International Journal of Education & the Arts

Volume 10 Number 27

November 5, 2009

Visual Sources and the Qualitative Research Disseration:
Ethics, Evidence and the Politics of Academia--
Moving Innovation in Higher Education from the Center to the Margins

Judith Davidson
University of Massachusetts Lowell, USA

James W. Dottin, Jr.
Middlesex Community College, USA

Stacy L. Penna
QSR International, USA

Stuart P. Robertson
Robertson Educational Resources, USA

Citation: Davidson, J., Dottin, J. W. Jr., Penna, S. L., & Robertson, S. P. (2009). Visual sources and the qualitative research dissertation: Ethics, evidence and the politics of academia--Moving innovation in higher education from the center to the margins. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 10(27). Retrieved [date] from
Until recently, qualitative research has made limited use of visual sources, particularly visual texts (drawing, painting or photographs), but also including multimodal data (video and web-based) and visual data (tables, graphs, charts, etc.). Thus, discussions of ethics and evidence in this area have lagged behind those related to textual data, such as written fieldnotes. This is particularly true for qualitative research dissertations, where graduate students are caught in the tension between established and emerging standards of ethics and evidence. This trend holds true across most institutions of higher education, but it is especially pronounced in those schools that are smaller and more regionally focused where innovations may take more time to become firmly established. This paper examines issues of ethics, evidence, and academic politics in the use of visual sources within the genre of the dissertation, with a special focus on the ways these innovative practices move into the higher education institutions that are at a distance from the center of change. We begin with the viewpoint of a dissertation advisor who has experience in the use of visual sources in the instruction of qualitative research at the doctoral level and its use in the conduct of qualitative research dissertations. Three case examples drawn from three doctoral students in a Graduate School of Education provide a view of the issues involved in researcher generated data, participant generated data, and the ways emerging technologies offer new visualizing possibilities. We conclude with a cross-cutting discussion of issues related to the functions visual sources serve in these dissertations, followed by recommendations for the future use of these materials in the qualitative research dissertation process. Study participants are located in a small, regional institution of higher education, a context that figures importantly in the story. Our goal is to promote discussion and advance understanding of the ways visual sources, and by extension, the ways other innovative research processes can be used by qualitative researchers (particularly doctoral students), despite academia's reluctance in the face of change.

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