EDUC 867: Qualitative Methods in Educational Research  
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Reflection on Practice Interview:

Valentine's Day (VD) to Remember


This interview was an exploration in the little things that can cause discomfort.  I say this after having had a few days to reflect on the process and the little nuisances of which I was able to take note.  My friend Ms. Elb was kind enough to volunteer her services as the interview subject.  Ms. Elb is currently finishing a program in broadcast journalism, so I thought this an excellent opportunity to explore her perceptions of "the role of the news media in a democratic society", as a "new"-expert interview [1].

However, there were a few issues which arose before and during the actual interview: 1) as we approached the interview (talking while making and eating dinner), I realized that Ms. Elb's views on her current profession were coloured by much more than her current experiences as a journalist; 2) Ms. Elb was quite adept at interviewing others for the purposes of her news reporting and had a very distinct style [2] which I was not ready for; and 3) the environment (a late-night coffee shop and bakery) proved to be a distraction to me more so than Ms. Elb.

Before the interview took place, I decided to try something new, in the form of asking Ms. Elb to contribute to the types of questions and themes we might explore during the interview.  The primary reason for this inclusion of Ms. Elb was to make small talk while we were preparing dinner.  However, another purpose has since arisen as I have had more opportunity to reflect, namely I had always approached most interviews in the past with a limited understanding of the situation so had taken on the role of the 'outsider' whom was completely detached (and sought more of a description of events than an understanding of experiences) and therefore completely impartial in my analysis after the fact.  However, the role of the news media in democratic societies is something that I have very strong feelings toward, and I found it difficult to bracket them during dinner, so I wondered if I would be able to during the interview and any subsequent analysis.  As well, during the conversation over dinner, I noticed several patterns to the way Ms. Elb perceived the world around her - everything had its root in a memory which informed most future understanding (i.e. "trust", "confidence" and "passion" all elicited a strong memory, in the form of a story, which Ms. Elb used to describe her current outlook).  The initial focus of jointly brainstorming question types shifted when I began to notice this tendency in Ms. Elb's responses, and I began to wonder if my "new"-expert interview should employ more narrative interviewing techniques such as asking open-ended general questions about her personal experiences.

As I mentioned earlier, Ms. Elb makes a living interviewing others.  Therefore, playing the role of the interviewee was both novel and enlightening at the same time.  During our debrief, I asked Ms. Elb about her body posturing during the interview, and she rebutted with a note that I seemed to be mimicking her during the entire interview.  I had not noticed this change in MY body posture, but after discussing it with her for some time, I came to realize that while I was 'doing my best' to copy her mannerisms, I was not completely successful.  Far too often, I found myself staring at her nose, rather than making direct eye contact, or asking questions over her head or beside her, not making eye contact until the very end.  I wonder if this had something to do with a debating style I employ, where I talk away from the individual I am sparing until I am emphasizing my final point where I draw my eyes back and make contact - almost in an antagonizing way.  The only other explanation I had for this lack of eye contact, and general 'discomfort' with Ms. Elb's style was the intensity of her eyes as she spoke (I think they were hazel-green but they were quite remarkable in their piercing qualities).  

During the interview, the venue, a late-night coffee shop/bakery proved to be a distraction to a sensitive person such as myself.  While I am sure Ms. Elb was familiar with interviewing people in busy locales, it was a new experience for me (one which I chose as I wanted to experiment with the environment and have desert at the same time).  The noise of the music in the background, the conversations at tables adjacent to us, and the constant movement of people in and out of the shop caused me to at times lose my concentration on Ms. Elb (but not necessarily on her responses).  Ms. Elb however, being the person doing most of the talking, did not seem to lose her concentration in the same way, so I wonder what I would need to do in the future if I employ other interview techniques which require me to do most of the listening.  In these cases, the location and its environment will be important to ensure I remain focused on the interviewee(s).

I have purposely ignored any discussion of the interview itself, up to this point, as I think the protocol I planned to employed, and in fact did employ, were directly influenced by the three factors I have noted above.  Initially, I felt exploration of the question might best be served by focusing on four themes: 1) what brought you to your current place in the news media (this might provide insight into her initial personal perspective), 2) what have you learned in your training (this would allow Ms. Elb to reflect on any changes that may have occurred through her training), 3) what will you do in your own practice (this would allow Ms. Elb to reflect on whether any part of her training has influenced her initial perspectives), and 4) a reiteration of the research question (this would allow Ms. Elb to perhaps reflect upon her previous responses and synthesize a more direct answer to "the role of the news media in a democratic society").  However, the first question I asked, 'So how did you end up in your current professional field?' proved to be an extremely detailed responses which emphasized her varied experiences, this allowed me to go about my exploration in a very "round about - backdoor way" (quoting Ms. Elb) for the remainder of the interview.  During her initial response, I perceived the theme of 'marginalization' and her 'desire to share those moments with others' in some of Ms. Elb's experiences which brought her to her current place in the news media.  I think I recognized the importance of this theme to Ms. Elb's view of the world, so made the decision to explore it in relation to the remainder of the interview.  I believe I left the structured plan for the interview at this point, and choose to allow Ms. Elb to narrate her responses to my probing questions instead.

In the end, I was surprised to discover that we had still managed to cover the four themes of the question, but in a very 'round about' way.  Rather than impose structure on Ms. Elb's responses to hear what I wanted or needed to hear, a level of trust emerged which on both our parts: I trusted that she would answer any questions to the fullness of her ability, and she trusted that I was primarily interested in HER story and HER perceptions so was able to open up with very detailed responses.  I found this entire experience very rewarding, for I was able to try a type of interviewing which was completely new to me and experiment with several different forms of preparation and implementation.  Furthermore, Ms. Elb's responses toward the question highlighted the importance of one's personal experiences (even for an expert) in formulating an understanding of the world.

[1] This topic arose out of a preliminary discussion we had regarding “the role of education in a democratic society” as presented by John Dewey, and one potential outcome as being a democratic citizenry which is more media literate.
[2] Several aspects of this distinct style were Ms. Elb sitting perched on her chair, leaning in over the centre of the table.  Her elbows, which were at the corners of the table were at almost a 45 degree angle to her body, and her lower arms ran along the edge of the table – this created a triangle shape which was most overwhelming (head, elbow, elbow) on my part, for it imparted an intensity for which I was not prepared.

Comments may be directed to Bhuvinder S. Vaid.

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