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Minimally Structured Evocative Accounts

In document 1.1 The Focus of this Research (Page 113-117)

4.4 Methodological Considerations

4.5.1 Minimally Structured Evocative Accounts

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Interviews played a major role in the data collection process by helping the researcher to access the inner worlds of participants. The term interview is defined as a ―specific professional form of conversational technique in which knowledge is constructed through the interaction of interviewer and interviewee‖

(Kvale, 1996, p. 36). In qualitative research, semi-structured and unstructured interviews are the tools of choice (Bryman, 2004) as they allow the participant to articulate their perspective, and also give the researcher flexibility to depart from pre-existing questions to respond to new directions suggested by the subjects. In this study, three types of interview were used: minimally structured evocative accounts, semi-structured interviews, and group interviews. These are discussed below in more detail.

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In addition, Spradley‘s (1979) question types (for example, grand-tour, mini-tour, and structural questions) were used to extend the range of the prompts given by Light (2006). This decision to inject more structure into the account format diverged from Light‘s (2006) less structured approach. The rationale for this decision was based on balancing the need for less structure so that participants would have the ability to define what participation meant for them with the need to use descriptive questions to exert some control by the researcher. By using descriptive questions at appropriate moments, interviewees could be gently encouraged to disclose more detail about their thoughts and experiences.

In contrast to the semi-structured interviews, accounts tended to be shorter ―bites‖

of experience and took approximately 15-20 minutes. They were conducted with all participants at regular stages of the paper (approximately four times per participant) and meetings took place in a variety of settings including offices, cafés and student dormitories. As it was important that I meet with the participants as soon as possible after they had engaged with the learning activity, I was technically ―on call‖ and willing to meet with them at their convenience, day or night. In practice, meetings with students were arranged using text messages via mobile phones; they usually occurred late in the afternoon or evening; and they were conducted face-to-face. Meetings with teachers were usually arranged via email. Some participants were more proactive than others, contacting me immediately after engaging with the learning activity so we could talk, while others delayed contact. This delay was frustrating for me and the research participants were frequently reminded of the importance of talking with me as close as possible to the time they had worked on the learning activity. All accounts were recorded using a digital device, transcribed in full within twenty four hours, and participants were identified by a pseudonym on the recording and transcript. Examples of the types of questions and prompts used to guide the accounts can be found in Appendices E, F, and G.

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It was anticipated that Voice over the Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology such as Skype (http://www.skype.com) would be used to conduct the accounts. VoIP software is a telephony tool which permits voice conversations to be sent over the Internet. It was expected that the students would contact me as soon as possible after engaging with the learning activity so that they could render their account of the experience via the Internet using their own computer. Memory recall could be optimised using this method as participants would have only recently worked on the activity. Also, the use of VoIP would liberate me from having to travel to the participant‘s location and would allow the account to be acquired at any time convenient to the participant. The ability to use instant messaging and a webcam were also perceived to be useful tools to enhance communication, particularly with EAL students who might struggle to comprehend speech at times.

However, in practice, a number of constraints emerged with the use of VoIP technology. Undertaking VoIP from the institution was problematic for students as they were not allowed to download applications from the internet. Due to this restriction, using student equipment was the only viable option, but some students were reluctant to download the VoIP software onto their own computers. Also, they had to acquire a microphone and webcam if these tools were not embedded in their computers. Finally, VoIP tools require a broadband connection which can provide adequate bandwidth speeds to transmit audio and visual material. Slow broadband connection speeds at my home were unable to support audio and visual communication. It was difficult to establish connections with the students, and even if successful, the audio was of very poor quality and video was non-existent.

Due to these constraints, VoIP technology was quickly rejected as a viable research tool. The many advantages of VoIP voiced earlier disappeared and the technology became an impoverished and fickle medium, particularly when compared to face-to-face interaction. After experimenting unsuccessfully with

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conducting the accounts by telephone, face-to-face meetings were used to conduct the accounts. Certainly this decision sacrificed some immediacy which was a prime factor in conducting the accounts via VoIP, but clarity and establishing rapport were deemed more important.

My experiences gathering data through accounts were mixed. The ENL (English as a native language) teachers often took the floor and spoke at length about their experiences designing and implementing the learning activity. They were able to identify a specific episode in time and describe it in detail. At times, both students and teachers stopped recounting specific episodes and began generalising about their experiences – leaving the ―moment.‖ Sometimes, I was complicit in this by asking general questions. Even though I had practiced the evocation technique beforehand, my skills were still developing. In my journal, I criticised my overuse of prompts which gave unwanted structure to the accounts; but, in contrast to the teachers, many of the EAL learner participants appeared to need regular stimulation to talk and found extended monologues difficult to maintain.

Students often gave short responses to my prompts and then waited expectantly for the next question. One could speculate that the concept of a ―stream of consciousness‖ may not have been fully understood by some of the students.

Also, the concept of an account may have represented a ―violation of situational experiences‖ (Flick, 1998, p. 103); that is, the students had specific expectations of what ―an interview‖ would entail. The students may have assumed that the researcher would take a more controlling role, posing many questions and directing the interaction. They may have felt uncomfortable with dominating the discussion by ―telling their story‖ about their experiences (Flick, 1998, p. 103).

Certainly, the account method has profoundly enriched this study by providing access to the immediate thoughts, feelings, and experiences of participants on a

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regular basis; nonetheless, this method was challenging to undertake and not entirely successful.

In document 1.1 The Focus of this Research (Page 113-117)