Educational research results on teachers and teaching have been criticized due to the lack of connection between knowledge production in academic settings and the reality of teachers’ everyday practices. Although the context is imperative in qualitative research, contextualization is a complex task.
This paper is a methodological reflection on the value photos bring to the exploration of teachers lived experiences and the value of bringing contextual elements to the research process on teachers and teaching in a study I conducted with teachers working in public schools in La Araucanía in Southern Chile, using photo elicitation as a method of data collection (Markus Banks, 2001; Collier, 1957; Emmison, Smith, & Magery, 2012; Harper, 2002; Lapenta, 2011; G. Rose, 2012).
Thirteen teachers took pictures to portray what teacher quality means to them. 232 photographs were analysed based on their potential to offer information regarding context. During the process of data analysis, I realized that the combination of having participants take pictures and then be interviewed about those pictures provided rich information not just about teachers’ understandings of the concept of teacher quality, but also regarding the context(s) where teachers work. This goes beyond the traditional use of pictures as a stimulus to enrich the interview process. Based on that initial reflection, I conducted a second data analysis, this time focusing on the potential of the method to better understand the context(s)in which teachers practice their craft.
Here, I explore three advantages of using photo elicitation to contextualize research on teachers and teaching: (1) utilizing pictures provides rich descriptions of the spatial context; (2) using pictures taken by participants facilitates the exploration of participants’ interpretation of the context, and (3) during interviews researchers and participants negotiate interpretations of pictures by contrasting participants’ interpretations with researcher’ perceptions. Finally, I discuss the advantages of using photo elicitation in the process of contextualizing educational research on teachers and teaching, and finally, I provide examples to illustrate these advantages.