There have been many side trips on this journey. A description of the rationale for some of these side trips may prove useful. A major side trip involved the study of both eastern and western philosophy. There was a good reason for this trip. To be effective as a qualitative researcher you have to understand the philosophy that underlies your personal views of the world and your approach to the research. This is essential if one is to select the best method for the research question or the phenomenon to be explored. This side trip has been instrumental in my becoming more reflective in my study, in my teaching practice, and in my life. Then, there has been the side trip into learning to write, which, like teaching, is always a work in progress. I have been studying the craft of writing creative non-fiction. My research participants have told such powerful and inspiring stories that I knew I would have to learn to write better. This would be the only way to do their stories justice. Hopefully, this side trip will be time well spent. Of course, there was the need to transcribe about 12 hours or approximately 700 pages of interview data. After the second one I did the smart thing and hired a transcriber, otherwise I might still be transcribing. But there have been more side trips.
With my ten transcribed interviews, I had to teach myself how to code qualitative research. If you are reading this you probably already know what this means, but just in case, this is where the interview transcripts are reviewed word by word and line by line for words and phrases that represent the content and essence of the research participants experience. This requires multiple iterations, which in my case placed me deep in the “code swamp”. There will be more to come about how I arrived at a coding structure appropriate to this research and subsequently miring myself deep in the swamp, and the process of synthesis needed to extricate myself. For now, I want to talk about another side trip that provided inspiration. While reading The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers by Johnny Saldaña, I stumbled across references to the work of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. As I read about Joseph Campbell’s description of the narrative structure of The Hero’s Journey and Carl Jung’s work on archetypes the blinders came off. Each of the study participants are modern day heroes, and their stories follow the patterns or stages as outlined by the hero’s journey. This led to a brief study of Giroux’s work on cultural border crossings, which lines up with the crossing the threshold stage of the hero’s journey. The cultural border crossing my participants were required to make brought them into the foreign land of academia. Well, more about these and other side trips later.
Where am I today? I am currently on my third iteration of coding the seventh interview. Each interview requires four iterations. Two are done by hand and two are done using Atlas.ti qualitative data analysis software. I synthesize the codes in between each interview and use the memo function to write snippets that will be assembled at the end along with participant quotes for chapter four, the report of the findings. This has been a slow and tedious process. This process has included reviews by experienced phenomenological researchers through my involvement with the university phenomenology group This is a cross-disciplinary group which provides support by discussion and review of the transcripts. The fourth iteration of each transcript compares my interpretation of the transcripts with the interpretation of other researchers. This provides third party verification essential to the dependability and credibility of a qualitative research study. One thing I have learned on this journey is that everything will take longer than you expect. As I have moved through the transcripts I have taken significant participant quotes and inserted them in the findings chapter using the stages of the hero’s journey as adapted for this study as an outline.
The final dissertation will be six chapters which I have set up as six separate papers. Much of what will fit in these six chapter has already been written. I have presented preliminary findings three or four times at conferences. Agreeing to present at conferences has resulted in frantically struggling to meet deadlines in and around the demands of my full-time teaching practice and the increasing demands of responsibilities related to participation in professional organizations. All too often I have bored to tears my long suffering wife Sherry, relatives, friends and colleagues with evolving versions of the elevator speech. There is growing sense of exhilaration as I approach the end of the coding process, for me this has given me a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. It is fair to say that Sherry’s exhilaration will be greater than mine. Watch for next week’s installment, hopefully it will not be 22 months from now.