I was training a new researcher from Bath Spa to undertake the TESTA research process with programmes who have requested this at her university last week. She asked the obvious question "How long does it take…?" We have been asked this before and we usually muddle through a reply "as long as a piece of string" or something elusive like that. But in this case, the researcher sat poised with her notepad and pen, expecting a proper answer. Nicole, our research assistant, and I decided to give it a go.
Above the line
Like most research, much of the work is hidden and painstaking, inching one's way thoughtfully to a set of themes and explanations from the three sets of data. The visible work is self-evident and plastered on the web pages: teasing out a route map of the programme in conversation with the team leader, with a document in hand, distributing AEQ questionnaires in class and collecting them, flicking on those inscrutably complex Marantz recorders to record students talking about their assessment, meeting with the programme leader to discuss the case profile, and then having a full meeting with the team to explore the evidence and contextualise it.
Below the line
Behind the scenes, there are wide-ranging tasks which include the orthodox research bits – sampling and counting words of feedback on cover sheets, constructing a three page audit document to check with the programme leader that you have it right, inputting AEQs, crunching out statistics, filing and storing data safely, organising downloads of mp3 files, getting these transcribed, uploading transcripts onto our qualitative software (atlas ti), coding data, clustering themes, and writing up a 10-15 page document with headlines and a narrative, which is both robust and compelling. The finale (it's not really the finale) is the event where one presents this case document to the team and allows for contextualisation, critique, finding out what we may have missed and/or hopefully - 'aha' that sounds like our programme. If you haven't collapsed in a joyful heap after this, there is just one more thing – writing up notes of the key ideas for interventions based on the meeting, drawing on particular programme data and general assessment principles from the literature.
Compressed and expanded time
So how long does it take? In compressed time, this takes about seven days, excluding transcription. In real time, the quickest we have 'TESTA'd a programme is about six weeks. Usually the days are spread over a couple of months.
And is it worth it? Without a shadow of a doubt. Read the next blog to see why.