Another way of understanding the world

It was not that Jude Preissle set out to start one of the best qualitative research methods programs in the world, but that is what happened.

Thirty years ago this January, Preissle taught the first qualitative research methods class at the University of Georgia. She had four students. Today, UGA’s Qualitative Research Program has five full-time faculty lines supported by more than 51 affiliated faculty from around the university. It is one of only two certificate programs in the world devoted exclusively to qualitative research. Faculty members practice and study the range of traditions associated with qualitative research including interpretive study, historical research, sociocultural research, emancipatory traditions, evaluation research, and postmodern and poststructural traditions.

“Part of the reason for this program’s success is that the program seeks exceptional teachers,” said Ron Cervero, Lifelong Education, Administration and Policy department head. “Just as a committed qualitative researcher wants to understand the meanings held by participants in the community he or she is studying, we have partnered with faculty across campus who focus on understanding the needs and views of their students.”

By 1984, the Qualitative Interest Group (QUIG) was formed for faculty, and in the 1990s, the Student Qualitative Inquiry Group (SQUIG) followed. Classes became so popular that by the early 1990s there was a year and a half waiting list to enroll in the introductory class. The department hired some post-doctoral teaching assistants to help eliminate the waiting list shortly thereafter and then added a senior qualitative researcher, Kathleen deMarrais, in 1999. A series of three classes was developed into the core of the Qualitative Research Certificate Program, which was approved in 2001. Although students across campus take can individual courses to explore qualitative research disciplines, those who complete the certificate develop a thorough knowledge of a variety of approaches and are qualified to teach qualitative research methods at the college level.

“This is not a ‘tools and techniques’ program,” said Kathy Roulston, a professor in the program. “We are grounded conceptually and philosophically, so that even the core classes, which are somewhat linear, are still organized around the disciplines in the field. One week we’re talking about in ethnography and the next week we cover narrative approaches, and we can talk about data analysis in both cases.” Roulston joined the QUIG faculty in 2000 as a post-doc and has continued in a tenure-track position.

Students pursuing the Qualitative Research Certificate Program produce an annual mini-conference, which is this Friday in Aderhold Hall. Since 1987, the QUIG group has also been hosting an annual interdisciplinary conference at UGA attended by qualitative researchers from around the world. This year’s QUIG conference will be January 6-8, 2006, at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education.