Sunday 17 April 2011

Workshops with benefits: NVivo 9 and Apple Automator

My research project is steadily changing its emphasis from focussing on collecting data at research sites to analysis. To help in this transition, I recently attended a qualitative research software workshop for NVivo 9 in Johannesburg, led by Fiona Wiltshier (a training manager and independent researcher). 

On the first day, Fiona gave Southern African researchers an introduction to:
  • setting up one's research project; 
  • working with information;
  • sorting, organising and analyzing information;
  • and working with one's themes and ideas and shaping one's findings. 

On the second day, we were taught how-to;
  • build and work with models, create and show relationships;
  • group data using collections and links;  
  • explore data with text analysis, coding and query tools;
  • visualize data in charts and query results in tree maps and word trees;
  • create reports and extracts. 
Both days saw the researchers working with data from a common example in the morning, then working on our personal research projects in the late-afternoon. With her research background and in-depth experience of using NVivo, Fiona also focussed on the high-level thinking required to set-up a project to answer one's research questions, understanding how best to use the software and, importantly, what it cannot do {i.e. automatically transcribe and code one's interviews !} plus common errors to avoid. 

Fiona's advice was very beneficial; she instructed me in the importance of protecting my research subjects' privacy even before entering their data into NVivo, setting up an appropriate folder structure for my source data and thinking very carefully about the categories, nodes and classifications to be used.

After the course, I was not only able to use NVivo 9, but also had a clearer understanding of what data to use in my research (or not). This benefitted me in helping narrow the focus of my thesis' "Methodology" chapter, which will shortly be reviewed at Professor Johannes Cronje's Technology in Education Research Postgraduate Students' meeting.

Before the NVivo 9 workshop, I knew that I could not import .png images (the default format on my laptop for screengrabs) into its software. Thinking that there must be a better way than converting these files to .jpg one-by-one, I attended a free workshop at DigiCape Claremont (formerly Project 3) on Apple OSX's Automator software. Alan Goldberg presented on how you can create a workflow by setting up a series of steps that link a series of programs. In my case, I used the "Preview" and "Reveal Finder Item" software to launch a jpg. conversion workflow, whenever files were placed in the  "Convert screengrabs to JPG" folder. 

From a practical viewpoint, the Automator workshop was very beneficial in saving me many man-hours... From a knowledge perspective, learning that one can use it to prepare rote batch jobs between applications should hold future benefit: I look forward to using it in the future. Particularly since there are plenty of resources available online (at sites like and so I could benefit from building a workflow on the shoulders of an Automator guru!

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