A Second Life in Qualitative Research: Creating Transformative Experiences

A Second Life in Qualitative Research: Creating Transformative Experiences

Kakali Bhattacharya (Kansas State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4797-8.ch019
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Many institutions of higher education do not have well-developed qualitative research methods programs. Consequently, the role of qualitative research is minimized, and its legitimacy questioned as the methodology of choice in dissertations, relegating qualitative research as second fiddle to quantitative research. In this chapter, the authors present how using a three-dimensional multiuser virtual/digital world called Second Life serves as a fertile and rigorous space for critically engaged ethnographic practices in an institution where resources for qualitative research are scant. Using information extracted from students’ projects conducting mini-ethnographies in Second Life, their YouTube podcasts, students’ reflections in learning key concepts in qualitative research without prior exposure to this methodology, the authors engage in a discussion of transformative learning experiences. Discussion of transformative learning experiences includes an intersection of critical dialogue of integration of digital technologies, virtual worlds in qualitative research, kind of learning and learners produced as a result, and reflections necessary for pedagogically aligned instructional design and delivery.
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Qualitative research has been often painted as the softer side of research, perhaps lacking the rigor of its counterpart, quantitative research, by being un-scientific, and ultimately un-fundable (Cannella & Lincoln, 2004). Such discourses and a history of paradigm wars between positivist and post-positivist researchers and researchers who stretch qualitative inquiry beyond post-positivism (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003; Lincoln & Cannella, 2004), created a terrain of educational research where many graduate programs have less classes offered in qualitative research methods than in quantitative research methods (Bhattacharya, 2009). Often institutions make room for only one introductory qualitative research methods class as the required or recommended class. Some programs include a second qualitative data analysis class as a required class, or it is highly recommended to students who might be interested in using qualitative inquiry in their dissertations.

Under such restrictive conditions, instructors in qualitative methods have the daunting task of exposing the students to the terrain of qualitative inquiry without oversimplifying the concepts and yet preserving the rich nuances in a short period of time. In dealing with the challenge of preparing responsible qualitative researchers or at the very least, critical consumers of qualitative research, I have introduced students to Second Life (SL), a multi-user three-dimensional web-based virtual environment where they conduct a mini-ethnography in an introductory qualitative methods class. To demonstrate the epistemic, methodological, and pedagogical reasons for using Second Life in qualitative research, I present this chapter to invite readers to create their own entry points where digital technologies, virtual worlds in qualitative research, critical discourses about qualitative research and evidence-based inquiry, and transformative learning intersect.

Thus, in this chapter, I introduce the landscape of the terrain of qualitative inquiry in the context of scientific evidence, fundability, and academic rigor. Next, I explain the role of Second Life, a virtual environment in teaching qualitative inquiry, the ways in which Second Life was implemented in a qualitative research methods class over three years, and include examples of scaffolding, detailed project descriptions, and types of assessments used.

I argue that SL played a role in creative transformative learning experiences. Additionally, I offer justification for my arguments by extracting thematic information from various data sources (students’ projects, YouTube podcasts, instructor reflections, and interviews with former students). I critically engage with the ways in which fertile pedagogy-driven digital/virtual learning environments can be created not only for experiencing transformative learning but for offering a counter-narrative about the systematic forms of inquiry that can be performed in qualitative research, which are neither soft, nor lacking rigor of any kind.

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