Identity Accelerator #4: Sorting Your Stuff [Intro to Thematic Coding in Qualitative Research]mkoole, · Categories: Educational technology, Identity, Teaching · Tags: phenomenography, qualitative coding
“Sorting your stuff” is a fun activity. It can lead so some personal revelations. What this activity involves is the participants emptying their handbags, book bags, backpacks, or other containers that they have with them. Then, they sort the objects into two or three categories and, in doing so, explain how they chose the categories into which they sorted the objects.
This is an activity that I have used in conducting workshops on phenomenography. But, recently at the 32nd Annual Qualitative Analysis Conference (2015), I noted that some professors* of qualitative research methods also use this activity to introduce basic thematic coding. It is, however, possible to use this activity simply as an “introductions and welcome” activity in a more general sense. For classes that are not related to qualitative research, facilitators can ask students to select object of different topics and themes.
- Asynchronous: If used as an asynchronous activity, students can post pictures or videos of their objects. If using still pictures, it is helpful if the students take several pictures to show their thought processes. If using videos, the students can narrate their thought processes. Then, the class members can make suggestions and ask questions about the categories chosen.
- Synchronous: It is possible to do this activity in a synchronous manner, but it can be time consuming. It is possible in a synchronous format for the students to work together in groups. The students could aim their cameras at their tabletops and talk about what objects they have with them. Or, the students could come prepared to the online meeting with pictures of objects (perhaps even objects that are special to them; there could be a class theme). Then, they could arrange the objects on a shared whiteboard. Fellow classmates could even move the pictures around the whiteboard to discuss alternative classifications. As you can see, there are numerous ways to do this activity online. Students can also do some meta-coding where they locate themes and categories that are common across the entire class.
- Whether face-to-face, asynchronous (text-based), or synchronous (VOIP), ask the students to have their handbags, backpacks, book bags, etc. near their computers (or bring to class).
- The instructor may or may not wish to have the students read related course materials or watch videos about qualitative research (if that is the objective of the class) in advance.
- Test the whiteboard and/or discussion forum to ensure that students can post images and/or manipulate the system in ways amenable to the activity. For example, students must have adequate permissions to manipulate the whiteboard. And, they must be able to post images to the discussion forum.
- Depending on the format (face-to-face, asynchronous, or synchronous), the instructor needs to think about how to initiate the activity during the session, and to facilitate turn-taking and group structures (particularly for synchronous activities).
- At the beginning of the session, the instructor can demonstrate his/her own special objects and how s/he would categorize them.
- During the activity, the instructor can help guide the discussion of the categories and the processes.
- And, it is important to debrief the students at the end. Help the students understand thematic coding, for example. And, if relevant, help the student make connections to the literature as well as any assignments or projects for the course.
I have had excellent success in using this activity for facilitating phenomenography workshops. However, it is important to remind students of qualitative research that they will more than likely be categorizing complex concepts. The use of simple manipulatives has its limitations. Therefore, I recommend this type of activity as a springboard. More in-depth discussions and activities are necessary in any instruction of qualitative thematic coding.
By asking the students to reach into their own handbags and backpacks, you are asking them to share some information about themselves. What we carry with us daily can provide insights into who we are as people. This activity can stimulate interesting and, at times, interesting discussions about what is important to us. I use “us” because the instructor should actively demonstrate and share alongside the students. In this way, this activity very much contributes to the acceleration of identities.
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Note: for an introduction to identity accelerators for online teaching and learning visit this entry.
*Note: The speakers at the 32nd Annual Qualitative Analysis Conference who mentioned this technique were: Gail Lindsay (UOIT) and Jasna Schwind (Ryerson University).