Qualitative research: Methods, applications, questions

JALT Group: 
Event Speaker: 
Amanda Gillis-Furutaka, Kyoto Sangyo University
Blake Hayes, Ritsumeikan University
Jackie J. Kim-Wachutka, Ritsumeikan University
Robert Ó’Móchain, Ritsumeikan University
Thomas Amundrud, Nara University of Education
Fee for JALT members: 
Fee for non-JALT members: 
500 yen
Contact or Queries: 
Saturday, July 4, 2015 - 9:00am to 12:00pm

This event will feature a variety of workshops on different aspects of the theory and practice of qualitative research, both within and beyond language classrooms.


Issues to consider when planning, conducting, and transcribing interviews in a Japanese setting
Amanda Gillis-Furutaka, Kyoto Sangyo University

The research project I will outline began when I wanted to find out why Extensive Reading (ER) is fun and effective for some university students, while others find it a burden with little reward. To do this I needed to talk to students who were not in my class, and in a private and non-threatening situation. These early interviews revealed aspects of the students’ ER experience that I had not been fully aware of as a teacher. The most important finding was that the struggling students were spending a lot of time mentally translating from English to Japanese as they read. I wanted to find out why they needed to do this when they were reading English at their level in the ER program. Not having training in the use of brain-scanning equipment, I chose to ask students to indicate where and why they had switched into Japanese while reading graded reader material. In my introduction, I will explain how I gathered this data from 93 students from 7–20 years old and later analyzed it. In the round-robin session, I will explain in more detail how I set up the interviews (applying for permission, getting consent, mistakes made/lessons learned in interviewing Japanese participants, dealing with data.) My aim is to address practical concerns, but also to demonstrate how a qualitative approach like this can uncover factors that may be overlooked by researchers using a purely quantitative approach.

Biodata: Amanda Gillis-Furutaka is a Professor in the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Kyoto Sangyo University. She taught English in a variety of settings in France, Portugal, China, and Brazil before settling in Japan. She has been a tutor and dissertation supervisor/marker for the University of Birmingham MA in TESOL (distance program) since it began and is currently researching Japanese audience consumption of English-language music video as well as Extensive Reading. She has been active in JALT over the years, serving as an officer in the Kyoto chapter, in the Bilingualism SIG, and is currently Program Officer of the newly-founded Brain SIG.

Questions, cultural relativism, and critical theory
Blake Hayes, Ritsumeikan University

Developing a research project can be complicated by cultural relativism and its imbrication in interpretivist research. How can we develop a research question in the critical theory vein that is broad enough and focused sufficiently yet does not cross the line of disrespecting cultural practices? How can we interpret our empirical data without imposing our own cultural views, whether as Japanese or as non-Japanese? How do we negotiate our standpoint whether as members of, or on the margins of, the dominant culture within the multiple cultural contexts? How can we undertake research that can explicate praxis beyond prevailing norms? Since all research is value-laden, how can we make decisions about analyzing and presenting our research and not become paralyzed by our concerns that we will sound culturally insensitive? This presentation will explore these issues and provide answers to some dilemmas that occur when undertaking qualitative research.

Biodata: Blake Hayes is an associate professor in the College of International Relations at Ritsumeikan University. Her research focus has been on gender regimes and employment practices, recently focusing on academia. With a critical theory lens, she does institutional analyses using a relational approach to explore justice and the marginalization of minorities in employment. She has recently been undertaking a multi-country analysis that includes an exploration of Japanese universities.

Tales from the Field: Qualitative Ethnography and Interview Methodology
Jackie J. Kim-Wachutka, Ritsumeikan University

Qualitative data, collected through in-depth life history interviews and extensive ethnography, document the social, cultural and political surroundings of the focused informants. Qualitative methodology as a way to conduct research within the fields of humanities and social sciences gives an inner view of the micro-dynamics of the workings of identity and narratives that create a particular personhood. Complementing the conventional “scientific” inquiries of accumulating information and statistical data, subjective or interpretative social-science methodology provides an equally effective tool to reveal a further powerful dimension by allowing often subaltern respondents to speak for themselves, demonstrating individual agency. The interaction between the researcher and the informants through ethnography elucidates the detailed, in-depth description of everyday life as well as the cultural and social practices of the specific actors of a community. Thus, formulating reliable and trusting relationships with informants provides a combination of emic and etic perspectives, incorporating an insider’s point of view with a distant, analytical positioning as both “participant” and “observer”. The interpretation and analysis of the interviews — collected through extensive “structure-free”, unrestricted open-ended conversations — as well as detailed descriptions of the field, accompanied by informed knowledge of the specific socio-historical reality — the context, impact and consequences — coalesce crucial aspects of thorough and comprehensive qualitative research. This presentation incorporates the basic tools, techniques and processes of conducting ethnography and field-work with experiential-based knowledge and information gained through interaction with a specific minority community, namely the Zainichi Korean women in Japan.

Biodata: Jackie J. Kim-Wachutka graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Thereafter, she travelled to Niigata with the Japan Exchange Teaching Program (JET). Interested in the social issues of the Zainichi Koreans in Japan, she began her graduate studies at Sophia University in Tokyo. Her M. A. thesis, further developed as research fellow at the University of Tokyo, was published under the title Hidden Treasures: Lives of First-Generation Korean Women in Japan. Kim-Wachutka completed her Ph. D. at the University of Tuebingen in Germany and presently teaches at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto.

Finding an alternative to ‘Quantitative/Qualitative’
Robert Ó’Móchain, Ritsumeikan University

This presentation asks two questions: “Is there a better way to think of research methodology than the ‘Quantitative/Qualitative’ dichotomy.” And “How can we evaluate the usefulness of ‘Mixed Methods’?” The U.S. scholar Patrick Jackson of American University speaks of alternative classifications such as “Dualist/Monist” and “Descriptive/Causal” to better approximate the hidden assumptions of all research projects. I will try to explain what these assumptions are and how they affect our choice of interview type for research. I also offer reflections on experiences with in-depth interviews for a doctoral research project.

Biodata: Robert Ó’Móchain has served as co-editor of the GALE Journal in the past. He teaches full-time at Ritsumeikan’s department of International Relations in Kyoto.

Classroom observation: Methods and questions for potential researchers
Thomas Amundrud, Nara University of Education

If language-teaching researchers want to understand about how classroom language learning takes place, one research approach to consider should be systemic, audio-video recorded classroom observations. However, many may be wary of conducting this sort of investigation. For some, it may concern potential ethical problems with obtaining permission for observation studies from supervisors, peers, or students, or it may be regarding potential observer effects, or the ethical treatment of the research materials once collected. Other concerns may be more technical, such as deciding what equipment to use, or how to arrange it in the classroom, so as to get adequate materials for research. Lastly, some may simply wonder how to handle the potentially overwhelming amount of audiovisual material that observation studies collect in a systematic and principled manner. In this workshop, the speaker will discuss how he is handling these three questions in his ongoing qualitative classroom observation-based dissertation research, with the aim of assisting others in crafting and refining their own research projects.

Biodata: Thomas Amundrud is a Lecturer in English Education at Nara University of Education, and a doctoral candidate in Linguistics at Macquarie University. His main research interest is multimodal discourse analysis through the lens of systemic-functional linguistics.