My preferred research methods (Portable MLIS, ch. 15)

Upon reading Powell’s (2008) overview of research methods, I have clear preferences. I would like the research I do during my MSLIS program and professionally to be applied research, specifically action research. I am very pragmatic, and have always preferred qualitative data to quantitative data, though I readily use “hard” data to spark my queries and support my findings. I am especially enamored of case study analysis, which I began learning about during my first masters program at Harvard Divinity School. This was in the context of a course in Jesuit (Catholic) morality and confessional theology, in which seminarians are trained to adhere to a specific method of hearing and responding to parishioners’ confessions called casuistry, or “case-based reasoning.” I have also applied case study work in my high school teaching, and looked to law school models of using case studies as an exemplary way for students to enter into the historical and cultural experiences of a people in a specific time and place.

Surveys are useful, but tend to be more flawed than practical in my experience. I have not yet attempted to facilitate a focus group, but I would love to do so. In terms of qualitative methods, I am drawn to phenomenology, which is concerned with participant perceptions, and to discourse analysis, which analyzes the spoken word. I have a colleague who is working towards her Ph.D. in Literacy, and she is doing incredible discourse analysis work on the language students use in her classroom. The audio tapes of her students speaking in class are enlightening to listen to and rewarding to analyze—which we did once during our humanities team summer retreat. These brief clips of classroom discussion, when transcribed, excerpted, and evaluated, provide an opportunity for teachers to think about the ways they are listening to their students, and consider whether they are missing, mishearing, or misinterpreting valuable student contributions during class. My colleague’s research is deeply enriching her understanding of her students’ ways of communicating, and subsequently improving her practice. This kind of practical research appeals greatly to me.

Powell, R. (2008). Research. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 87-97). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

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