Since getting back from England last weekend (and Shawn, Katie and I’s presentation at the 6-ICOM conference), it’s been an exciting  week for me thesis-wise. I began “real” (i.e. non-pilot) data collection in the form of initial interviews with HMSC docents. Rebecca Schiewe, HMSC’s Volunteer Coordinator, has also been kindly helping me collect visitor survey data.

If you’re not familiar, my PhD research centers on documenting the practice of science center docents as they interact with visitors. I am interested in the practice and professional development of informal educators, and my research looks to unpack the interpretive strategies docents undertake to communicate and engage the public with science. My work involves interviewing docents about their practice, observing docents interacting with the public using “visitor-mounted” looxcie cameras, conducting post-observation interviews to allow docents to reflect on those observations and a final focus group interview to gain the larger docent community perspective on observations.

So far in this initial stage I have had very positive recruitment results with the docents at HMSC, and wonderful conversations about practice with participants. Even though I’ve have had plenty of prior experience conducting interviews during former research positions, I’ve discovered this week that interviewing really is my favorite form of qualitative data collection. As many of my colleagues know, I’m a talker, and therefore there’s something fantastic about getting to have rich and interesting conversations to collect data for my thesis. I’m sure when I hit transcription and analysis time I will change my tune a litte, but the participants are so passionate about what they do, it’s catching!

What I’m learning so far is that interviewing, of course, is a serious art. There are so many personal, social and physical factors (FCL dimensions anyone?!) you have to consider in the process in order to not only help your participants feel at ease, but gain naturalistic data, as Katie blogged about recently. I’m working very hard to help my participants feel comfortable throughout the process – for example using scheduling that suits them, paying attention to the interview space (e.g. light, temperature, presence of windows, comfort of seating) and, during the interviewing, asking questions and probing for more detail in the most fluid and natural way that I can. In terms of questioning, my biggest challenge in the past has been asking a question that may have already been answered in a prior question’s response, simply because I felt I had to stick to the question order. This time around however, I am concentrating on adjusting question order based on the direction of the conversation, and asking for elaboration relative to prior responses. Talk about improving your listening skills, but you really cannot help but become a better listener as an interviewer! I’m looking forward to more interviews this week and next, and feel great about finally getting on that thesis train. Next stop: Observation-ville!


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