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Collaborative Autoethnographic Methodology

A study on collaboration calls for a collaborative research method. Unlike the interviewing method featured in the previous chapters, this study employed an emerging collaborative investigation methodology that involved both individual and collective reflections, namely collaborative autoethnography (CAE). As a methodology, CAE is an ensemble approach to individual reflections that invites collective sharing and probing, meaning-making, and composition. This methodology aligns with the guiding principles of design thinking and, more importantly, radical collaboration. According to Heewon Chang, Faith Ngunjiri, and Kathy-Ann Hernandez (2013), CAE “focuses on self-interrogation but does so collectively and cooperatively within a team of researchers” (p. 21). CAE is “a qualitative research method in which researchers work in community to collect their autobiographical materials and to analyze and interpret their data collectively to gain a meaningful understanding of sociocultural phenomena reflected in their autobiographical data” (pp. 23-24).

What makes CAE unique to technical communication research is that it diversifies the researchers’ and their participants’ viewpoints. As Chang et al. (2013) stated, “the combination of multiple voices to interrogate a social phenomenon creates a unique synergy and harmony that autoethnographers cannot attain in isolation” (p. 24). WRC members have worked as a collaborative to articulate research questions of relevance both to individual and collective scholarship. To exemplify the notion of radical collaboration, my collaborators and I—during the course of this self-study—have worked to shift writing, reflections, and observations from individual to collective interpretation, so we can achieve what CAE researcher Judith Lapadat (2017) called, “a shift from individual to collective agency” (p. 1).

CAE supports an iterative data collection and interpretation process. During the process, several methods may be used to facilitate individual and collective reflections. In studying the WRC, we employed a survey questionnaire (see Appendix A) for individual reflections and a focus group-style discussion for collective reflections. To capture the overall experience of WRC members as having undergone the radical collaboration process, this self-study was conducted at the end of 2017 spring term (end of academic year). Figure 5.2 sums up the data collection and analysis process in this study.

The survey questionnaire was designed to gather qualitative data about the WRC members’ experience in the spring semester rather than to generate gen- eralizable findings about radical collaboration. In the questionnaire, WRC members were asked to describe their experience with the collaborator)', and the ways in which the six tenets of radical collaboration had been actualized. Besides providing written responses, WRC members were also asked to score the degree of actualization for each of the six dimensions (from the scale of 0-5, with 0 being not actualized and 5 being fully actualized). The questionnaire was given to all WRC members prior to the last WRC meeting of the term. After completed the questionnaire individually, the participants discuss their responses to each question during the focus group meeting.

The iterative process of collaborative autoethnography in this study

FIGURE 5.2 The iterative process of collaborative autoethnography in this study

Results

A total of 10 WRC members (out of 11 active members) participated in this self-study. Table 5.1 shows the academic “rank” of the participants. Participants included three undergraduate research assistants who had worked on various projects with WRC graduate students and faculty members during the spring 2017 semester. Participants were asked to focus their responses on their experience in the spring semester so they all could recognize specific references or ascribed events.

The open-ended questions on the survey questionnaire allowed participants to contemplate on their respective experiences in radical collaboration, with prompts to probe further elaboration. Again, CAE supports individual reflections and collective meaning-making. Participants used the survey questions as conversation starters during the focus group meeting. The first question sought to capture the participants’ overall experience. Table 5.2 shows the participants’ description in a word or a phrase.

Aside from Ann’s response—which provided a metaphor for collaborative work—and Laura’s one-phrase summary of her major project with the collaboratory, all other responses focused on energy and engagement. Participants mainly reported that the WRC was a place where they felt energized, welcomed, and engaged.

The remaining questions asked participants to provide detailed responses on how they felt each of the six tenets of radical collaboration was achieved or not during the spring semester. In the following subsections, I provide the results from the group sharing and collective meaning-making. Each subsection is a tenet of radical collaboration with representative quotes by the participants to exemplify the workings of the tenet.

 
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