Dancers

photo: Jon Green

Background

Dancing between Diversity and Consistency: Improving Assessment in Post Graduate Degrees in Dance, aims to refine a code of assessment for postgraduate research studies in dance in Australia, encompassing the two primary modes of investigation, written and practice-based theses, their distinctiveness and their potential interplay.

In 2007, the chief investigators and research assistants interviewed 74 people across five states. The interviews recorded the responses of 40 examiners, 7 Deans and Directors, 3 Administrators and 32 Candidates and Graduates of higher degrees in dance, or arts-related disciplines.

Each interviewee was given a pre-interview survey to complete. There were up to 25 closed questions designed to gather background information about the person.[1] The interview questions were open questions designed to solicit interviewees’ opinions and experiences. Up to 26 questions were asked in each interview, which lasted from 30 minutes to 1 hour. Examiners, Deans, Administrators and Candidates and Graduates were asked different sets of questions about their experience of higher degrees in dance, or, if dance was not their primary discipline, degrees in the discipline in which they were qualified or experienced.

Interviews began in February 2007 after several months of preliminary discussions between the Chief Investigators (CIs) and two days of intensive workshop sessions that determined the set of questions for each target group, methods for data handling and analysis and a range of issues relating to ethics clearance, extant guidelines and literature, examiners’ reports and forums. Interviews and forums continued throughout the year, concentrating on Australian capital cities where higher degrees in dance are offered. 7 interviews were conducted via email. Face-to-face interviews were the preferred method, so that a richer set of responses could be captured through conversations that could include supplementary questioning and requests for clarification. In many interviews this conversational style led to new and pertinent data being revealed; in others, non-pertinent material predominated, or questions were skipped.

Interview transcription was undertaken by the CIs’ research assistants in 3 states and was completed by early 2008. The transcriptions were imported into NVivo™ in blocks of five to ten. (NVivo™ is a text management database program designed especially for qualitative data analysis.) The interview responses were ‘coded’ to the questions and respondents’ personal attributes, taken from the pre-interview survey, tabulated. The process of database coding was undertaken centrally, by one research assistant in Perth. The coding and tabulation allows the investigators to search the database according to attribute, question or many combinations of the two. Further coding may be undertaken once the initial analysis is complete, revealing prominent themes. This further coding enables a greater range of statistical data to emerge, exposing the frequency of themes and the groups and sub-groups most concerned with particular themes, opinions and experiences.

In the meantime, a ‘manual’ analysis of interviewees’ responses in relation to small sets of questions has begun with each CI responsible for analysing a particular group. The groups were divided amongst the CIs based on role and discipline. Dr Maggi Phillips is responsible for analysing Deans and Examiners of HDs in Dance, Dr Cheryl Stock for ‘Non-dance’ Deans and Examiners and Dr Kim Vincs for all Candidates and Graduates. These analyses are triangulated by input from the research assistants and a summary produced that resolves any differences arising in the triangulation process. (Triangulation, in this sense, refers to a method of analysis verification where one analyst’s results are compared with another’s to check parities/disparities.) Most analytical differences in the triangulation process arose less from a difference in the actual themes identified than from how they might be grouped together to optimise interpretation.

Support for this project has been provided by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council, an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council Ltd. This work is published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Australia Licence. Under this Licence you are free to copy, distribute, display and perform the work and to make derivative works.

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