Trochim, Research Methods Knowledge Base.
Trochim (2006) champions qualitative research as a method to develop new ideas and study phenomena in great detail and understanding. As a tradeoff, qualitative research is not generalizable as opposed to experimental studies, and qualitative research finds much greater difficulty receiving funding. This is due to the tendancy for that time frames in qualitative research to be much more nebulous, and research questions more likely to change with time.
However, Trochim (2006) also notes that in many cases, there is little real difference between qualitative and quantitative research. Qualitative data can usually be coded quantitatively, and many supposed purely quantitative surveys use Lichert-scale measures that involve participants making qualitative judgments. Trochim claims a main difference between the two methods is that qualitative researchers are far more concerned about the context of the phenomena being studied, while quantitative researchers look for the ability to generalize.
One other main difference Trochim (2006) claims between quantitative and qualitative research is that the traditional concept of validity and reliability is in some ways irrelevant to qualitative research. Trochim instead lists a number of similar concepts: credibility, transferability, dependability, and reliability. Interestingly, credibility is a measurement from the subjects’ perspective on whether research outcomes are believable. Transferability is related to quantitative generalizability: can the conclusions be used in other contexts, or only in this specific context. Dependability, a cousin to quantitative reliability, looks at whether outcomes are likely repeatable. Confirmability speaks “to the degree to which the results could be confirmed or corroborated by others” (Trochim, 2006).
Four main approaches exist to conduct qualitative research: ethnography, phenomenology, field research, and grounded theory (Trochim, 2006). Ethnography involves researchers immersing themselves in the culture or phenomenon to be studied and gather data from direct observation and interviews. In the Phenomenology approach, researchers investigate subjects’ subjective experiences. Field research comprises researchers examining phenomena firsthand. Grounded theory appears the most complex; after generating research questions, preliminary data is gathered and analyzed. This data is used to generate new questions to focus further data; this eventually leads to the development of theories regarding many integrated sets of data and viewpoints.
Qualitative data exists in three main forms: transcripts or recordings of interviews, direct observations, and existing documents. The methods used to collect this data are also varied. Participant observation involves the researcher becoming involved and accepted in the native culture; this method is tied closely to the ethnographic approach. Direct observation is distinct from participant observation in that the researcher is solely an observer. Unstructured interviews in another method used; these interviews involve the researcher modifying questions based off of subjects’ answers. Finally, case studies are often used to look at phenomena in a specific context.
In Trochim’s (2006) description of qualitative research, one yet unmentioned theme runs throughout. Trochim claims that many qualitative researches are dubious that there is any one reality that exists; instead each person’s perceptions color their own reality, and no reality is the true reality.
Questions for discussion:
- Do you think that each person’s perceptions define their own reality or context? Is there one true reality?
- How important is context in educational settings?
- K-12: Assume well-planned intervention program for students at risk for the CAHSEE was implemented with pure fidelity at two schools, would it have similar results at Clovis West High School and McLane High School?
- 13+: Assume a new research-based basic skills program was mandated for all community colleges. If implemented with fidelity, would it have similar results at COS and Reedley College?
- What is the difference in my thought pattern if I choose an 8 or a 9 on a 10 point scale? Is the difference truly quantitative?
- Why do you think most educational research funds go to experimental research?
- Have you conducted interviews that were unstructured in any setting? If so, was it more comfortable or less so?