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Qualitative research is an approach which consists of various research methods in the context of education. Qualitative research involves the investigation of peopleВ’s views, experience or opinion about a topic to build a convincing body of knowledge and to enhance educational practices. Ary, Cheser, Irvine, and Walker (2015) suggest that qualitative research relates to the terms as post-positivistic, subjective, and ethnographic. According to McMillan and Gogia (2017), education researchers focus on the social science that emphasizes the use of qualitative data collection methods such as observations, focus groups, interviews, and document analysis to understand phenomena under study. Multitude beliefs, opinions, and ideas generated during the qualitative research make it an appropriate method for data collection in education. According to Delamont and Jones (2012), qualitative evidence when analyzed rigorously makes it possible to expose and to uncover hidden patterns. However, several issues concerning data collection in qualitative research, specifically sample size, bias, and ethical concerns, may threaten the quality of information and validity of the study.
The qualitative study allows a researcher to explore an issue in depth. However, researchers may face challenges in determining the scope, depth, and breadth of data collection process. The gathered data depend on the size of the sample. Cleary, Horsfall, and Hayter (2014) outline four principles that should define the selection of the participants in qualitative research. These principles include small samples to ensure the information is studied intensively, sequential selection rather than predetermine, and purposeful selection process based on theoretical frameworks. By following these principles, researchers guarantee that they select the participants that will provide accurate, hard, and extensive data to provide a convincing account of the phenomena under study.
The sample size plays a central role in qualitative research. Determining how many people should be interviewed is thoughtful decision-making. A large sample may produce a superficial or huge volume of data which may not be conducive to in-depth analysis whereas few participants may distort the results. Qualitative researchers should assure that their sample size helps them to generate quality data. After a researcher determines its size, another issue arises В– when it is time to stop gathering data. According to Alshenqeeti (2014), ceasing interviewing or gathering information with any other method depends on the informational redundancy or saturation. Researchers achieve redundancy saturation when they have thoroughly examined the entire question and when the participants do not generate new themes or concepts in the subsequent interviews (Trotter, 2012). A researcher conducts various interviews and gathers data until the respondents reiterate each otherВ’s views or ideas. According to Cleary, Horsfall, and Hayte (2014), the principles of appropriateness, adequacy and analytical redundancy help the researchers to determine when to stop gathering data. Qualitative researchers face inevitable challenges in determining the number of people to recruit in their study and the stage at which to cease interviewing. It is vital to comprehend when the further study will not generate new ideas.
The growing use of focus groups is another issue related to sample size in qualitative research. In focus groups, researchers gather data through open discussions which are based on a particular product. Qualitative researchers must use more than one focus group to obtain sufficiently extensive information. Cleary, Horsfall, and Hayter (2014) recommend forming from 3 to 5 focus groups to facilitate an adequate process of collecting relevant data. This method of qualitative research fosters interaction among participants. Active discussions will enable exploration, reciprocation, and elaboration of ideas which may not occur in face-to-face interviews. In fact, the quality of data depends on the characteristics of individuals involved in the focus groups and their knowledge of the subject. Inappropriate use of focus groups may lead to the accumulation of inaccurate or unreliable data, particularly on sensitive topics. Additionally, a qualitative researcher must guide the discussion to ensure that one person does not dominate and influence other respondentsВ’ ideas (Trotter, 2012). The researchers should think carefully how many people should participate in the discussion in order to optimize the process and to receive credible results.
Data in qualitative research is subject to biases displayed by people who are involved both in collecting the information and in providing it. Bias inhibits impartial judgment and threatens the quality of responses. According to Sanjari et al. (2014), qualitative studies do not provide explicit methodologies to assess and to prevent researchersВ’ bias. Most of the qualitative researchers face a dilemma of trying to be objective and unbiased. They cannot use traditional approaches to address bias and credibility. Ary et al. (2015) outline three methods employed by qualitative researchers to prevent bias. First, some researchers use bracketing to identify their views on the research topic and to discard them to avoid biases. Secondly, others reduce bias through inter-rater reliability of member checks which involves requesting others to view their data. The third method used to avoid bias is triangulation which requires the use of multiple sources to create an accurate picture of the phenomena under study. These methods help researchers to question their views and opinions about the topics.
Data collection methods used in qualitative research result in a text production which is subject to bias. Sanjari et al. (2014) point out that qualitative research is characterized by words rather than numbers. In general, it resembles an extended data collection. Sutton and Austin (2015) assert that bias is a significant issue for a qualitative researcher who uses interviews to generate data for the study. Qualitative researchers develop study-specific questions for the interviews to guide their research. They avoid using pre-established questionnaires. The questions should be open-ended to ensure that respondents share their views with little or no limitations. Investigators use them when they want to discover what the affected people know about the topic. On the contrary, researchers use close-ended questions in a confirmatory type of study to prove or to test a hypothesis (Garci?a-Pen?a, Gutie?rrez & Pe?rez-Zepeda, 2015). Thus, qualitative questions are the instruments through which data for the studies could be processed. In qualitative research, an investigator influences the process of collecting information. He/she establishes the methods with which they construct the realities. Background, skills, and knowledge of both interviewers and interviewees influence profoundly the outcome of the research.
The role played by the qualitative researchers raises concerns regarding bias. Noble and Smith (2017) assert that qualitative research lacks scientific rigor due to poor methods of data collection and findings based on personal opinions and biases. Demonstrating rigor when collecting data in qualitative studies is challenging due to the lack of standards by which the instruments should be judged. According to Alshenqeeti (2014), an investigator as an instrument for data collection threatens the trustworthiness in qualitative studies if an adequate amount of time is not spent to prepare the study. The challenges which an investigator should resolve at the personal level might jeopardize the quality and accuracy of the findings. According to Delamont and Jones (2012), researchers may have preconceived ideas about the information they are going to find in their study. They may unconsciously phrase the research questions in a way that increases the chances of the participants providing the expected answer. Preconceived notions interfere with the objective interpretation of the data. The opportunity for the investigators to inject their ideas is higher when the methods, such as observations and open-ended questions, provide less structured responses from respondents. An investigator may analyze the data according to their knowledge of the topic rather than the participantsВ’ responses. A researcher may conduct inappropriate interviews or fail to prepare adequately for field research which may introduce bias.
Other potential reasons for the emergence of researchersВ’ bias in qualitative research include researcherВ’s discomfort or mental problems which may deteriorate the truth value of data and information obtained from analyses. Similarly, the study participants may have biases about either the topic or the researcher. In addition, they may not be willing to disclose their feelings, views, or ideas. Moreover, the affinity that the investigators have with the respondents can cause bias (Garci?a-Pen?a, Gutie?rrez & Pe?rez-Zepeda, 2015). When an investigator belongs to the community under the study, he/she can be less interested in the topic. Their background may limit their curiosity forcing them to uncover what they think they do not know rather than to conduct interviews in a manner that will help discover everything in their area of study, including the issues that they have not considered when planning the study.
Qualitative researchers use a pilot study to test questionnaires and to identify potential bias. Pilot study helps researchers to define the areas that need adjustment and to guarantee that they conduct a quality study. It shows whether the interview protocols or data collection instrument are appropriate. According to Vogel and Draper-Rodi (2017), a well-conducted pilot study helps investigators to address the issues. It provides them with an opportunity to ask for feedback to identify and to discard difficult and ambiguous questions. A pilot study helps researchers to transform any questions so that they do not impact the interviewees. It is vital that the audience does not respond to the question only to meet research objective. However, pilot studies are not practical in some qualitative studies, particularly when participants are limited and when an investigator does not want to value respondentsВ’ time. The researchers may not be in a position to conduct a pilot study to identify the issues because it requires the institutional review board (IRB) approval.
Interviewing an investigator can remedy issues that arise in a pilot study because it does not depend on IRB approval. By using this approach, an investigator assumes the role of the respondent and enlists an expert to conduct an interview. He/she reviews the responses to examine whether the information generated via the questions are objective. This approach helps a researcher to identify personal feelings that may arise during data collection and to make overt views that might bias an investigator in the study (Alshenqeeti, ?2014). However, interviewing the investigator may not help to identify their genuine biases. The researchers may have difficulties in utilizing questions effectively and may be unable to distinguish the problems in the data collection.
ResearchersВ’ bias in a qualitative study can be viewed from ethical or unethical perspectives. The ethical perspective is the recognition that researchersВ’ attitudes and knowledge create a lens that influences how data are gathered and analyzed. ResearchersВ’ bias does not introduce any hidden motive but recognition that people view and interpret similar phenomena differently. The unethical perspective suggests that researchersВ’ bias influences the instrument of data collection to correspond to individual objectives which are not ethical (Delamont & Jones, 2012). Investigators should strive toward an objective data collection.
Bias in the data collection research threatens internal validity of the findings. Another source of threat to validity in a qualitative study relates to the Hawthorne effect which affects the quality of data gathered (McCambridge, Witton & Elbourne, 2014). In fact, study participants tend to change their behavior and to provide responses they think a researcher expects. This attitude may threaten the validity of the study. It means that the participants respond to the attention a researcher gives them. The awareness of being observed or studied affects respondentsВ’ behavior which may lead to the generation of unreliable and inaccurate data.
The interaction between researchers and participants is ethically challenging for the investigator. Qualitative researchers face ethical dilemmas related to the misrepresentations, the establishment of open interactions, and the respect for privacy. Some of the ethical concerns belong to informed consent, confidentiality, and anonymity. According to Peter (2015), qualitative researchers lack clear standards which could govern their activities. Qualitative researchers should create an acceptable balance when trying to maintain privacy and to identify information that may be damaging to the participants. The majority of the qualitative research involves interactions with people from different backgrounds. As a result, a researcher should know how to develop a healthy rapport with study participants in order to gain their trust. When they manage to develop trust, the target group may share sensitive issues more willingly. For instance, in the process of conducting interviews with a participant who knows that his/her answers remain confidential, an investigator may learn that a respondent plans to commit a suicide due to depression. In such a controversial case, a researcher faces an ethical dilemma on whether to break the promise because the consequences might be grave. There are no clear guidelines on the measures that an investigator should take when he/she should make a decision in similar situations. Delamont and Jones (2012) note that several organizations offer guidelines about ethical standards that should guide researchers, but many of them have not yet been enforced. The lack of enforcement of ethical standards for qualitative research makes it difficult for the investigators to gather data ethically.
Education researchers may consciously or unconsciously violate the code of ethics. Research in education is monitored with the ethical standards set by the American Educational Research Association, review boards, and guidelines provided by school systems (Miller, 2012). However, applying ethical standards remain a challenge to qualitative studies in education because they were initially developed for a scientific research (MCmillan & Gogia, 2017). The researchers should respond to the issues of anonymity and confidentiality. Although qualitative researchers promise the participantsВ’ privacy, it is not possible to maintain it in all situations. For instance, in educational research, it is not possible to disguise the identity of the school. A researcher may not gather identifying information, but ethical issues may arise when the setting for data collection is revealed.
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According to Miller (2012), the IRB which was established in the 1970s provides ethical standards for monitoring research that aims at human beings as the participants. However, the majority of the qualitative studies differ from a traditional research. The IRB lacks adequate skills and knowledge to evaluate data collection methods in qualitative research. Proposals for qualitative research lack the specific questions to be used to gather data, and thus some review boards find it difficult to determine whether a violation of participantsВ’ rights will occur. Miller (2012) asserts that some boards struggle with finding ways to accommodate qualitative research. Moreover, there are different ethical frameworks towards the principles of justice, beneficence, and respect for an individual.
Qualitative research is essential for uncovering individualsВ’ experiences and generating knowledge about phenomena under the study. However, it focuses on the objective findings due to biases of both researchers and respondents. Detecting biases and maintaining anonymity play a crucial role in gathering reliable and valid data. Qualitative researchers also face an ethical dilemma in gathering data due to the reliance on traditional methods that are based on scientific research and lack of clear ethical guidelines from the IRB. Data collection issues are inevitable, but researchers can minimize their effects on the quality of the data and validity of the study by taking into account the sample size, their knowledge of the topic, and participantsВ’ privacy.
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