Archive for January, 2008


Toward a Research Philosophy

January 29, 2008

Recently, I was asked what my research philosophy was. An intriguing question, I thought, and one that I didn’t have a ready answer for. I’d spent considerable time developing my teaching and learning philosophy, and I’d honed it over the twenty-plus years that I’ve been teaching college. But no one had ever asked me about my research philosophy, or at least that’s what I thought.

So, I did what most people would do these days. I googled “research philosophy,” and I came up with nearly 100,000 hits. Perusing a few dozen, I discovered that people addressed this concept in myriad ways. Whereas there seemed to be some consistency among teaching and learning philosophies that I’d read, there was more variety than consistency in research philosophies.

I also asked several trusted colleagues and former professors about their research philosophies. Surprisingly, only one had a statement prepared. Most of the others said that was a question they had not been asked about before, either.

Then I took some time to search back through my papers I wrote during my doctoral program in Training & Performance Improvement. Lo and behold, I had even written my own research philosophy at one time! A special thanks goes to Paul Hardt, Ed.D., (Capella University) for helping me focus my thinking on this topic. As he reminded me today, “The research question must drive the choice of research methods, and the researcher should not let their own personal biases influence their choice of methods.” Here is what I wrote as part of a paper on the application of a mixed methods approach to evaluating leadership development:

In order to “make informed choices and reflect critically on their own work,” a researcher must “understand the theories of knowledge (the epistemologies) underlying the methods” (Spratt, Walker, & Robinson, 2004, p. 13). Distinctions about the formation of knowledge exist between quantitative and qualitative researchers. Krauss made the following observation about qualitative research: “In general, qualitative research is based on a relativistic, constructivist ontology that posits that there is no objective reality. Rather, there are multiple realities constructed by human beings who experience a phenomenon of interest” (2005, p. 760). On the other hand, Healy & Perry (2000) note that “positivism predominates in science and assumes that science quantitatively measures independent facts about a single apprehensible reality” (as cited in Krauss, 2005, p. 760). “In other words, the data and its analysis are value-free, and data do not change because they are being observed” (Krauss, 2005, p. 760).

William Trochim, at his Research Methods Knowledgebase, notes “I’ve seen many a graduate student get lost in the maze of philosophical assumptions that contemporary philosophers of science argue about” (2002, Positivism & post-positivism section, para. 7). I can echo this sentiment fully. Based on my limited exposure to epistemology, I would say that my general bent is toward post-positivism; Trochim described my tendencies accurately when he said:

Post-positivists reject the idea that any individual can see the world perfectly as it really is. We are all biased and all of our observations are affected . . . . Our best hope for achieving objectivity is to triangulate across multiple fallible perspectives! (Positivism & post-positivism section, para. 6)

However, as I have learned more about the mixed methods approach, I have warmed to the pragmatist point of view, which stresses to use what works to determine my view of the world. This is a diverse blend of ways to understand what is going on around me, rather than relying on just one concrete view. As Creswell states it, “For mixed methods researchers, pragmatism opens the door to multiple methods, different worldviews and different assumptions as well as different forms of data collection and analysis” (2003, p. 12). More than a dozen other researchers concur that pragmatism and mixed methods complement each other (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998).


Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Spratt, C., Walker, R., & Robinson, B. (2004). Mixed research methods. Practitioner Research and Evaluation Skills Training in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved June 5, 2006, from

Tashakkori, A., & Teddlie, C. (1998). Mixed methodology: Combining qualitative and quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Trochim, W. (2002, January 16, 2005). Research methods knowledge base. Retrieved October 1, 2005, from

Okay, I thought, now I have something to start with. Let’s get rid of the fancy words and boil it down . . .

Let the research question drive the methodology.

That’s it . . . that’s my research philosophy! I will first determine the specific research question, then (and only then) will I determine what the next steps are. Based on the question, I will determine which methodology will best answer the question for my audience. I am not locked into the “I am a qualitative researcher” or “I am a quantitative researcher” mode.


The Ethical Public Relations Professional

January 27, 2008

This week, I had the opportunity to share some of my thoughts on ethics in the field of public relations with classes from Georgia Southern. I promised the students that I would post my slides here, and since the presentation was on ethics, it made lots of sense to follow through on my promise — so here are the slides.

The Ethical Public Relations Professional (Slides / Notes)

(Note: Information in this class presentation was gleaned from various sources, primarily the textbook for the Introduction to Public Relations course, Public Relations: Strategies & Tactics.)

Something that intrigued the students was this image. What do you see here?

What do you see in this image?

Now tilt your head to the right . . . do you see anything different?


Dimensions of Courageous Followership

January 24, 2008

Ira Chaleff, author of The Courageous Follower: Standing up To and for Our Leaders, maintains that there are several dimensions of courageous followership. These dimensions are the courage to assume responsibility, the courage to serve, the courage to challenge, the courage to participate in transformation, and the courage to take moral action.

In addition to the five dimensions for courageous followers, Chaleff discusses a sixth dimension specifically for leaders in the second edition of his book: leaders must have the courage to listen to their followers. “If they don’t they may as well cover the instruments on their dashboards, fire their pit crews, and race with abandon down the track, until they run out of gas or are stopped abruptly by hard reality” (Chaleff, 2003, pp. 192-193). Many, if not most, leaders would say that they have an open-door policy. However, followers may be dissuaded, either intentionally or unintentionally, from speaking their minds with their leaders. A leader who chooses not to listen to his or her followers puts the organization at risk.

A leader may be put in the uncomfortable position of listening to a follower who is taking a moral stand on an issue, a stand that differs from that of the leader or the organization. Chaleff (2003) offers a possible response protocol for this situation; the eleven steps are discussed below. Key components to this protocol are meeting personally with the follower before, throughout, and after any investigation into the circumstances that prompted the moral stand. “The crucial act of leadership is to respond to a moral stand in an equally principled manner—and meet courage with courage” (p. 216).

Possible Response Protocol for a Moral Issue (taken directly from Chaleff, 2003, pp. 216-217)

  1. Separate the message from the messenger. Pay careful attention to the content regardless of your view of the messenger.
  2. Listen to both the content and to the strength of feelings about the matter. The seriousness of the situation is better gauged by both factors.
  3. Regardless of your initial reaction, promise to get back to the individual personally, and commit to a time frame for doing so.
  4. Avoid any impulse to take precipitous and poorly advised damage control measures, such as document destruction.
  5. Decide which advisers to consult, bearing in mind as necessary which relationships confer legal protection for privileged communications.
  6. With the help of your advisers, gather any additional information you need to understand the full scope of the situation.
  7. With this additional information, play out the potential consequences, including best-case and worst-case scenarios, avoiding any tendency to denial.
  8. Review and restate the core values that will guide your course of action. Generate two or three options for consideration that respect these values, and respond sufficiently to the gravity of the situation.
  9. Choose the course of action that best serves the common purpose, and act with the vigor, courage, and imagination the situation warrants.
  10. Report back personally to the individual or individuals whose moral stand provided the catalyst for your actions.
  11. As the situation progresses, credit the courageous followers who took the moral stand, while accepting responsibility personally or corporately for the wrong actions now being corrected.


Chaleff, I. (1996). Effective followership. Executive Excellence, 13(4), 16.

Chaleff, I. (1997). Learn the art of followership. Government Executive, 29(2), 51.

Chaleff, I. (2003). The courageous follower: Standing up to and for our leaders (2nd. ed.). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Chaleff, I. (2004). The leader-follower partnership: It’s a new day. April 25, 2007, from


Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership

January 22, 2008

In the Capella University course The Dark Side of Leadership, we were asked to reflect on the following:

Share ways that have proven helpful in your past experiences to mitigate personal dark leadership characteristics. Based on what you have learned in this course and your recent experiences, are there any further techniques that you can offer as best practices?

What has helped most to mitigate my own dark leadership characteristics is this: finding out about them! However, I cannot truthfully say that I agreed with what others had to offer when I asked for the feedback . . . at least not at first. As a college professor, I had always received feedback on my teaching from my students. And as a young and somewhat cocky professor, I would tend to discount anything that did not fit my idea of what I was “really like” as a professor. As years progressed, and I moved into corporate America as a training manager in a Fortune 500 company, I was able to (read: forced into) participate in the company’s 360-degree evaluation program. Perhaps getting a little older helped, or maybe there were other factors, but I started listening more closely to what others were saying my shortcomings were. (Some of these had to do with my leadership style, while others had to do with different competencies required of me in my role.)

Then – this is the good part – a few years ago, I took a battery of Hogan Assessments. One of these was the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), “an inventory of personality characteristics that can derail success in careers, relationships, and life” (Hogan Assessment Systems, 2006). There were about 150 statements for which I could chose only “agree” or “disagree,” no middle ground. For the first time, I was able to receive feedback on my leadership effectiveness and potential in a way that was based in research, not just opinions.

Of the eleven potential derailers (dark leadership behaviors) that are assessed on the scale, the one that had the highest score and was the biggest wake-up call for me was that I was “leisurely.” According to the HDS, someone who is leisurely may do the following (Hogan & Hogan, 2001):

  • March to the sound of her own drummer
  • Be confident about her skills and abilities
  • Insist on working at her own pace
  • Has good social skills
  • Pretends to agree when really she doesn’t
  • Will drag her feet when she disagrees, rather than being direct and letting others know

As I read my HDS report, I could think of specific examples of times when I did each of the leisurely items. I literally saw a lightbulb go on over my own head. I thought of how circumstances turned out when I was leisurely, and then imagined how they might have turned out differently if I had been more direct in my opinions. What I had thought was being thoughtful or politically correct was actually harming my career and my relationships.

From that point on, because I was aware of this leisurely tendency, I became more likely to say what I mean and mean what I say (to paraphrase the March Hare and Alice). To help keep me accountable, I shared my Hogan results with a trusted colleague at work and asked her to help with this tendency of mine.


Hogan Assessment Systems. (2006). Hogan Development Survey: Scales and interpretations Retrieved August 10, 2006, from

Hogan, R., & Hogan, J. (2001). Assessing leadership: A view from the dark side. International Journal of Selection & Assessment, 9(1/2), 40.


How to Fail a Class (Without Really Trying)

January 19, 2008

Now that winter semester is well on its way, I took some time to reminisce about all the ways that students can do well in my classes. But instead of sharing those with you today, I’ll instead offer the flip-side: what you should do if your goal is to FAIL a class. I promise you that I’ve had a student at one time or another who has done every one of these things. Luckily, there is no one student who has done all of them . . . yet. (Please don’t take this as a challenge ) )


  1. Think of the assignment guidelines provided by your professor as mere suggestions, not requirements for success.
  2. Consider each assignment as discrete entities. Don’t apply the constructive criticism you’ve received from your previous assignment to your next one.
  3. Since Microsoft Word will catch all your mistakes (grammar, APA style, Associated Press style, etc.), there’s no need to proofread your assignments before turning them in.
  4. Plagiarize often and flagrantly. After all, your professor won’t think to check the Internet (or other sources) to see if you’ve copied anything.
  5. Reading homework assignments before the class when they will be discussed? Why bother?


  1. Don’t bother to check your grades in WebCT Vista, even though they’re posted in there throughout the semester. And don’t bother to keep your graded papers to doublecheck the grade’s accuracy.
  2. If you have a concern about your grade, wait until the last week of class to ask your professor for ideas on how to raise it.
  3. Ask in class every day, “Can we get extra credit for this?” Or, when or if extra credit is offered, turn it down. It won’t make that much difference in your final grade anyway.
  4. If you’re pretty sure you won’t pass the class (or get the grade you’re hoping for) before the Withdraw Date, go ahead and stay in the class anyway, but just don’t bother showing up anymore.

WebCT Vista

  1. Wait until five minutes before an assignment is due on WebCT Vista before trying to log in to submit it.
  2. When there’s a discussion question posted on WebCT Vista, don’t answer it. Or answer it superficially with one or two sentences. Or say, “I totally agree with what Kyle said in his response.”

Classroom Decorum

  1. When in a class in a PC lab, check your Facebook or e-mail, or surf the web, while class is in session, even if your professor has said that it’s time to turn all monitors off.
  2. Wait until you get to your classroom to consider printing something that is needed for class that day.
  3. Be the first one to answer every question in class, every time. (I will tend to call this student Horshack, either behind or in front of his or her back.)
  4. Attend class only when you feel like it, and be sure that others know you have better things you could be doing with your time.


  1. Don’t check your e-mail for messages from your professor. Or mark your professor’s e-mail as that of a known spammer, so his or her messages automatically are delivered into your bulk mail or spam folder.
  2. When you’re confused, assume that you’re the only one, so don’t ask for clarification or explanation.
  3. Avoid your professor’s office at all costs.
  4. Only discuss grade-related information with your professor. Or even better, only talk to your professor to ask, “Did we talk about anything important in class the last time we met? I wasn’t here.”
  5. Don’t listen, and that means don’t listen to your professor, your classmates, your advisor . . . What you think and feel is way more important.

Creative Commons License
How to Fail a Class by Barbara Nixon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


Songs with “Listen” in the Title

January 17, 2008

As I was researching materials for a session at the International Listening Association‘s annual conference in March 2008, I wondered how many songs had the word “listen” in the title. I was surprised at what I found. According to Leo’s Lyrics (my favorite source for song lyrics), 127 songs by various artists appeared; to see the complete list, visit Leo’s Lyrics.

My favorite song titled “Listen” is by the Christian band Poor Baker’s Dozen, from its “Go Stop Go” CD. Artists including  Beyonce, Chicago, Collective Soul, Goo Goo Dolls, Tears for Fears and Toad the Wet Sprocket also have songs simply titled “Listen.” Below, you’ll find a sampling of the titles and artists of other songs with “listen” in the title:

  • “Listen to Your Heart” by artists including DHT, Motörhead, and Roxette
  • “Listen to My Heart” by The Ramones
  • “Listen to Our Hearts” by Geoff Moore And The Distance
  • “Children Will Listen” by Barbra Streisand
  • “If No One Will Listen” by Keri Noble
  • “Learn to Listen” by The Ramones
  • “Don’t Stop and Listen” by DJs @ Work
  • “Stop, Listen, Look & Think” by Expose
  • “Listen to What the Man Said” by Paul McCartney and Wings
  • “Listen to the Music” by The Doobie Brothers
  • “Listen to the Flower People” by Spinal Tap
  • “Ssh…Listen” by Motherjane
  • “Listen Up” by artists including Basket Case, Oasis, and Doomriders
  • “No One Would Listen” by Andrew Lloyd Webber (from The Phantom of the Opera)

Listening to Pandora

January 12, 2008

While working on my dissertation (and preparing to teach classes at Georgia Southern U), I’ve spent countless hours at the computer. Sometimes, I need silence in order to work effectively. But other times, I want – no, need – to listen to music. I dislike regular radio because I find the ads disruptive to the creative process. I get tired of my own music collection that I’ve imported into iTunes. Yes, even with 4400+ songs, or 175 days worth of music with no repeats, I get tired of it. I tend to fall into the trap that many people do, listening to the same playlists over and over.

Just before the Christmas break, my colleague across the hall at work introduced me to Pandora, where you can listen to free – and commercial-free – Internet radio and discover artists similar to your favorites.

Tim Westergren, founder of The Music Genome Project®, describes Pandora this way:

Since we started back in 2000, we have been hard at work on the Music Genome Project. It’s the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken. Together our team of fifty musician-analysts has been listening to music, one song at a time, studying and collecting literally hundreds of musical details on every song. It takes 20-30 minutes per song to capture all of the little details that give each recording its magical sound – melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics … and more – close to 400 attributes! We continue this work every day to keep up with the incredible flow of great new music coming from studios, stadiums and garages around the country.

With Pandora you can explore this vast trove of music to your heart’s content. Just drop the name of one of your favorite songs or artists into Pandora and let the Genome Project go. It will quickly scan its entire world of analyzed music, almost a century of popular recordings – new and old, well known and completely obscure – to find songs with interesting musical similarities to your choice. Then sit back and enjoy as it creates a listening experience full of current and soon-to-be favorite songs for you.

So, depending on my mood at the time, you can find me listening to various and sundry Pandora radio stations. In the last 24 hours, it was

  • Billy Joel Radio
  • Goo Goo Dolls Radio
  • Michael Bublé Radio
  • Carole King Radio
  • Patricia Barber Radio, and
  • Disco Mix (slightly embarrassing, but true)

Listening to music while studying or working does have positive benefits on productivity. “According to a report in the journal Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology, the Russian Academy of Sciences discovered that a person’s ability to recognize visual images, including letters and numbers, is faster when either rock or classical music is playing in the background,” as noted in an article by Kutchka. Sharon Stajda, RN, notes that listening to music also helps decrease stress levels.

Try listening to Pandora. I hope you like it as much as I do.