Teaching the skills needed for qualitative interviewing poses particular challenges. Students need to learn how to frame and ask questions, how to practice reflexivity, and how to analyze interview data. Such skills cannot be learned simply by reading about them in a textbook.
Recognizing that practice provides the best way to learn the skills involved in qualitative interviewing, in 2010, Professor Ping-Chun Hsiung developed an interactive on-line guide to provide help for those seeking to teach (and learn) qualitative interviewing. Drawing on a dataset of original interviews conducted in 1993 under the supervision of Professor Nancy Howell, Professor Hsiung worked with a web developer to prepare Lives and Legacies, an open-access piece of courseware designed as a resource for learning or improving qualitative research skills.
The courseware consists of lessons on interviewing, reflexivity and analysis and in each case uses examples from a study of immigrant families. The guide provides shared data from an archive of qualitative interviews to demonstrate the methods for interviewing and analysis. It highlights both exemplars in interviewing and “informative mistakes” and provides eighteen interactive exercises.
Many instructors have found Lives and Legacies to be an invaluable resource. According to Google Analytics, the guide has been accessed almost 4,000 times since it was posted in 2010. Professor Hsiung has also heard from colleagues in Canada, US, and UK who describe the website as “fabulous” and “incredible.” They applauded the courseware for its contribution to the teaching qualitative interviewing, and have incorporated it into their own teaching practice.
Relationships change over time and ties that were once significant sometimes fade or disappear from sight. Having once existed, however, these ties still hold the potential to re-emerge at a later time, mobilized like sleeper cells when circumstances or needs change.
This year, Professor Alexandra Marin received a grant from the American Sociological Association’s Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline to study the particular ways in which personal relationships change. This fund supports “small, groundbreaking research initiatives…that (have) the potential for challenging the discipline, (and/or) stimulating new lines of research…”
This project asks whether people are really gone from a social network when researchers think they are gone. It posits that people play different functions in our social lives and might shift from one function to another. For instance, we might not share important details about our lives with some people who would, nonetheless, be there with a pot of soup if we were ever really in need. Circumstances might have drawn apart people who were once close; but circumstances could also draw them together again. Without thinking of the multiple dimensions of network ties, researchers can’t understand the full potential for social support that exists in all of our personal social networks.
Professor Marin is studying this question with an innovative research method that involves asking middle-aged adults to pull out their old photo albums and talk with an interviewer about their current relationships with the people from their past. Using albums helps to catch those people that we might just have forgotten about over time. Personal support networks can be incredibly important for living healthy, socially and economically engaged lives. Understanding the ways in which relationships can shift will help us understand the full potential that personal networks have in providing social support.
Professor Ping-Chun Hsiung recently served as the guest editor for a Special Issue of Qualitative Inquiry called “Teaching Qualitative Research as Transgressive Practices” (February 2016: 22 (2). This issue breaks new ground by recognizing teaching as an essential means for the production and reproduction of Qualitative Research. It sees the teaching of Qualitative Research as involving a set of transgressive practices that sustain and realize critical perspectives and practices.
The Issue includes four full-length articles contributed by qualitative practitioners from the geopolitical South, an aboriginal scholar within the Western core, and a scholar in a health science field. It also includes five shorter articles that address key concepts and principles of Qualitative Research. Taken together, these articles challenge the field to recognize the ways in which the practice and process of teaching qualitative inquiry can serve as a channel of transformation.