Qualitative Methods Course: Coding, or, Rigour vs Interest


This post is part of a series of blogs offering a week-by-week account of my first year qualitative methods course. You can find them all under the tag GEO1018: Qualitative Methods

With last week’s lecture on ‘how to interview’ cancelled by the 2018 UCU strike – I’ll add a blog-post outlining what I have done at some point! – this week we move on to possibly the most boring topic possible for a lecture: coding.

In some ways, what’s difficult about teaching coding is convincing the students how simple it is; that all it is is about highlighting and annotating notes so that data can be tied to key concepts, and to help produce analytical categories.

In the lecture itself, I frame the process in terms of selecting and ordering. The first part is about ‘selecting’ the data that will inform the analysis, and the second part is about ordering it into an analysis.

As I developed the course, I’ve increased the amount of space for actual examples of coding and coding practice, reducing the discussion of what it is and why we do it.  In the seminar, students work with their transcripts to produce a series of codes with data on a spider diagram. It’s impressive how the task can result in 40 minutes of silent scribbling, typing and concentration: I don’t think I’ve seen many seminars where students work so hard! The seminar format is:

  1. Open Coding (20 mins)

Looking at your transcript, study it to try and find codes. You can attempt to focus on your research questions, or look at any emerging themes. Try to find as many codes as you can

  1. Sorting and Organising Codes (20 minutes)

Draw a spider diagram of your project, with the codes collected into groups. Try and select key quotes from each code to go on the diagram.

  1. Presenting Work (20 minutes)

For the final 20 minutes, as many of you who we can fit in will present your diagrams to the class, explaining your codes, the quotes connected to them, and what they tell you about your topic

The seminar leads to a satisfying 30 minutes or so of a room of students quietly writing, annotating and working. It’s a different style of seminar compared to what we often do – much more school-class like – and I wouldn’t want to do it too often; but there is some value in creating the space to do this work!

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