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Lesson Learned: Teaching Trust Alumni Network’s Qualitative Work by Anupama Shekar and Matt Pierson

Anupama Shekar
Anupama Shekar

Hi, we are Dr. Anupama Shekar, Director of Evaluation and Dr. Matt Pierson, Program Officer, Alumni Network at Teaching Trust, an education leadership nonprofit in Dallas, Texas. Teaching Trust offers high-quality training and support to future school leaders, school leadership teams, and teacher leaders to ensure children in low-income schools across North Texas have access to an excellent education.

Matt Pierson
Matt Pierson

The goal of our small qualitative project was to better understand how  programming has had an impact on participants and specifically how our Teaching Trust Network’s programming can be strengthened to

benefit more kids in the Dallas Fort Worth area and beyond. We presented this as an AEA Coffee Break webinar on the “power of collaborative coding in qualitative analyses” and want to share some key learnings that could help drive your work with colleagues around qualitative data and analyses.

Lessons Learned:

Be an explorer. Conducting rigorous qualitative analyses is hard, but in some ways remember that you are only an explorer trying to unpack the meaning behind each word, sentence and paragraph. So, it is critical to ask “why” at every stage of qualitative work while gathering data, transcribing, writing memos, coding, re-coding, identifying patterns and themes and drawing conclusions. We learned that the struggle with ideas is essential as it gets you closer to making meaning from the complex and identify areas for further exploration.

We also learned that conducting qualitative work is a journey. The value in qualitative work is that it lets you see the story beneath those numbers and continue to ask “why” to help drive decisions.

Embrace collaboration. The qualitative journey can sometimes be an isolating experience but we learned that the heart of this work is in the collaboration. In our project, we were three people who took notes during data gathering, coded, wrote memos and made meaning in an ongoing way. The collaboration not only adds validity to our findings but also helps us wrestle with those ideas at a deeper level throughout the analyses process.

Qualitative coding approaches. In our project, Anu Shekar used QSR’s NVivo to code while Matt Pierson and our Teaching Trust Alumni Network’s Program Coordinator Haley Pittman used pen and paper to code. NVivo allows researchers and evaluators to connect and collapse codes across several pieces of qualitative data and see patterns through models at a much faster pace than pen and paper. Michael Quinn Patton’s book on Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods has some practical tips on how to approach coding manually.

However, the value of using pen and paper to also code, write memos, draw visualizations and triangulate NVivo generated findings is powerful and adds a layer of rigor. Using multiple approaches to code is also especially valuable if you have some colleagues who do not know how to use the NVivo software but would like to engage in qualitative analyses. NVivo is a paid product and you can learn more about it here: http://www.qsrinternational.com/nvivo/nvivo-products. There are several published books also available that you can use to learn about qualitative data analyses with NVivo.

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