Research Design in Dissertation

Phenomenological research design as presented by Moustakas (1994, 1995) and
Husserl (1931, as cited in Moustakas, 1994; Husserl, 1933, 1937) was an appropriate
choice for this study because the purpose for its use is to generate a deeper understanding
of a phenomenon as experienced by participants in a setting. Intentionality and intuition
are a part of transcendental phenomenology and serve to focus upon the inherent shared
characteristics of the experience. Also, the researcher seeks to gain an interpretation of
participants’ experiences through observations, open-ended questions, and various forms
of data (Bogdan & Biklen, 2011; Creswell, 2013; Lodico et al., 2010). The researcher
worldview is taken into account as part of the context for a research question. The
worldview plays a part in construction of paradigm, conceptual and theoretical
frameworks for planning the interpretive strategy. Interpretation is explored through
making meaning from constructs, concepts, and themes that are developed or that emerge
from qualitative data (Schreier, 2012). To make interpretations of qualitative data
analysis as a method, Schreier (2012) and Krippendorff (2013) detailed how context for
research helps to conceptualize the analysis, and how the researcher makes inferences
and develops themes from the context. The search for latent or hidden meaning in
qualitative analysis method is a key feature which is flexible and emergent, and is used in
a naturalistic way to construct meaning from personal or social events, public or
professional persons (Given, 2008; Schreier, 2012). This study focused on these types of
issues, their relation to the dissertation faculty mentor and the researcher communications
while constructing the frameworks for study.

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Method: Email Interview (three rounds)

This study utilized in-depth email interviewing as described by Bowden and
Galindo-Gonzalez (2014), Gubrium, et al (2012), James and Busher (2009), McKeown et
al. (2010), Sue and Ritter, (2007), and Cook (2012). Email interviewing was used to
enhance responses from participants who might otherwise not be able to participate in
face-to-face interviews (FTF) or synchronous interviews (such as telephone calls). Some
of the reasons for not participating include geographical distance, costs, time-scheduling
incompatibilities, or time-constraints (Cook, 2012). Therefore, the asynchronous method
of email interviewing, conducted in several rounds allows for rich critical reflection by
both the researcher and participants. Due to the nature of time-delay from the replies of
participants to the first round of emails, to the generation of a second email round and its
subsequent reply, both researchers and respondent participants have the chance to think
more deeply about the subject and construct more in-depth text (Lodico, Spaulding, &
Voegtle, 2010).

Three rounds of email interview questions and responses were collected and
analyzed for interpretation. The following steps were taken: a) Gain participant consent
and permission by their decision to participate, through exchanges of invitation and
replies; b) Hold a brief Skype webcam meeting for 15 minutes to introduce the study’s
protocol and the researcher (no formal data collection), c) Send out the first interview
questions in email; d) After receiving replies, code for themes and constructs; e) Through
critical reflection and close-reading, construct round 2 questions, and send them in email;
f) After receiving replies, code for themes and constructs, then construct questions and
send the 3rd and final questionnaires. Upon completion of data collection (having
received all replies in email), code, analyze, and interpret text in written narrative form.
Finally, use member-checking as a personal follow-up to review narrative by Skype webcam
meeting and email.

Moustakas (1994) and Husserl (1931, 1994) suggested three main features in
transcendental phenomenological research that uses interviewing: to interview
participants who all have experienced the same phenomenon; data coding and analyses
for themes of what they have experienced and how they have experienced it, to create an
interpretation that aims to describe the essence of the experience. Textural and structural
interpretations are rendered by the researcher. The researcher may “bracket” his own
experience separately from the participants (if applicable) and record that rendition in
journal notes. Salmons (2006) utilized phenomenology to study an entirely online
phenomenon where participants sought to understand meaning and significance through
shared experiences of online exchanges (2006).
To establish a precedent for the use of phenomenology with three rounds of email
as part of data collection for this study, Salmons (2006) was cited as having performed all
aspects of the data collection without face-to-face interviews or interactions: “the entire
dialogue with research participants, including participant selection, pre-research
discussions, data collection, and verification of data took place over the internet. There
were no face-to-face meetings or telephone conversations” (p. 73). Geiser (2002) had
also supported use of phenomenology in the virtual or online environment and provided a
principle support for this study’s use of email exchange as phenomena. Geiser argued
“research questions that explore an online phenomenon are strengthened through the use
of a method of research that closely mirrors the natural setting under investigation”
(2002, as cited in Salmons, 2006, p. 73).

Since this study framed the mentor-researcher exchanges as a cognitive
apprenticeship, based on a model by Wolff (2010), the PhD mentoring relationship was
framed as a guided writing journey. Because this exchange generally includes mentor
feedback of draft documents, email exchanges, and textual resources as principle means
of supporting the writing of the PhD dissertation, the writing exchange was appropriate as
a support for using email as a phenomenological method in a fully online dissertation writing
journey (Bowden & Galindo-Gonzalez, 2014).

Theoretical assumptions for the use of phenomenology included multiple
interactions with participants in the setting (in this case, the online virtual setting of the
internet) in order to revisit previous interpretations of experiences, shared commonalities,
and deeper insights on the phenomenon. Critical reflection played a part in participant
thinking and allowed for a richer understanding to emerge as multiple rounds of
questions were answered (Creswell, 2012; Lodico et al., 2010).

Steps in the process of qualitative analysis involved making decisions about
context units, or how to structure the data coding in order to draw out inferences and
make multiple interpretations. Krippendorff (2013) defined characteristics of qualitative
analysis that are often utilized: the data requires close reading; involves a re-articulation
or interpretation of the data; and the analyst acknowledges a position within a social or
cultural framework, or a particular scholarly community. These characteristics were
identified in the coding structure with the context for research, and were explained in
narrative and themes. Themes which were pre-designed or emerged from iterative datacoding,
formed one basis for analysis, and helped to develop constructs. This utilized
qualitative data-coding-by-hand (Creswell, 2013; Lodico et al., 2010; Saldana, 2013)
combined with qualitative analysis that highlighted coding frameworks for themes and
subthemes, or categories and properties (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Krippendorff, 2013;
Saldana, 2013; Schreier, 2012).