Journal of Nursing Education

Blackbirds Singing in the Dead of Night?: Advancing the Craft of Teaching Qualitative Research

Margaret McAllister, EdD, RN; Jennifer Rowe, PhD, RN



Qualitative research education, which is overly concerned with teaching content, can reduce knowledge to the technical-rational domain, and in this process, opportunities for students to be inspired and passionately engaged with the art of qualitative research are lost. Although students may acquire the characteristics of qualitative researchers by observing role models, there is much skilled teachers can do to teach students not only how to conduct research, but also how to be committed qualitative researchers. The craft knowledge of skilled teachers in facilitating these understandings, techniques, and attributes in students must be shared and discussed in meaningful ways to advance quality education and, in turn, quality nursing research. If unshared, teachers' knowledge may go unheard, and they may be left isolated, like blackbirds singing in the dead of night. In this article, the skills of "doing and being" in qualitative research are emphasized by sharing strategies the authors have used in research education. The aim is to discuss creative aspects of teaching practice that are helpful in understanding and advancing rigorous qualitative research.



Qualitative research education, which is overly concerned with teaching content, can reduce knowledge to the technical-rational domain, and in this process, opportunities for students to be inspired and passionately engaged with the art of qualitative research are lost. Although students may acquire the characteristics of qualitative researchers by observing role models, there is much skilled teachers can do to teach students not only how to conduct research, but also how to be committed qualitative researchers. The craft knowledge of skilled teachers in facilitating these understandings, techniques, and attributes in students must be shared and discussed in meaningful ways to advance quality education and, in turn, quality nursing research. If unshared, teachers' knowledge may go unheard, and they may be left isolated, like blackbirds singing in the dead of night. In this article, the skills of "doing and being" in qualitative research are emphasized by sharing strategies the authors have used in research education. The aim is to discuss creative aspects of teaching practice that are helpful in understanding and advancing rigorous qualitative research.

In a recent report of an educational study investigating the experiences and perceptions of qualitative research teachers, the authors argued that teachers are pressed to find ways to inspire and engage students to learn not only the content and research skills required to conduct good qualitative research but also the art of qualitative research (i.e., the standpoint and sensibilities of being qualitative researchers) (Rowe & McAllister, 2002). In addition, the authors argued that education in these research qualities was an important aspect of qualitative research education in nursing and health disciplines. When students learn how to view the world of health care with a qualitative eye, they build their capacity to see health and to investigate health practices not only as more than simply the absence of disease but also as complex, multilayered experiences that involve individuals, families, and social and cultural forces and that require holistic and person-centered responses from nurses and other health care professionals.

However, the art of being a qualitative researcher frequently is overshadowed by a concern for teaching the technical aspects of research (Stark & Watson, 1999). The result is an emphasis on "how-to" rules or recipes for conducting qualitative research the right way. Although students may acquire the characteristics of qualitative researchers by observing role models, there is much the educational process and skilled teachers can do to emphasize and develop students' passion for being qualitative researchers. This article discusses strategies for educating students about the art of "being" qualitative researchers.

Being a qualitative researcher involves attributes such as compassion, passion, integrity, tolerance of ambiguity, willingness to play with ideas, knowledge and inquiry, commitment to viewing the social world from the viewpoints of the people being studied, valuing of detail, and willingness to inject something of themselves into the research process and its outcomes (Blaikie, 2000; Chenail, 1997; Janesick, 1998). Of course, these characteristics are desired attributes in all researchers, regardless of methodological approach, as well as in effective nurses. However, for the purpose of advancing qualitative research in nursing and health care practice, it is useful to consider how these attributes may be developed within particular educational processes. Classroom experiences need to reflect these attributes, while at the same time, include important qualitative research actions, such as question posing, data collection, analysis, and ethical conduct.

Within the education literature, creative approaches to teaching qualitative research have been discussed by many authors (Chenail, 1997; Eisner, 1993; Greene, 1990; Janesick, 1998; Peshkin, 1993; Wright & Vigil, 1995), but this knowledge rarely is applied to teaching qualitative health research. Exceptions can be found in the work of Diekelmann and Schulte (1993), Sandelowski (1994), Morse (1994), and Stark and Watson (1999). According to these authors, there is value in continuing to publicly share qualitative research pedagogy in scholarly forums because without public discussion, each teacher is left like a "blackbird singing in the dead of night - isolated and sadly ignorant of how his/her song is part of a much larger singing of the world" (Chambers, 1991, p. 354). Opportunities to advance nursing are facilitated when the wisdom of its teachers is shared, rather than remaining isolated or unsung.


Craft knowledge concerns the ways in which personal, intuitive, implicit, and practical knowledge is enacted in teaching, which then influences the ways in which teachers structure and organize time and space and foster learning in students (Johnston, 1994; Kohl, 1984; Schön, 1983; Tanner, 1993; Zeichner, Tabachnick, & Densraore, 1987). Craft knowledge is associated with teachers' implicit attitudes and beliefs, and it complements, rather than negates, technical-rational logic (Benner, 1984; Schön, 1983; Tanner, 1993). Teaching knowledge plays an influential role in determining what teachers actually do in practice. Craft knowledge examines the act of teaching those creative classroom processes enacted by teachers and embraced by students to encourage reflective, curious, insightful, engaged, and eager learners.

The discourse of craft knowledge helps teachers share individual practices and develop a shared body of knowledge. In addition, such shared discussions are a political act (Diekelmann & Schulte, 1993). Diekelmann and Schulte (1993) argued that whenever shared practices and common meanings, which traditionally have remained invisible, private, and devalued, are revealed, political action is occurring. A broader, more connected, and egalitarian community among colleagues is built; institutional discrimination or oppressive practice that otherwise would have remained private may be revealed; and learning, which results from shared experiences, paves the way for new practice possibilities. These principles are aptly apph'ed in the teaching of qualitative research in nursing and health care studies.


In addition to scientific ways of knowing, narrative, film, dance, music, and poetry are all legitimate forms of inquiry that potentially reveal new aspects of the social world and lead to new understandings. The works of Eisner and Janesick provide examples of these ways of knowing and the craft of teaching. Eisner, a leading North American educator in qualitative research, contends that graduate programs preparing scholars must address, in addition to the major theories and concepts relevant to the discipline, ways to inspire and maintain an open mind. He called this "seeing the forest and the trees" (Eisner, 1988, p. 87).

The first author, who was a student in Eisner's class on qualitative research in education, recalls unconventional and memorable learning experiences that led to an enduring faith in the craft of teaching and the value of engaging students in creative learning. For example, in Eisner's class, students were required to read novels and view the movies based on them as part of a process designed to evoke dialogue about different methods of representation and meaning. One of these novels was Robert Waller's (1992) The Bridges of Madison County and the movie was Glint Eastwood's (1995) film of the same name. Students acted as critics, developing the skills to see and write about the subtleties of events and experiences. Eisner treated his students, as he does his readers, as intelligent, sentient adults who each have unique experiences and perceptions of the world and whose contributions to knowledge should be expressed, practiced, heard, polished, and refined (Eisner, 1991).

Janesick (1998) takes a similar approach and described the value of "stretching exercises," which she believes develop artistry and skill in researchers and, thus, help create more colorful visions when seeing and listening. Seeing and listening are key processes in observation and interview, the two most common methods of qualitative inquiry. However, the abilities to see and listen are too often taken for granted. According to Janesick (1998), learning to see what is observed is at the very core of qualitative research. Therefore, her stretching exercises are designed to teach students to "dance" with a text (whether interview data or observations), play with it, move with it, and come to know it in a full and embodied way. Such insight is particularly relevant to developing interpretive and meaning-making skills in students, who as nurse researchers and clinicians in contemporary health care services, view, evoke, and challenge the various dimensions of the health and illness experience and associated health care practices. Such analytic skills require a degree of playfulness, passionate engagement, and creativity.


Following this review of craft knowledge in education and its relevance to health care education, the remainder of this article features various teaching-learning strategies drawn from the authors' experiences teaching qualitative research in graduate nursing and health classes. The strategies are categorized into four phases. These phases reflect and complement the process of learning the "being and doing" of qualitative research.

First, strategies designed to help students develop a qualitative eye are offered. Although generic, these strategies help students view familiar health care contexts from a qualitative researcher's perspective. Second, strategies designed to prepare students for various challenges before entering the health care research field (e.g., ethical conduct) are discussed. Third, strategies to inform students' approaches while they are engaged in fieldwork (e.g., data gathering) are explored. Fourth, strategies to extend students' capacity and confidence to interpret data, play with ideas, analyze themes, and contribute to knowledge are featured.

There are important caveats to the discussion. These strategies complement, rather than replace, the important content knowledge that is part of conventional qualitative research study, regardless of discipline. It remains crucial for students to learn the research methods, design, and processes associated with qualitative research. In addition, these strategies are designed to be stimulating and engaging, not another aspect of "doing" qualitative research. Therefore, it is not expected that they would all be used in one learning period (e.g., a term or semester).

Developing a Qualitative Eye

Examining the context of health care or nursing practice from a qualitative standpoint requires the ability to see the familiar in new and innovative ways and to see the strange by making links with that which is familiar (Eisner, 1993). Qualitative researchers are not as concerned with measuring or proving relationships between variables as they are with exploring health care experiences and describing or critiquing practices in fine detail. For many students, the difference in perspective between quantitative and qualitative researchers is difficult to discern, but it is crucial to differentiating researcher roles, aims, methods, and outcomes. Spending just 30 minutes at the beginning of the course in novel and stimulating ways can impress on students the differences between perspectives and open the qualitative lens, so to speak. It also can set an enthusiastic tone, rather than overwhekning students with the huge learning curve they are about to undertake.

Teaching Strategy: Through a Qualitative Lens. In this activity, teachers use images to augment a conversation about how health can be portrayed and experienced in many ways. Students are presented with a slide show of pictures. The first pictures are concrete images of health, and then the images move to more connotative or artistic perceptions. Concrete images could come from a source such as Knepfer and Johns' (1989) book Nursing for Life, which contains photographs of clinical nurses in various activities (e.g., a midwife helping a woman in labor, a nurse facilitating group work). Students can be asked to comment on what information is being conveyed in particular images. This helps build students' ability to describe what they see. In addition, teachers can facilitate students' interpretations by discussing the effects the interaction may be having on them and the feelings they have toward the characters in the images. This discussion helps students see that a qualitative lens focuses on personal, subjective, and contextual experiences.

The session then may move to consideration of artistic depictions of health in, for example, the works of Vincent Van Gogh or Edvard Munch. Such depictions evoke more passionate and less unified responses because they tap into viewers' emotions and hint at, rather than explain, a character's experience. Teachers could model for students how they perceive and interpret a particular piece. Then, ^ students could be asked to contribute other interpretations of the work.

Teachers also may offer an understanding of the painting's context and history, by providing a commentary on the history of the painter and the effect of the work on the viewing public at the time. For example, critics are divided as to whether Van Gogh suffered from schizophrenia, manic depression, convulsions, or even digitalis toxicity, all of which could have influenced his subject matter and approach. In addition, some art critics argue Van Gogh's work was too abstract and impressionistic to even be understood by his peers and, as a result, his capacity to move his contemporaries with images of experiences such as alienation or despair may have been in vain.

Other images that evoke understanding about health can be used in discussion about the qualitative lens. For example, paintings by artists such as Frida Kahlo, especially those featuring Kahlo's hospitalization following miscarriage, can be used to generate dialogue about the idea that, like art, emotions, feelings, values, and attitudes associated with health and illness experiences also may be conveyed and revealed through qualitative research (Herrera, 1991).

In the authors' experience, this teaching strategy is a powerful way to engage students in the challenges of qualitative inquiry. The activity is embedded with many important lessons, which can be explicitly discussed with students in the closing summary. It reminds students that multiple points of view and different perspectives enrich understanding and reveal dimensions that are important to the health care experience but that may otherwise go overlooked. This activity also introduces the following ideas:

* Reality is constructed and contextual.

* Accountable qualitative research involves justifying descriptions and interpretations.

* Qualitative researchers are required to draw a great deal of evidence from the data to support their assertions.

* A credible reading may resonate as meaningful to others but may not hold true in years to come.

In other words, theory cannot be reified, findings are and will remain contextual, and claims to truth are sometimes elusive. In this activity, students also are provided with an opportunity to use their voices, to listen, and to practice their interpretive skills, which are all key skills for qualitative research and set the tone for what will be expected in subsequent classes.

Offering students evocative, vivid images may awaken their imagination and awareness of their senses. Indeed, good health practice and good qualitative research practice share the ability to be moved and to feel passion and compassion. Educational processes act as a key. According to Maxine Greene (1990), who spoke not only for qualitative research education but for education in general, "If we are to awaken an ethical consciousness, we have to discover how to arouse passion again" (p. 72).

Preparing for Fieldwork

As students begin to investigate qualitative research methods, there are creative teaching strategies that can augment the development of both the "doing" skills of research and the "being" attributes of sentient qualitative researchers. For example, at this point, student researchers need to have an awareness of self and others, what subjectivity means and how it can be evoked, where they stand as researchers, what it is they are aiming to do, and what reflexivity means so they do not deny the role of self in the research process and outcomes. Students also must have a clear plan for gathering and producing trustworthy, high-quality research data, and they need to know how to conduct themselves ethically.

Teaching Strategy: Scattered Pictures. In this activity, students are invited to examine photographs of people engaged in various activities. The idea is for teachers to select images from various sources, such as lifestyle, beauty, current affairs, geographical, or science magazines, as well as textbooks and comic books. Examples include women exercising in an aerobics class, a scientist gazing down a microscope, and an environmental activist tied to a tree. Depending on size, the class may be divided into groups of three to five students so discussion can begin in a friendly, non-threatening way. Students are asked to imagine the people in the photographs are health care researchers and then select and explain why a particular image is meaningful for them. For example, one student said he liked the exercise class because it would be a real challenge for him to fit in with this group, gain their trust, and go on to gather data and engage in the field activity at the same time. He went on to explain that he would like to see himself as a researcher who saw the field as an exciting adventure, not just a source for research data.

The images also can be used to generate discussion about the ways researchers may look at a context and see different things. For example, a photograph of a group of magicians taking a break together could trigger discussion about the role of researchers undertaking descriptive phenomenology and the kinds of questions they would ask, compared to ethnographers or critical feminist researchers.

The goal of this activity, which could be stated explicitly at some point during the encounter, is to help students locate and explicate their own particular worldviews, assumptions, values, and aims in order to get closer to understanding and articulating their own ambitions as qualitative researchers. The activity introduces the dual and inseparable ideas essential to qualitative research - doing research and being researchers. If the activity is applied in such a way as to show how health experiences can be understood in new ways and nursing can be seen through fresh eyes (Eisner, 1993), it also teaches that the purpose of qualitative inquiry in health is to make the familiar strange and render the strange familiar, and to recognize and act on what is valued and accounted for (or not).

Teaching Strategy: Observation and Immersion. Another activity that focuses on researchers' viewpoints within the field can be conducted outside of class. Students are invited to rent a videotape or view excerpts from a film, such as Schindler's List (Spielberg, 1993). Schindler's List recounts the true story of Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi party and war profiteer who saved the lives of more than 1,000 Jews in Poland during the Holocaust. The film vividly portrays the Jewish experience of alienation and marginalization and captures the paradoxes and complexities within Schindler himself. Students are asked to imagine that Oskar Schindler, or another central character, is a qualitative researcher. Students can reflect on how this "researcher's" place and behavior in the field provides him or her with access to new insights that were previously unnoticed by self and others. For example, students may observe when, where, and why Schindler was able to see, perhaps for the first time, the greed and excess of some of the soldiers, as well as the endurance and resourcefulness of the persecuted Jewish workers.

In the authors' experience, this activity sensitizes students to issues relevant to qualitative research and good ethnography and promotes discussion about how prolonged engagement in the field may awaken researchers to aspects about the lived experience, which otherwise would go overlooked. Using stimuli not immediately linked to health may be important when working with nursing students, so they may understand the naive view, which is essential to qualitative researchers. More important, this activity helps bring to Ufe theoretical concepts, such as ernie and etic standpoints, and identifies their enactment within social situations as embodied activities, rather than merely linguistic devices. Thus, the link between theory and practice is made explicitly.

Engaging in Fieldwork Activities

Although the literature is replete with strategies designed to help nursing students master clinical fieldwork, research fieldwork is not discussed as readily. In addition to communication skills used to engage and converse with participants, researchers need to reflect on ways of being and remaining ethical, both with data and with participants, and of honing their data collection skills. The following strategies have been used by the authors with success to develop ethical sensitivity and openness to interpreting data.

Teaching Strategy: Metaphors, Images, and Ethics. It is the authors' experience that the topic of ethics in research frequently is reduced to discussions of codes of ethics, human rights, and the importance of informed consent. However, critical and feminist research has demonstrated the importance of more complex notions of being ethical, which are particularly relevant if we are serious about promoting participatory, consumer-active health care services. Lather (1986) has written extensively on emancipatory research wherein researchers consciously consider ways of involving participants in a democratic inquiry process, in which negotiation, reciprocity, and empowerment are key features. This ethical positioning of researchers and participants involves much more than attention to the ways data are collected and used. In other words, ethics is just as much a way of being as it is a way of doing research. Although ideal for all research practice, this standpoint is particularly important in nursing research, where the likelihood of working with vulnerable populations and addressing sensitive experiences is high.

Classroom discussion can be made lively and engaging when students use imagery and metaphor to consider ways of being ethical. The following activity is designed to sensitize students to:

* The value of preparing for fieldwork, rather than rushing into it.

* The value of contemplative, sustained fieldwork inquiry.

* The vulnerability and preciousness of the field resources, which need to be preserved and respected.

* The perils of being overzealous and overconfident, and of prematurely reaching conclusions that are not necessarily shared by or with participants.

For a more lengthy discussion, see McAllister (2000).

Teachers can introduce students to the concept of metaphor as a device that can help make the strange familiar and the familiar strange by using an image of an ancient ruin or archaeological dig. Metaphor offers an opportunity to rethink concepts by pushing boundaries of conventional ways of thinking and inviting imaginative, creative thought. Metaphors also are open ended and ambiguous.

The image of an ancient ruin is used to reframe the way individuals usually think about the research field, whether it is a hospital ward, cardiac technology, or wound infections. Such an image evokes remnants of a past world or a world in decay. Ruins also may be places that, while steeped in history, still harbor Ufe. They may be a place for searching, sifting, and careful analysis, requiring gentle, yet purposeful, approaches in a fragile environment. Discovered objects, such as urns, writings, and bones, represent clues and fragments, rather than clear referente, to past and perhaps present cultural practices. The truths revealed are multiple, yet partial, and are analogous to a postpositivist research lens. In addition, researchers at a ruin may only imagine the meanings behind these social practices. After researchers are inside the field, there is value in simply spending time there, immersed in the atmosphere, walking around this strange and magical place, facilitating new ways of thinking and being. The importance of history in understanding current cultural practices may be underscored. For example, Buchanan (1999) suggested that naturalized "truths" about nursing are exposed when one completes a questioning, rather than accepting, stance of past representations of Florence Nightingale. The relativity of truth may be explored using the metaphor of a ruin. The importance of rigor also may be emphasized, instilling a sense that regardless of the fact that data must be handled cautiously and considered incomplete, temporal, or culturally bound, students still need to learn to balance the pursuit of rigorous, accountable interpretation of the meaning and significance of all findings in the field.

This strategy attempts to shake up some taken-forgranted assumptions about the research field and researchers' place within and beyond it. It questions the certainty, relevance, and achievability of truth and objectivity, and highlights researchers' power and the potential for exploitation. This strategy emphasizes that researchers need to expose the unconsciously held metaphors that drive their work so their role within the field is more cautious and conscious.

The authors have found this strategy is also a powerful way to link abstract ideas to more concrete, familiar concepts, making the dual ideas of doing ethical research and being ethical with people more likely to be remembered. Students who have completed this activity continue to find insights that the authors had not realized and, thus, demonstrate the dynamic nature of metaphors for learning. For example, one student suggested that, like paleontologists, qualitative researchers need to carefully pick through data and details, taking care to suspend judgment and sustain a curious engagement with the field until it is time to draw conclusions. Students have drawn an interesting link between ruins and qualitative research - that the past endures within the present and that it is important to recall both historical and present practices. Students also have suggested that all research requires close examination but that different kinds of research require a different focus.

Teaching Strategy: A Stranger in a Not so Strange Land. Morse (1994) elaborated on how the interpretive skills of qualitative researchers can be enhanced. She encouraged researchers to enter the field as strangers because this perspective reminds them of some important activities:

* To spend time earning the trust of the local population and to establish a level of intimacy prior to making judgments about the place or the people.

* To work on their ability to absorb the local sights, sounds, and practices.

* To make a concentrated effort to observe in a nonjudgmental way.

* To be active inquirers by asking many questions, taking notes frequently, searching for meanings, and sorting data by sifting and shaking off the unnecessary information, distilling it down, and then fitting it back into existing theory.

Morse's ideas can be conveyed in class, and then students can be challenged to practice the stranger perspective in a homework activity. Students are asked to assume the role of a stranger in a familiar setting, by sitting in the visitors' lounge of their ward or the waiting room of a busy emergency department. Students should feel the difference and notice the furniture, sounds, smells, and activities that occur within and around that room. Either at that time or immediately following, students are asked to make field notes of their experience. The prompts in the Figure can help students write about the experience.

This activity also is designed to sensitize students to the complex and elusive notion of reflexivity. Qualitative researchers' personal perspectives are in themselves research tools that help shape the ways data are collected and interpreted. The observer role requires researchers to take the position of the "other" and, once again, render the familiar strange, which are essential processes involved in gaining various perspectives to understand the field. A challenge for students is learning how to effectively incorporate this reflexive quality into the research process, while maintaining rigor, believability, and accountability in data collection, analysis, and presentation.

The activity also can be used to introduce the dialectical relationship between the roles of health practitioner and research practitioner. They are completely separate roles, but they share commonalities. Students may make field notes that reveal insights made possible from their experience as health care professionals. Alternatively, different insights may emerge when students consciously take the position of nonparticipant observers. Previously taken-for-granted aspects of the environment may be seen with fresh eyes and, thus, may open up the inquiry to new interpretations and offer new approaches to health care.

Continuing the Process After Completion of Fieldwork

Arguably the most important attribute of skillful qualitative researchers is the ability to produce rigorous, meaningful, and evocative interpretations of data so others will learn from the insights and change will occur. Because most qualitative research findings are produced in written form, students need to become accomplished writers. Such a skill takes time and practice but does not need to crowd an already full curriculum. The following strategies can be undertaken as homework activities. Even as short half-hour classroom sessions, they have proven successful in impressing on students the value in practicing the art of eloquent expression.


Figure. Fieldwork prompts.

Figure. Fieldwork prompts.

Teaching Strategy: Prosaic Writing. This activity highlights the importance of learning to capture and reveal the essence of an experience. To write well, students benefit from reading and appreciating the skills of other good writers. In this activity, teachers read aloud to the class, or class members may take turns reading, an evocative piece of writing. The opening page to The Cry of the Damaged Man Moore, 1991) is a good example. Moore writes powerfully about his own experience of being a well-known physician who is critically injured in an accident and of his struggle in moving from the position of provider/knower/doer to consumer/health care recipient. Moore (1991) wrote:

My glasses had been smashed from my face, so everything beyond my left arm's length - the only limb I could move - was a blur. All the windows_were shattered, and slivers of glass had sprayed into my hands and face. Both sides of the car were buckled towards me, the right side crushing my chest and shoulder, while the engine was rammed onto my lap breaking both legs and forcing the gear stick through my left calf. In that savage moment, my life was changed, (p. 1)

Teachers can help students discuss elements of good writing, as well as the contribution that redolent language about an experience makes in a qualitative report. Carefully selected evocative writings also may help students realize the value of connecting and sharing deeply with research participants and of exploring, practicing, exercising, and expressing feelings, thoughts, concerns, confusions, revelations, and insights. As Stark and Watson (1999) suggested, these insights may help deepen the interpretive and representative capacities of qualitative researchers.

Teaching Strategy: Imaginative Expression. This activity provides students with an opportunity to harness their imaginations and creativity and offers them practice in honing, sharing, and improving their interpretive and representing skills. Students are provided with a stimulus, such as an interesting photograph, and are required to construct an entire story about a key or incidental aspect of the photograph. In class, each student's story can be shared and constructively appraised for interpretive merit.

In the past, the authors have used an image that interests us, which was found on an Internet public health image library (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). The image depicts two health care professionals setting off for work, but they are not just any health care workers. These two are dressed for an arctic winter and use a dog sled for transportation. For the author, the photograph highlighted ideas related to health care and research, which, for urban workers, may be routine and taken for granted, but which are worthy of contemplation. For example, the image reminds viewers of the value of camaraderie in teamwork. For these health care workers, having company on their freezing journey must be important, perhaps life saving at times. In the same way, undertaking research and clinical practice is enhanced when team members offer each other support and motivation.

One student who completed this activity described the people in the photograph as a retired, European couple who were embarking on a lifelong adventure. They were prepared for the unexpected, looking for a challenge, open to new ideas, and reaching for far horizons. The class was able to draw parallels with the journey of intrepid qualitative researchers. Hopefully in years to come, this image will stay with students who go on to become experienced health care researchers because the attributes described will contribute to strong scholarship.

This activity again reminds students that meanings generated in qualitative inquiry can be limitless and that interpretations are multiple, dependent on perspective, and can be incomplete, uncertain, tentative, and temporary. It also reveals that each story occurs within a context and that the context is inscribed with layers of social meaning laid down over time.


As stated above, the teaching-learning strategies presented in this article are not intended to replace students' mastery of facts, philosophies, and procedures, which are important to qualitative inquiry. However, the authors vigorously assert that when implemented by skillful teachers, these strategies offer stimulating exercises that can inspire students' imaginations and help build their perceptive and interpretive skills, which also are necessary for qualitative researchers.

The activities are designed to sharpen students' awareness, allow for possibilities, heighten their senses, develop the art of seeing and conversing, and develop datareading skills, as well as skills in representing and communicating interpretations in accessible, meaningful ways. In these ways, the complementary nature of doing qualitative research and being a qualitative researcher is revealed.

On reflection, it is apparent the diverse strategies discussed in this article share a common feature - they all draw on familiar leisure activities to help students learn and understand abstract theoretical concepts. Browsing through photographic images is similar to paging through a glossy magazine. Writing and honing interpretations of data are similar to writing creative essays often required in secondary schools. Students are encouraged to use familiar skills in novel ways and to identify links with everyday activities to help them understand complex theoretical concepts.

Opportunities also are provided to remind students that the everyday world is not a mundane and stagnant place, but one alive with meaning and filled with the potential for passionate, ethical engagement, in search of new discoveries and enlightened ways of being. And so it is with qualitative research. Everyday tools can be harnessed effectively and applied to develop a rigorous bond between scientific inquiry and artistic insights. In turn, qualitative research may be advanced in the pursuit of effective, supportive, and transformative nursing and health care practice.


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  • Tanner, C. ( 1993). Rethinking clinical judgment: Implications for RN education. In N. Diekelmann & M. Rather (Eds.), Transforming RN education (pp. 15-41). New York: National League for Nursing Press.
  • Waller, R. (1992). The bridges of Madison County. Bath, UK: Chivers Press.
  • Wright, K., & Vigil, J. (1995). Exposing northern exposure: An exercise in creating themes. The Qualitative Report, 2(2). Retrieved October 11, 2002, from ssss/QR/QR2-2/wright.html
  • Zeichner, K., Tabachnick, R., & Densmore, K. (1987). Individual, institutional, and cultural influences on the development of teachers' craft knowledge. In J. Calderhead (Ed.), Exploring teachers' thinking (pp. 21-59). London, UK: Cassel].

Figure. Fieldwork prompts.


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