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Saturday, 10 August 2013

FIT6021 Workshop 6: Grounded Theory

Part One
Workshop 6 introduced us to Grounded Theory, a research method I had never heard of before. Upon hearing the name, I had originally thought it meant theory that was grounded in other people's theory and research, but it turned out to be the opposite; in Grounded Theory, the researcher approaches the project with no preconceived ideas about what their research question is or consideration of existing theories in the literature (I find this a little counter-intuitive; humans always have ideas about things, even if we know little about them, so the idea of being completely objective - a blank slate, as it were - seems like a bit of a stretch. Also, going into a research project and completely disregarding existing literature seems arrogant and foolish). Essentially, the researcher gathers their data - whether it be existing data or collected from surveys/interviews/observation/field work etc - and then allows the theory to emerge from the data and be built upon evidence, rather than the other way around. This means that unexpected results are more likely to emerge, or the research may be required to follow a different direction.

Once the researcher has their data, they examine it for trends and identifies common phrases (or codes) in order to group data into categories. From these categories, the researcher focuses on the topics they feel are most important (which may or may not be relevant to the information they were originally searching for) which, are tested by theoretical sampling. This allows them to develop/refine their theories.

Part Two
This week was a bit of a blur. I was running on too much caffeine and too little sleep. Still, we managed to get through our presentations and interestingly, all three participants (for some reason it was a bit of a small turnout) found some pretty glaring errors in our papers we chose to critique (which I won't go into detail about here since it's written in my essay). It seems as though Grounded Theory is becoming an increasingly popular method of research in the IT field, which makes it surprising that so many reviewers seem to know little about it (these papers still managed to get published in high-ranking academic journals in spite of their flaws). Being a qualitative research method, it perhaps isn't as 'clear-cut' as some quantitative methods, but it is still important to be able to explain and justify the approach you have taken in order for your results to be considered complete and valid.

Will Grounded Theory be useful for my own research? I don't know (and it may be a bit hard to say since I only know my field of research and not my hypothesis). Maybe. I feel that my research touches a few different fields - interactive narrative, educational software, sign language learning - and though there is ample research in each of these fields, there is little that overlaps with all of them. However, even if my research doesn't fit squarely in any one of these fields, it will certainly still influence them, so I don't see how it's possible that I can ignore the literature in those fields. Also, I'm the sort of person who would rather have my research question (or at least a fair idea of it) worked out before I start, rather than just seeing what comes out; I guess I'd just feel more secure if I had some direction to begin with. On the other hand, I want to design a system that will teach sign language and enable feedback for the user in a way that (as far as I have been able to ascertain) has not been done before. In this regard, it will be difficult to compare the results with anything that has been done already, so a Grounded Theory approach may be appropriate.

Grounded Theory Online Resources
These are some resources I found for anyone interested in learning more about Grounded Theory:
  • "Grounded Theory Designs in Qualitative Analysis" by Sehriban Bugday. Provides a definition of Grounded Theory, explains the different types and steps involved in conducting Grounded Theory research, and also discusses how Grounded Theory research can be evaluated. LINK
  • "Qualitative Research in Information Systems: References on Grounded Theory" by Michael D Myers (editor). A page on the Association for Information Systems website listing examples of Grounded Theory use in Information Systems research, followed by examples of its use in other disciplines. LINK
  • "Profiling grounded theory approaches in information systems research" by Matavire and Brown. An article published in the European Journal of Information Systems examining the use of various Grounded Theory approaches in IS research (requires academic access). LINK
  • "Introduction to Grounded Theory" by Steve Borgatti. A page that goes into a little more detail about coding methods used in Grounded Theory. LINK
  • "Using Grounded Theory Method in Information Systems: The Researcher as Blank Slate and Other Myths" by Urquhart and Fernandez. This paper clarifies various aspects of Grounded Theory, using examples of other research to do so (requires academic access). LINK
Rex is a bit bewildered by Grounded Theory...

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