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Article

Qualitative analysis—the analysis of textual, visual, or audio data—covers a spectrum from confirmation to exploration. Qualitative studies can be directed by a conceptual framework, suggesting, in part, a deductive thrust, or driven more by the data itself, suggesting an inductive process. Generic or basic qualitative research refers to an approach in which researchers are simply interested in solving a problem, effecting a change, or identifying relevant themes rather than attempting to position their work in a particular epistemological or ontological paradigm. Other qualitative traditions include grounded theory, narrative analysis, and phenomenology. Grounded theory encompasses several approaches, including objectivist and constructivist traditions, and commonly invites researchers to theorize a process and perhaps identify its contexts and consequences. Narrative analysis is an approach that treats stories not only as representations of events but as narrative events in themselves. Researchers using this approach analyze the form and content of narrative data and examine how these elements serve the storyteller and the story. Other elements often considered include plot, genre, character, values, resolutions, and motifs. Phenomenology is an approach designed to “open up” a phenomenon and make sense of its invariant structure, its identifiable essence across all narrative accounts. In this approach, the focus is on the lived experiences of those deeply familiar with the phenomenon and how they experience the phenomenon as they are going through it, before it is categorized and conceptualized. Each tradition has its own investigative emphasis and particular tools for analysis—specific approaches to coding, memo writing, and final products, such as diagrams, matrices, and condensed reports.

Article

Real groups constitute themselves as representatives of social structures, that is, of communicative processes in which it is possible to identify patterns and a certain model of communication. This model is not random or incipient, rather it documents collective experiences as well as the social characteristics of these groups, their representations of class, social environment, and generational belonging. In the context of qualitative research methods in the fields of social sciences and education, group discussions gained prominence mainly from research conducted with children and young people. As a research method, they constitute an important tool in the reconstruction of milieux and collective orientations that guide the actions of the subjects in the spaces in which they live. This article begins with some considerations about group interviews, highlighting the Anglo-Saxon model of focus groups, the Spanish tradition of group discussions from the School of Qualitative Critics in Madrid, and group discussions conceived in the 1950s at the Frankfurt School in Germany. Next, the theoretical-methodological basis of group discussions and the documentary method developed in Germany in the 1980s by Ralf Bohnsack are presented. Both procedures are anchored mainly in Karl Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge, but also in Pierre Bourdieu’s ethnography and sociology of culture. Finally, from the results of three research projects in education carried out in Mexico, Chile, and Brazil, the potential of this research and approach to data analysis is assessed. Based on the principle of abduction, the documentary method inspires the creation of analytical instruments rooted in praxis and that can delineate educational experiences in different contexts.

Article

Case study researchers have traditionally focused on micro-level analysis of a “bounded” case, yet this approach has come under methodological scrutiny in a world where phenomena are rarely isolated from globalization’s expansive reach. Social science and policy-oriented research in particular are nearly always subject to local and global histories as well as socio-cultural, political, and economic trends. Furthermore, the experience of individuals, organizations, and institutions are often tangled in interconnected webs of influence, such that a case study that does not trace these underlying relationships is likely to be analyzing only the tip of a phenomenological iceberg. Hence critical scholars call for the need to repurpose traditional case study research methods to embrace shifting contextual factors that surround a research project at multiple levels. Comparative case study methods answer this call by making socio-cultural and political analysis an explicit part of the research process. They expand the researcher’s methodological lens by advancing the analysis of processes across three axes: the horizontal (through distinct research sites), the vertical (through scales; e.g., local vs national) and the transversal (over time; e.g., historically). The methodology is particularly useful for social science research and policy studies, where complex interactions between actors and institutions are tied to socio-cultural, political, and economic contexts. Teacher education research is an area where comparative case studies can potentially contribute to policy formulation. Using the example of case study research on teacher education in India, the comparative case study methodology is shown to be an effective research tool. Through insights into the socio-cultural and political context surrounding pedagogical reform, case study research can generate corrective measures to improve policy effectiveness.

Article

Bettina Dausien and Peter Alheit

The concept of biography plays multiple roles in educational sciences: as a theoretical perspective, as a methodological approach to empirical research, and as a point of reference for pedagogical practice. In the social and educational sciences, biography is theoretically conceptualized as a highly complex social construction that is closely related to the rise of modern societies. As a social institution, biography (or the “life-course”) organizes the social integration and socialization of individuals throughout the social changes in their life span. Biography also provides a cultural “schema” for the presentation and reflection of the self and the other; telling one’s life story is seen from this perspective as a mode of constructing one’s identity. Biography and education are closely reated. The theme of biography has been addressed by German pedagogy ever since its historical beginnings in the late 18th century. The discovery of the autonomous, educated, middle-class subject is rooted in that interest in biography, which also shaped the process of “biographization” of the lower social strata a century later. At the beginning of the 20th century, emergent concepts of biographical research were elaborated in various social scientific fields to investigate the dynamics and upheavals of modern societies on the basis of life histories. The postmodern criticism of the “subject,” and its instrumentalization by “governmentality” toward the end of the 20th century, has had a lasting influence on educational science as well as on biographical research, resulting in a self-reflecting turn in which basic assumptions and concepts are analyzed and “deconstructed.” There are several key problems and research perspectives in various subdisciplines of educational science in German-speaking countries, such as general educational theory, historical educational research, adult education, social pedagogy, and methodological debates on research strategies.

Article

Michael Domínguez

Emerging in the learning sciences field in the early 1990s, qualitative design-based research (DBR) is a relatively new methodological approach to social science and education research. As its name implies, DBR is focused on the design of educational innovations, and the testing of these innovations in the complex and interconnected venue of naturalistic settings. As such, DBR is an explicitly interventionist approach to conducting research, situating the researcher as a part of the complex ecology in which learning and educational innovation takes place. With this in mind, DBR is distinct from more traditional methodologies, including laboratory experiments, ethnographic research, and large-scale implementation. Rather, the goal of DBR is not to prove the merits of any particular intervention, or to reflect passively on a context in which learning occurs, but to examine the practical application of theories of learning themselves in specific, situated contexts. By designing purposeful, naturalistic, and sustainable educational ecologies, researchers can test, extend, or modify their theories and innovations based on their pragmatic viability. This process offers the prospect of generating theory-developing, contextualized knowledge claims that can complement the claims produced by other forms of research. Because of this interventionist, naturalistic stance, DBR has also been the subject of ongoing debate concerning the rigor of its methodology. In many ways, these debates obscure the varied ways DBR has been practiced, the varied types of questions being asked, and the theoretical breadth of researchers who practice DBR. With this in mind, DBR research may involve a diverse range of methods as researchers from a variety of intellectual traditions within the learning sciences and education research design pragmatic innovations based on their theories of learning, and document these complex ecologies using the methodologies and tools most applicable to their questions, focuses, and academic communities. DBR has gained increasing interest in recent years. While it remains a popular methodology for developmental and cognitive learning scientists seeking to explore theory in naturalistic settings, it has also grown in importance to cultural psychology and cultural studies researchers as a methodological approach that aligns in important ways with the participatory commitments of liberatory research. As such, internal tension within the DBR field has also emerged. Yet, though approaches vary, and have distinct genealogies and commitments, DBR might be seen as the broad methodological genre in which Change Laboratory, design-based implementation research (DBIR), social design-based experiments (SDBE), participatory design research (PDR), and research-practice partnerships might be categorized. These critically oriented iterations of DBR have important implications for educational research and educational innovation in historically marginalized settings and the Global South.

Article

Marginalized populations are by definition composed of people who have fewer possibilities and options in their lives than those studying them. This fact has to be reflected before, during, and after the research itself. There are many facets of this basic assumption. One of them is, how are marginalized perceived by the researcher? Are they helpless victims, or people who are able to tell their own stories? Another relevant detail is the personality of the researcher. When the researcher comes from outside the marginalized group, the key question is, which methodology can be best applied to give a voice to those who are marginalized? On the other hand, when the researcher is a member of the group being studied, the key question is how to achieve the distance necessary for analysis. There could be many more such relevant facets, but the quality of the final research product is partially determined by any number of decisions that are made during the planning of the research and the conducting of the research. All of these decisions have methodological consequences. There are a wide range of qualitative research approaches, such as participatory research, autoethnographic research, narrative and biographical research, or traditional qualitative research based on interviews with representatives of marginalized groups. In the early 21st century, there has been a shift away from a top-down, outsider perspective that sees the marginalized as helpless victims and toward more participatory research designs that promote and give a space to the marginalized voice. The common denominator of all these decisions is whose voice is being heard—does it belong to the marginalized group or to the outside world? Is it possible to overcome the boundaries between these two worlds? And what role does methodology play in this story?

Article

Marta Sánchez

Ethnography is about cultural representation, which implies a gaze and set of questions and assumptions about who is being represented, by whom, and what for. In this sense, ethnography always is conducted across borders where borders imply a set of differences to confront and understand, even while the ethnographer is expected to effectively overcome these through embedded practice in the field. If the enterprise of conducting these studies is always marked by border crossing, then what are the different ways in which border crossings happen in knowledge production through ethnography? How does the definition of “border” change the way ethnographic studies are performed? Potential shifts in the meaning of “borders” heightens the importance of interrogating cultural representation, the social locations that ethnographers occupy, see, and speak from, and how perspectives on cultural representation and actual representations will differ. These dynamics build up when, as here, ethnography across borders implies the presence of the nation-state, either as palimpsest or direct actor in the relations and daily lives of the community-participant in the ethnography. Borders are necessarily evoked—geopolitical, social, cultural, national, regional, global, and personal ones, such as gender, race, class, and ethnicity. Ethnography across borders emerges in this instance as a methodology and a stance to deconstruct the ways in which ethnographers and ethnographies are radically situated in their own histories, and how radical contextualization of those histories is required to understand across borders and uncover the limits of cultural representation, language, and ethnography as a tool to understand the lives of people, their histories, and communities.

Article

Making appropriate methodological and analytic decisions in educational research requires a thorough grounding in the literature and a thorough understanding of the chosen methodology. Detailed preplanning is important for all method types and includes an understanding of the assumptions, limitations, and delimitations of the study. For quantitative research, researchers should be cautious with data analysis decisions that give preference to statistically significant results, noting that quantitative research can proceed with intents other than confirmatory hypothesis testing. Decisions and procedures that are used to search for low p values, rather than answer the driving research question, are especially problematic. Presentation of quantitative results should include components that clarify and account for analytic choices, that report all relevant statistical results, and that provide sufficient information to replicate the study. Consideration should also be given to joining recent initiatives for more transparency in research with the use of preregistered studies and open data repositories. For qualitative research, researchers should be thoughtful about choosing a specific method for their project that appropriately matches the method’s framework and analytic procedures with the research aim and anticipated sample. Qualitative researchers should also strive for transparency in their method description by allowing for a view of the analytic process that drove the data collection and iterative dives into the data. Presentation of qualitative results requires a balance between providing a compelling narrative that establishes the trustworthiness of results with the judicious use of participant voices. Mixed methods research also requires appropriate integration of different data types.

Article

Lesley Bartlett and Frances Vavrus

Comparison is a valuable and widely touted analytical technique in social research, but different disciplines and fields have markedly different notions of comparison. There are at least two important logics for comparison. The first, the logic of juxtaposition, is guided by a neopositivist orientation. It uses a regularity theory of causation; it structures the study by defining cases, variables, and units of analysis a priori; and it decontextualizes knowledge. The second, the logic of tracing, engages a realist theory of causation and examines how processes unfold, influenced by actors and the meanings they make, over time, in different locations, and at different scales. These two logics of comparison lead to distinct methodological techniques. However, with either logic of comparison, three dangers merit attention: decontextualization, commensurability, and ethnocentrism. One promising research heuristic that attends to different logics of comparison while avoiding these dangers is the comparative case study (CCS) approach. CCS entails three axes of comparison. The horizontal axis encourages comparison of how similar policies and practices unfold across sites at roughly the same level or scale, for example across a set of schools or across home, school, religious institution, and community organization. The vertical axis urges comparison across micro-, meso-, and macro-levels or scales. For example, a study of bilingual education in the United States should attend not only to homes, communities, classroom, and school dynamics (the micro-level), but also to meso-level district, state, and federal policies, as well as to factors influencing international mobility at the macro-level. Finally, the transversal axis, which emphasizes change over time, urges scholars to situate historically the processes or relations under consideration.

Article

Linnea Bodén, Hillevi Lenz Taguchi, Emilie Moberg, and Carol A. Taylor

Relational materialism was first articulated and framed within Actor Network Theory. In educational research, the concept has emerged with the growing influence of Agential Realism and New Material Feminism, and in the engagements in the “turn to materiality” and/or “turn to ontology.” A relational materialist approach to educational studies can be narrowed down to three key principles: the principle of general symmetry; the principle of material semiotics; and the principle of method. The enactment of relational materialism depends on how these principles come to work in the engagement with central educational problems, such as subjectivity, performativity and practice. Relational materialism takes the starting-point in the problems and concerns of human and material actors or agents, for whom the research can make a difference. While doing so, it acknowledges the methodological difficulties and possibilities when carefully attending simultaneously to discourse, materialities and their relations. Striving towards a methodological sensibility, the enactment of relational materialism in education research entails the emergence and creation of more and multiple methods to know the multiple realities of education. This also makes it possible for relational materialist research to become productive of new and additional educational realities that can, perhaps, make an affirmative difference to the actors or agents concerned.

Article

Kathryn Roulston

Interviews are used ubiquitously in everyday life as a source of information about the social world, whether in clinical interviews, parent–teacher interviews, job interviews, or media and journalistic interviews. Likewise, researchers in education have long made use of a spectrum of interview formats to produce knowledge about research problems. Interview formats used by education researchers range from standardized survey interviews to semi-structured interviews to open-ended, conversational interviews. Broadly, data in the form of answers to questions and descriptions generated in interviews are used as evidence in a variety of ways across educational research. Yet researchers have long acknowledged the problems associated with interview research, including those to do with self-reported data, accomplishing mutual understanding, and representation of the Other. How researchers deal with these problems is directly relevant to the value attributed to interview accounts as evidence to support claims. The use to which educational researchers put interviews varies widely, particularly since they draw on a range of epistemological perspectives in their use of interviews—whether or not these are acknowledged. Neopositivist, emotionalist or romantic, constructionist, transformative, decolonizing, and new materialist approaches to interviews are founded in different epistemological assumptions about how interviews are conducted, how interview reports are used as evidence to warrant claims, and how the validity or quality of studies is judged. Although much has been written about interview practice, there are still numerous avenues to explore with respect to using the interview method in educational research.

Article

This article provides a reflection on “qualitative” research methodology and their study within the university and other educational levels and invites dialogue between paradigms and currents of thought that are identified with teaching and the methods of producing empirical information. From a critical perspective, together with the positivism of the social sciences, it argues that the node of this teaching is the process of constructing the object of study, a process that confirms the centrality of the researcher. In accordance with a theoretical-methodological focus that distinguishes the specificity of the object of the social sciences in its linguistic construction, and considering the capacity for agency of the temporarily situated actors, the researcher (also a social agent), in addition to taking on the scope and historicity of the concepts used to problematize the relationships being investigated, needs to analyze the reflexivity of his/her language, which is inscribed in the assumptions that guide his/her inquiry. In this way, research training embodies a pedagogical problematic, whereby addressing the aforementioned centrality of the construction of the object goes hand in hand with the pedagogical problematization of everyday speech. Research-in-action training constitutes the future researcher as a critical intellectual, in search of a reliable (or true) knowledge that will incorporate him/her into the scientific framework.

Article

George W. Noblit

Meta-ethnography is a very popular method for the synthesis of qualitative research. It was designed for the field of education but has been exceedingly popular in the health sciences. In education, slow growth has given way to almost furious development. Meta-ethnography is a method for synthesizing qualitative studies. Studies are identified as related to a phenomenon of interest and these are reviewed and read repeatedly, leading to both a reduction in the number of relevant studies and further specification of the phenomenon of interest. The synthesis is a translation of the complete interpretive storylines of each study into the others. There are three types of translation: reciprocal (the storylines are commensurate and reinforce each other), refutational (the storylines critique each other), and line of argument. Each study contributes something distinct to a new storyline that characterizes all the studies taken together. Effecting these translations remains a challenge for most who conduct meta-ethnographies. The work in the 21st century in education has established meta-ethnography as an interpretive and critical endeavor, moving well beyond the original proposal.

Article

Wendy Luttrell

Reflexivity can be regarded as part of a continuous research practice. Qualitative researchers work within and across social differences (e.g., cultural, class, race, gender, generation) and this requires them to navigate different layers of self-awareness—from unconscious to semiconscious to fully conscious. Because researchers can be aware on one level but not on others, reflexivity is facilitated by using an eclectic and expansive toolkit for examining the role of the researcher, researcher-researched relationships, power, privilege, emotions, positionalities, and different ways of seeing. Over the past fifty years, there has been a progression of reflexive practice as well as disciplinary debates about how much self-awareness and transparency are enough and how much is too much. The shift can be traced from the early practitioners of ethnography who did not reflect on their positions, power or feelings (or at least make these reflections public), to those who acknowledged that their emotions could be both revealing and distorting, to those who interrogated their multiple positionalities (mostly in terms of the blinders of Western/race/class/gender/generation), to those calling for the mixing and blurring of different genres of representation as important tools of reflexivity. Reflexivity is not a solitary process limited to critical self-awareness, but derives from a collective ethos and humanizes rather than objectifies research relationships and the knowledge that is created.