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Researcher as Instrument

My current research centers around students’ experiences with a service-learning assignment. Students were able to choose from six different sites, but my particular site of interest is a sober-active community. My initial research questions sought to explore how students made sense of recovery through sport and aimed to conceptualize a sport-for-recovery framework. This has since changed to focus on the assignment of service learning since students’ reflective journals were part of a preexisting course assignment and the content does not necessarily reflect sport or recovery. I do identify as an individual in recovery from a substance use habit (which differs from a clinical substance use disorder). I found recovery through sport. These life experiences have caused me to question why sport is sometimes the catalyst for extreme substance use but can also be a catalyst for sobriety. I was never required to complete a service-learning activity during my undergraduate degree program and do believe this type of transformative learning would have helped me become more engaged in my academics. I am curious how fulfilling service-learning within a sober active community can reduce stigma around sobriety, decrease or otherwise educate about substance use, or provide a pathway for students seeking recovery.

Allen et al. (2019) discuss how insider knowledge sensitizes them to many aspects of the story (see p. 213). Liz shares the importance of having someone to debrief with because they could sense resonating with some stories and intentionally avoiding others. I do believe adopting an indigenous framework and have made it a point to share my work with the Association for Recovery in Higher Education. This listserv has connected me with many individuals in recovery, some using sport while others do not, to discuss what I am finding, learning and making sense of. I have also ensured an ongoing IRB so I can continuously present my work at conferences and obtain feedback from my peers. More personally, I confide in my own recovery support group in Tallahassee and always attempt to engage in dialogue from a place of curiosity, especially when discussing substance use with students. I recognize how off-putting and counterproductive demanding sobriety can be. These experiences provide insider knowledge that helped me collect and is helping me interpret my ‘data.’ I was able to initiate the sober active community for which students were able to volunteer and earn service-learning hours. As a teacher, coach, and athlete, I was able to prompt students with critical questions or provide education about the space and its population. This was intended to prompt students to rethink substance use, recovery, sobriety, and the power of sport. I had hoped this would show in their reflective journals. As someone whose sport induced a substance habit and a new sport was the catalyst for my sobriety, I feel I am able to approach the empirical in limbo and objectively observe how others make sense of the triad. These experiences may become problematic because I was a leader in the implementation of the program and students may have written socially desirable answers in their journals. I have also found myself becoming very judgmental when students do not directly write answers to my questions regarding sport, substance use, and recovery.

I have had a horrible time working with NVivo. I originally imported my empirical materials as an excel document; which is identified as acceptable. However, this changes the file code. I am also working on a Mac so when I reopen the file all my coding has disappeared. I have since had to convert over 114 documents into their own individual word docs and re-code all of my data. For reference, using an excel document does not allow for annotations and makes generic memo links. Files must be individual PDF or WORD docs to allow for more intricate linking. This experience, although time consuming, has brought to focus the reflexivity of software discussed by Woods, Macklin and Lewis (2016, p. 387). While I am still working through re-coding my empirical material, I have noticed I am driven to code MORE, code differently, and make new connections that I previously was not doing with the annotation and memo linking features initially denied to me. I am an extremely visual person so having the ability to color code specific sections has significantly enhanced my analysis.


Allen, K.R., Letiecq, B.L., Robert, K.A., Rosenblatt, P.C., & Wieling, E. (2019). Dialogue about reflexivity. In Humble, A.M., & Radina, M.E. (Eds.), How Qualitative Data Analaysis Happens: Moving Beyond "Themes Emerged" (pp. 213-220). Routledge.

Shank, G.D. (2002). Qualitative Research - A Personal Skills Approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

Woods, M., Macklin, R., & Lewis, G.L. (2016). Research reflexivity: Exploring the impacts of CAQDAS use. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 19(4), 385-403.

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