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First-Year-Writing-Appropriate Qualitative Methods: Peer Interviews and Simple Coding

stacey_cochran
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If you are interested in introducing FYW students to primary research methods, An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing provides an overview and general definitions of qualitative and quantitative methods appropriate for students in a first-year writing class. If you are new to teaching qualitative or quantitative methods to students, it can be a bit intimidating to be sure. I’d like to write today about a fun, low-stakes activity I have my students do the first few weeks of the semester to begin a conversation about research methods.

 

Interviewing

I enjoy having my students interview one another during class early in the semester. Recognizing that most students are more tech savvy than I am, I ask them to practice recording one another using a semi-structured set of interview questions. It’s remarkable to watch a class begin to discuss how they’re going to record the interviews, whether on a laptop or on mobile devices, and then to watch them learn socially from one another about the best way to upload the audio files to our  course shell once their recording is complete (we use D2L at the University of Arizona). If asked, I’ll step in and offer advice and tips about how to do the recording and uploading, but for the most part I give them just enough direction to get them started, provide the questions and activity objective, and then let them learn from one another by just jumping in there and giving a recording a shot.

 

Below you’ll see a set of semi-structured questions I’ve asked students to use in the past as they record themselves interviewing one another:
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Usually they pair up with a partner, and I ask them to leave the room and find a quiet space somewhere in the building to conduct the interview. Once they record their interviews, they upload the audio file to our  course shell. This then allows us to listen to the interviews in class. It’s a great conversation starter, and FYW students find the use of technology as well as listening to their audio-recorded voices played back in class fun, funny, and entertaining. There’s usually quite a bit of positive emotions and laughter with this activity.

 

You may notice that some of the questions in the table above are intended to begin a conversation about Writing in the Disciplines (especially Q. 1 and Q. 2). Q. 3 is intended to draw on their funds of knowledge and to position students as experienced and knowledgeable writers who have succeeded in the past.

 

By using these recordings in class as conversation starters, I’ve learned a lot about the expectations and support that faculty in other disciplines have provided to students in writing contexts. The recordings also reveal a great deal about students’ perceptions of effective teaching practices as well as their past experiences with writing.

 

Coding and Interpreting

Once we have these interviews archived digitally, students can access the audio files and listen to them to take notes. I ask students to listen to multiple interviews and note any themes or keywords or phrases that begin to emerge from the data.

 

A student may end up with a list of words or phrases like “feedback,” “peer review,” “tutoring,” “assignment sheet,” “rubric,” “drafting,” “meet with teacher,” etc.

 

Typically this is about as far as we’ll take it in a FYW class. I might write some of the keywords that emerge from multiple students’ interpretations of the interviews on an eraser board, and we’ll use that as a bridge to talk about effective writing processes and what the expectations are for our course. Later in the semester, we’ll return to interviewing more formally as a research method they can use in collecting data on a research topic of their choosing. These early recordings thus scaffold toward more formal interviews they may record for a grade later in the semester as part of a research project.

 

If you have tips or suggestions you’ve used, please feel free to share your ideas in the comments below. As always, I’m grateful for your time and interest, and if you found this blog helpful or informative, please comment, like, and share it!

 

Thanks so much, all.

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About the Author
Stacey Cochran is a Lecturer teaching academic writing at the University of Arizona. Before that, he taught for nine years in the First-Year Writing Program at North Carolina State University. He has also taught academic and creative writing at East Carolina University and Mesa Community College (AZ). He earned his M.A. in English from East Carolina University in 2001 with a concentration in Creative Writing. He was finalist for the 1998 Dell Magazines Award, a 2004 finalist for the St. Martin's Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest, and finalist for the 2011 James Hurst Prize for fiction. He is an experienced videographer and interviewer who was the host of The Artist's Craft, a television show in Raleigh which featured interviews with many bestselling authors and literary scholars.