Thursday, 4 April 2013

Pilot methods

Following on from the conversation with Adesola on Tuesday (see previous blog), and with various informal conversations with colleagues and fellow BAPPers, I have reflected further about the methods of data collection that might be useful to my inquiry.

In this blog I would like to post my current thoughts about each method and would really appreciate any views or comments you might have on my reasoning.

My inquiry is about people, and young people at that. People are more than just numbers, they are unique, complex and a melting pot of thoughts, experiences, values and ideas.
This is what I want to find out about - not just 'yes' or 'no' but 'why?' and 'how?'
For this reason I feel that interviewing students will allow for more time to be spent in the process of understanding their motivations and inspirations, and their perceptions of how dance class has developed or hindered them.

My interviews, I hope, will be face-to-face so that I can be more aware of the non-verbal signals of my participants - clues to the honesty of their answers, helpful in showing me whether my interviewee is comfortable with the direction the interview is taking, and allowing me to pace the interview to get the maximum out of my students.

The style of interview is something I am going to be looking into, with pilot interviews that take both a semi-structured or informal/guided format and an open or informal approach (Reader, p13-14). At this point in time my thinking leads me to feel that the age group I aim to work with might not be comfortable enough to 'just talk' and that, as interviewer, I may need to set the ball rolling with some easy, structured questions just to relax and reassure the participant. However, as is the point of doing a pilot, I may or may not find this to be the case!

I will also trial the use of two methods of recording the interview - digital recorder and taking notes - although, at the moment, I think that using a combination of the two might be most beneficial:
  1. More accurate recording of answers,
  2. Less likely to misinterpret or misunderstand than if looking back over just notes,
  3. More in depth answers will be hard to get down on paper without breaking the flow of the interview; recording them will be more accurate and I won't be just frantically scribbling the main points down,
  4. By recording the conversation I can focus more on noting down non-visual signs
  5. Eye contact and relationship building is more likely to happen if I am not constantly writing things down.
By trialing both methods I can then create a relaxed, calm interviewer (with any luck), which will, in turn, lead to a more relaxed, calm interviewee!

Focus group
It might be interesting to see whether the focus group would create more debate and discussion,and therefore more in depth data, than the interview.
I think this might be a second option for me to trial, if feasible, as getting students to talk amongst themselves rather than to an adult might yield more honest results.
On the other hand, adolescents can be very uncomfortable sharing their innermost thoughts with others whom they may not trust and it might be that there would be less freedom to express oneself in a group than one-on-one in an interview.
I also have a major concern that things said within the focus group might not stay confidential if one student felt it could be used to their advantage. From an ethical, and personal, point of view this would be unthinkable and totally unacceptable so I would need to be very careful of the 'how'? and 'why?' of using this method.

I have already tried two pilot surveys, which fellow BAPPers and other professional colleagues have very generously taken the time to complete. One was a general testing of the water, the other a more specific, topic-related questionnaire.

Although I found the answers, in general, very helpful it really made me realise that answering someone else's questions can lead to very different interpretations than was originally intended!
Reflecting on my pilots surveys, and alongside the information I have read, I now understand that, in order to get data that was useful, I would need to use the following:
  • Questions that are short and easily understood,
  • Language that is clear, straight-forward and that couldn't be misread,
  • Questions that don't lead the reader into my way of thinking, 
  • A series of multiple choice answers with the option to add more information in an essay-style box,

If I choose to use a survey for my inquiry, for example, because I want to gather more empirical data, from a larger sample group, about certain aspects of my topic area, then I now realise that I would need to be very careful on the wording of each question.

To see how motivated/ inspired students are about their dance classes I could observe other lessons in which I take notes about how individual students behave.
I could also observe the teacher/ student relationships, the style of teaching, the peer group relationship, etc.
I might take notes from these observations during or after the class and then write up the results of my data collection.
However, my main concern about using observation is that it will be my perceptions and my observations of the lesson from the point of view of an outsider (albeit with insider-knowledge). To my current way of thinking that makes it an interpretation of events or a secondary not primary source.
In my inquiry I am trying to be better informed about students needs and perceptions on how they are (un)inspired or (de)motivated in their dance lessons. Can what I observe give me this information? I, personally, don't think it can.

In the next few days I aim to have completed a couple of different styles of interview and will then be able to reflect on the merits/ problems I have encountered. Depending on the result of that reflection I will then either look deeper into interview methods or pilot a different data collection tool.

BAPP (Arts). (2012). Reader 6 Tools of Professional Inquiry. School of Media and Performing Arts Institute for Work Based Learning.

Denscombe, M. (2010). The good research guide: for small-scale social research projects. Open University Press.

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