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Situational Analysis in Practice: Mapping Research with Grounded Theory
Date Reviewed: August 15, 2017
Aimed at students and researchers newer to qualitative analysis in general or to Situational Analysis (SA) in particular, Situational Analysis in Practice: Mapping Research with Grounded Theory is a history, theory, and how-to book gathered into one neat, accessible package. Comprised mainly (save the introduction) of attributed essays and reflections, the volume provides both theoretical depth and methodological breadth.
SA is an inductive qualitative methodology that grew out of Grounded Theory (GT). Although the details are complex, the essential critique of GT that SA counters is an accounting of the messiness of human lives. Where GT can be described as exclusive by virtue of its analytical focus on main social processes, SA is described as inclusive: it widens the analytical lens to include power dynamics, discourse, context, non-human environment, and so forth – all the elements that under/overlie social process. The consequents “messiness” that SA encounters is made manageable by a mapping process.
The book is divided into three discrete parts that allow the book to be used in a field methods course in whole or in part. The introduction (Part I) is a concise history of GT, the schools of thought that developed and competed for dominance, and the emergence of SA as a way to counter some of the perceived weaknesses in GT. A lack of emphasis on marginalized voices is the weakness in GT that is most alluded to, and this emphasis comes to the fore, especially when the introduction turns to the technique of and rationale for mapping SA.
Part II, on interpretive qualitative method, contributes to the theoretical depth by expanding on the foundations of SA. Modelling the strengths of qualitative analysis, Adele E. Clarke humanizes the historical development of SA by offering her personal recollections and rationales. The two other essays in the section demonstrate how mapping with SA supports and is supported by feminist theories of knowledge acquisition and an inductive methodology. The fluid, process-oriented nature of SA is examined, providing foundation and foreshadowing for Part III and the methodology of mapping SA.
The introductory section of Part III briefly explains three types of maps used in SA: situational, social worlds/arenas, and positional. The editors go on to note, however, that the flexibility of SA mapping assures that no two research projects will use it in exactly the same way. This is illustrated by the bulk of Part III, which consists of research essays by scholars from a diversity of disciplinary backgrounds and interests who have utilized SA mapping in their research. I liked the author reflections included after each essay. This adds to the pedagogical value of the work.
The Appendices provide ample reference materials, websites, and further discipline-specific research that has been conducted using SA mapping. While no religious studies or theological research is specifically referenced, this work is accessible and substantive and could be a valuable tool for a field work or theory and methods course.
Academic Autoethnographies: Inside Teaching in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: May 28, 2017
The editors of this book are based in a School of Education at a South African university where they teach and research in the academic specializations of Teacher Development Studies (Daisy and Kathleen) and Educational Leadership and Management (Inbanathan) (2). There are thirteen chapters that identify how each utilizes autoethnography within South African higher education. Each author discusses their personal and/or professional narrative of lived experiences as a doctoral student, researcher, or educator within South African higher education. Even though the book is written from a South African higher education viewpoint, the strength of the book is its usefulness to academics who are interested in learning how to be self-reflective, find their authentic voice, and use creative measures (photos, poems, storyboards, exhibitions, journals, metaphor drawings, and so forth) to share their experiences to a wider community within and outside of academia. The book invites readers to experience autoethnographic research as a challenging, complex, and potentially transformative methodology for facilitating sociocultural understandings of academic selves and of teaching in higher education (14). Within the book, autoethnography is defined in multiple ways by different practitioners. However, one key definition is “autoethnography has potential to deepen and extend our understandings of lived educational experiences through the articulation and acknowledgment of how selves are sociocultural, political, and historical (14).” Each chapter’s author focuses on a lived educational experience for which they use autoethnography as their method of self-reflexive research.
Liz Harrison (chapter 2) sought to write an authoethnography “that is ethnographic in its methodological orientation, cultural in its interpretive orientation, and autobiographical in its content orientation” (Chang 2008, 48). She focuses on how she came to give weight to her voice and the opportunities afforded her to speak for change within higher education. Lasse Reinikainen and Helene Zetterstrom Dahlqvist (chapter 5) focus on how as teachers and researchers there is a challenge to find ways to teach about issues connected to complex and abstract societal structures, especially if teachers want students to understand and make connections to their own individual experiences (70). They used the art of curating an exhibit as a form of self-reflexivity and writing about the ethical issues of the process. They explore the thought-provoking question – “Is there social change in you?” Their emphasis is on the vulnerability of teachers moving from private (personal) to public (shared) experiences with their students.
The remainder of the book is equally valuable for educators implementing autoethnography using visual art (poems, exhibits, storyboards, photography, family history, and so forth). The book accomplishes much in the short space of thirteen well-structured chapters. It is an important resource for those seeking to use autoethnography to improve their teaching.
Enhancing and Expanding Undergraduate Research: A Systems Approach (New Directions for Higher Education, Number 169)
Date Reviewed: March 4, 2016
The Council for Undergraduate Research (CUR) wonders why undergraduate research (UR) – which has been shown to increase student retention, graduation rates, and post-graduation achievement – is not practiced more broadly. What can be done to encourage this pedagogical shift? This book advances the cause by providing a reference for academic decision makers showing the benefits of UR, featuring systems and consortia that have successfully implemented the practice.
CUR has championed undergraduate research from 1978 to the present, through publications, awards, and outreach activities, such as holding workshops for consortium leaders. This book is an overview of a series of workshops in which six particular systems and consortia participated. There is a chapter from each workshop with a synopsis of their UR experience and a focus on distinct aspects. The workshop participants included: California State University System (CSU), University of Wisconsin System (UW), the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC), Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), City University of New York System (CUNY), and the Great Lakes College Association (GLCA).
The editors arranged the volume so that the first chapter provides an introduction to CUR and the workshops that brought these groups together, providing a context for the book with specific topics following. Chapter 2 introduces the effective system/consortia practices found across the six groups in focus. Chapters 3 through 8 focus on the experiences and successes of these particular groups. Chapter 3 highlights the increased success of underrepresented students through UR at CSU and Chapter 4 illustrates how at UW it positively affected economic development in the region. Chapter 5 considers the impact on faculty workload and compensation at COPLAC, while Chapter 6 addresses meeting fiscal and enrollment challenges through successful institutionalization at PASSHE. In Chapter 7, CUNY shares their funding strategies, with Chapter 8 revealing how GLCA incorporated research skills into their curriculum. The book concludes with Chapter 9, which considers which aspects of UR belong at the campus level and which are better suited for the systems and consortia.
This compilation reveals how challenges such as faculty and administrative support, funding, and changing institutional culture can be overcome through creating UR system leaders and strategic plans. In these examples, this was accomplished through CUR workshops, outside funding, community support, successful program branding, UR offices, and by providing consistent and meaningful communication to stakeholders. By having the six different groups share their own challenges and strategies, the book successfully models the viability of UR and provides concrete examples others can build on to create their own programs. An additional strength is also a weakness – the compact nature of the book is appreciable, but leaves the reader wishing that some of the topics had been expanded.
This work is an invaluable resource for higher education decision-makers considering whether to incorporate or expand UR on their college campuses, as they consider creative and attainable solutions to the changing academic landscape.
Digging Deeper Into Action Research: A Teacher Inquirer's Field Guide
Date Reviewed: December 2, 2014
Although targeted mainly to K-12 teachers, this short and easy to read book is helpful and could serve as a companion to professors of religious studies and theology who want to better their understanding of action research for improving classroom instruction. The ideas and principles presented in the book are not difficult to translate into higher education classroom contexts.
The book consists of six chapters and begins with defining teacher research and framing the research question. Dana provides five “wondering” questions for teachers to consider: (1) Is your wondering something you are passionate about? (2) Is your wondering focused on student learning? (3) Is your wondering a real question? (4) Is your wondering focused on your practice? and (5) Is your wondering phrased as a dichotomous (yes/no) question? The author then illustrates how to reframe these initial wonderings into pointed inquiry. She believes that good ideas and thought-provoking questions can only flourish through methodical inquiry. The book ends with two chapters that are concerned with ways to present inquiry-based research to colleagues and help them to improve their own teaching and research practices. In the chapters that fall between them, Dana discusses ways to fine-tune the research plan in chapter 3 and how to analyze data in chapter 4. Chapter 3 focuses on fine-tuning the research plan, and asks a number of pointed and useful questions that would be relevant for university, college, and seminary professors: (1) Does your data collection strategies align with your wondering and all other aspects of your inquiry plan? (2) Are you using multiple forms of data to gain insight into your wondering? (3) Does one of the forms of data you will collect include literature and/or have you already used literature to frame your wondering? (4) Is the design of your study experimental? In chapter 4, Dana distinguishes between formative and summative data analysis by giving real life vignettes from the field and also provides practical ways to avoid data analysis paralysis by way of self-guided worksheets. This might be helpful for those seeking to link teaching goals with outcomes and assessment strategies. Throughout the book, Dana inspires, reminds, and finally guides the reader through an action research process. As a result of going through this research process, readers are escorted through the process of improving their own pedagogical practices, “studying your practice empowers you to: engage learners, enable other professionals to learn from you, expand the knowledge base for teaching, express your individual identity as a teacher, and embrace all the rich complexity inherent in the act of teaching and learning” (80).
This book might initially overwhelm professors of religious studies and theology if they have not read in practitioner action research or have not used action research to improve their own pedagogical practices. However, for those with some experience using action research as a strategy for teaching, this book is a welcome resource to help improve teaching and learning practices in the classroom.