Thoughts from a virtual Q&A with George Veletsianos

It had the distinct pleasure of meeting George briefly several years ago at an Open Textbooks conference held at TRU at which he was keynote speaker and I was graphic recorder. I was impressed at the time at his understanding and use of social media as a means to communicate with his students, and at his understanding of how contemporary students communicate, and what it takes to meet people where they are at.

Our group asked him about snowball sampling – something that was completely new to me.  My parents are both scientists. Growing up, my family looked at things from a very quantitative angle. My anecdotal understanding of research was that it was always large study groups, wide-ranging, random subjects, and that everything could be boiled down to numbers in tables. My Dad referred to human services as ‘soft sciences’ and pointed to the problems that qualitative data had, in his opinion, inherently, such as difficulty with self-identifying mental or physical states. He would ask, “how do I know that my 3/5 pain is the same as yours, or someone else’s?” His view on this has always stayed with me. I’ve really always thought of quantitative data as ‘hard’ data and qualitative data as ‘soft’ data, and that ‘soft’ was not in a flattering way, not like real science.

This course has challenged a lot of biases that I wasn’t aware that I had when it comes to research and data. It has been useful to move through the course and unpack each of these little internal resistances that I’ve felt as we’ve moved along. While I still have a long way to go, it was helpful to have a mirror held up to my ways of thinking, to allow my horizons to expand around this.

Our group’s question was:

Do you find that using snowball sampling allows for a varied enough sample group for the types of research you are doing? When is it more or less appropriate to implement this as a way of finding participants?

George described snowball sampling as identifying participants who then identify further participants. He shared with us that it is appropriate when looking for groups of subjects who share certain characteristics. This makes sense with the type of research he is doing, where he is looking to speak to a specific demographic of people about their experience.

I had to do some work around his answer – are data valid if they are from a narrow demographic? The answer, of course, is yes! It was my bias that was keeping me from seeing how this way of finding participants has value.

This all connects so beautifully with the way he answered the question asked by Team Four regarding biases – that to work in a team is an important part of the research. He said that other people in the team are there to help challenge each other’s biases. I like the idea of working in a team of people that have strong boundaries set and are comfortable enough that they can challenge each other’s biases without jeopardizing the work relationship. I see, too, how this ties back into the teamwork we are doing in an ongoing way in our cohort, having the opportunity to practice these skills, over and over again.

I’m looking forward to having dinner with my parents later this week, to talk about some of the things that have come up during the course, to learn more about their experience in research, both in their work and when they were in University. I’ll share with them the discovery and exploration of my own biases and hope to explore some of their thoughts and experience around biases, too.

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