The unanticipated benefits of the pandemic on capacity-building in qualitative tools via the CAQDAS Networking Project

By Christina Silver

The CAQDAS Networking Project (CNP) was founded in 1994 by Professors Nigel Fielding and Raymond Lee in the Department of Sociology, here at the University of Surrey, and our remit is to provide impartial information, advice, training, and ongoing support in all things Computer Assisted Qualitative Data AnalysiS (CAQDAS) to research communities. Since the outset capacity building activities have been at the heart of what we do at the CNP. Training in the use of CAQDAS packages is the backbone but is scaffolded by a range of other activities, including awareness-raising and networking opportunities and the Qual-software jiscmail email list. Open dialogue and working ethos also underlies the development of an opensource exchange format – REFI-QDA –  that I was involved in coordinating, enabling analysed data from one CAQDAS-package to be moved into another. For more information check out the REFI website.

Transitioning online

When the pandemic hit, we like most other training providers, lectures and teachers around the world, moved our activities online. Luckily this wasn’t too big a deal for us; I already had quite a lot of experience of delivering training online. Nevertheless we revisited our in-person instructional designs and completely redesigned them for online delivery. To inform this process we revisited the literature on online teaching and learning and I attended the Open University’s course ‘Take your teaching online. The transition was smooth and we were able to offer discounts for our online training to enable those experiencing sudden cuts in training budgets to attend training.

There has been a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of teaching and learning online generally, doing so during a global pandemic, and teaching software via video conferencing platforms. My position is that neither is in itself better or worse. They are different. But I don’t think that teaching CAQDAS in-person is always better than doing so online. That said, there are some unique challenges with online teaching of CAQDAS, that are important to consider, and which myself, Sarah Bulloch & Michelle Salmona, President of the Institute for Mixed Methods Research (IMMR) wrote about: Critical reflections on the ‘new normal’: Synchronous teaching of CAQDAS-packages online during COVID-19

Extending our reach

The increased appetite for online events resulting from the pandemic also prompted us to start a CAQDAS webinar series, which launched in September 2021. This had been an intention of mine for a while, and I finally found the space to start it with the extra time I suddenly had on my hands without all the travel I’d been doing to deliver in-person sessions. There are four streams in the series:

  • Awareness raising webinars: focus on raising awareness about digital tools for qualitative and mixed-methods research and analysis and their applications across disciplines and methodologies.
  • Methodological webinars: focus on cutting-edge methodological advancements in the use of digital tools to facilitate the analysis of qualitative data.
  • Pedagogy webinars: focus on the teaching of qualitative methods and digital tools in face-to-face, online and blended contexts, discussing the challenges involved and innovative solutions.
  • User webinars: showcase and discuss work-in-progress with undertaking qualitative and mixed-methods analysis using CAQDAS packages.

To date we’ve organised 38 webinars, a few that myself and Sarah Bulloch have presented ourselves, but most have been delivered by invited CAQDAS specialists, methodologists and researchers. They’ve been really well-attended and received and the recordings on our Playlist continue to receive a high play-back volume, with some having been watched literally thousands of times. This suggests discussion about the implications and practical applications of the use of digital tools for qualitative and mixed-methods research continues to be an important and engaging topic and we intend to keep the series going. It’s particularly rewarding that we’ve been able to reach new and diverse communities of practice via our seminar series. Not just in terms of the geographical locations participants dial in from, but also in terms of the range of disciplinary and methodological backgrounds they come to these topics from. 

The new normal for CAQDAS capacity-building

Since September 2022 we’ve been getting back to in-person training in our computer lab in the Sociology department whilst maintaining the online offer. Our webinar series is here to stay, and will be until and unless interest wanes. We’ll also be looking to restart our in-person networking events later this year. Students and researchers learn and engage in different ways, and as is part of our remit, responding to that demand is critical. The pandemic brought the importance of this home. But it’s not just about choice in terms of mode of learning. It’s also about accessibility in terms of cost, reach and time. Although our online and in-person training workshops cost the same, avoiding the need to travel to Guildford to attend them of course makes attendance more cost-efficient. We also want to maintain the potential for anyone in the world to attend our events and therefore online training will remain as an option. But for those in the U.K. who prefer in-person events, we offer those too. The balance between online and in-person training will remain demand-led. Both in terms of the software and the methods we cover and the mode we deliver through.

What we’ve noticed is that the cognitive capacity for online learning feels different than it did even a few months ago, and certainly from how it felt at the beginning and during lockdown when in-person wasn’t possible. Whilst there remains a high level of participation in our online trainings, we’ve also observed online-learning-fatigue. So since September 2022 we’ve been trialling shorter online workshops, lasting a maximum of 4 hours focused around particular methodological applications – so far for Using Digital Tools for Text Analysis and Using Digital Tools for Visual Analysis.

Capturing CAQDAS narratives in podcast form

I’ve also recently launched my podcast, #CAQDASchat with Christina which provides an additional way to discuss the history, development and implications of the computer-assisted qualitative data analysis. I’ve been involved in the CAQDAS field since I was doing my master’s in the department of Sociology her at the University of Surrey back in 1997, and I’m lucky enough to know most of the CAQDAS software developers, lots of qualitative methodologists, and teachers, as well as the thousands of researchers and students who have attended the events we have organised over the years. That’s meant I’ve heard a lot of stories, had a lot of conversations, and done a lot of thinking about the topic. So my podcast is a way of capturing those stories and sharing some of my own experiences, and reflecting on the debates and the state of the art in this dynamic field, because I love this topic. And I want to explore it in more detail, in new ways, to talk about topics that I’m particularly interested in, as a way of continuing my own learning as well as sharing experiences with the qualitative research community. The first three episodes are available from our website:

  • Episode 1, with Professors Nigel Fielding and Raymond Lee  the founders of the CAQDAS Networking Project
  • Episode 2, with Professor Udo Kuckartz, the brains behind the qualitative software program, MAXQDA.
  • Episode 3, with Dr Kristi Jackson, a qualitative researcher, methodologist, trainer and author.

In future episodes I’ll be talking with other evangelists of qualitative methods and more teachers of CAQDAS and qualitative methods, because I’m really interested in how technology changes not only methods but the way that we can think about teaching the next generation of researchers. So those topics will be featured quite strongly along the way, hopefully. 

Please note that articles published on this blog reflect the views of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Sociology.