Qualitative Research Characteristics

Qualitative research is rooted in social disciplines, and therefore relies heavily on verbal descriptions of participant’s experiences “to capture the human meaning of social life as it is lived, experienced and understood by the participants.”
The major characteristics of qualitative research as listed in table 6.2 of Gay and Airasian’s text are:

Naturalistic inquiry – This involves studying real-world situations without interfering or manipulating the participants, and observing what takes place and accepting the facts as they unfold. This is exactly in line with my own philosophy of how research must be obtained and used if it is to be of any value whatsoever.

Inductive analysis – In immersing oneself in the details of the unfolding data, so as to discover otherwise hidden dimensions and interrelationships and examine open questions (rather than simply testing a hypothesis), this characteristic of qualitative research appeals to me as a refreshing way to look at how we gain insight. To examine the actual experience, rather than simply collecting dry facts, is a refreshing approach to learning.

Holistic perspective – Not surprisingly, this refers to examining the whole phenomenon, as a complex system. According to Gay and Airasian, “Focus is on the complex interdependencies not meaningfully reduced to a few discrete variables and linear, cause-effect relationships.”

Qualitative data – Such data is described in the text as “detailed, thick description.” The emphasis is on detailed inquiry, and relies on direct quotations from participants, giving insight into their perspectives and experiences.

Personal contact and insight- In getting close to your research subjects, your own personal insights and experiences must inform and guide you in the interpretation of the data you are collecting. It’s a rare instance when personality – both that of the subject and the researcher – informs and helps form the basis of understanding the experience being examined. It challenges me to be actively engaged with my subjects, while at the same time requiring me to maintain some objectivity, albeit filtered through my own perspective, to arrive at the actual meaning of the experience(s) being researched.

Dynamic systems – This characteristic of qualitative research refers to the study of process, assuming that change is constant, whether what is under study is an individual or a group dynamic.

Unique case orientation – Each individual case is valued and closely examined, with the concept of capturing the details of the case(s) being paramount. Cross case analysis is the next step, and it is therefore critical to maintain a high quality in recording the data of each unique case.

Context sensitivity – These individual cases will have to be folded into a broader spectrum, and cross checked against a broad mosaic of the perspectives of other people who had that same experience. This provides a sense of social, historical and temporal context. The result is to place the findings in a specific and detailed framework.

Empathetic neutrality – If, as the text states, “complete objectivity is impossible, and pure subjectivity undermines credibility,” then I must neither dispassionately disassociate from my subjects, nor attempt to use the qualitative research process to arrive at predetermined conclusions. I must simply accept the data as it is presented to me and seek to understand its meaning.

Design flexibility – It is essential to retain the ability to adapt and remold the inquiry as an understanding and new insights are gained in collecting the data. In this way, it remains possible to examine new areas of learning as they present themselves.
Educator Emily Calhoun has her own definition of the process. “Action research is a fancy way of saying let’s study what’s happening at our school and decide how to make it a better place.” In short, action research

“Casual-comparative educational research attempts to identify a causative relationship between an independent variable and a dependent variable,” according to Professor John Wassen of Minnesota State University. It differs from experiment research in that the researcher does not have complete control over the independent variable. Casual-comparative research therefore suggests rather than proves a relationship between these variables. An example of such a study would be an examination of the social interaction of impoverished students as compared to affluent students. The independent variable would be the student’s wealth. The dependent variable would be social interaction, which would be measured by a trained observer seeking to identify several social behaviors observed during recesses during a two week period. To eliminate any bias in these observations, it would be wise to conduct the study in a school with a rigid school uniform policy, thus minimizing clothing as a factor.

An experimental research study, according to Gay and Airasian, can be defined as being “guided by at least one hypothesis that states an expected casual relationship between two variables. The experiment is conducted to confirm (support) or disconfirm the experimental hypothesis.” The researcher “selects the groups, decides what treatment will go to which group, controls extraneous variables, and measures the effect of the treatment at the end of the studyâÂ?¦ The researcher makes every effort to ensure that the two groups start out as equivalently as possible on all variables except the independent variableâÂ?¦ After the groups have been exposed to the treatment for some period, the researcher collects data on the dependent variable and determines whether there is a real or significant difference between their performances.”

It is this particular approach that would, ideally, suit my purposes in my research topic. My hypothesis would be, “The inclusion of regular art instruction in Fourth Grader’s curriculum results in higher rates of attendance, greater student enjoyment of schooling and higher grades and scholastic achievement test scores.” I would employ a quasi-experimental approach. In a quasi-experimental research approach, as defined by Professor M. Dereshiwsky of Northern Arizona State University, “you randomly draw intact groups and then flip a coin or use some other random procedure to assignâÂ?¦ (such groups to) treatment or control…” I would randomly select six classes of Fourth Graders from the Los Angeles Public School District, three of which would receive regular art instruction for a period of one semester; the other three classes would receive no such art instruction, thus making them the control group for comparative purposes. At the end of the semester, I would compare attendance records, grades and achievement test scores, providing a quantitative research basis for my conclusions, and augmented by qualitative interviews with students from both groups. By this method, I am confident that I could prove or disprove my initial hypothesis.

Gay, L.R. and Airasian, (2003), Educational Research: Competencies for Analysis and
Application, Merrill Prentice Hall, 201, 205, 368, 369, 593

Wasson, John, (2003), Casual-Comparative Research, Minnesota State University, Ed
603, Lesson 12, http://www.mnstate.edu/wasson/ed603/ed603lesson12.html

Calhoun, Emily, (1994), How is Action Research Defined?, Florida Atlantic University
College of Education, http://www.coe.fau.edu/sfcel/define/.html

Dereshiwsky, M., (1998), Introduction to Research, Northern Arizona University, EDR
610, Lesson 4-1-1, http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~mid/edr610/class/design/part1/4-1-1.html

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