Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Right & Wrong on Quantiative vs Qualitative binary


I was right and wrong. I was right that I didn’t really need to read the post by Lawrie Phipps and Dave Cormier on narratives vs analytics in education and beyond (I like how they connected it to politics but that’s secondary to my post). Because it’s already a worldview I subscribe to, so really, what more was there to learn from a blogpost version of what I had been understanding deeply for years? Sure I tweeted it out coz it’s a brilliantly summarized version of these ideas. Really brilliant. And I tweeted this:

But I was wrong. Because I do have something to add to this conversation and it’s also related something I posted on Paul Prinsloo’s Delightful blogpost on decolonizing student data.

And I have two things to say. I actually say these very often but for some reason people continue to make what I consider a fundamental mistake in looking at research (I don’t mean anyone in particular here and I don’t mean they have that mistake in their heads but that they may have it in the way they express themselves) :

  1. It’s not a divide between quantiative and qualitative research METHODS. It’s a divide between positivst and interpretivist (also critical) paradigms of research. It is completely possible to do qualitative research and analyze it in a positivist manner. Meet Creswell. It is also possible to mix methods in a positivist or interpretivist manner
  2. Empowering the “subject” comes from participation rather than the act of making our methods quantiative or qualitative. Yes. Qualitative research gives people more leeway to express their context and clarify their own interpretation and understanding of their own lives and experiences. But none of this is decolonizing if a researcher does it TO the “other”. Ethnography used to have colonial purposes. Understanding the colonized in order to have more power over them. Even critical approaches to research that are usually more qualitative and interpretivist can sometimes fall into the trap of the researcher believing they have a more objective view of the world than the disempowered/oppressed others being researched.

Any act of a researcher selecting which stories to share and how to share and interpret and aggregate them is a potential act of violence on the lived experiences of those being researched. If the researched individual/community is not involved in making those decisions. 

Collaborative Autoethnography is the closest methodology I could find so far where the researcher and researched are the same… But not working alone to the extent that it’s mere navel-gazing and autobiography. The communal aspect of it is not perfect but it helps.

The problem with data is not just that it is decontextualized (as important as that is) but also who gets to create, collect, interpret and report it. Which is worse for quantiative data but entirely possible with qualitative data as the researcher also can decontextualize it through postpositivist approaches to “coding”. And even intepretivist approaches can do violence by just not having enough participation by those the researcher is trying to represent.

I am not saying let’s not do any non-participatory research. I am saying let’s recognize the violence and limitations of even the most well-meaning research. 

And stop talking about rigor as if you know how useful that is. The more “traditionally rigorous” research has the least usefulness to teachers in classrooms. For obvious reasons imho. 

For background on this post, read my previous post.

I am also pasting my comment on Paul Prinsloo’s blogpost 

I just realized I hadn’t commented here. This point really struck me:

“those who are on the receiving end of discriminatory practices and bias are often unheard, redlined and often excluded from access to the criteria being used to make decisions”
I suggest maybe it’s not just ACCESS that’s the problem. Not just access to data but also access to decision making. And so maybe each individual should have agency on how and when to give their data and how to interpret it and how those affect decisions that they themselves are at least involved in making, if not fully agent in making them.
What would be the Paulo Freire or bell hooks approach to learning analytics? If the data is collectible, how do we raise consciousness of learners that they figure out ways of using it that may benefit THEM. Give them opportunities to recognize what may be hindering their learning or promoting it, and to analyze the realities behind the numbers and act based on what they learn? This of course is still problematic if the collectors of data are the institution/colonizer because the categories chosen are external to the learner. But what if it were different and learners had choice in every step of the way? It reeks of self-monitoring that Foucault may loathe… But I think it’s more of a self-consciousness, a self-awareness that can be fostered in community to help learners benefit from each others reflections.

It occurs to me that much ethnographic and critical research that isn’t participatory has the same issues. So maybe I am calling for a participatory learning analytics approach or a broader thing that encompasses all kinds of learning. A kind of auto-reflection on own learning and learning data – be it analytics or qualitative data. What do you think?

Added later. In response to Frances Bell comment below… I went back to blogposts on CAE (collaborative Autoethnography) I wrote in 2014/5. I skimmed them all and found one Frances hadn’t responded to and in which I think I was most critical/reflective. It’s long.

This blogpost specifically and this paragraph especially:

  • I keep circling back to the same thing, right? There power questions, there are questions of who can tell whose story? There are multiple “others” in the “we” of autoethnography, and what do we do by telling our story and leaving out theirs? What about the people who do not wish to be researchers but whose stories are in the narratives? What about the people who didn’t contribute to the narratives but were rhizo14ers? What about the people who didn’t even blog visibly or at all, and so have no easy “trace” to find even if we wanted to incorporate their views?

    If folks are interested,  I have several publications using Collaborative Autoethnography (in my publications page).


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