I decided to take the plunge and download the trial version of the Computer Aided Qualitative Data Analysis Software (CAQDAS) Atlas.ti. Having watched several useful videos explaining the features, I thought the best way to try it out would be to read a paper, link it in the system and record the useful quotations that I found.
Call me old-fashioned, but my first step involved a paper printout and a highlighter pen. I find this more relaxing for the eyes and certainly more portable. Then I recorded some of my highlighting in the pdf file using the tool PDF-XChange viewer; I find this useful for future reference, though if I could ever get use to working directly online it would be quicker.
After loading it into Atlas.ti as a primary document in a project that I had created for my literature review, I selected a few paragraphs that I had identified as useful quotations (in green) and saved them in the Quotations manager - eg, there was a reference made to the development of strong ties even in a short duration community, so I saved this with the code Strong ties.
I can see that linking in relevant papers and saving the useful quotations in a central place will be useful for the literature review. However, after reading a paper one clearly has to take the decision as to whether or not it is sufficiently relevant to the research as to warrant coding it, as it takes effort - I would say around an hour to read the paper, highlight bits, save in Atlas.ti and mark-up quotations.
Based upon this experience, I think I will continue with the trial and some other papers. Then decide whether to continue. But first impressions are positive and I can already see the value of the tool for coding the qualitative data that I will collect later in surveys, interview transcripts, forums (web pages saved as pdf?), images, etc
About my research
My research was set in the context of the European Commission’s eTwinning initiative and it looked specifically at the use of eTwinning Learning Events (non-formal learning). It examined how the community influences the development of teachers’ competence in online collaboration and discourse, and it considered the contribution of social aspects and online moderation.
I am very grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Julie-Ann Sime from Lancaster University, and to my eTwinning soulmate, Tiina Sarisalmi, for their invaluable support. And to my examiners, Prof. Marilyn Leask from the University of Bedfordshire and Dr. Don Passey from the University of Lancaster, for their valuable advice.