Learning and Teaching Qualitative Data Analysis in a US University: Creating Supports and Scaffolds for Researcher Development

Learning and Teaching Qualitative Data Analysis in a US University: Creating Supports and Scaffolds for Researcher Development

Eleanor Drago-Severson, Pat Maslin-Ostrowski, Anila Asghar, Sue Stuebner Gaylor
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7409-7.ch010
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This chapter presents a case study that examines how the learning experience of graduate students enrolled in a seminar at a US university prepares them to conduct qualitative research, specifically data analysis. Adult development theory and literature related to doctoral student preparation for research and curriculum development informed the course design and data analysis. The research questions focus on course structure, pedagogical strategies, how doctoral students experience these aspects in learning qualitative research methods, and how faculty learned to identify and meet students' emerging needs. Findings include contextualized examples of how the course supported students, how students received feedback in developmentally different ways, and the role of student resistance and emotion in learning. This chapter highlights the need to create a context of supports and challenges for learners and illuminates the benefits of a constructivist curriculum with scaffolding for doctoral student development and learning to become a qualitative researcher.
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In universities throughout the world, faculty examine questions related to improving the preparation of educational researchers (Kegan & Lahey, 2009; Lugg & Shoho, 2006). Some scholars explore critical epistemological questions concerning education such as what knowledge counts, what constitutes evidence, and what exactly is quality education research (Kristof, 2014; Southerland, Gadsden, & Herrington, 2014; Young, 2001); while others engage in inquiry about theoretical approaches and what core methods should be taught (Bredo, 2009; Howe, 2009). Still other scholars and educational researchers struggle with questions about the type of preparation needed not only to prepare educational researchers for today’s challenges, but also for the complex demands of future educational research (Anderson, 2002; Kegan & Lahey, 2009; Lagemann, 2002; Page, 2001).

Enhancing doctoral student research preparation (and by extension future research) is at the forefront of teaching and learning efforts in the academy (Eisenhart & DeHaan, 2005; Lagemann & Shulman, 1999; Pallas, 2001). Yet, there is a little discourse about doctoral curricula (Golde, 2007; Olson & Clark, 2009). Furthermore, there is a dearth of research (see Metz, 2001; Maxwell, 2012) that specifically examines how graduate methodological coursework educates and supports doctoral students to meet the complex demands of becoming skilled educational researchers (Maxwell, 2012; Pallas, 2001). Education faculty, scholars, and students alike cite the need to re-envision doctoral preparation of educational researchers and urge discussion about and investigation into these critical matters (Page, 2001). Such dialogue and research will provide guidance as to how education faculty might improve practice and develop more useful methods courses, illuminate the problems and possibilities of teaching and learning qualitative methods, and create widespread knowledge about more effective methods for preparing doctoral student researchers in the field of education.

This chapter focuses on learnings from teaching an interdisciplinary qualitative data analysis (QDA) seminar that brings together doctoral students who are engaged with or preparing for doctoral dissertation research in various fields related to education at a graduate school of education at a US university. In particular, this research describes: (1) the seminar structure/context and how it worked to facilitate the development of a research community, (2) the various and diverse andragogy strategies, classroom practice, and exercises employed to support student learning, and (3) contextualized examples of how doctoral students made sense of their learning experiences throughout the semester. The goal of this research is two-fold: (1) to raise awareness of effective practices for preparing doctoral student researchers for qualitative research, specifically in relation to data analysis, and (2) to illuminate what we learned about how andragogy, curriculum, and embedded scaffolds (i.e., supports and challenges that were threaded through course design) sustained students’ learning over time in this seminar. We offer our learning experiences and strategies as a useful map to other educators and researchers.

Here, we examine how 17 (15 doctoral and 2 masters) students enrolled in different concentration programs across the university experienced the seminar. In particular, through the strategies to support student learning (i.e., reflections from our teaching observations, student meetings, memo assignments, data analysis convenings, journal entries, observations of AERA-style class conference presentations, mid-semester and end-of-term course evaluations, and teaching team meetings) we sought to understand how students in the QDA course developed over time as qualitative researchers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Free-Write: An exercise in which instructor poses questions about course themes and students write responses for reflection and discussion (not assessment).

Holding Environment: A context or relationship that offers the gift of both high supports and challenges to support internal capacity building. Holding environments serve three functions: (1) meeting a person at his or her developmental level—where a person is without an urgent need to force them to change; (2) challenging adults, in a developmental sense (i.e., stretching by offering alternative perspectives)—when a person is ready to grow beyond their current level; and (3) providing continuity and stability. See Chapter 2.

Convening: When an individual consults with colleagues around a specific research issue or question or problem of importance to his or her analytic work.

Constructive-Developmental Theory: The theory, developed by Robert Kegan—and one that informs Drago-Severson’s (2004a , 2004b , 2009 , 2012 ) new learning-oriented models of leadership and leadership development. It is based on two fundamental principles: (1) we actively make sense of our experiences, and (2) we can develop and grow our way of knowing (developmental orientation) if we are provided with developmentally appropriate supports and challenges ( Kegan, 1982 , 1994 AU50: The citation "Kegan 1994" matches multiple references. Please add letters (e.g. "Smith 2000a"), or additional authors to the citation, to uniquely match references and citations. , 2000). See Chapter 2 for further explication of this theory. See also way of knowing .

Constructivist Curriculum: A curriculum takes into account social and personal needs and interests of learners, provides a clear description of goals, creates opportunities for learners to engage actively and reflectively, and fosters strong motivation.

Assumptions: The taken-for-granted beliefs that we all have. These guide our thinking, feelings, behaviors, and convictions about the learning, teaching, and leadership processes—and life. We hold our assumptions as Big Truths about how the world works. We rarely question them unless we have opportunities that help us see and consider them. Examining our assumptions and testing them in safe contexts allows us to learn if they are, in fact, true—and if they are not, we can revise them over time. Doing so is essential for personal growth, the development of lasting change.

Adult Development: A process of growing our internal capacities (cognitive, affective (emotional), intrapersonal and intrapersonal capacities. In other words, this means increasing our capacities. When development occurs, a person has a broader perspective on his or her self and others and is better able to manage the complexities and ambiguities of leadership and life.

Growth: Also known as internal capacity building, from a developmental perspective is related to increases in cognitive, emotional (affective), interpersonal (person to person), and intrapersonal (self-to-self) capacities that enable a person to manage better the complexities of work (e.g., leadership, teaching, learning, adaptive challenges) and life. With the experience of growth, or transformational learning (we use these terms interchangeably), a qualitative shift occurs in how a person actively interprets, organizes, understands, and makes sense of his or her experience.

Qualitative Research: Naturalistic inquiry. Researcher studies phenomena from perspectives of people who experience them. Meaning is essential.

Qualitative Data Analysis: An inductive, interpretive approach to managing and making sense of data.

Way of Knowing: The meaning system through which all experience is filtered and understood. It is the window through which all experience is filtered. It is also known as a developmental level, an order of consciousness, a stage ( Kegan, 1982 , 1994 AU51: The citation "Kegan 1994" matches multiple references. Please add letters (e.g. "Smith 2000a"), or additional authors to the citation, to uniquely match references and citations. , 2000) or a way of knowing ( Drago-Severson, 2004a , 2004b , 2009 , 2012 ). It is the filter through which we interpret our experiences, and it influences our capacities for perspective taking on self, other and the relationship between the two. It dictates how learning, teaching, leadership and all life experiences are taken in, managed, understood, and used.

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