Monday, January 12, 2015

Decisions, Decisions...

When it comes to using technology for qualitative research, I'm sold. I'm an early adopter of so many tools as it is, and there are many areas of my life where technology has made my work more efficient. It seems obvious that I would integrate technology as much as possible in my research. But when it comes to making decisions about the tools to use to start my qualitative research and data analysis, I feel like I'm car shopping. Do I go with ATLAS.ti or NVivo? Should I test drive both? Will they both get me where I need to go? Should I just commit to one now and roll with it?

I'm planning to do a mixed methods study for dissertation, and I'd ultimately like to become proficient in both qualitative and quantitative methods. I want a tool that will give me that flexibility. I'm tempted to go with ATLAS.ti since that's what we're using in this course, but I'm nervous to do so after the warning in the Silver and Lewins text that "caution[s] against choosing a package simply because it is the one you have the 'easiest' (e.g. immediate or free) access to" (2014, p. 22). Am I choosing it just because it's available? At the same time, it seems silly to reject it without knowing the real differences between the two programs. By the accounts that I've heard so far, both of these CAQDAS packages do essentially the same things, so if I could customize either one to fit my needs, does it even really matter? I'd hate to make my life unnecessarily difficult by going in a different direction if it's not going to make much of a difference. Is it even possible to make the "wrong" decision here? And would I even know what I was missing if I did?

I was also very interested in the Jackson (2014) paper about how QDAS fits into our ideas of transparency. As a tech-y person, I suspect that I could go on and on in my dissertation about how I'll ultimately use my QDAS tools. At the same time, however, I wonder if my dissertation would be the right place to do that. In my experiences with blogging about technology for my classroom and coaching other teachers in using technology, I find that most people just want to know the most basic details about tech tools. There's a weird stigma around technology where people often make it seem scarier and more overwhelming than it should be, and they hole up in a way that they wouldn't necessarily do if they were learning about any other topic. For some people, technology is scary and uncomfortable, and I would worry about alienating my readers too much by going into the finer details of how I use the QDAS. At the same time, transparency is something I really value, so I'm wondering if the descriptions of how QDAS influences the researcher needs to be contained in the final product itself. Could it, for example, exist elsewhere such as a publicly available blog? I could easily imagine myself blogging my way through the decision-making process, exposing how I'm using the tools for those who are genuinely curious, without alienating the less QDAS-familiar readers of my research. Is that a reasonable middle-ground as a qualitative (or mixed-methods!) researcher?

These are the things I'm considering as I prepare for this week's class.

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. You raise some great points! In terms of which software program to use, while I see Silver & Lewins point about it not being ideal just to choose which program is available, the research on technology adoption says that it is only with access, time and support that people are successful in adopting new tools - so availability is obviously one aspect of that. I think the more tech-savvy you are and the easier it is for you in general to learn new tools, the more likely you will be successfully choosing to learn NVivo even without a lot of support for it on campus. If you have faculty or others around in your department who use NVivo, then it seems like a good choice. We can talk more about this of course.

    Also I have had students who continued their blogs throughout their dissertation process for reasons that you describe here. When I've published papers on studies in which I've used ATLAS.ti, I've received both kinds of comments from reviewers - we want to know more about how you used the tool, or we want you to cut your entire description of the clearly there's not consensus yet!