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

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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.

6 Comments
Migrated Account

Over the decade I have been teaching first year writers, interviews have become central to my classes.  I love the more structured approach to peer-interviews.  I will be borrowing  that as a terrific way to scaffold and give direction—but not too much. 

My students, once they have identified a research interest in crafting an argument, then think about people who might add to their understanding of the issue, speculating on how and why this interviewee might be valuable in developing an argument.  All of this, looking at interviews as a genre, analyzing articles for places where interviews have been used in this way, serves as scaffolding over many weeks.  We discuss limitations and benefits in primary source research as well.  (An article in EdSurge discussed students considering the stories that have generated their beliefs and opinions; that comes into play here, too.)  There is so much learning involved, and it is INTERESTING to the students and to me.  We learn!  We are surrounded by people who have knowledge and experience beyond our own, and while many of my students stay close to home, interviewing relatives or friends, so often they are surprised by what they actually learn from people they've "known forever" when they dedicate time and energy to a specific conversation.

I have had students who came to understand their parents' divorce, a parent's feelings about military service, the difficulties of being gay in high school, end-of-life decisions, the ways the music industry has changed, being an officer of the law in troubled times, addiction, how a supermarket is addressing food waste...so many interesting topics through interviews.  I have come to believe that interviews infuse LIFE into first year writing.  I know they have added authentic discourse, passion, and engagement.  Thanks for sharing your approach Stacey Cochran‌.

Migrated Account

Hi Stacey. I enjoyed your article but I have a question that is not about the article.

I teach first year composition and since you have been teaching for years, I thought you might be able to help respond to a student's awkward sentence.

The sentence as written is:  "This information stood out as important to me because I believe a lot of the content we read are (is?) inferences, and just how reliable they are certainly varies."

This sentence is in response to a chapter in the Cooper/Patton text, Writing Logically, Thinking Critically. So my question to you is, should the sentence read "the content we read is inferences" or "the content we read are inferences" and what is the explanation for the choice?

Personally, when I come across a problem like this in my own writing, I simply rearrange the sentence in order to avoid the problem and confusion altogether, but in this case, I want to provide an explanation to my student, but I'm not sure how to explain this particular situation and after reading your work and learning about your background, I decided to reach out and see if you could provide some assistance.

If you can provide an explanation you can contact me directly at mbryant@vcccd.edu. Any assistance is greatly appreciated!

Michael D. Bryant

Moorpark College

Thanks so much for sharing such a thoughtful and meaningful response, Patricia. I'd love to read the article in EdSurge. I'm always looking to learn. I feel like the aspect of my understanding about primary research (especially in the social sciences) that's taken a nuanced approach this fall is the idea that once researchers become pretty proficient with data collection, the choice about which type of method we use has as much to say about how we view the world and other people as the data itself. Interviews are so inductive/interpretivist and fit those of us who seek to understand. Quantitative or experimental data seems (to me) driven by those of us more concerned with changing something (policy, behaviors, etc.). They function in such different ways! And the arguments we make from them really do have different rhetorical effects and should be governed somewhat by context. If you think of the article title from EdSurge, please do let me know. I'd love to read it! Thanks so much, Patricia.

Michael, disclaimer: I'm no grammarian! Smiley Happy That said, the problematic word in the sentence seems to me to be "inferences." I'm not sure I know what the student is trying to say here, and so I would probably center my comment to the student on helping me to better understand what he/she/they're trying to say. 

One additional note about my particular teaching style and priorities: I usually don't correct students' grammar until pretty late in the process. In fact, depending on the assignment, I often encourage them in the early stages of drafting to not worry if their writing is messy. Especially with FYW students. Their anxieties are so high regarding rules and "getting it perfect" that that alone often gets in the way of the kind of novel learning I tend to value in a writing classroom. It's only when we get to a final draft, and if the student specifically seeks surface-level help from me, that I'll get into the business of helping them clean up their prose. 

Migrated Account

Hello,

I appreciate your response and I understand that you’re not a grammarian. I need to find someone to help me with these types of questions. I figured I would contact someone in the Macmillan community and seek out some help, so again, I appreciate your explanation and assistance.

I agree with you in that I don’t really focus on these types of mistakes early in the students’ writing processes, but I use these types of examples to highlight some of the problems with the language, explanations for the issues, and methods to avoid the problems. I did explain to the student, in my own work, when I come across these types of issues, I will usually rearrange the entire sentence just so I can avoid trying to figure out how to resolve the confusion presented in this sentence. In the end, like I said, it would be helpful to personally know a grammarian or linguist so I could ask for a purely academic explanation for what is going on in this sentence. Maybe I need to get out more!

Again, thank you for your time and thank you for the writing in the MacMillan community. Take care.

Michael D. Bryant

Migrated Account

Stacey, I find connections in everything, and in this case, you may find the article (from Chronicle, not EdSurge) tangential.  I do think, however, the idea that events shape beliefs critical to understanding the nature of interviews, eliciting people's stories, to gain perspective and insight.  I thoroughly value the distinction you draw between research purposes.  I am focused on understanding with freshman, no question.

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.