Anchor Articles and Advanced Topics in Qualitative Research

people-woman-coffee-meeting.jpgOver the last two years, I have been developing a concept I refer to as “anchor articles”. These are an article (or a very few selected articles) a doctoral student identifies as anchors for their impending dissertation work. An anchor article can be about the method or substance of what you want to do, and for some reason you identify it is key knowledge related to what you want to do with your dissertation.

I idea of the anchor article grew out of my EDUC 7101 class: Advanced Topics in Qualitative Research. For the purposes of this class, the anchor article must be relate-able to qualitative research methodology. However, every student’s topic is unique and the qualitative research issues they want to address differ widely depending on their study and their needs. Each student presents an anchor article that we read ahead of time and they then facilitate the discussion on the article. We give each article 45 minutes to an hour of discussion time, and quite frankly we could usually go on much longer.

In the Spring 2018 semester, several people want to understand the scope of qualitative research that has been conducted in their particular area of interest. This lead Sharifa to identify and present Keith Richards’ piece, Trends in qualitative research in language teaching since 2000, published in a 2009 issue of Language Teacher (42:2, 147-180). Although many of the group were not in the area of language study, it gave us a good comparison point for thinking about the development of qualitative research in a particular educational area during that specific period.

Amanda also helped us to think about qualitative research in a defined field by sharing the ERIC brief, Qualitative Research in Adult, Career, and Career-Technical Education Practitioner File (2002). This gave us the opportunity to think about the writing styles of these sorts of guides versus the peer-reviewed journal article, as we compared the way language researchers and those in adult education came to incorporate qualitative research.

Students also approach the selection of the anchor article with specific methodological issues in mind. Thus, Rosie brought us an article by Timothy Guetterman—Descriptions of sampling practices within five approaches to qualitative research in education and the health sciences—that was published in Forum: Qualitative Social Research (16: 2, Art 25, May 2015). The issue of sampling in qualitative research has long plagued her, as I knew, and this gave her the opportunity to get her arms around the problem.

Like Rosie, Kathleen was also concerned with a special methodological issue, and that led her to the article titled “Positionality and the Pen: Reflections on the Process of Becoming a Feminist Researcher and Writer” by Nancy Deutsch (published in Qualitative Inquiry, 10:6, 2004, 885-902). This piece was autoethnographic and theory rich and gave the researchers-in-training much to think about in regard to their own upcoming dissertation adventure.

“Educational Micropolitics and Distributed Leadership” by Joseph Flessa from the Peabody Journal of Education (84: 331-349, 2009) was the article Laurie shared. A school leader with many years of experience she was well acquainted with theories about distributed leadership, but this was one of the few pieces she found that combined these ideas with notions of micropolitics. This piece challenged us to think about the emphasis on consensus in school leadership literature and why this might be problematic for understanding the dynamic of conflict in schools.

Elizabeth has long been engaged in understanding maker spaces in higher education, a new phenomenon in universities. She found “Using the Design Thinking Cycle to Tell the Story of Innovative Learning Spaces” by Heather Tillberg-Webb and Ned Collier to be a provocative piece to aid her thinking (in B. Hokanson et al. (eds), Educational Technology and Narrative, 141-153). Thinking about the different cases of innovative learning spaces presented raised many questions about issues of spatial observation in qualitative research.

Finally, Roi showed up with an article after my own heart (how to conduct qualitative research with complex teams!)—Methodological challenges in multi-investigator multi-institutional research in higher education—by Kinzie, Magolda, Kezar, Kuh, Hinkle, and Whitt (published in Higher Education, 2007, 54: 469-482). This paper describes a mammoth study of 20 colleges and universities that was carried out by a 24 member team. We debated the research design and thought hard about how much data is enough!

As you can see, every anchor article brings something rich to the class. Part of the richness is certainly in what the different authors present in regard to their study or theories, but part of the richness is also in the individual students’ need for the selected piece. They weave the story of the search for, identification of, and selection of the anchor article into the story of their own journey as a doctoral student, and we can learn from both—article and individual.

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