Software Review: NVivo as a Teaching Tool

nvivo-logoFor the past few weeks, DASIL has been publishing a series of blog posts comparing the two presidential candidates this year – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – using NVivo, a text analysis software. Given the increasing demand for qualitative data analysis in academic research and teaching, this blog post will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of NVivo as a teaching tool in qualitative analysis.

Efficiency and reliability

Using software like NVivo in content analysis can add rigor to qualitative research. Doing word search or coding using NVivo will produce more reliable results than doing so manually since the software rules out human error. Furthermore, NVivo proves to be really useful with large data sets – it would be extremely time-consuming to code hundreds of documents by hand with a highlighter pen.

Ease of use

NVivo is relatively simple to use. Users can import documents directly from word processing packages in various forms, including Word documents and pdfs, and code these documents easily on screen via the point-and-click system. Teachers and students can quickly become proficient in use of this software.

NVivo and social media

NVivo allows users to import Tweets, Facebook posts, and Youtube comments and incorporate them as part of their data. Given the rise of social media and increased interest in studying its impact on our society, this capability of NVivo may become more heavily employed.

Segmenting and identifying patterns 

NVivo allows users to create clusters of nodes and organize their data into categories and themes, making it easy for researchers to identify patterns. At the same time, the use of word clouds and cluster analysis also provides insight into prevailing themes and topics across data sets.

Limitations

While NVivo seems to be a great software that serves to provide a reliable, general picture of the data, it is important to be aware of its limitations. It may be tempting to limit the data analysis process to automatic word searches that yield a list of nodes and themes. While it is alluring to do so, in-depth analyses and critical thinking skill are needed for meaningful data analysis.

Although it is possible to search for particular words and derivations of those words, various ways in which ideas are expressed make it difficult to find all instances of a particular usage of words or ideas. Manual searches and evaluation of automatic word searches help to ensure that the data are, in fact, thoroughly examined.

Once individual themes in a data set are found, NVivo doesn’t provides tools to map out how these themes relate to one another, making it difficult to visualize the inter-relationships of the nodes and topics across data sets. Users need to think critically about ways in which these themes emerge and relate to each other to gain a deeper understanding of the data.

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Investigating the Spatial & Temporal Trends of Declaring a Major

The start of the school year is a time many students start putting thought into what disciplines to study for the remainder of their collegiate careers. Many on-campus resources such as the Center for Careers, Life, and Service are already in the full swing of advising students, such as the “Choosing Your Major” info session on Sept 21st from noon to 1 in the Joe Rosenfield Center. Here in DASIL, we thought it would be fun to investigate what Grinnell College students majored in over the years to illustrate the transformation of student academic patterns. Using data from the Office of Academic Affairs, Office of the Registrar, and the Office of Analytic Support and Institutional Research, we created two interactive graphics. One is a line graph presenting the number of declared majors over time from 1991 to 2015 by major and rank compared to other majors. Our second visualization is a geographic map with two layers: the US layer breaks down the proportion of students by state and major from 1985 to 2015, while the world layer illustrates the proportion of international students by country and major.

Click on the Details button below to find out more about the data for each visualization.

For the map:

    • The Contents button(contentsbutton) will display all layers. Unclick the checkbox next to the layer name to hide the layer. To view the legend, click on the “Show Legend” icon (contentsbutton) below the layer name.
    • To examine other majors, find the “Change Style” button (contentsbutton) below the layer name you wish to view, then select the desired major from the “Choose an attribute to show” drop-down menu.  You may alter the map with colors, symbols or size.
    • Click on an individual country or US state to see available data on all majors.

For the line graph:

  • Choose your major(s) of interest in the “Select a major to display” field.
  • Hover over each point to display information on a major’s rank by class year and the number of students declared. Hover over a line to view the path of a major over time.


 

 

The Biology major holds the record for most students declared within this time frame, at 53 students for the Class of 1995. Since its creation, the number of students who major in Biological Chemistry increased leaps and bounds, ranking as the second most-declared major in the Class of 2015, tied with Psychology. Economics shows a general increasing trend over time, while majors like English and Sociology show erratic variability throughout.

American Studies majors appears to be representing the South and Southwest regions of the US, while Sociology is prominent in states located in the Midwest and, similarly, the South. A large proportion of students hailing from California study the hard sciences, especially Biological Chemistry. Surprisingly, there is a significant proportion of biology majors represented in most of the states.

Scoping out, the social sciences and hard sciences are popular disciplines among international students. Economics, Biological Chemistry, and Math are popular, especially in countries like China and India. Several humanities majors are not well-represented by international students, such as Theatre and Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies.

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School-to-Prison Pipeline: School Funding

As you may know, education spending in the United States is chronically low, totaling six percent of the total federal funding per year.

 

chart (2)

 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the primary source of funding in the U.S. is intended to be from states and localities (approximately 83 cents per dollar, as of the 2004-2005 school year). The issue with this is the high rate of income inequality in the United States, particularly by location (rural, suburban, or urban). As such, those who live in poorer areas are able to contribute less to students’ education, and school funding, as well as educational quality, suffer. Lack of funding in schools and school districts often coincides with low rates of educational attainment and high rates of school closures (leading to overcrowding and high dropout rates). These issues correlate with higher rates of imprisonment, lending to the “school-to-prison pipeline” that academics and activists have become aware of.

Since funding of schools is intended to be mostly by locality, it is valuable to assess how poverty rates in different localities might indicate a link between school resource allocation and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Without accounting for locality, the average elementary and secondary education funding by local sources is approximately 44% (as of 2011).

 

chart

 

When taking locality and poverty rates into account using the same data set, there is a clear trend in the allocation of local funding versus total funding (which includes federal, state, and local funding).

 

funding-chart

 

In areas of low poverty, all localities are able to contribute more to schooling, High poverty rates in all localities produce the opposite effect, as one might expect. Interestingly, suburbs and cities with high poverty rates are able to contribute roughly the same percentage to funding, while rural localities are able to contribute a lower percentage to school funding.

Schools that are funded less by the community receive less funding overall and also enjoy less community engagement with the schools and student education. Student educational attainment is lessened by these factors and research shows higher rates of arrest and incarceration among those with lower educational attainment.

These findings suggest that school resource allocation does not consist of a single number across the board, or a certain number of cents out of a dollar. One must take into account locality and poverty rate in determining school funding and understanding how the method of funding schools in the United States privileges certain students over others, creating educational opportunities for some and all but ensuring criminal records for others.

Additionally, funding for prisoners is increasing at a much higher rate than funding for students — nearly three times as quickly. Coupled with the chronic rise in America’s prison population, funding priority at federal and state levels seems to be given to prisons rather than schools. This results in resource-strapped schools, particularly in areas that are already limited in funding (i.e. poor locations, cities, and rural areas). Through this funding structure, students continue to be shuttled through the school-to-prison pipeline from schools to prisons, perpetuating the funding cycle and the pipeline.

 

spending-per-prisoner

 

The issues of the school-to-prison pipeline in relation to school funding is two-pronged then; the methods through which the majority of school funding is received work against high-need, high-risk areas that already have limited community resources, and the allocation of funding to rapidly growing prisons instead of schools. A re-examination of funding priorities and methods may go a long way in alleviating one aspect of the school-to-prison pipeline and resource inequality for students from kindergarten onward.

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MythBusters: Career Development Style

Political Science majors enter politics. Biology majors become physicians. History majors…wind up teaching history. We’ve heard it all before: The major you declare during your college days has a strong influence on your career options and your marketability in those fields. The data presented in this “Grinnell College Career Paths” visualization help to debunk the “major=career” myth.  It also reveals the complexity of the career development process. Especially in a liberal arts setting, where conversations of transferable skills and experiential education abound, students choosing a career should consider both their major and experiences gained outside of the classroom.

Grinnell College Alumni Career Paths

Your first glance at these data might be at one of the potential majors you are considering.  Let’s say you find your Anthropology classes fascinating.  You could read your textbooks all night and find yourself conversing with classmates during lunch about the topics you’ve learned.  These are all good signs.  However, at some point, you might ask yourself, “What can I do with this major?”  According to the data presented here, an Anthropology major can lead you to any number of fields.  There is a fairly equal spread of career paths — from public service to information systems — chosen by Grinnellian Anthropology majors.  How do you decide which path might be a better fit for you? Similar to how you figured out whether or not you like pancakes. You gave it a try, or, as we formally suggest, you participate in some form of experiential education.  You get your feet wet in the world of work via serving, interning, or shadowing. Additionally, you talk to alumni about their career paths. You do all of this with the intention of discerning if this particular path aligns with your strengths, interests, and values, and is something you’d like to pursue long-term. Learning about — and being able to articulate to others — the transferable skills of your Anthropology degree is essential to applying your major to whatever field you choose.

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Iowa Ranks Low in the School Breakfast Program

The School Breakfast Program, like the more familiar National School Lunch Program, provides subsidized meals to school children. Researchers have found that eating a nutritional breakfast at school improves students’ academic performance, reduces disciplinary problems, and increases the likelihood that students eat a healthful meal.

Unfortunately, when it comes to reaching children from low-income households with this program Iowa has long ranked near the bottom of states. On an average day in October 2013, Iowa served approximately 40 free and reduced-price breakfasts for every 100 free and reduced-price lunches.  Based on a similar score, the Food Research and Action Center, a national nonprofit organization that studies hunger in the United States and advocates for nutrition and anti-hunger policies, ranks Iowa’s School Breakfast Program coverage as 47th out of 50 states and DC.

Assuming October to be representative of the school year, our state’s poor performance means that thousands of low-income children in Iowa are failing to access this important program. What might explain this? And should we be concerned?

Of course, some families and children may not choose to participate in the program. But long bus-rides, increases in the number of school children in poverty, and the demonstrated benefits of the program means we should think through making the program as accessible as possible.

The figure below includes two histograms showing the increasing number of school sites (that is, elementary, middle school, and secondary schools) with larger percentages of children eligible for free and reduced-price meals.  According to Census data, the percentage of Iowa school children from households at or below the poverty line rose by approximately 2.5 points during this period. Of course, as the state grows the absolute number of children in poverty grows as well (unless the rate were to fall). In the end, the rate increase and the growth in population means approximately 20,000 more students from families in poverty attend Iowa schools compared to just a decade ago.

Percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals by number of Iowa school sites

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