Teaching Qualitative Methods via Social Media

teaching qualitative methods social media


This blog now has nearly 120 posts about all different kinds of qualitative methods, and has grown to hosting thousands of visitors a month. There are lots of other great qualitative blogs around, including Margaret Roller’s Research Design Review and the Digital Tools for Qualitative Research group and the newly relaunched Qual Page.

But these are only one part of the online qualitative landscape, and there are an increasing number of people engaged in teaching, commenting and exploring qualitative methods and analysis on social media. By this I mean popular platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Academia.net, Researchgate and even Instagram and Snapchat. And yes, people are even using Instagram to share pictures and engage with others doing qualitative research.

So the call for a talk at the International Conference of Qualitative Inquiry (ICQI 2017) asked: How can educators reach out and effectively use social media as a way to teach and engage students with qualitative methodologies?

Well, a frequent concern of teachers is how you teach the richness and complexity of qualitative methods in something like a Tweet which has a 140 character limit? Even the previous sentence would be too long for a Tweet! While other platforms such as comments on Facebook don’t have such tight limits, they are still geared towards short statements. Obviously, detailing the nuances of grounded theory in this way is not realistic. But it can be a great way to start a conversation or debate, to link and draw attention to other longer sources of media.

For example the very popular ‘Write That PhD’ Twitter feed by Dr Melanie Haines of the University of Canberra has nearly 20 thousand followers. The feed offers advice on writing and designing a PhD and often posts or retweets pictures which contain a lot more detailed tips on writing a thesis. This is a good way of getting around the character limit, and pictures, especially when not just of a long block of text are a good way to draw the eye. Social media accounts can also be used to link to other places (such as a blog) where you can write much longer materials – and this is an approach we use a lot.

But to use social media effectively for outreach and engagement, it is also important to understand the different audiences which each platform has, and the subsets within each site. For example, Snapchat has a much younger audience than Facebook, and academic focused platforms might be a good place to network with other academics, but doesn’t tend to have many active undergraduates.

It’s also important to think how students will be looking and searching for information, and how to get into the feeds that they look at on a daily basis. On Facebook and especially Twitter, hashtags are a big part of this, and it’s worth researching the popular terms that people are searching for which are relevant to your research or teaching. For example the #phdlife and #phdchat tags are two of the most popular ones, #profchat and #research have their own niches and audiences too. While it can seem like a good idea to start a new hashtag for yourself like #lovequalitiative, it takes a lot of work and influential followers to get them off the ground.


Don’t forget that hashtags and keywords are just one way to target different audiences. Twitter also has ‘lists’ of users with particular interests, and Linkedin and Facebook have groups and pages with followers which it can be worth joining and contributing to. On Researchgate and Academia.net the question forums are very active, and there are great discussions about all aspects of qualitative research.

But the most exciting part of social media for teaching qualitative research is the conversations and discussions that you can have. Since there are so many pluralities of theory and method, online conversations can challenge and promote the diversity of qualitative approaches. This is a challenge as well, as it requires a lot of time, ideally over a long period of time, to keep replying to comments and questions that pop up. However, the beauty of all these platforms is that they effectively create archives for you, so if there was a discussion about qualitative diary methodologies on a Facebook group a year ago, it will still be there, and others can read and learn from it. Conversely, new discussions can pop up at any time (and on any of the different social media sites) so keeping on top of them all can be time consuming.

In short, there is a key rule for digital engagement, be it for teaching or promoting a piece of research: write once, promote often. Get a digital presence on a blog or long form platform (like Medium) and then promote what you’ve written on as many social media platforms as you can. The more you promote, the more visible and the higher rated your content will become, and the greater audience you can engage with. And the best part of all is how measurable it is. You can record the hits, follows and likes of your teaching or research and show your REF committee or department the extent of your outreach. So social media can be a great feather to add to your teaching cap!


Include qualitative analysis software in your qualitative courses this year

teaching qualitative modues


A new term is just beginning, so many lecturers, professors and TAs are looking at their teaching schedule for the next year. Some will be creating new courses, or revising existing modules, wondering what to include and what’s new. So why not include qualitative analysis software (also known as CAQDAS or QDA software)?


There’s a common misconception that software for qualitative research takes too long to teach, and instructors often aren’t confident themselves in the software (Gibbs 2014), leading to a perception that including it in courses will be too difficult (Rodik and Primorac 2015). It’s also a sad truth that few universities or colleges have support from IT departments or experts when training students on CAQDAS software (Blank 2004).


However, we have specifically designed Quirkos to address these challenges, and make teaching qualitative analysis with software simpler. It should be possible to teach the basics of qualitative analysis, as well as provide students with a solid understanding of qualitative software in a one or two hour seminar, workshop or lecture. One of the main aims with Quirkos was to ensure it is easy to teach, as well as learn.


With a unique and very visual approach to coding and displaying qualitative data, Quirkos tries to simplify the qualitative analysis process with a reduced set of features and buttons. This means there are fewer steps to go over, a less confusing interface for those starting qualitative analysis for the first time, and fewer places for students to get stuck.


To make teaching this as straightforward for educators as possible, we provide free ready-to-use training materials to help educators teach qualitative analysis. We have PowerPoint slides detailing each of the main features and operations. These can be adapted for your class, so you can use some or all of the slides, or even just take the screenshot images and edit the specifics for your own use.


Example qualitative data sets are available for use in classes. There are two of these: one very basic set of people talking about breakfast habits and a more detailed one on politics and the Scottish Independence Referendum. With these, you can have complete sources of data and exercises to use in class, or to set a more extensive piece of homework or practical assessed project.


We also provide two manuals as PDF files that can be shared as course materials or printed out. There is a full manual, but also a Getting Started guide which includes a step-by-step walkthrough of basic operations, ideal for following in a session. Finally, there are video guides which can be shown as part of classes, or included in links to course materials. These range in length from 5 minute overviews to 1 hour long detailed walkthroughs, depending on the need.


There is more information in our blog post on integrating qualitative analysis software into existing curriculums, but it’s also worth remembering that there is a one month free trial for yourself and students. The trial version has all the features with no restrictions, and is identical for students working on Windows, Mac or even Linux.


However, if you have any questions about Quirkos and how to teach it, feel free to get in touch. We can tell you about others using Quirkos in their classes, some tips and tricks and any other questions you have on comparing Quirkos to other qualitative analysis software.  You can reach us on Skype (quirkos), email (support@quirkos.com) or by phone during UK office hours (+44 131 555 3736). We’ll always be happy to set up a demo for you: we are all qualitative researchers ourselves, so are happy to share our tips and advice.


Good luck for the new semester!


Teaching qualitative analysis software with Quirkos

students learning quirkos on a laptop


When people first see Quirkos, we often hear them say “My students would love this!” The easy learning curve, the visual feedback and the ability to work on Windows or Mac appeal to students starting out in qualitative analysis. We have an increasing number of universities across the world using Quirkos to teach CAQDAS at both undergraduate and post graduate levels. I just wanted to give a quick overview of why this can be such a good solution for students and educators:


1. Fits into tight curriculums
Because Quirkos can be taught from start to finish in an interactive 2 hour lab session, it fits neatly into a full module on Qualitative Methods. In one session students can have the skills to do qualitative analysis using a basic CAQDAS package, where other software would require multiple sessions, or a dedicated workshop as a full day event. Thus other sessions can focus on methods, methodology and coding approaches, with students able to quickly apply software skills to their theoretical knowledge.


2. Suitable for both post-grads and undergraduates
Quirkos offers enough features and flexibility to be included in research-based masters or PhD training. RTP modules can easily link to a session delivered by university based instructors, without needing external experts to come in and deliver specialist software training. However, Quirkos is simple enough to teach that undergraduate courses in social science can include it in a module on qualitative approaches, and include lab sessions on the basics of software. This is a great basis for later doing research based projects, as well as a useful transferable skill for many industries, including public sector and market research. Since the basic operation of the software is the same, departments have the option to integrate undergraduate and post-graduate training, and use the same materials and course guides.


3. Approach agnostic
Quirkos does not encourage a specific analytical approach, and is just as suitable for emergent analysis as grounded theory. Students can be tasked with example projects to analyse with either approach, and choose a middle ground that works best for their own research project. The software gets out of the way, and lets teachers focus on the theory without worrying about how it fits with available tools.


4. A visual approach that underscores learning
Visual-based learning can help both understanding and retention and the way that Quirkos makes the coding process live and interactive helps students see their coding, and how it affects the analysis of a project. A very visual approach not only lets students see their findings emerge, but also understand visually what happens during qualitative analysis. By moving their themes and grouping them by drag-and-drop, students can also group topics in their framework, and use colours to represent different groupings. This provides a way of working that is inherently creative, experimental, and satisfying. Quirkos is the only software package based around a graphical user interface, and offers a unique way for students to understand the functionality behind CAQDAS.


5. Self-support and learning options
Students increasingly prefer online course materials they can consume in their own time. Quirkos helps educators by providing all our online support guides for free, giving students great flexibility in how they can learn. They can choose either written materials, or video guides of varying length and specificity, and access them without registration or any intervention from the department. Signposting to the materials is easy, and requires no special software or platform to access. We are always around to directly answer technical issues or queries from students.


6. Example projects
We provide several example datasets for students to use either in independent learning or guided workshops, at basic and advanced levels. These materials are free for course leaders to include in their materials, or students can download them as they wish. These can be very useful when undergraduates are practicing different qualitative approaches, or if postgraduate researchers wish to experiment with example data before working on their own projects. Since many RTP programmes are requirements in the first few years of a PhD or research masters (before data collection) this high-quality and challenging real data is a great practice resource to put training in practice.

7. A gateway to more advanced techniques
Quirkos aims to provide all the basic features of CAQDAS software, but without any of the bloat that confuses first time users who should be more focused on the data and methodological considerations. However, should students need to later move on to more advanced packages such as Atlas TI, MAXQDA or Nvivo, learning Quirkos is an easy access point, and encourages familiarity with the basics of coding. We also offer export options that help people get their data from Quirkos into other packages for further statistical exploration. Since the basics between all these packages are the same, Quirkos is the perfect first step in the door, and students with advanced needs can quickly learn other packages.


8. Flexible licensing for departments and individuals
While everyone can download and use Quirkos with the free trial, we also make sure that we can provide institutions with affordable and accessible permanent access to Quirkos and updates. We offer a site-wide ‘floating’ licence, ideal for teams or lab work that allows a set number of users at any one time, with the ability to add more users at any time. Smaller evaluations and research groups can also buy individual based licenses immediately with a credit or debit card. We are always here to help with purchase orders, IT and other logistical requirements. With significant group discounts, we are confident that we will always be the cheapest option for qualitative analysis software, and the best place for students to start out into the word of qualitative research.