Part 1: A Comparison of Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods
Part 2: Methodologies for my Final Assignment
Dana E. K. Bjornson (neé Allingham)
The University of British Columbia
8 March 2015
Before conducting research of any kind, researchers of all experience levels need to contemplate many considerations ranging from what topics are worth investigating, to what specific questions are worth asking. Further refining this process will lead to the ultimate question: will the study be best suited for a quantitative or qualitative research approach? The purpose of this paper is twofold. After contrasting the quantitative and qualitative approaches taken in two research studies, I will then outline which research methodology is more appropriate and/or more appealing for my final research proposal.
Keywords: quantitative research, qualitative research
Part One: Descriptive Analysis and Critique
The studies provided for this critique serve as excellent examples of the differences found between quantitative and qualitative research methods. The quantitative study “Can Instructional and Emotional Support in the First-Grade Classroom Make a Difference for Children at Risk of School Failure?” (Hamre & Pianta, 2005) investigates how specific characteristics of a first-grade class can impact identified, at-risk students’ success in their classrooms. The qualitative study “Developing Teacher Epistemological Sophistication About Multicultural Curriculum: A Case Study” (Sleeter, 2009) focuses on a second-year teacher as she takes a course designed to increase the complexity with which new teachers develop multicultural curriculum.
For the quantitative study, the researchers opted to use a truly experimental design in which initially 1,364 newborns were randomly selected from 5,416 potential families. More specifically, the design utilized a pretest-posttest control group format which was particularly important so that the researchers could establish a baseline for the children’s previous performance in achievement and relational functioning. Although pretest-treatment interaction effects can be an issue with this design, it is highly doubtful that such an effect would occur in this study because the “treatment” had the participants perform their usual, daily routines with their regular, classroom teacher. As the researchers pointed out, a notable limitation of their study was that they relied on an existing set of test results and consequently they were unable to tailor the questions to address their specific research questions. However, given the massive scope of this study that involved observing over 800 classrooms, the researchers’ utilizing these data was both practical and justifiable.
In the qualitative study, the researcher defends using a case study format to examine teachers’ “unique and complex” similarities because one “cannot fully understand shared patterns without seeing the uniqueness of individual cases” (Sleeter, p. 52). Having only one subject to observe, interview, and analyze, the researcher found it possible to conduct a highly in-depth study, one which provided the researcher with many opportunities to extract a wealth of information that other study formats could not provide. Of course, the trade-off for this level of detail is that the external validity is compromised in that the results are not necessarily generalizable to the wider population. “Researcher bias” may have filtered into the researcher’s journals, as she was also the participant’s professor during the study. Ultimately, although the results may lack external validity, I believe that the case study still has considerable merit as it could be used to launch further studies in this area that may be conducted in a more generalizable manner.
Quantitative Research versus Qualitative Research
Description of Research Problem. Although both studies provided specific descriptions of variables, the quantitative study did so in a much more thorough manner, utilizing multiple citations for every point presented.
Selection and Assignment of Participants. Quantitative selection of participants originally involved over 9,000 potential participants; through a criteria-based and randomly generated process, that number was reduced to 910. For the qualitative study, the researcher had a pre-established list of criteria to determine which participant would be best suited for her study.
Reporting of Literature. As with the description of the research problem, the reporting of the literature played a major role in the quantitative design. At times, there were up to six citations that reinforced a single point! This was not the case for the qualitative study. The researcher in that study employed minimal citations, although the researcher made an effort to justify the problem.
Data Collection, Analysis, Procedures and Instruments. For the quantitative study, the researchers, utilizing three different, well-established, standardized tests, went to great lengths to determine the risk levels of each participant. They utilized test-retest reliability, as well as analysis of covariance (ANCOVA). They presented clear graphs and tables of results, as numerical relationships among variables are a key component of a quantitative study. For the qualitative study, the researcher utilized a self-designed, heuristic rubric to assess the participant’s epistemological beliefs. The researcher’s journal was also a key vehicle to detect patterns in her student’s development. As well, throughout the qualitative study, the researcher relies upon assignments, conversations and reflections made by the participant that clearly demonstrated that shifts in her practice were taking place. Although the quantitative study technically spanned up to six years, the researchers utilized data that had already been collected by other researchers, making its duration relatively short compared to the duration of the qualitative study, which spanned a university semester, and into the participant’s teaching semester.
Reporting of Conclusions. The researchers in the quantitative study used further multiple citations to back up the results from their own study. As well, they fully acknowledged the limitations of their study, and proceeded to make recommendations for further studies. It is obvious that every effort was made to report the conclusions in an unbiased manner; on the other hand, in the qualitative study, the researcher drew from her own personal teaching experiences within the context of the conclusion. At one point, Sleeter remarks that the case study “reinforced” (p. 58) her previous viewpoints, indicating that she began this study with her own, established belief system. Essentially, the qualitative study touches on the same concepts within its conclusion; however, it is much more skeletal than the quantitative design, and researcher bias was evident.
Part Two: Methodologies for my Final Assignment
These two studies clearly exemplify the key characteristics of qualitative and quantitative research. Even though both styles of research are thorough, they are thorough in very different ways. The quantitative study comes across as the friend who always has to prove himself or herself, yet is not afraid to admit when he or she is “wrong.” Numerous citations and extensive numerical analyses, complemented by objective conclusions, make this type of research both appealing and frightening to my inexperienced, researching eye. Although I am confident in my ability to research the related literature, producing a study that is both internally and externally valid will be daunting because of a multitude of validity threats, such as the non-randomized nature of the selection of participants, issues surrounding multiple-treatment and pretest-treatment interactions, and the heavy reliance on self-reporting of data in my proposed research question.
On the other hand, the qualitative study comes across as one’s closest friend, one who shares his or her most intimate secrets with you and whom you know very well. Will all friends in one’s circle be identical to that one person? Of course not; however, the type of information retrieved can be so enriched that a skilled qualitative researcher, over an extended period of time and with the right participant(s), can offer insights of great value that can often be generalized to restricted populations. As a rookie researcher, I find this type of research unquestionably less daunting. Since the research problems are more exploratory, the goal is to generate a hypothesis, as opposed to testing one. The experience of immersing myself at ground zero will also lend itself to my being able to craft better research topics and questions, whether they are qualitative or quantitative in nature.
My Research Question and Purpose
Purpose. The purpose of this study is to identify sources of anxiety in Grade 10 Mathematics classes and to examine how “gifted” and “non-gifted” math students respond to anxiety-reducing techniques within the span of their Mathematics 10 course.
Research Questions. What are the causes or triggers specific-to-math anxiety in Grade 10 students? How does exposure to anxiety-reducing techniques affect perceived anxiety levels after testing has occurred? Are there differences in how anxiety-reducing techniques affect the levels of math anxiety in “gifted” and “non-gifted” students?
My Plan for my Final Assignment
For my study, I intend to do a “mixed methods” approach that combines both qualitative and quantitative processes. Utilising a quasi-experimental, non-equivalent control group design that monitors students’ anxiety levels, I will also have a subset of the students undergo a series of reflections and both structured and unstructured interviews. The rationale is that I will be better able to pinpoint the causes of students’ anxieties by utilizing a qualitative approach, and that the interviews can also serve as “anxiety coaching” opportunities that teach individuals how to self-manage their anxieties. Even though I am apprehensive about navigating the complexities of experimental research, I think it is important to take “baby steps” into this area and, essentially, to practice what I preach by allowing myself to take risks in my own learning.
Hamre, B. K. & Pianta, R. C. (2005). Can instructional and emotional support in the first-grade classroom make a difference for children at risk of school failure? In L. R. Gay, G. E. Mills, & P. W. Airasian, Educational research: Competencies for analysis and applications (10th ed.). Harlow, Essex: Pearson. Pp. 33 – 50.
Sleeter, C. (2009). Developing teacher epistemological sophistication about multicultural curriculum: A case study. In L. R. Gay, G. E. Mills, & P. W. Airasian, Educational research: Competencies for analysis and applications (10th ed.). Harlow, Essex: Pearson. Pp. 51 – 59.