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The Qualitative Report Volume 13 Number 2 June 2008 244-261 
http ://www. nova, edu/ssss/ QR/QR 1 3 -2/mittapalli .pdf 


Madhubani Art: A Journey of an Education Researcher 
Seeking Self-Development Answers through Art and Self- 

Study 

Kavita Mittapalli and Anastasia P. Samaras 

George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 


This study is situated within a self-study research methods course to 
scaffold doctored students’ explorations of the intersections of their 
culture, and research interests using arts as a tool. Embracing the arts as 
a research method, the first author painted a self-portrait using the 
vibrant colors of Madhubani art which holds cultured significance to her. 
She utilized Blumer’s (1986) and Mead’s (1934) theory of symbolic 
interactionism to explain the process of her self-development as a 
researcher. Combining her self-portrait with an earlier research study 
proved veduable as a conduit for understanding and interpreting her work 
as a research methodologist. This study is valuable to others interested in 
studying their practice and research identity through an arts-based 
research method. Key Words: Self-study, Arts-based Self-study, 

Madhubani Art, and Learning Qualitative Research 


Introduction and Background 

This work grew out of a newly designed doctoral level course taught by Anastasia 
that offered students an opportunity to both learn about and apply the self-study research 
methodology; a qualitative approach for systematically examining one’s role and interest 
in an area of research with applications for improving one’s situated professional 
practice. The course, self-study qualitative research methodology, included a 
comprehensive synthesis of the self-study literature: purposes, foundations, nature, and 
guidelines for application. Students learned about and applied self-study methodological 
requirements integrated with assignments that were individual and collective, personal 
and interpersonal, and private and public (Samaras & Freese, 2006). The methodology 
requires specific dispositions, i.e., openness, reflection, collaboration, validation with 
critical friends, transparent data analysis and process, and improvement-aimed work 
which contributes to professional knowledge. Class assignments are designed to stimulate 
deep reflection on the concept of the “self’ within a professional/practitioner context. 

Self-study is “a component of reflection where faculty and students are asked to 
critically examine their actions and the context of those actions as a way of developing a 
more consciously-driven mode of professional activity, as contrasted with action based 
on habit, tradition, or impulse” (Samaras, 2002). Self-study scholars inquire thoughtfully 
and deliberatively into their often taken-for-granted practice and the assumptions 
embedded in their practice. This reflective assessment pushes the researcher to a closer 
examination of one’s research practice, an understanding of the impact of personal 



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experience, and a reframed professional stance (Loughran, 2007). Researchers may 
recognize a disparity in what they believe and what they actually do in practice 
(Whitehead, 1989). Although there is a large body of research related to the self-study of 
teacher educators and teachers, particularly through arts-based research (e.g., Hamilton, 
Pinnegar, Russell, Loughran, & LaBoskey, 1998; Loughran & Russell, 1997, 2002; 
Mitchell & Weber, 1999; Russell & Korthagen, 1995; Samaras & Reed, 2000), there are 
limited examples of its usefulness to practitioners outside of the teaching profession. 
Anastasia invited students to explore the applicability of the methodology to their work 
as professionals and specifically to develop self-study research exemplars (Samaras et al., 
2007). 


Arts-based Self-Study Method 

As self-study researchers we offer an example of utilizing one self-study method 
taught in this course, i.e., an arts-based self-study method as a research tool. The arts- 
based self-study method promotes and provokes self-reflection, critical analysis, and 
dialogue about improving one’s research through the arts (Samaras & Freese, 2006). 
Arts-based self-study researchers use a wide range of art forms to represent and 
reinterpret, construct and deconstruct meaning, and communicate their study of 
researching as they make it public. It can take many forms including visual/image based 
arts, e.g., portraits, performance, photography, video documentary, art installations, 
multi-media representations, films, drawings, cartoons, graffiti, signs, cyber graphics, and 
diagrams. 

Holzman (1997) notes that the arts are a conduit for dialectical unity for our 
capacity to relate to ourselves and others. She explains that learning and development are 
inseparably intertwined and emergent, that is, who we are and simultaneously who we are 
becoming. Arts-based education research, as Barone (1995) and Barone and Eisner, 
(1997) argue, leads to empathy and a deeper understanding of research that is not 
possible with traditional representations. Research in its traditional fonn aims to create an 
understanding of the research situation through the processes of experimentation, 
observation, and control of that situation. Arts-based educational research creates an 
understanding of a general situation through a descriptive analysis of that specific 
situation or a process while, at the same time, encouraging an audience or a reader to 
question his or her biases and examine his own experiences concerning that situation 
(Eisner, 1995). Dewey (1934/1980) states that art can appear to be initiated through an 
"emotional discharge" (p. 61) or "inspiration" (p. 66), however he has no doubt that an 
artist must be able to analyze his or her own personal history and experience in order for 
there to be sufficient material on which to base a work of art. 

In this research course, each student was asked to design and present a self-portrait 
as a developing self-study scholar using an art medium of their choice, e.g., sketch paper, 
pencils, poster paper, markers, clay, crepe paper, felt, colored pencils, oil paint, 
watercolor sets, crayons, cardboard, wood, etc. Students were assured that the activity did 
not require any artistic training in portrait making and they would not be evaluated in that 
manner. After students completed their portraits, they were prompted to reflect, write 
about, and share their self-portrait with the class. Anastasia gave them numerous prompts 
to stimulate their reflection, for example, any learning or research experiences and/or 



Kavita Mittapalli and Anastasia P. Samaras 


246 


dilemmas depicted in the portraits; the historical, social and cultural context of their self- 
portrait; portrayal and perceptions of identity and gender as a researcher; relationships to 
others who might be in the painting, meaning of the portrait background; a possible title 
for the portrait; and any markers of one’s research journey. Samaras and Freese (2006) 
stated, 


Self-portraits are a form of text useful for reading, broadening, and 
communicating an understanding of one’s self-study research practice and 
learning. Self-portraits generate data useful for researchers’ professional 
knowing. Dialogue with peers about portraits is a means to construct and 
reconstruct one’s thinking about who you are as a developing self-study 
scholar, (p. 167) 

Anastasia offered an alternative soil for thought to seed with prompts of 
nourishment, constant questioning, pushing for clarity, and assisting to fonnalize it into a 
study. As a professor and a mentor, Anastasia helped to shape the students’ ideas about 
self-study and its application in their field of study or practice and helped to define the 
focus of their self-portraits. This article presents an arts-based self-study research project 
of the self-portrait work of the first author (hereafter I). Anastasia’s contribution to this 
piece is multi-fold; as a co-author, an expert in self-study methodology and as an 
instructor and mentor to me throughout the learning process. 

My Research Path to the Self-Study Course 

As a doctoral student specializing in research methodology, I was required to 
take seven courses altogether in qualitative and quantitative research methods. I had 
already taken five research methods courses being offered in my department between fall 
2004 and spring 2006 and had two courses remaining in order to complete my majors. I 
was aware of the course requirements for the mixed methods course that was being 
offered the following fall but wasn’t sure about the new course in self-study methodology 
being offered that spring. I contacted Anastasia asking her about this self-study course 
option and this discussion convinced me that I would learn about a new research 
methodology called self-study. The self-study course had variety in its structure and 
collaborative activities. It was in this course that all the students were required to make a 
self-portrait. I chose to make my self-portrait as a researcher in three stages for my 
inquiry project into self-development as an education researcher 

My Arts-based Self-Study Project 

The study aimed to examine my self-development process as a researcher from 
the perspective of examining and understanding how I learned to conduct qualitative 
research using arts. The arts contributed to the construction of my self-development as a 
researcher. I painted a self-portrait and shared it with peers in the self-study class. I 
learned about Madhubani art many years ago in India as an undergraduate student from a 
friend majoring in fine arts but I did not foresee its power in opening a pathway to my 
research process. The art form is deeply rooted in my history, culture, and experiences. 



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How I became an Education Researcher 

My academic story begins in year 2000, six months after coming to the United 
States to start a new life away from my home in India. I had earned a degree while in 
India in Agricultural Sciences with several courses in agricultural statistics and farm 
engineering. It was in my senior year when I was exposed to qualitative research when as 
part of my minor (Rural Extension), I went to a village in north India to learn about the 
various agricultural methods the farmers were using to grow rice. As a team member, I 
interviewed the women of the village to learn more about their problems and issues 
obtaining the rice grains, the village bureaucracy and influences of the weather on their 
crop production. For me, the whole process of trying to learn from the farmers first-hand 
and not just compiling data in our classrooms/lab was a big revelation. It was as if I were 
taken to the next higher level of conducting research. With the hope to continue my 
learning more about this new method, I came to the United States as a student to pursue 
graduate studies in applied sociology. The various qualitative methods courses provided 
the fuel to my yearning to delve into this newfound world of research. Upon graduation, I 
joined a research and evaluation organization to evaluate an education program. After 
three years of working there, I decided that I needed to leam more about research 
methods and applied to graduate school to specialize in research methodology. It was in 
graduate school that I learned about methodologies such as self-study. 

Theoretical Framework 

The lens used to frame my investigation about self-study is through symbolic 
interactionism theory (Blumer, 1986; Mead, 1934). Symbolic interactionism, or 
interactionism, is one of the major theoretical perspectives in sociology. Blumer and 
Mead emphasized the subjective meaning of human behavior, the social process, and 
pragmatism. Interactionists focus on the subjective aspects of social life, rather than on 
objective, macro-structural aspects of social systems. One reason for this focus is that 
interactionists base their theoretical perspective on their image of humans, rather than on 
their image of society (as the functionalists do). For interactionists, humans are pragmatic 
actors who continually must adjust their behavior to the actions of other actors. We can 
adjust to these actions only because we are able to interpret them, i.e., to denote them 
symbolically and treat the actions and those who perform them as symbolic objects. The 
process is further aided by our ability to think about and to react to our own actions and 
even our selves as symbolic objects. Thus, the interactionist theorist sees humans as 
active, creative participants who construct their social world, not as passive, conforming 
objects of socialization (Mead). My ways of knowing are based on an interactionist view 
of the world that sees humans as active, creative participants who construct their social 
worlds. 


Research Questions 

My self-study included the following research questions: (a) How do I leam to do 
qualitative research; (b) What are the stages of my evolution as an education researcher; 



Kavita Mittapalli and Anastasia P. Samaras 


248 


and (c) How does employing an art form help me better understand my specialization as a 
research methodologist? 


Methods 


Data Collection 

The method utilized was arts-based self-study with the medium of Madhubani art. 
I made a self-portrait using that art form to support my task of applying self-study to 
better understand my practice. Data for my arts-based study were collected during a 
semester long course. The primary data sources included: (a) personal interviews with 
three doctoral students conducted in another course that served as a precursor to the 
current study and as an inspiration to make the self-portrait; (b) my self-study portrait 
using Madhubani art fonn; and (c) a narrative on the process of making and reflecting on 
the self-portrait. As part of the self-study research course, peer-feedback, constant 
correspondence with Anastasia and fellow students served to validate the process of self- 
study. I discuss each of these primary data sources next. 

Interviews with Doctoral Students 

As a graduate research assistant to another professor in a previous semester, I 
worked on a project, “How do students learn qualitative research”? I conducted personal 
interviews with three advanced level graduate students to understand how they learned to 
do qualitative research, while comparing it with my own process of learning qualitative 
research. Among the students were one male and two female students who I shall call 
Harvey, Diane, and Lena respectively. They were working on their dissertations at the 
time of the interviews. All of them had acquired qualitative research experience through 
one of the two graduate-level courses. Like me, they all had come from a quantitative 
professional background. Harvey was an engineer with an interest in visual learning. 
Diane was an accountant interested in adult literacy and Lena was a teacher educator 
interested in brain research in teaching. Diane’s interview was conducted at the university 
library on campus, while Harvey’s and Lena’s were conducted over the phone since they 
were located in different states. 

For data coding, I used the connecting and categorizing method (Maxwell & 
Miller, 2001). Maxwell and Miller have contributed to the theory of qualitative data 
analysis by drawing primarily from linguistics, studying two types of relationships: those 
based on similarity and those based on contiguity (Jakobson, 1987; Lyons, 1968; 
Saussure, 1986). Maxwell and Miller comment, 

Similarity-based relations involve resemblances or common features; in 
qualitative data analysis, similarities and differences are generally used to 
define categories and to group and compare data by category. The 
strategies that focus on relationships of similarity are categorizing 
strategies and coding is the most prevalent categorizing strategy in 
qualitative research. Contiguity-based relations, on the other hand, are 



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connections that are identified among data in an actual context (such as an 
interview transcript or observational fieldnotes). These include relations in 
time or space, links of one-directional or reciprocal influence, or relations 
among parts of a narrative. They refer to strategies that focus on 
relationships of contiguity as connecting strategies, (p. 1) 

Categorizing strategies take the data in their segmented form; they label them with 
discrete codes or in terms of particular themes. These data are then grouped by category, 
examined and compared, both within and between categories. The most prevalent 
categorizing strategy in qualitative data analysis is coding (Maxwell & Miller, 2001). 
Connecting analytic strategies, analyzing and reducing data; this is generally done by 
identifying key relationships that bind the data together into a narrative or a sequence. 

I used the categorizing method to fonn codes in each of the interview transcripts 
based on the similarity of emerging codes and compared them across the data set. I used 
the connecting method to identify relationships of data within each interview transcript to 
form a sequence. In order to form categories across the interviews, a separate profile for 
each individual participant was developed and then grouped according to the categories 
formed. Charts 1-3 present concept maps for all the interviewees. 

The technique of concept maps was developed by J. D. Novak and his researchers 
at Cornell University in the 1970s. It is a technique for visualizing the relationships 
among different concepts/ideas/thoughts. The various concepts/ideas/thoughts are 
connected with labeled arrows, in a downward-branching hierarchical structure. The 
relationship between concepts is articulated in linking phrases, e.g., "gives rise to," 
"results in," or "leads to" (Novak, 1995). Concept maps can be used to generate ideas, 
and are believed to aid creativity. For example, concept maps are sometimes used for 
brain-storming. Although they are often personalized, they can be used to communicate 
complex ideas (Novak, 1998). Table 1 presents the category profile across the three 
transcripts with common themes across them (highlighted). It should be noted that the 
tables and concept maps are only a way to exhibit the data across the three interviews and 
depict the narratives themselves, rather than analyses of the data. 

Table 1 

Categorizing the Codes Across the Interviews 


Categories 

Harvey 

Diane 

Lena 

Area of interest 

Process of visual 
learning 

Adult education 

Brain research in teaching 

Differences between 
basic and advanced 
qualitative courses 

Basic-1 learned the 
process of 
qualitative research, 
got the idea how it 
works. 

Advanced- It was 
‘more focused’, 
‘technical.’ I 
learned the various 
paradigms, used 

Basic- It helped to get to 
know the ‘process’, 
through (reading) 
articles. 

Advanced- 1 came to 
‘know the mechanics’ of 
qualitative research, 
‘interviewing 
techniques’, 

‘categorizing and coding 

Advanced- 1 learned the 
various coding approaches- 
used the approach of 
developing themes-codes- 
mind maps for my research. 
Used prose/poetry in 
qualitative research. I 
developed mind maps for 
each of my teacher 
interview. 




Kavita Mittapalli and Anastasia P. Samaras 


250 



concept maps and 
narratives in my 
research, found the 
interactive design 
approach useful for 
my research. 
Qualitative research 
is an open process. 

processes’. 


What did I learn in 

- Participants’ 

-Understand my 

- Understand my 

qualitative research? 

perspectives. 

participants’ 

participants’ perspectives. 


- Findings should 

perspectives. 

- Researcher relationship 


be grounded in a 

- Be aware of my role as 

is important for my 


contextual 

a researcher. 

research with teachers. 


framework. 

- Using software to code 

- Used reflection memos 


- Learned that 

data. 

and journals for my 


qualitative research 

- Thinking about codes 

teachers as well as myself. 


can explain 

while collecting rather 

- Used prose in data 


causation through 

than having them (she 

analysis. 


paradigms. 

refers to this because she 

- Mind maps for each 


- Qualitative 

learned that it was 

teacher’s transcript. 


research enables 

important not to start 

- Research is nested in a 


you to design your 

coding during the 

context. 


research as you go- 

interview but to think 

- Peer feedback is useful 


it’s an open 

about the various codes) 

for validity. 


process. 

- Passion for what I do- 

- I, the researcher ‘color’ 


- Be aware of 

adult literacy issues. . 

the research (reactivity). 


validity issues. 

- Knowing the culture of 

- Reflection is vital (for 


- Used memos in 

my participants. 

teachers and me). 


my research. 

- Used software to 
code data. 

- Used a 
combination of 
concept maps and 
narratives. Concept 
maps helped to look 
beyond the details, 
enabled me to 
understand things 
better. 

- Be aware of researcher 
bias (reactivity). 

- Interviewing techniques 
(making note of pauses 
in conversation) 

- Learning by ‘doing’ 


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The Qualitative Report June 2008 


Chart 1 (Harvey) - an engineer by profession, interested in visual learning 


Research courses Basic and Advanced 


Learned 


Paradigms ▼ 

Ways of knowing 

Interviewing and Coding techniques. Concept maps, Reflexivity, 



Applied 


(Applied research techniques to his dissertation research on visual learning ) 

1) Reflection memos in class and interviews 

2) Role of researcher 

3) Participants’ perspectives 

4) Providing a context to research 

5) Developed a conceptual framework of research 

6) Developed concept maps of his interviewees 

7) Awareness of validity issues 

8) Qualitative interviews using interpretative research approach 

9) Mixed methods approach in dissertation 


“I learned qualitative research by being able to provide a context to research process; applying the 
techniques 1 learned in the two courses and keeping the paradigms in my mind. I found memo 
writing most useful throughout my research learning process.” 


Chart 2 (Diane) - an accountant by profession, interested in adult literacy 


Research courses Basic and Advanced 

Learned 

▼ T 


Reactivity 


Paradigms 

Ways of knowing 

Interviewing and Coding techniques. Concept maps, Reflexivity, 



Applied 


(Applied research techniques to her dissertation research on adult literacy) 





Kavita Mittapalli and Anastasia P. Samaras 


252 


1) Participants’ perspectives and culture 

2) Reflection memos in class 

3) Coding the interviews 

4) Role of researcher and biasness 

5) Developed a conceptual framework of research 

6) Qualitative dissertation 

“Passion for learning the research process first hand in the field drove me to it. I was a participant 
in my research and I was fully aware of my ‘coloring’ the process. Reflective memos were very 
helpful in providing me the context and giving me a perspective to my study.” 


Chart 3 Lena, a teacher educator interested in brain research in teaching 


Research courses -> Basic and Advanced 

Learned 


Paradigms if 

Ways of knowing 

Interviewing and Coding techniques. Concept maps, Reflexivity, 


Reactivity 



Applied 

(Applied research techniques to her dissertation research on brain science and teaching) 


1) Used reflection memos 

2) Peer feedback 

3) Developed a conceptual framework of research 

4) Developed concept maps of her interviewees (mind mapping) 

5) Researcher relationship with participants 

6) Learning by doing 

7) Context to research 

8) Used narrative in her dissertation in the form of poetry 

9) Mixed methods approach in dissertation 


“1 learned qualitative research by actually “doing” it after learning the various techniques in the two 
courses. Learning to understand my participants’ perspectives was vital to my learning process. ” 


The research with the doctoral students served as a background and an inspiration 
to work on a self-portrait for the self-study course the following semester. The portrait 
triggered in tne the following questions: How have I learned to do qualitative research? 
What in qualitative research makes me appreciate it so much? How do I perceive myself 
both as a qualitative as well as a quantitative researcher after all these years of working 





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The Qualitative Report June 2008 


and being a graduate student? What have I learned from these students who have also 
come from a quantitative background? Thus, the interviews made me formulate my 
thinking about my own journey as a researcher: how I developed as a researcher from a 
quantitative academic background of an agriculture undergraduate major to an 
educational researcher and evaluator who uses both the methods. The interviewees’ 
thought processes of being flexible, reflecting from work, learning by doing, and being 
aware of my participants’ backgrounds, resonated with my own perception about learning 
to do qualitative research. It was these components of qualitative research that framed the 
elements of my self-portrait. I saw myself only as a quantitative researcher earlier in my 
undergraduate studies, where I was trained in statistics, and used crop data to predict the 
future productivity of a crop at a given time. It was as if I was collecting and analyzing 
data mechanically, there was no “human” interaction, or trying to understand where my 
participants’ perceptions were coming from. My exposure to qualitative research methods 
opened a new window to my thought process; of understanding my participants’ views 
and perceptions while thinking about my own. Being a researcher, I was also inviting bias 
into research. Being aware of that while working with my participants was a revelation. I 
was not taught about it any of my statistics courses in my undergraduate classes. 
Therefore, my self-portrait clearly depicts my growth and development as a researcher. 
The assignment provided me a way to use my earlier research work as a background and 
draw a self-portrait. 

The interviews were an important episode to unfold in my own research learning 
trajectory. Many thoughts of my academic life and of the experiences which shaped it 
were brought to the foreground from tracing the itineraries of these students in the 
graduate program (Hubennan, 1993). As a result, I view the self-portrait as a powerful 
resource for reflecting on my own academic and professional past, present, and future. 

My Self-Study Project and the Madhubani Art Form 

Madhubani art has its origins in the Madhubani district in the eastern state of 
Bihar in India. It began as a traditional family form of art where it is handed over from 
one generation to another for centuries. The world at large came to know of Madhubani 
and the women as "artists" only in the last four decades. The painting is mainly depicted 
on walls, paper, cloth, religious and decorative ceramic pots, and sometimes on wood. 
Later on the artists started painting on fabrics like sarees, table cloths, and the other bases 
when Madhubani art was made more commercial due to national and international 
efforts. The raw materials used for this painting are papers, satin cloth, fabric cloth, 
cotton, cloth etc. For painting on paper, natural colors and natural dyes are used, which 
are locally abstracted. Fabric colors are used for painting on the walls. Although, I wasn’t 
able to locate any academic research on Madhubani art or its influence in education or 
any other fields, I was able to find notes about the art and several paintings on the 
Internet (e.g., http://www.beacy.wa.edu.au/art/tribal/madhubani.html). 

For the self-portrait, I used oil paints on a canvas. I haven’t received any formal 
training in painting or in making Madhubani art, but had been exposed to this art form in 
my undergraduate studies in India and by a friend who was an art student. 



Kavita Mittapalli and Anastasia P. Samaras 


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Narrative on the Process of Making and Reflecting on the Self-Portrait 

Reading through my class memos for the self-study course and my previous 
research, I thought deliberatively about why I chose to use this art form for my self- 
portrait and its purpose. This art form provided me the required means to not only 
represent my self-development process in an artistic form, but also gave me a way to 
express my inner self as an Asian Indian woman examining her ways of knowing as she 
grows as an education researcher. I have always thought of Madhubani form of art as a 
simple, “straight-from-the-heart” way of expression. This was also one of the main 
reasons which motivated me to use this form of art. 

I chose to make this painting for a multitude of reasons: 

• The type of painting is called “Madhubani” art- a folk art form from Madhubani 
district in the eastern state of Bihar where the women use bright natural colors from 
vegetable dyes to paint their homes, walls, and fabrics to express themselves. The 
form of art has come a long way from rural India to the commercial streets of the 
country where people buy the paintings to decorate their homes. 

• The simple figures, almost geometric in form with bright earth colors have always 
attracted my attention. I have been awestruck with such simple strokes that can form 
such powerful media of feelings and expression. 

• I started painting this fonn of art when I was in my undergraduate studies at an 
agricultural university in India. I think it was only natural for me to paint agricultural 
fields with men and women working hard to produce rice, wheat and other crops. 

• I have used this particular art form for my self study because it resonates with my 
“work” as a researcher toiling away with my head bent down looking for answers to 
my questions about research, my role as a researcher, and my development as a 
researcher below the wide open sky. 

• The portrait also shows the stages I see myself in as a researcher — the 
quantitative me, the qualitative me, and now I think a step in between the two. But, I 
still find myself closely examining the various methods of inquiry! 

• Just as a farm worker’s work is never done, it goes on in cycles — just as one crop 
is cut, it’s time to sow the seeds for the next season; I find myself circling around in 
my own questions and answers, going forth with the answers I could find but back 
again with new questions. 

• The bright, vibrant colors give me hope and help me to look at the brighter side of 
research and life in general and inspire me to go on looking for answers to my 
questions with my head bent down! 

Interviews’ Impact on My Self-Study Self-Portrait 

A close examination of data from the three interviews revealed the various 
techniques the three participants learned in the two qualitative research methods courses 
they had previously taken, which helped them to make connections to their research 
work, provided a context to base their findings, understand their participants’ 
perspectives, conduct research that was valid and reliable, understand their role as a 



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The Qualitative Report June 2008 


researcher, issues of reactivity in research, being flexible with the research and interview 
questions, peer feedback and constant reflection upon their work. 

Harvey said, “I have learned the various paradigms and have used concept maps 
and narratives in my research. I have found the interactive design approach useful for my 
research” (see Maxwell, 2004) and “Qualitative research is an open process.” Diane 
noted “You need to have a deep passion for what you want to do in qualitative research. 
If you don’t, maybe it’s not for you”. Lena commented “You as the researcher and the 
instrument ‘color’ the research and the background you are in, you have to take that into 
account when you conduct qualitative research and try to be unbiased” and “Peer- 
feedback or member checking is vital for the validity of qualitative research. Diane 
added, “I have learned to do qualitative research by ‘doing’ it. I have learned so much in 
the process.” 

Overall, the roles of affect and knowledge in doing qualitative research came to 
the fore through this previous work. All the students who previously held a positivist 
view of research framed a constructivist stance while doing their research work. They 
also said that their dissertations had a qualitative component to them as they realized that 
in order to know the context and the deeper meaning of their participants’ views, it was 
important to conduct and include qualitative research. As Lena said in her interview, 
“Before taking the qualitative research course, I was sure to have only a quantitative 
component to my dissertation. I had my research questions and methods all laid out. After 
taking the course, I felt I had not taken my participants’ perspectives into being. It was as 
if I was missing a big picture!” Harvey said, “My dissertation certainly has interviews 
now. My memo taking during the research project was very useful in my reflection 
process throughout. I have used the interactive approach to a conceptual framework as 
explained by Joe Maxwell in my dissertation. The course was an eye-opener.” Diane 
added that her study that was based on adult literacy would not have been possible if she 
hadn’t thought out the life process of the women she was interviewing. Where they were 
coming from was the most important part of her research design. 

This previous research provided a foundation to my self-portrait when I took the 
self-study course. These interviews were a conduit to investigate my own learning to do 
qualitative research. Self-study researchers work to ask themselves the very questions 
they ask of others. In that manner, they are a resource for the research —to gain an 
insider’s perspective on the research questions Although I had studied others’ 
development and thinking as they shifted from quantitative to qualitative researchers, I 
had not thought deeply about my own journey. When the opportunity arose in the self- 
study research methodology class to create a self-portrait, I seized the opportunity to use 
arts to capture my self-development journey as a researcher seeking answers. In essence, 
the three data sources came together in a way I had not foreseen. The interviews 
prompted me to ask and wonder about my journeys in both quantitative and qualitative 
research. The self-portrait provided the canvas to capture my evolution as an education 
researcher and my current specialization as a research methodologist. 

More specifically, the self-portrait led me to represent myself in three stages of 
my self-development as a researcher. My first stage as an Agriculture Science student 
trained in positivist view of the world; the second stage being exposed to the naturalist 
mode of inquiry; and my current stage being that of a self-examining researcher who 
wants to take a middle ground of using both the methods in my research with an equal 



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leverage. This study has provided a platform for me to continue to question my ways of 
knowing from the quantitative academic background to being exposed to qualitative and 
mixed methods approach, and examine my growth as an individual who is evolving as a 
researcher. The study also helps to apply my learnings and knowledge to my work as a 
program evaluator at a research organization where I use both qualitative as well as 
quantitative methods to collect and analyze data, understand the program participants’ 
perceptions and views and self-reflect on my own thinking process throughout the 
process. The self-portrait reflects my journey and a tangible representation of my 
previously held notions about research which were positivist, to my exposure to the 
naturalist mode of inquiry; to my current status of looking at a mixed view of conducting 
research as I proceed towards my doctoral dissertation in three frames. 



Figure 1. Self-portrait Wonderings/Questions for a Self-Study Scholar 

The self-portrait was made with conscious ideas in my mind about the three stages I have 
gone through in the process while conducting the previous research followed by the self- 
study course. The three stages of “me” in the picture (Figure 1) shows me working 
towards my goal of becoming an education researcher. From left, stage one shows the 
quantitative side of me, stage two, far right, shows the qualitative side of me and the 
middle stage as the mixed research methodologist trying to blend both. The quantitative 
and qualitative sides of me appear to be raised in the portrait because they depict the “two 
continuums” of the paradigm debate. The center section, which is lower than the two, is 
providing a “middle” ground to the two contrasting views. The bright blue strip around 
the portrait provides a border to my thinking process as I try to examine my learning’s. 
The green twine depicts the growth of my thinking and how it’s still growing to enable 
me to become a better researcher. The bright yellow color depicts my “positive” thinking 
to my self-development that I look forward to as I finish my studies. The birds are 


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symbolic to the flight they are about to take as they learn at each stage of the research 
process. 

1 . How do I see myself as a self-study scholar? 

As a self-study researcher, both as a student as well as a professional, I see myself 
questioning the process of conducting research as a whole. What is considered good and 
useful research and how do I see myself contributing to it? I constantly ask, “What can I 
bring to the field of research?” “What skills can I bring to the fore which are valued and 
deemed useful for infonning the field of research and evaluation-the paths I have chosen 
for myself?” 

I am in the stage of constant questioning, examining, and re-examining my 
thought processes as an individual who has developed as a researcher over a period of six 
years, while the seeds were sown long before that while on a field work project in a 
village in India. For instance, I find myself reflecting more on my work in graduate 
school and workplace. Being more self-reflecting has certainly enabled me to advance in 
my level of knowledge, assess more carefully about my academic and work 
performances, made me aware of my place and contribution in my institution, and future 
goals as a graduate student, researcher and evaluator. Self-study methodology has 
provided me with the necessary ways to express myself in a way that I could be “true to 
myself.” (Cole & Knowles, 1996). I do realize that I have a long way to go. In these six 
years, first as a master’s student and now as a doctoral candidate, I have taken the 
research opportunities that have come my way. I have tried to use my qualitative and 
quantitative skills such as coding, interviewing in qualitative research and learning and 
using different statistical software programs such as Statistical Program for Social 
Sciences (SPSS) wherever I could in the areas of health communication to begin with, 
followed by public and international affairs, survey research, community-based research 
and evaluation and now in education. 

As a self-study researcher, I see myself wearing the researcher hat to carefully 
look at details, listening to others’ views, understanding their perspectives, constantly 
reflecting, reading, and applying my skills to the assigned tasks. It is not an easy task to 
conduct self-study because I would come with my own biases about myself or maybe 
even excuse myself from any errors that I would do in conducting research. But with the 
help of my mentors at work and in school, it helps me stay on course and be critical of 
myself when needed. 

The self-portrait exhibits my wonderings/questions as a self-study scholar in that 
as an education researcher, I sometimes wear the positivist hat conducting quantitative 
research, or a narrative/interpretive hat as a qualitative researcher, or as a mixed 
methodologist as I work as a program evaluator in the field. In all the three stages in 
whichever hat/s I am wearing, I try to apply my learnings from school to the field while 
constantly examining and finally reflecting on my self-development. 

2. What role did peers play in the refraining process? 

My peers were like my constant companions in good and in bad times. I needed 
them to pat me on my back when I was on the right path and also slap me on the hand if I 



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was way off! I needed peer/s at work and in school to tell me what I was doing right, 
what is good about my thought process, and what needed a change and why. Peers also 
added to the validity of my research, as they looked at my work with a “fresh pairs of 
eyes.” 

Anastasia and my four other classmates, who were also doctoral students, were 
amazed when I unveiled my self-portrait and propped the five foot canvas against a table 
in our class. Peers were intrigued and asked questions related to the art and the color 
choices as I offered my interpretation of the self-portrait as a medium of research 
understanding. There was no required format for the self-portrait assignment so each of 
us chose our own medium that came out of our experiences. One of my classmates 
sketched her self-portrait; others used oil painting, pastels, and symbolism. Each of us 
talked about both the process and meaning of our self-portrait to who we currently are as 
researchers. Anastasia commented in class, “Kavita’s explanation of her self-portrait to 
the class allowed us to understand the complexity of a researcher coming from a training 
in two paradigms, i.e., quantitative and qualitative. It also demonstrated how she came to 
an understanding of the beauty and usefulness of that duality through the arts.” 

Discussion and Conclusions 

The self-portrait led me to represent myself in three stages of my self- 
development as a researcher. My first stage as an agriculture science student trained in 
positivist view of the world; the second stage being exposed to the naturalist mode of 
inquiry; and my current stage being that of a self-examining researcher who wants to take 
a middle ground of using both the methods in my research with an equal leverage. This 
study has provided a platform for me to continue to question, and examine my thought 
processes as an individual who is evolving as a researcher from a more positivist to a 
mixed method researcher. The self-portrait reflects my journey and an objective and 
factual representation of my previously held notions about research which were positivist, 
to my exposure to the naturalist mode of inquiry; to my current status of looking at a 
mixed view of conducting research as I proceed towards my doctoral dissertation in three 
frames. 

This project was a personal journey of self-development as a researcher to think, 
examine, and devise ways to develop further as a researcher through the lenses of fellow 
students. Using a theoretical framework of symbolic interactionism, the project attempted 
to understand how graduate students who previously held a positivist view of the research 
world came to use the various tools and techniques of qualitative research in their studies. 
The self-portrait is a reflection of the self as a researcher within different paradigms of 
thought. This study can serve to infonn students and early researchers who are learning 
the process of conducting qualitative research; specially those who have a quantitative 
background and for professors interested in designing curricula that utilize an art-based 
educational research approach to assist students in understanding how they make 
meaning of qualitative research. 



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Author Note 

Kavita Mittapalli completed her PhD recently from the College of Education and 
Human Development at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA. Her major areas of 
interest are research methodology, program evaluation and assessment, and social 
stratification. She holds a B.S. degree in Agricultural Sciences from Banaras Hindu 
University, Varanasi, India, and an M.A. in Applied Sociology from George Mason 
University, Fairfax VA. She has written, published, and presented at several regional and 
national conferences. She works at a private research and evaluation company. 
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Kavita Mittapalli at 
Kmittapalli@gmail.com 

Anastasia P. Samaras is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of 
Education at George Mason University where she has served as director and coordinator 
of several teacher education programs as well as previously at The Catholic University of 
America. A former early childhood, middle school, and high school teacher, her 35 years 
of teaching and research experiences have continuously been informed through the arts. 
Anastasia has been active in the Self-Study School and most recently in her work with 
doctoral students. In addition to numerous articles and chapters, she is author of Self- 
Study for Teacher Educators (2002), co-editor of Making a Difference in Teacher 




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Education through Self-Study (2006), and co-author of Self-Study of Teaching Practices 
(2006). 

The authors would like to thank their class whose feedback and support made this 
work possible. Their appreciation goes to: Mary Adams-Legge, Deanna Breslin, Jennifer 
Magaha O’Looney, and Dawn Renee Wilcox. 

Copyright 2008: Kavita Mittapalli, Anastasia P. Samaras, and Nova Southeastern 
University 


Article Citation 

Mittapalli, K., & Samaras, A. P. (2008). Madhubani art: A journey of an education 
researcher seeking self-development answers through art and self-study. The 
Qualitative Report, 13(2), 244-261. Retrieved from 

http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR13-2/mittapalli.pdf