sotonDH Small Grants: English accents and identity – Post 2

sotonDH Small Grants: English accents and identity – Post 2 by Fan Fang

In this second post, I want to talk about my experiences with data collection. In the past two months, I have had a lot of practice with this as I collected data for my research. Before starting, I had thought that it would not be a difficult task to recruit my participants since I have worked in the university before. However, when one of the teachers rejected my request to do my class observation, I started to think that it was going to take a longer time than I had expected to collect my data. On the positive side, when I went back to the university and ‘entered the field’ to start my data collection, some of my former colleagues offered to help me, and I was able to conduct a number of class observations. Also, after I talked to several Chinese colleagues about my purpose for coming back, they all supported my research. As a result, I was able to recruit enough teacher participants.

In terms of student participants, with the help of class instructors by allowing me to distribute and administer the questionnaire in their classes, and the explanation I provided beforehand about the purpose of my research, I was able to obtain enough responses of my questionnaire. Some of the students provided their email addresses after completing it and indicated that they might agree to work with me in doing further interviews and focus groups. I tried to contact some of the students from the classes I was observing, while I was able to recruit nine student participants for interviews.

In terms of class observations, the three classes that I was observing were English Language Centre Level 3, Public Speaking, and Voice and Accent Training, which all relate to my research focus. I was hoping to observe the class dynamics and to see how teachers and students react to accents and pronunciation ‘mistakes’ during class time. I took notes during my observations so that I would have a detailed record of my experiences. I arranged the interviews individually with each of the students. These students made a diverse group as they were from all of the different years (although the only fourth-year student among them did not participate in the focus group). The students were subsequently divided into two focus groups. During the student interviews and focus groups, the students shared some interesting opinions and stories that I believe provide helpful data for my research. Each of the individual interviews lasted for about 30 to 40 minutes, while each focus group was around 50 minutes long. I had not expected a lot of discussion among the students during the focus groups, as I was afraid that students would not be able to express themselves well enough to provide good ideas. However, the two focus groups worked much better than I had expected they would.

To collect data from the teachers, I first contacted them to see if they would be willing to participate in my study. Luckily, I was able to recruit 12 teachers (both new teachers and former colleagues) to participate in my study (one did not feel well and did not participate in my focus group). The procedures for the teacher interviews and focus groups were similar to those for the students. However, as expected, the teachers talked more than the students since teachers not only have more experiences but they have more opinions about the various English accents. Each teacher interview lasted for approximately 30 to 40 minutes, although some talked for about 50 minutes. Similar to student focus groups, these teachers were also divided into two focus groups. Two of the teacher focus groups took more than 1 hour, with one lasting one hour and 44 minutes.

The concept of ‘data richness’ can be reflected quite well through the process of data collection. During the time that I was gathering my data, I also ran my research field notes through the software programme called NVivo. I plan to use this software for further data analysis as well. I am at the final stages of my data collection, having already obtained the data about all of my research instruments. I am, however, thinking of conducting a second round of interviews with some students from the Voice and Accent Training class as I will be observing these classes for two more weeks. I am confident that I will end up with enough rich data for my analysis.

During the process of my data collection, then, I have learnt how to ‘go into’ the field to talk to and to recruit participants and have acquired the skills for conducting interviews and focus groups. I have now started my transcription, but since this will be my first time transcribing this amount of data I think it will take me a considerable length of time to organise. I have already found something interesting in the data while transcribing the material. Although transcription seems like a tedious job, I am sure that I will be able to stay motivated to do it and will actually quite enjoy the process.