The use of diary method for studying HE experiences of students from SEGs

The diary method, as suggested by the literature review elaborated in this section, is flexible in terms of studying diverse topics and in the collection of both quantitative as well as qualitative data. It offers multiple advantages for researchers of all philosophies and all fields, by way of facilitating regular documentation of the human experience and its potential to capture time-sensitive and context-specific phenomena (Hyers, 2018). In research on HE, published academic articles indicate the use of the diary method to study experiences of students from the disadvantaged social groups, which is the key concern of this chapter.

The diary method has been used to reveal the chronic nature of everyday sexism, racism and prejudice, its frequency and its socio-psychological implications for women and African American college students’ experiences (Swim et al., 2001; Swim et al., 2003; Hyers, 2007; Hyers et al., 2006; Hyers, 2010). Studies employing diaries have emphasised the benefit of diary method in reducing the issues with memory’ loss associated with retrospective recollection of accounts of experiences. The daily diary’ methodology' (Swim et al., 2003) with a mixed design (an open-ended prompt and a structured format) and a grounded-theory’ coding procedure helped in capturing characteristics of perpetrators, frequency and nature of everyday experiences of racism faced by’ African American students attending a predominantly’ White/European US public university’.

Furthermore, diary method has been useful to study women’s agency' and empowerment. Using an open-ended diary format, Hy'ers (2007) utilised a feminist approach in the diary’ method to explore how women students actively confronted oppression in their daily lives. Coding of the incidents reported in diaries and the response strategy' which was discussed during focus groups involved an inductive, data-driven, grounded theory’ procedure. The diary-keeping period was followed by’ students meeting in small focus groups to discuss ways to confront the prejudicial experiences they had documented the week before.

More recently, Falconer and Taylor (2017) used the diary’ method combined with other methods to study intersectional HE experiences of students who identified both as queer and religious. This study included solicited diaries in a mixed method research design, along with individual face-to-face interviews and a mindmapping exercise. The diarists were provided with open-ended instructions which related to interview themes, and had the freedom to tell their story' in their way’ and record their reflections on their everyday life. The analysis involved triangulation of insights from the interviews with diary entries, providing thick descriptions which helped in developing the researchers’ understanding of academic experiences of young, queer religious students.

The studies discussed so far have been carried out in the HE institutions located in the Global North. To the best of our knowledge, diary method has rarely been used in research on HE experiences of students from the socially excluded groups in India, except in one study (Thornton et al., 2011). This study was carried out jointly in India and the UK to explore issues of diversity and discrimination as experienced by minority, under-represented and disadvantaged students. Using a socio-constructivist perspective for data analysis, the study used diary entries in triangulation with insights from interviews and focus group discussions to show separation and subtle divisions in academic and social spheres of HE campuses based on caste, race, nationality, region, and language (Thornton et al., 2010).

In terms of its methodology, this study set out solely to employ 90 solicited diaries from students and staff as the source of data. However, due to difficulties faced in recruitment of diary participants, the study had to include additional methods. The difficulty in soliciting diaries was mainly related to the approach to recruitment of volunteers. The implementation of the diary method was successful in those institutions ‘where there was a personal relationship or approach’ (Thornton et al., 2011, p. 23), while accessing contacts and displaying adverts on Web-based Management Learning Environment (available in HE institutions in the UK), posters and invitations displayed on notice boards, and, leaflets left on tables, libraries and resource centres were unproductive (see also Chapter 5, this volume). The study supplemented diaries with additional methods such as interviews and group discussions in order to gain the necessary sample in institutes where the study was not able to recruit diarists.

To summarise, these studies show the versatile nature of the diary method reflected through multiple diary formats which can be used solely or in a mixed method research design, allowing for the possibilities of the use of deductive and inductive approaches in combination for data analysis, along with triangulation of findings from other forms of research instruments. For example, even when diary format has been open-ended, elements of a deductive approach have been used with application of themes emerging from other sources of information for analysis of diary entries (Falconer & Taylor, 2017). Importantly, studies have highlighted the usefulness of the diary method to uncover the nature and frequency of everyday experiences of students with casteism or racism that may be so familiar that they can easily be normalised. Despite its advantages, the use of the diary method to study experiences of students and faculty members from the disadvantaged social groups, globally and in India has been minimal.

Deploying learnings from previous studies, and with awareness of difficulties in implementing the diary' method as indicated in the Thornton et al. (2010) study, we used solicited diaries as one of the research tools to understand social and academic HE experiences of students from the SEGs. The methodological information on this mixed methods study, within which the diary' method was nested, is briefly discussed in the next section. This is followed by a detailed presentation of the methodological underpinnings, including the approach to analysis of data from the diary method.

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