Choose your method: a comparison of phenomenology, discourse analysis, and Grounded Theory

Starks and Trinidad’s (2007) article compare three methods for analyzing data and how the methods impact the kinds of questions being asked and the kinds of results that are produced. Phenomenology focuses on describing the lived experiences (in this study primary care physicians), discourse analysis looks as the building tasks of language (Gee 2005) and how the identities of medicine and public health sometimes compete. Grounded theory also sees to describe lived experience and develop an overarching theoretical explanation as to why this experience is the way it is. This article offered helpful examples from their study of whether or not doctors discussed prostate cancer screening with their patients and how they had inconclusive evidence on the effectiveness of screening. Grounded theory also helped to identify the overarching theme that doctors are frequently pressed for time and therefore have a hard time using the informed decision-making techniques.

Discourse analysis – on the road from shades to colours

Bøilerehauge, D., (no date) Discourse analysis – on the road from shades to colours. An analysis of an American company website. Retrieved from

In her working paper for her doctoral dissertation, Boilerehauge explains her process of using Gee’s theory and methodology of Discourse Analysis on a test case of an American website. Boilerehauge quotes Gee as explaining discourses as

out in the world and history as coordinations (“a dance”) of people, places, times, actions, interactions, verbal and non-verbal expressions, symbols, things, tools, and technologies that betoken certain identities and associated activities (Gee, 1999, 23).

She provides a helpful summary of the kinds of elements that be part of a discourse analysis and provides page numbers to Gee’s 1999 edition of an Introduction to Discourse Analysis Theory and Method.

These elements that could constitute discourse are outlined (p. 3) and she places them within Gee’s idea of the Situation Network (1999, p 83) as including the following:
• Semiotic aspect
• Activity aspect
• Material aspect
• Political aspect
• Sociocultural aspect

Bøilerehauge explains that Gee in not clear in describing the distinction between the building tasks and the Situation Network. (p. 9). She lists the building tasks as follows:

• Semiotic building (semiotic (communicative) systems)
• World building (situated meaning regarding “reality”)
• Activity building
• Socioculturally-situated identity and relationship building
• Political building (establishing what is social goods-such as status and power)
• Connection building (concerning past and future connected to the present)

According to It is unclear if some or each of these building tasks could overlap together or how they directly tie to the Situation Network.

Bøilerehauge then goes on to apply these ideas in the form of questions she asks while reviewing three pages of the Smuckers American website.

The questions she uses from Gee 1999 are placed under different building task headers and are as follows:

Semiotic Building (the use of a font that looks like handwriting)
1) What sign systems are relevant (and irrelevant) in the situation (e.g. speech, writing, images, and gestures)? and in what ways?
2) What systems of knowledge and ways of knowing are relevant (and irrelevant) in the situation? How are they made relevant (and irrelevant) and in what ways?
3) What social languages are relevant in the situation? How are they made relevant and in what ways?

World Building (We are a market leader, checkered cloth-linking back to a simpler time.)
4) What are the situated meanings of some of the words and phrases that seem important in the situation?
5) What situated meanings and values seem to be attached to places, times, bodies, objects, artifacts, and institutions relevant in this situation?
6) What cultural models and networks of models (master models) see, to be at pay in connecting and integrating these situated meanings to each other?
7) What institutions and/or Discourses are being (re-)produced in this situation and how are they being stabilized or transformed in the act?

Activity Building (none in the article)
8) What is the larger or main activity (or set of activities) going on in the situation?
9) What sub-activities compose this activity (or set of activities)?
10) What actions (down to the level of things like “requests for reasons”) compse these sub-activities and activities?

Socioculturaly-situated identity and relationship building (similar to World building we are close to nature and have time honored values.)

11) What relationships and identities (roles, positions), with their concomitant personal, social, and cultural knowledge and beliefs (cognition), feelings (affect), and values, seem to be relevant to the situation?
12) How are these relationships and identities stabilized or transformed in the situation?
13) In terms of identities, activities, and relationships, what Discourses are relevant in the situation? How are they made relevant in the situation?
14) What social goods (e.g. status, power, aspects of gender, race, and class, or more narrowly defined social networks and identities) are relevant in the situation?
15) How are these social goods connected to cultural models and Discourses operative in the situation?

Connection building (Goog old days applied as a marketing element.)
16) What sorts of connections-looking backwards and or forwards are made within and across utterances and large stretches of the interaction?
17) What sorts of connects are made to previous or future interactions, to other people, ideas, texts, things, institutions, and Discourses outside the current situation (this has to do with “Intertextuality” and “Inter-Discursivity”)?
18) How do connections to both the sort in 16 and 17 help (together with situated meanings and cultural models) to constitute “coherence” and what sort of “coherence” is in the situation? (Gee 93-94)

Overall thoughts

I found reading this article helpful and validating in that many of the same questions I asked Bøilerehauge addressed in the text. My main concern now is if Gee’s ideas of the Situation Network and questions have remained the same in the 2010 edition of the book. I will have to read it and see.

Soft Leaders, Hard Artifacts, and the Groups We Rarely See: Using Video to Understand Peer Learning Processes

Hmelo-Silver, C., Katic, E., Nagarajan, A., & Chernobilsky, E (2007). Soft Leaders, Hard Artifacts, and the Groups We Rarely See: Using Video to Understand Peer Learning Processes. In Goldman, R., Pea, R., Barron, B., & Derry, S.J. (Eds.), Video Research in the Learning Sciences (pp. 255-270). (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

In Soft Leaders, Hard Artifacts and the Groups We Rarely See: Using Video to Understand Peer Learning Processes, Hmelo-Silver, Katic, Nagarajan, and Chernobilshy follow the group process of one successful group during a PBL course for ED Psych graduate student. Within this course students focused on solving several problems. The segments used for the study were the second and fourth. The second problem focused on cognitive analysis of strategies another student (Brandon) was using to learn and reason. The fourth problem was for the groups to redesign a physics lesson based on constructivist principles.

Research Questions: Though not explicitly labeled the question seemed to be how is cognition distributed in effective PBL groups? The implication being that if we know about this area we can better scaffold it in collaborative learning.

Sample and Method of Data Collection and Analysis:
In terms of the sample, the authors looked at 14 hours of videos and then reduced them down to nine clips between 40 seconds to 2 minutes for characteristic interactions. The authors employed Jordan and Henderson’s (1995) ideas from Interaction Analysis. Since the authors were looking at “social and material aspects of group collaboration,“ they felt they could be easily identified from reviewing the segments (without transcription and coding beforehand). Once the 9 segments had been identified, these segments were transcribed and reviewed by team or researchers. The researchers then developed both “grounded” and “higher-level,” hypotheses about what was going on in the interactions and compared notes.

Member checks in the form of follow-up two-hour interviews where then conducted with two of the five group participants. During these semi-structured interviews, group members were asked about each of the nine clips and these interviews were then transcribed and analyzed.

Results: The key results from this study are several findings. They focus on the three areas of 1) how the groups interacted to share attention and socially construct knowledge, 2) use artifacts in learning, and 3) how some of the group members adopted a role of “soft leader, ” (p 260).

1) Shared Attention and Social Knowledge Construction:
Group members used something to write notes on that everyone could see. In this case it was a whiteboard. In a virtual world this could be a note card, a whiteboard, something a bit more interactive like an Etherpad site etc. Using something that everyone could see was important because it helped to solidify everyone’s thinking and allowed for negotiation, clarification, and discussion. While negotiating was in process, group members showed mutual respect and promoted a dynamic of questioning and explaining ideas. If team members proposed ideas they needed to back up their statements with why they thought a certain way.
2) Artifacts:In terms of what was used during the collaborative process, block we part of the activity the group was analyzing and so they used blocks to make points, try out ideas, and explain things. Similarly during the group presentation, a poster served as the groups finalized solution to the problem. The poster also was a discussion tool. Something group members could point to and use for explanation.
3) Soft Leaders: Two of the group members exhibited strategies often used by facilitators in PBL sessions. The strategies were asking group members to explain their ideas and helping to monitor the group’s process.

Additional Thoughts:
This book chapter makes me want to review Jordan and Henderson’s article on Interaction Analysis to see how different/similar it is to the traditional process of the constant comparative method using in Grounded Theory. It seemed to be a simpler process initially but was followed up by pretty extensive interviews, which was something Hmelo-Silver et al added to the process. Which is helpful as a clarifying member check but also adds more time to the process.

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