Interview with Dr. Kathy Roulston

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The MethodSpace focus for August is on teaching research methods, continuing in September, with resources on mentoring, supervising, and guiding researchers. You can find the whole series here.

Dr. Roulston is the author of Reflective Interviewing: A Guide to Theory and Practiceand blogs at Qual Page. When I saw her resources about teaching methods, I reached out to her and asked for an interview. I am happy to introduce her work to MethodSpace readers!


JES. Teaching methods and mentoring researchers are themes for MethodSpace in August and September. Your blog, Qual Page, includes a whole section on Teaching Qualitative Research. From your perspective, what are the most challenging or problematic issues faculty members face when teaching qualitative methods?

KR. Here are a few challenges that I encounter in teaching qualitative research methods.

  1. Keeping up-to-date and gaining deep understanding of new ideas and innovative approaches to qualitative inquiry is an ongoing challenge. I want my students to gain a sense of the wild profusion and possibilities in how one might frame and conduct a qualitative study (Lather, 2006). Strategies that I’ve found helpful to stay informed include engaging in peer review through reading and reviewing conference abstracts, submissions to journals, and book prospectuses and manuscripts; and signing up for content alerts from journals in the field. Our students also introduce us to new approaches and literature.
  • Aiding shifts in perspective. Many newcomers to qualitative research have been well-schooled in concepts from non-qualitative approaches to inquiry (e.g. “bias”, “validity”, “objectivity” and “generalization”).  Learning about the debates concerning these concepts and how they are taken up in qualitative inquiry can entail something of a paradigm shift. I encourage students to consider their underlying assumptions about research (Mason, 2018) – including ontological and epistemological assumptions about what counts as “data” and how one might generate knowledge about the social world. The only way to gain good understandings of new concepts and terms is to keep reading. Whereas scholars teaching qualitative methods in the 1970s had few texts to draw on (Preissle, 2006), today’s teachers and students have literally hundreds of texts to choose from. The challenge now is to find the time to keep up with new literature! (see #1!).
  • Defining terminology. Because qualitative inquiry has interdisciplinary roots and is applied in multiple disciplines, scholars do not necessarily use terms in the same way. Here, I’m thinking of terms such as “discourse,” “constructionism” or “reflexivity” to name a few. A cursory review of how these terms are defined and used shows that they don’t always mean the same thing. It’s useful for students to develop their own glossary of terms and how these are defined by different scholars. My colleague Elizabeth St. Pierre advocates this approach in her teaching, and this is one I follow.
  • Being open. Sometimes various theoretical approaches can inspire strong emotional responses, and it’s possible for adherents of a particular theoretical approach to research to reject other approaches without first having a good understanding of what another approach entails. Kakali Bhattacharya and I co-edited a special edition of the journal International Review of Qualitative Research (Roulston & Bhattacharya, 2018) in which authors discussed how to teach qualitative research in the midst of paradigm proliferation (Lather, 2006).

JES. You recently posted “Resources for new professors.” What tips or resources would you suggest for new professors who are teaching research methods for the first time?

KR. Teaching something for the first time always involves risk. Teachers are faced with questions such as: Will this work? Will students be engaged? Will the intended learning outcomes be accomplished? Yet it’s certain that sometimes our plans will go awry. This means that we need to keep learning and keep experimenting.  It can be helpful to talk to more experienced teachers and find out what they do, observe or co-teach a class with another instructor, and delve into the growing body of literature on teaching qualitative research (for one recent review, see Wagner, Kawulich, & Garner, 2019). Books on teaching qualitative research methods include Swaminathan and Mulvihill (2018) and Janesick (2016).

JES. Taking the other side of the story, what tips or resources would you suggest for students who are new to the study of research methods?

KR. I began my doctoral studies soon after the first edition of The Handbook of Qualitative Research edited by Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln (1994) was published. The multiple editions of this handbook (now in its 5th edition) have been incredibly useful as a starting point for reading on the numerous topics included. The journals Qualitative Inquiry, International Journal of Qualitative Methods and Qualitative Research were launched around 2000, and since that time there are many more journals specific to different disciplines that publish articles on qualitative methods and qualitative studies. Explore this list!

JES. I’ve mentioned your blog Qual Page in this interview. Maintaining a solo blog is a big undertaking!

  • What motivates you to blog?

KR. I would like to contribute positively to the academic community by sharing resources and tips with new researchers. Given that the most viewed posts on QualPage include “Tips for observing and taking field notes in qualitative studies” and “Tips on conducting qualitative interviews”, I suspect that many readers are conducting a qualitative study for the first time. The ideas for the blog are typically derived from my teaching and reading. I also include calls for papers for conferences or publications and other announcements of interest for students and teachers of qualitative research. Also, posting weekly reminds me of the need to write regularly.

JES. Do you feel you reach different audiences with blog posts than you do with books and articles?

KR. Blog writing is more informal than books and articles, so is likely to speak to different audiences than those who read academic journals and books. Although the majority of readers who access QualPage come from the United States and United Kingdom, it also provides resources to do with qualitative inquiry to people living in countries with less access to library resources. The blog has had readers from far-flung countries, including Syria, Moldova, Northern Mariana Island and Kyrgyzstan. I try to be aware that readers are not necessarily based in the US and UK.

  • Do you recommend that doctoral students and early career researchers write blog posts, if so, why?

KR. Blogging can be a way to help doctoral students and early career – or indeed any — scholars to develop a regular writing practice. Thought needs to be given as to how one represents one’s scholarly identity and who one’s audience might be (since search and promotion committee members might read these as well!). Social media has greatly impacted how academics communicate their work to wider audiences, and many scholars use social media very effectively to disseminate their work. For a recent list from Interfolio, see Ten great academic Twitter accounts. Ultimately, reserving time for doing what is most important depending on one’s role is key for any scholar.

  • Any tips for academic bloggers?

KR. I’ve found that writing regularly, even for as little as 5 or 10 minutes, will result in sufficient content to post regularly. Have fun, and write about what you know.

References

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.). (1994). The handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Janesick, V. J. (2016). “Stretching” exercises for qualitative researchers (4th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.

Lather, P. (2006). Paradigm proliferation as a good thing to think with: Teaching research in education as a wild profusion. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education (QSE), 19(1), 35-57.

Mason, J. (2018). Qualitative researching (3rd ed.). London: SAGE.

Preissle, J. (2006). Envisioning qualitative inquiry: a view across four decades. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 19(6), 685-695. doi:10.1080/09518390600975701

Roulston, K., & Bhattacharya, K. (2018). Introduction to special issue: Teaching qualitative inquiry in the era of the Big Tent: Presenting proliferation and polyphony. International Review of Qualitative Research, 11(3), 251-255

Swaminathan, R., & Mulvihill, T. M. (2018). Teaching qualitative research: Strategies for engaging emerging scholars. New York & London: The Guilford Press.

Wagner, C., Kawulich, B., & Garner, M. (2019). A mixed research synthesis of literature on teaching qualitative research methods. SAGE Open, 1-18. doi:DOI:10.1177/2158244019861488

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