Getting to grips with research terminology (MRes Creative Practices)

With thanks to Dr Robin Burgess, KAPTUR Project Officer, The Glasgow School of Art, for this blog post.

On the 4th and 5th of October I taught 10 MRes students a session titled ‘Getting to grips with research terminology’, this was to present methods and methodologies to prepare them for their Masters research projects.

The first day comprised of a lecture about different aspects of research, terminology that the students might be faced with and the decisions they might have to make when managing research data. The second day comprised of a workshop enabling the students to put into practice the information they had learnt the day before and apply this to actual research situations.

The aim was to provide an overview of aspects related to research terminology that students studying within an Arts context might encounter; quantitative, qualitative and mixed method terms were explored alongside approaches to data capture and analysis terms. I drew examples from the social sciences and mathematical sciences, discussing how these could be applied in the context of arts based research.

Three principle areas were covered:

  1. Philosophical worldviews: Investigating the concepts of postpositivism, constructivism, advocacy/participatory, and pragmatism
  2. Selected strategies of inquiry: Quantitative, qualitative and Mixed methods
  3. Research methods: The actual approaches that could be used for gathering and analysing information

A fundamental area considered was the criteria which might influence the research design being undertaken, such as understanding the research problem, the effects of personal experience, positionality, and the actual audience for the research. This proved to be very topical and raised many questions from the students.

As part of this area, the following quotes were discussed:

“I don’t have to concern myself with how I’m going to analyse my survey data until after I’ve collected my data. I’ll leave thinking about it until then, because it doesn’t impinge on how I collect my data”

“every research tool or procedure is inextricably embedded in commitments to particular versions of the world. To use a questionnaire, to use an attitude scale, to take the role of participant observer, to select a random sample, to measure rates of population growth, and so on, is to be involved in conceptions of the world which allow these instruments to be used for the purpose conceived”

Dissemination and presentation of information was commented on, highlighting the need for good communication of data and the importance of data management during research projects. This is where I discussed the work of KAPTUR and the need for data management policies.

The workshop session consisted of three tasks that were undertaken individually and in groups. Firstly I wanted the students to think about the research plans they had and apply the information they had learnt so far to this research proposal, thinking about the data they might collect, how it might be stored and analysed, determining the audience for the work and what worldview they might look at adopting. The students then reported back to the rest of the group and I gave suggestions and advice for further considerations. As a class we then looked at art work by two unknown artists (myself and a friend of mine) to determine the merits of the work and try and understand what could be deduced from the work. Looking at what analysis could be applied, such as the type of art – conventional and digital – and the colours used etc. This proved insightful as the students really began to delve into the art and explore the meaning of the pieces, looking below the surface. We then looked at works by established artists – Rothko and Magritte – and reviewed them in the same way. The final task was looking at two poems written by Wendy Cope. I wanted the students to critically review these, to determine the nature of the poems, look at the wording and language used, think about the audience and the message being conveyed. This task proved to be very enjoyable and highlighted much debate with regard to the audience for the pieces and who had potentially written them. Conflicting ideas were expressed and argued with sound evidence on both sides, illustrating how written text can be interpreted differently. It was great to really see the students engaging with the task.

All in all the two sessions (lecture and workshop) were successful and the students provided positive feedback.

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