Some brave subject teachers and the challenge of interdisciplinarity

It is no news for anyone in the field of environmental education that learning environmental and sustainability issues requires interdisciplinary understanding. On the contrary, the bullet point requiring interdisciplinary environmental education existed already in the UNESCO Tbilisi declaration in 1978, so the theme has been around for quite a while. Environmental problems tend to be complex and value-laden, and there is not necessarily any right or wrong answers to them. For understanding environmental issues, not just narrow interdisciplinarity among a few neighbouring fields of science, such as chemistry and biochemistry, is enough. No, you’ve got to get the whole lot from a variety of natural sciences to social sciences and philosophy.

In my latest research article, published in June this year, I discuss the views of nine Finnish subject teachers on the challenge of teaching an interdisciplinary topic. Since the paper is written in Finnish but the topic might interest a wider audience, I decided to publish a shortcut to the main results here in my blog.

Interview with ecologically minded social school subject teachers

The aim of the paper is to describe the process of integrating an interdisciplinary topic in a discipline-based school subject, and to understand the challenges subject teachers meet, in relation to interdisciplinarity and uncertainty of information. The key concepts are interdisciplinarity and critical thinking.

Environmental issues are often connected most strongly to school subjects based on natural sciences and geography, but social and ethical aspects to environment can be considered to be equally important subject matter. Therefore, I chose to interview ecologically minded social subject teachers who did not have extensive education background in natural sciences. School subjects they teach include history, social studies, religious education, secular ethics, and philosophy – each interviewee teaches at least two of these subjects.

Integrating environmental issues within the social scientific and ethical subject-matter

The interviewees presented three types of views about interdisciplinary environmental education: views emphasizing natural sciences, views drawing on the specific content of the discipline, and views reaching for interdisciplinarity. I present these types in the table below.

Emphasis on natural sciences:
Teacher considers environmental issues to belong mainly in natural sciences
Drawing from the field of specification:
Teacher draws environmental subject-matter especially from his/her own field of specification
Aiming at transdisciplinarity:
Teacher aims at transdisciplinary environmental education
What kind of environment-related subject-matter does the teacher consider belonging to his/her school subjects? Little, because the school subject is not based on natural science Topics related to the teacher’s field of specification, such as environmental ethics or economical growth and sustainable development Environmental issues relate to many or most topics in the subject. Teacher actively searches for connections between environmental issues and the subject-matter.
How does the teacher argue for integrating environmental issues into the social school subjects? Content in textbooks, potential questions in national exams, current media discussion Curriculum guidelines, connection to the background discipline of the school subject, current media discussion, interests of students and the teacher General significance of environmental issues, curriculum guidelines, locally significant environmental problems
How does the teacher react to questions concerning natural science during his/her lesson? Sticks to his/her own school subject Sticks to his/her own school subject If needed, discusses also questions concerning natural science

Table 1. The role of environmental issues in a social school subject according to perspectives emphasizing natural sciences, drawing from the field of specification, and aiming for transdisciplinarity.

Views emphasizing natural science describe the environmental subject-matter of social school subjects to be rather narrow. There is, however, an outer motivation to discuss some environmental issues in class: textbooks and current issues that might come up in national exams. Views drawing from the field of specification of the teacher highlight those environmental issues that clearly relate to the background discipline in question. Interviewees find connections between environmental issues and subject-matter even when there are no explicit mentions of environmental issues in the curriculum guidelines. However, these teachers are not willing to go beyond their own school subject in their teaching.

Views aiming at transdisciplinarity include holistic visions of environmental education, where environmental issues widely relate to the school subject in question. These teachers are strongly committed to environmental issues themselves and capable of discussing also aspects of natural science with their students, in addition to their own field of specification.

The challenge of interdisciplinarity

It is clearly challenging to teach an interdisciplinary topic. Many of my interviewees felt insecure about natural scientific questions, especially issues related to climate science. Some of them did not consider themselves to be qualified to assess the truthfulness of climate information. In addition, even ecologically minded teachers might not recognize the environmental content drawing from their own disciplines.

On the other hand, a personal commitment and thorough understanding of the topic make it remarkably easier to implement interdisciplinary environmental education. Having a clear vision of the connection between environment and their field of specification supports especially those teachers drawing from their own discipline. A teacher with a wide perspective to the content and purposes of a school subject is more likely to find these connections. Therefore, in higher education, it ought to be ensured that student teachers recognize the environmental content relevant for their own discipline. Optimism, enthusiastic attitude, support from the headmaster, cooperation with colleges teaching other school subjects, and curiosity towards the interdisciplinary content most certainly help.

The original article (in Finnish) can be found here:

Aarnio-Linnanvuori, Essi 2016. Ympäristöaiheiden tieteidenvälisyyys yleissivistävän opetuksen haasteena aineenopettajien näkökulmasta [Interdisciplinarity of environmental issues as a challenge in general education according to subject teachers]. Kasvatus & Aika 10:2, 33-50. http://www.kasvatus-ja-aika.fi/site/?lan=1&page_id=774

Wish to read more about interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary environmental education? Check out these references:

Kagawa, Fumiyo & Selby, David (eds.) 2010. Education and Climate Change. Living and Learning in Interesting Times. New York: Routledge.

Hens, Luc ja Stoyanov, Stoyan 2013. Education for climate changes, environmental health and environmental justice. Journal of Chemical Technology and Metallurgy 49(2), 194–208.

Krasny, Marianne & Dillon, Justin (eds.) 2013. Trading Zones in Environmental Education: Creating Transdisciplinary Dialogue. New York: Peter Lang.

MacMillan, Emily & Vasseur, Liette 2010. Environmental education: interdisciplinarity in action. The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences 5(3), 435–445.

Tapio, Petri. & Willamo, Risto 2008. Developing interdisciplinary environmental frameworks. Ambio – A Journal of the Human Environment 32(2), 125–133.

How to choose a right kind of giant?

In research, one of the important places of decission is to decide whom to cite. They say that in research we stand on the shoulders of giants. But which giants are the most steady for my research? Should I cite some so called big names?

For a long time, I thought that in my research I would not have to go much beyond the current discussion in environmental education research. If I could find enough recent peer-reviewed journal articles that somehow connect to my own topic, that would be enough. Therefore, there would be no need for citing big names, except those names that are considered relatively big in this relatively small field of discussion. However, during the process I have changed my mind.

I have to go deeper. I need to understand the discussion better, and to be able to connect it to other discussions.

Besides, now I want to cite big names.

This – at the latest – is probably the place to define what I mean by a big name: Classics. Names that appear in books and articles again and again. People who have written texts that inspire new ideas decades (or even centuries) after their publications. People who have generated whole new fields of discussion.

Why to cite big names? One  – for me the most important – reason is to get deeper: to get to the origins of certain trends of academic discussion. Reading big names makes you read wider and understand better.

There are also more pragmatic reasons. I wrote earlier about the difficulties of writing a critical literature review in a dissertation. Citing big names might support your backbone. Their work has been tested before – there is a whole body of literature citing them. Those writings that are cited much tend to have something important in them.There are several arguments available for and against the ideas presented in the text you are citing.  Following those discussions might lead an inexperienced researcher through the most dense parts of the research jungle. Besides, you get to consort with some very intelligent people on the way.

Some people might have their favourite classic philosophers ready in mind. I don’t – many of the big names really are just names for me. Probably – again – because of my half-natural-scientific background. How do I choose the giants with whom I want to associate?

Reading widely, is one answer. Having (at least) an idea of where I want to go, is another. Do I want to go really deep into philosophy? Husserl, Gadamer, Habermas, Foucault? Do I need to shake the grounds of education? Dewey, Freire? Or maybe what I need is a dive into environmental philosophy? Or into sociology? Well, in my case, I do not want to go that deep into philosophy, at least not yet. So far I have left the gadamers in German in the library. I am trying to find classic works that are at least a little bit easier to connect to my own work.

I cannot read everything. That is a fact. So, I have to be selective, even if I want to read widely. It makes sense to read classics that are cited in my field, environmental education. John Dewey is one of those – so he is now on my reading list. On the other hand, I just added Hannah Arendt to that list as well. I cannot recall that she would have been cited in any EE article that I have read so far, but she writes about responsibility – and so shall I. Big names discussing my central concepts might be worth reading as well.

Being a tool

The qualitative research process is somewhat confusing for someone coming originally from the hard sciences. How come research is subjective? Where are the numbers, how many said this and how many thought that? Where are the hypotheses? What is this descriptive and interpretative stuff, are there any clear causal relationships? And why on earth should I cite someone from the sixties – or from the 19th century?

One of the professors in bio-sciences once told me a joke. He said that he has considered qualitative research a synonym for bad research. Yeah, well, bad is one sort of quality. I did actually smile – because he did not mean bad, and because it’s just his style. Besides, it is probably rather easy to do bad qualitative research – to fail with the qualitative method.

But that does not mean qualitative research in general is bad. It means it is difficult.

Now, to the point. One of the most fascinating – and most scary – characteristics of the qualitative research methodology is that the researcher actually is the most important research tool. Am I a tool? Am I fit to be a tool?

Being a tool myself affects the whole research process. Even though there are other tools available – pen and paper, theoretical models, Atlas.ti and other quali programs, whatever – I am the most important, the tool that either will carry out the whole project or will fail or get stuck with it. My observations are subjective, my thinking is subjective, my conclusions are subjective; yet I should not dwell in self-reflection but try to be clear, fair and trustworthy so that the readers are able to rely on my writing. I should be openly subjective and overcome my own subjectivity at the same time. Easy? No. Worth while? Yes.

Being a tool, my limits affect my research. Luckily so do my strengths.

Researcher’s coffee break: An article in a nutshell

Image

I played with Wordle for a while and this is what I got:

textbook_research_wordleThe words are from my recently published article, Environmental issues in Finnish school textbooks on religious education and ethics. I included abstract, introduction, discussion and conclusions to create the picture.

It does reveal some new perspectives to the text, I think. Some words are larger than I expected, some are smaller. Did I really write about those themes that I meant to? Are the largest words the terms I am most interested in? And, I might have started too many sentences with the word however… Next time, I have to look for synonyms.

Another useful exercise for learning to do research!

Some current feelings about lit reviews

Lately, I have been browsing through several doctoral dissertations to form an opinion about the possibilities that writing a dissertation offers for critical literature review. In some cases the lit review part could hardly be called critical – it was merely uncritical citations. Some other literature reviews were critical but chaotic or not convincing, or both. Yet in other cases plausible critical reviewing of the literature was relatively easy to track and understand. This was, however, not as common as I think it should be.

Why is writing a critical literature review so difficult? Richard J. Torraco (2005, 356) describes the integrative literature review as a form of research that critiques literature on a certain topic in such a way that new frameworks and perspectives are generated. Yet a dissertation has another motive: to show that the writer has read the essential readings on that particular field. I think that there is one reason why it is difficult to be successfully critical in a dissertation.

If you want to criticize an established theory or a piece of writing that is highly appreciated, you cannot just start shooting from the bushes. Throwing hasty so-called-critical arguments around will not do. You need thorough, mature ideas and convincing arguments. Developing those takes time and effort − and courage. It might seem easier just to cite previous literature and skip the critical part. On the other hand, you might not consider yourself advanced enough to be able to criticize. Who am I to add anything to what all these wise people have already said?

On my personal pathway from a student to a scholar, I think that it has been a very important realization that I am mature and advanced enough to add something into the Discussion. Discussion with a capital D is, in my case, the discussion about what is good environmental education. In my literature reviews I will and have to cite literature that rather belongs to other discussions, but this is the place where I have a possibility to be critical in a constructive way.

Torraco (2005, 360) also calls literature the data of an integrative literature review. This is connected to the idea mentioned above: for a researcher, literature is food for thought, it is meant to be looked at but it is not an authority to be obeyed.

Of course, there are limits for what you can do. How much time and effort you can spend on literature during a dissertation process, or a lifetime? It is possible to be the master of some discussions but not all, of course.In many ways, I think it all comes back to the research questions… If you know, what you are asking, being critical is a lot easier than if you are just jumping around without any particular goal or focus.

Reference:

Torraco, Richard J. 2005. Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples. Human Resource Development Review Vol. 4, No 3.

Notes to self after an international conference

In June I participated the 7th WEEC conference in Marrakech, Morocco. I have been to smaller conferences before, but WEEC with its 1800 participants from all over the world was the first of its kind for me. I took some notes for myself that I should remember in any future conferences, and I see no reason why I could not share them:

  • Have a clear and inviting title for your presentation. Your title is your card. It ought to be interesting and arise curiosity but not be too exotic. Clear but dry academic is better than catchy and unclear. It will reach people who are interested in the same issues that you are.
  • When submitting, consider also other forms of presentations than the traditional oral presentation. In this conference, I believe many workshops and round table discussions were among the most successful ones.
  • If you have a poster, do not put too much text in it. If possible, rely on pictures and diagrams. Be brief, be clear.
  • This applies to all oral presentations as well: be brief, be clear.
  • When planning a presentation, remember this is an international conference. Even if your topic is local, try to find such perspectives that are interesting for an international audience.
  • Don’t read your presentation from paper. Just don’t. Please.
  • Feel free to skip such background information that everyone knows already. For example, in an environmental education (EE) conference there is no need to argue why EE is important, at least not in every presentation. Just stick to your own arguments.
  • In case you feel that you did it all wrong and your presentation was a total failure, relax. You will never see most of these people again, and anyhow, they will forget your presentation by tomorrow.
  • Talk to people. Get introduced. Introduce yourself. Tell about your work. Ask about theirs. Chat, discuss, comment, laugh, have dinner together. Networking might be the best outcome you get from this conference.
  • Enjoy the international atmosphere and the company of intelligent people interested in your field.
  • Take notes. Write down inspiring ideas, interesting references, names, contact addresses, and concepts.
  • If you liked a presentation or missed a session you wanted to attend, talk to the person in question. They appreciate it and will happily tell you more.
  • And last, don’t expect too much. It is only one conference, after all.

poster_weec

Defining EE and ESD

As a researcher and a professional I consider my work to belong to the field of environmental education (EE). However, I frequently use also the term education for sustainable development (ESD). What is the difference between these two, or is there a difference?

This is a complicated discussion and it cannot be solved in one blog post. But let me take a short look at the issue:

Environmental education is the older term of these two. It became established during the 1960’s, whereas education for sustainable development could only be discussed after the establishment of sustainable development as a concept in late 1980’s. A debate about the two terms continued during the 1990’s and beyond. (Palmer 1998, pp. 3-27.) There were some scholars, who were willing to adopt the new term (and use it instead of EE), and some others, who criticized it (see e.g. Ferreira 2009). I will get back to the critics later in this post.

What do EE and ESD look like?

There are some seemingly obvious differences in the two terms. Environmental education has something to do with the environment, the natural or perhaps physical surroundings (including built environment) around us. Easily one might also connect environmental problems or nature conservation to environmental education. Therefore, it might be closely related to science education, for example. There might also be a local perspective – a perspective of place (Bonnett 2010).

Sustainable development, on the other hand, is definitely a societal term. It is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Our Common Future 1987). Education for sustainable development would then be education aiming for such development. Nature is not mentioned explicitly, but of course natural resources play an important role in meeting the needs of different generations. The perspective, however, is anthropocentric.

I checked what these terms look like in search engines, this time searching for pictures instead of websites. Here is what I found:

Environmental education looks green. Happy people observe and experience nature – they are connected with nature. A few graphs and book covers indicate that there is also literature about the issue.

Education for sustainable development looks a lot like graphs and diagrams. All those hands might refer to society or cooperation, or both. The planets might refer to the limits of natural resources – or limits of growth.

Young children in nature – or perhaps something else

When I tell that I work as an environmental educator, some people assume that my work consist mainly of field trips to local parks and forests with primary aged (or younger) children. This is indeed part of my work, and in line with the image one gets when looking at the picture above. However, taking kids outdoors is only part of what I do: as an environmental educator I address several environmental topics, some local and some global. Educational methods available are diverse – some topics require spending time outdoors, whereas some others are best discussed by drama methods, debates, independent research, storytelling, or some other pedagogical tool.

In addition, the picture becomes more complicated when reading the literature. For example Palmer (1998, 27) considers ESD an aspect or emphasis of EE, the latter being the main concept. Other emphases she mentions include global education, peace education, human rights education and futures education, among others. These are not science education in local context, but have strong global, societal content with a perspective of solving environmental problems. Environment is not understood here as a narrow meaning of local natural areas but as a wide concept including aspects of natural, societal and cultural environment.

Education for sustainable development

Advocates for ESD claim that the term has certain benefits: it is positive, aiming towards solving global problems. It focuses on empowering individuals and transforming social structures. (Bonnett 2010, Ferreira 2009.) In my own experience it also applies to some people who might neglect a term beginning with the word environment. In Finland, it is preferred among the circles of educational policy. On the other hand, there are also reasons to criticize it.

To accept the idea of education for sustainable development, one has to accept the term of sustainable development. It is an ambiguous term with plural interpretations. The weak mode of sustainable development means just protecting the continuity of the economical system with regulation, whereas the strong mode aims for societal transformation towards sustainable, self-reliant communities (Huckle 1997, 9-10). The plurality contains a problem: different stakeholders may use the term to their own advantage. Sustainability programs may end up keeping up the status quo instead of changing it. Education for sustainable development shares this same risk. According to Kopnina (2012) the plural interpretations in ESD contain also a risk of losing the “environment” in environmental education. The broad concept may confuse teachers and depart from the ambitious goals of EE.

Another argument presented against ESD relates to the small but important word for. Canadian researcher Bob Jickling has been one of the main critics. Jickling’s critics concern both education for sustainable development and education for the environment. He argues that education for the environment has become a slogan evolving into an operational doctrine, and questions the justification of education for any particular end. (E.g. Jickling 2009, Ferreira 2009.)

Why use which term?

There is plenty of literature available discussing the strengths and weaknesses of these terms. There are also several other terms to choose from, such as global education, sustainability education, outdoor education etc. A researcher and a professional has to decide, which terms and definitions for them to use.

I prefer the term environmental education because of several reasons. First of all, I agree with many of the critics presented towards ESD. There are also other, more personal reasons: environmental education is shorter and therefore more pragmatic, and simply, I like it better because of my environmental science background. However, occasionally I use also ESD in my speech and writing. This depends of the audience. If I am writing for the Ministry of Education in Finland I use ESD, because that is the term they would use.

References:

Bonnett, M. 2010. Environmental education. International Encyclopedia of Education (Third Edition). http://dx.doi.org.libproxy.helsinki.fi/10.1016/B978-0-08-044894-7.00585-6

Ferreira, J. (2009). Unsettling orthodoxies: education for the environment/for sustainability. Environmental Education Research 15, no. 5: 607-620. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed February 14, 2013).

Huckle, J. (1997). [1996.] Realizing Sustainability in Changing Times. In J. Huckle & S. Sterling (toim.): Education for Sustainability (ss. 3-17). London: Earthscan Publications Limited.

Jickling, Bob. 2009 [2005]. Education and advocacy: a troubling relationship. In: Johnson, Edward & Mappin, Michael (eds.): Environmental Education and Advocacy Changing Perspectives of Ecology and Education, (pp. 91-113). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kopnina, H. 2012. Education for sustainable development (ESD): the turn away from ‘environment’ in environmental education? Environmental Education Research 18, no. 5: 699-717. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed October 29, 2012).

Our Common Future. 1987. World Commission on Environment and Development. http://www.un-documents.net/ocf-02.htm (accessed April 25, 2013).

Palmer, J. A. 1998. Environmental education in the 21st century: theory, practice, progress and promise. London: Routledge.

The significance of signs

One advance of doctoral studies is that you get to meet clever people. One of these is definitely Markus Hilander, a young doctoral student in the Research Group of Geography and Environmental Education, University of Helsinki. When he first introduced himself in a seminar group, he half shy, half proud announced that he would really want to become a specialist in semiotics.

I had absolutely no clue what Markus was talking about. Semiotics? What is semiotics?

During my undergraduate and graduate studies in environmental sciences I studied – of course – methods for scientific research: I counted birds and lichens, took samples of water, soil and sediment, and measured acidity and alkalinity. We did discuss interviews as a societal method, but with analysis methods, well, we did not get very far. That is understandable – we only had a limited amount of time and resources available. With an interdisciplinary approach it is possible to reach perspectives that are not available for one discipline only, but there is a risk of shallowness or even misunderstanding. In my case, there are holes in my background information about societal research and its philosophies. Not knowing what semiotics is seems to be one of them.

Now, in time I formed an undefined picture about semiotics. It had something to do with symbols and signs. My first reaction to it was that it had nothing to do with my own research. I was interested in environmental education – the real thing – not signs. However, while learning more I had to change my mind.

I could not bypass signs when accomplishing a textbook research about environmental issues in religious education and ethics textbooks. Beforehand, I had a vague idea of excerpting those paragraphs that discussed environmental issues and analyzing them. But, which chapters or paragraphs discuss environmental issues?  What if some pieces of text seem to discuss environmental issues even if it is not explicit?

An example of such mystery is a Finnish 5th grade Lutheran religion textbook Matka Eedeniin 5. The textbook discusses everyday ethics in a several chapters long story about a village threatened by flood. There are hardly any explicit environmental messages in the story, but as a researcher – and an environmentalist – I interpreted that some implicit environmental issues (such as environmental hazards, climate change, and critics towards consumerism) exist in the text. Uncertainty described in the text, unclear feeling of danger, debate of the validity of forecasts, and denial of the problem by some in the community are all metaphors that I connect to climate change and other global environmental problems. On the other hand, this being a religious education textbook, the text could be interpreted otherwise. The story could be entirely anthropocentric, with references to the Bible (Noah and the great flooding), relationship between faith and science and Christian ethics.

Which interpretation is correct? This might not be the right question to ask. Which interpretation did the authors have in mind, while writing the text, would be more important. Even better: how do the pupils interpret the text? And where do the interpretations come from? Actually, as an environmental educator and an environmental education researcher I would be most interested in the outcome: how do the interpretations affect the pupils’ attitudes and their conceptions of human responsibilities towards the environment?

Where does semiotics stand in relation to these questions? I am not quite sure. Semiotics analyzes language to discover how human artifacts and cultural processes are analogous to it (Cobley 2001, 3). My main interest in my research is not in the signs or language themselves, but understanding the significance and meaning of signs might ease my path of investigating good environmental education. It is true; signs cannot just be ignored.

Reference:

Cobley, Paul (ed.) 2001. The Routledge Companion to Semiotics and Linguistics. London & New York: Routledge. http://faculty.ksu.edu.sa/76518/Linguistics/books/semiotics%20and%20linguistics.pdf (Accessed 4.4.2013).

Check also Markus’s new article (in Finnish): Semiotiikka kuvien maantieteellisen tulkinnan mahdollisuutena

Perception of a cube

I am reading Robert Sokolowski’s (2000) Introduction to Phenomenology. As philosophy is not my strongest field, studying it for research purposes takes resilience. This book, however, seems excellent; I like the way Sokolowski concentrates on phenomenology itself instead of frequently quoting famous philosophers of the past. Anyway, understanding the issues discussed requires patience and consideration.

Sokolowski (pp. 17-21)  introduces perception of a cube as an example of philosophical explanations that phenomenology provides. The idea is simple: while I see a cube from one angle, I see only some of its sides but can also intend those sides that are hidden. Therefore, I see more than is available for the eye. If I walk around the cube, I can see it from a different angle. In addition, I can experience the cube with more than one sense. Therefore, my perception is dynamic.

If not quite first, perhaps my second thought after reading this chapter was,

What it the cube was a false cube?

When I see a cube for the first time, I might assume that there are six sides – but I cannot know it. What if the other side is for example round? Or the cube is not a cube, like the False Cube by Anssi Asunta? After seeing the cube from several angles, I know more about it.

When I look at the False Cube my experience differs greatly from the experience of such people who see it for the first time. I see the illusion but I also know the “real” shape of the cube. Furthermore, I know who designed it, when it was constructed, and where you can see other similar artworks. In addition, I have touched it, seen it from the backside, discussed about it, taken photos of it – shortly, I have a relationship with it. These all affect my observations and experience. Indeed, they are subjective.

 The False Cube (Anssi Asunta 1986) has only three sides. 

Facing a dragon

I admit that, at the moment, the part of doing research that I am least confident about is data analysis. I feel that I have a sufficient knowledge about the literature of my field – environmental education – and a clear vision of what is important and truly interesting on that field. I am not familiar with many data gathering methods but am confident about my abilities to learn. I even have gained a nodding acquaintance with philosophy of science – the word phenomenology cannot scare me away any more.

But data analysis methods – oh my. I have been reading general handbooks and specific handbooks, but it just doesn’t unfold. Discourse analysis, narrative analysis, phenomenological analysis, phenomenographic analysis, grounded theory… I sort of know what they are and yet I do not. I do not understand how they work and where they fit. The examples I find are always somehow different from what my research is about:

Yes, I am sure this is interesting for someone but how does it relate to what I am doing?

However, there is no research without analysis methods, and therefore I need to learn. Luckily I do not have to study them alone. The Data Analysis and Interpretive Frameworks -online class that I am attending since Tuesday could not have better timing. I expect to learn a lot during the spring.

The first assignment was to study three dissertations of topics similar to mine. I was somewhat disappointed to find out that all three dissertations I had picked up had chosen content analysis as one of their main analysis methods. I had expected to find something more sophisticated. There certainly are situations where content analysis is a good choice, but from my own experience I claim that with content analysis there is a risk of ending up with some sort of so what -results.

However, I did make an important realization while reading the dissertations. What if finding suitable data analysis methods for an interdisciplinary environmental research project feels difficult because it truly is difficult? What if the difficulty is not in my own limited abilities but in the field itself? Since environmental science is such a new and diverse field, there are hardly any established theories or methodologies to grab to.

I do not write this in discouraged spirit but rather as an observation. If you are facing a dragon, it is good to know it is a dragon and not to take it for a common lizard. Thus, I feel much more confident having realized it really is a dragon I am facing. Dragons have been won before.