes and behaviors in class. In my mind’s eye I can even see
myself in the classroom, where I stood, where I sat- what I said. And now I am remembering
another inquiry I conducted in which I discovered I wanted all my qualitative methods students
to be happy and I trusted them to do their best
. It appears I don’t want to be
the “bad guy." Actually, Maya mentioned that I’m too nice. But do I have to stand with an
attendance sheet in my hand, and mark people present, absent, and late? Maybe I do have to
take attendance. As I write this I had another thought. When one student (more than once) kept
looking at a personal laptop computer screen I knew that student wasn’t taking notes. That
student was reading and responding to e-mail. I know this because I walked over and stood
behind the student. But did I say anything?? No, I did not! Notice the pattern? As I write this
I’m annoyed with my behavior. I am not a wimp at all. I am confident and outspoken, but I am
also caring of my students. I think many faculty struggle with these disparate feelings.
Sometimes caring about students can be difficult
. And when you care a
lot you make some mistakes, like I did. I let inappropriate behavior go on. And, in retrospect,
I know I did not show the feelings I had when a few students acted like they didn’t care. Again,
I turn to Foucault —if I have the power, I must use it wisely. Good teachers hold students
Steve: Yes, I remember the night you reminded students to show up on time. I thought,
“Wait, aren’t we doctoral students? Should she really have to remind us of the class starting
I understand people are busy; things come up. But habitual lateness was certainly a
problem. I think there is such a thing as “being too nice.” Since I am a teacher of young
children, this is something I had to learn as well. Perhaps it is human nature for others to take
advantage of one’s kindness. The challenge is you want to be nice and want your students to
be happy, yet you must be firm. To further understand your dilemma, I read
Control Theory (1969
), which posits all people have a tendency toward deviancy unless they
feel strong bonds to a community. Maybe some of the students (particularly ones that had not
taken your prerequisite class) failed to feel a connection to the classroom community, to each
other, and/or yourself? Seeing we only spent a few hours together a week, a bond might not
have been established. I definitely did not feel the camaraderie experienced during the
prerequisite course I took with you the previous semester where for some reason the students
“jelled.” While wanting your students to be happy and feel supported, perhaps this is translating
–or at least being perceived by students- as lower expectations, which can result in less
supportive teacher-student relationships
(Demanet & Van Houtte, 2012)
. According to Social
Control Theory, these non-cohesive relations lead to less-than-desirable behavior, which is
what you experienced with your students during the course.
One thing that especially bothered me also involved that particular student—let’s call
him Shawn—whom I perceived as acting disrespectful to you and classmates. For instance,
when you spoke, or students presented their inquiries, he had his head buried into his laptop,
presumably typing e-mails or writing papers for other classes (though, as a researcher, I should
not speculate). Judging from his facial expressions and lack of participation in discussions,
Shawn had no interest in being there. Worse, when he presented projects, he “talked more about
himself. Since Shawn tainted every topic with his self-interests, so many opportunities for
learning were lost. For example, during a presentation about an ethnography Shawn and his
project partner had read, Shawn bashed the book, simply saying he totally disagreed with the
perspective of the author. Rather, as a student of qualitative research, I had hoped we would
discuss the author’s methodology including participation observation, note-taking, and data
analysis. While normally a patient person, I found my patience wearing thin on more than one
Actually, I don’t think Shawn meant to purposely annoy or frustrate classmates. As
notes, “sometimes it feels as if the accused person is actually thinking, ‘If I do this
particularly obnoxious thing, I will ruin someone’s day’ but, in all honesty, this is probably not
the case” (p. 12). Nonetheless, this kind of student can harm the overall morale of the class and
make change the dynamics of the class. And as a student myself, what can I do about it? If I
say something to this student, it would just create hard feelings, possibly backfire, and possibly
make others uncomfortable. As the instructor of the class, I suppose you could be “harder” on
this student—but, likewise, it could create animosity or a negative environment.
Janet: I wished every week Shawn would shape up by himself but that didn’t happen.
would tell me I did not use my knowledge and power wisely with Shawn.
Therefore, I failed Shawn and the entire class. I’ve got to remember – with knowledge and
power come responsibilities, and I have to accept those responsibilities. I needed to meet with
Shawn early in the semester and set some boundaries.
Steve: I now also notice a pattern with me. While I learned much during the course, my
high points during this time—as well as much learning-- actually emanated from outside
activities related to class. For instance, after several weeks into the course, you asked me to
present one of my projects (an oral history I wrote) to students in a beginning qualitative class.
Following my presentation, I can remember your exact words. You told students, “Steve’s only
in his second semester as a doctorate student. He has an affinity for qualitative research.”
Honestly, I enjoyed the praise—and the experience validated for me that I had produced
high-quality work. The opportunity to share my work provided other benefits. I had to prepare
for the presentation. This meant deciding how to arrange my material-what to leave in, what to
take out—what visual aids to utilize (I settled on black and white images to produce the right
tone), and how to package my presentation via PowerPoint. The experience also honed my
public speaking skills—I reminded myself to make eye contact, speak clearly, and smile. In
addition, I had to field questions from the audience.
A second-high point came when you asked me to collaborate on projects, such as the
arts-based inquiry I had initiated on my own, as well as this inquiry. I believed at this point in
the course I had made major strides in my ability as a qualitative researcher; I knew
instinctively if you-- someone who prolifically published research-- respected my work enough
to want to become part of it, then I had truly reached a new level. The idea of collaborating
with the instructor on an inquiry excited and inspired me. These outside activities pushed my
abilities and learning way beyond classroom learning. For instance, for this collaborative
autoethnography, I read books on the subject and immersed myself in the genre. I have revised
and edited with you. I have received personalized feedback and guidance, which does not
normally happen within the confines of the classroom. Actually, I have learned as much or
more from you outside of class as I have within it. I wish I had more opportunities to work with
other faculty outside of class. But small or individual group mentoring never seems to
happen. Yet, prominent scholars such as
describe the immense influence
professors have on their academic and personal lives through close mentorship and spending
additional time with doctoral students.
Janet: You’re correct. Students usually learn more from authentic interactions and
experiences with a more advanced “other.” For example, consider
) Zone of
Proximal Development. And—I just had a thought—in a way our writing together in this
inquiry embodies Vygotsky’s developmental theory. I learned from you – you learned from
me. Through our recollections we provided space for our own thoughts opinions, and questions
to emerge. Therefore, we are each other’s more knowledgeable other. Now it’s time to make
more sense of our work.
Steve: I make sense of our work in these ways. Perhaps I suffered from extremely high
(unrealistic?) expectations. I wanted to progress faster through the course and I expected
classmates to do the same. Since I was able to fairly easily complete three, authentic
miniresearch projects, I expected others to follow my lead. My expectations failed to consider that
students learn at different rates and speeds, and those in the class, possessed varying levels of
experience. And, despite the post-structuralists’ theories being difficult for even you to
comprehend, you (perhaps unrealistically) expected your students to grasp the material. I recall
you stating that even some of your colleagues in the qualitative field questioned your lofty
goals with post-structuralist theories. Not only did students have to apply these higher-level
concepts in their research but also as you stated, you “expected students to read and understand
the text on their own.”
Janet: Steve, I believe you are right. I do expect my students to rise to the occasion. I
have hubristic tendencies and have published previously about my hubris as a professor of a
qualitative #1 class. I think, “If I can do it- surely my students can do it also.” So, I need to be
aware of my over confident, brash proclivities. On the other hand, I learned through your
description of Shawn’s behavior in class, I needed to take action and not be a wimp. As you
mentioned, there is a possibility he was not aware of his impolite actions and retorts. He needed
some help and guidance and I failed to provide support. I only remember being mad at him and
doing nothing about his behavior and negative attitude.
Ending the Journey
Janet: We’re at the end of our journey for now Steve. I know we revealed our honest
feelings and perceptions. Our work is trustworthy. The data are authentic. We followed reliable
collaborative processes and showed these processes clearly. In particular, writing back and
forth to each other enabled us to challenge each other’s views and assumptions and consider
and reconsider our thinking. We documented our perceptions of key events in the class. We
read and read our accounts, pinpointing words and phrases that illuminated the specifics of the
event. We discussed our individual and joint interpretations and incidences. In addition, we
presented this work at an informal qualitative symposium. In the audience were five of my
colleagues and some doctoral students ---one was Samuel, the student in the class we discuss
in this paper. All agreed on the verisimilitude of our work. We also sent this paper to members
of the class and Maya wrote back that she thought out work was “spot on.” She also cautioned
us about not revealing too much about Shawn, so we removed a few descriptors about him. We
made our thinking transparent to help others understand collaborative analytic inquiry in
practice. We also followed ethical steps to protect others presented in our work, analyzed and
interpreted the meaning of our personal experiences, and included extant literature
Adams, & Buchner 2011)
. Now I am going to bring up the topic of generalizability again. You
know scholars such as
Ellis and Bochner (2006)
believe it is inappropriate for any qualitative
study to produce theory that is generalizable. I was awake last night worrying about Anderson’s
(2006) assertion that analytic inquiry should produce theory. As you know I’ve been dragging
my feet about this final phase of our collaboration. Now I’ve made a decision that makes me
comfortable and I wonder if you feel the same way. Making broad conclusions that emanate
from our work just did not seem right to me. I reject this positivistic goal.
Ellis and Bochner
say there will always be an assumption on the part of a few qualitative researchers that
“one must go beyond particular and immediate experience… to reach some conclusion about
the human condition or something that holds true for all people all of the time” (p. 438). I have
to say I agree with Ellis and Bochner. And even
himself notes not all
qualitative research is explicitly or self-consciously committed to addressing general
Steve: Janet I agree with you. I, too, read and reread the opposite arguments presented
Ellis and Bochner (2006)
, and I always believed our original intent
was to engage in a discussion to make greater meaning of our experiences, to sort things out –
not to produce theory that generalize. I never once thought we intended to have the final word.
We employed the following principles of analytic collaborative autoethnography because of
our research aim - to explore issues related to an advanced qualitative class through self-study
rather than to intentionally ponder emotional experiences.
Janet: It’s interesting Steve that you mention emotional experiences. Now, as I look
back on what I was feeling during some parts of the class, I realize, (although as I stated I never
showed this in class), I felt hurt and betrayed by students who habitually came late to class and
by a student’s rude behavior. This collaborative writing as inquiry with you brought these
feelings to the forefront. I also now know I have to change my way of dealing with recalcitrant
students. I cannot ignore them, cross my fingers, and wish for the best. I have to take action.
So, to summarize, we employed some principles of collaborative analytic inquiry
because of our research aim - to explore issues related to an advanced qualitative class through
self-study. Specifically, we engaged in the following practices in three phases:
Phase 1: Prior to writing we engaged in considerable face-to-face and asynchronous
email reflection and discussion. We also considered possible impediments to our partnership
since it entailed a student/teacher relationship, which we knew might cause power role
Phase 2: We turned to the extant literature and reflected about the differences between
analytic autoethnography and collaborative analytic inquiry. We concluded we needed to
support the study through ideas residing in collaborative inquiry
Phase 3: We conducted the study by discussing our individual notions of key events
in the class. Then we wrote back and forth to each other, engaging in reciprocal dialogue to
make sense of the events. We also checked and summarized our collaborative analytic
processes. As we neared the end of our work, we had an epiphany. We recognized we could
continue to reject a positivist notion about generalizing our discoveries as a final truth. Yet at
the same time, we could acknowledge human behavior and emotions are universal and are
influenced by social context (Wolff, June 2017, personal communication).
Steve: So, you are correct, Janet. We both believe there are no fixed truths. There are
only multiple forms of knowing that often are modified over time and with experiences. This
brings to mind
Deleuze and Guattari’s (2004)
use of the term rhizome you mentioned
previously in this work. Rhizome refers to concepts and understandings that are always open,
reversible, and modifiable, like the discoveries we made in our research. As
suggested, no mode of inquiry can offer “anything approaching absolute certitude” (n p). Our
collaborative analytic inquiry upholds Dewey’s views.
Janet: True, Steve. Our perceptions of class experiences, such as: a) some
students’ disruptive behavior; b) my reluctance to directly confront these students; c) my not
meeting Samuel’s learning needs, and; d) not providing sufficient guidance to students about
our textbook and your feeling slowed down in the class by other students were context specific.
However, we also acknowledge (and research on group dynamics affirms this), there is a
universality in the nature of difficult behavior in groups
. So, yes, as the final
step in our inquiry we did not generalize our discoveries to wider social phenomena. However,
we came to recognize the broad themes in our research represent phenomena that might apply
to other learning contexts.
Janet Richards is a professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning and affiliate
faculty in Educational Measurement at the University of South Florida. She is senior editor of
Literacy Research and Practice and teaches qualitative research courses, including arts-based
research. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to:
Steven Haberlin, a former teacher of gifted elementary students, is a second year
doctoral student in the Department of Elementary Education at the University of South Florida
where he is pursuing Certification in qualitative research methods. Correspondence regarding
this article can be addressed directly to: .
Copyright 2017 Janet C. Richards, Steve Haberlin, and Nova Southeastern University.
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