Teaching and learning in Applied Communicative Skills

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CHAPTER 3 RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY

Introduction

This chapter describes and discusses the qualitative and quantitative methodology used to conduct this study and the methods used in the research process. The chapter also consists of the development of the research design. A sequential exploratory mixed methods research design was used. Procedures by which the data were generated and analyzed are described.

Research paradigm

This study is essentially qualitative in its nature. The decision to adopt a qualitative methodology to this study has been informed by several reasons. Firstly, the aim of qualitative research is to illuminate an experience or understanding for others, but, unlike quantitative research, not to generalize from it (Mutch, 2005:229). Although the study is essentially qualitative, some elements of quantitative analysis are used in the questionnaire that was circulated to the students. This action was informed by various reasons, chief among them being the fact that qualitative and quantitative enquiry can support and inform each other. Narratives and variable-driven analyses need to interpenetrate and complement each other to create what Mutch (2005:229) terms a “hybrid vigor”. To this end, most of the content is more inclined toward the qualitative research components.

The Qualitative strand

Bogdan and Biklen (2003:127) define five features of qualitative research which help put this debate into perspective. The features are as follows:
Qualitative research has actual setting as the direct source of data and the researcher is the key instrument.
Qualitative research is descriptive. The written results of the research contain quotations from the data to illustrate and substantiate the presentation.
Qualitative researchers are concerned with process rather than simply with outcome or products.
Qualitative researchers tend to analyze their data inductively. They do not search out data or evidence to prove or disprove hypotheses they hold before entering the study, rather through emergent data collection, they are constructing a picture that takes a particular shape.
Qualitative researchers are concerned with what are called participant perspectives. How different people make sense of their lives is their major interest.
Brennan, Frazer and Burns (2000) suggest that qualitative reports are not presented as statistical summations, but rather in a more descriptive style. They also suggest that the close connection between qualitative research and teaching might inspire educators to become involved in research so that the results of studies might lead more expediently into new decisions for action. This adds further weight to my decision to use a qualitative methodology.
Using the qualitative approach together with elements of the quantitative methods research approach provided the researcher with the opportunity to capture the details of a situation and add depth and context to the quantitative results. This mixed methods approach proved beneficial because it allowed the researcher to draw from the strengths of the quantitative approaches (that is to say the larger sample sizes, prediction, and generalizability) and qualitative approaches (that is description, depth, and conceptualized findings), and it “minimizes the weakness of doing one-method studies” (Johnson & Onweugbuzie, 2004). Mixed method approaches are needed to extend and deepen understandings. Gardner (2009:142) notes several strengths of mixed methods research which state as follows:
They help to clarify and explain relationships between variables, they allow researchers to explore the relationships in depth, and they can help to confirm or cross-validate relationships discovered between variables. A quantitative study can identify if relationships exist between variables, but doing a mixed methods study adds the qualitative piece to help the researcher understand why the relationships exist (Gardner, 2009:142).
Creswell and Clark (2007) also agree that through the use of the mixed method approach, researchers can test theoretical models and modify them based on participant feedback. They outline five rationales for the convenience of conducting mixed methods research as follows:
Triangulation
Complementarity
Initiation, which is discovering paradoxes and contradictions that can lead to a reframing of the research questions.
Development, which is using the findings from one method to assist in informing the other method.
Expansion, which is seeking to expand the breadth and length of research by using different methods for different enquiry components.
Incumbents were observed unawares so as to catch them in their natural habitat where reactions were not stage-managed or influenced as it is important to be opportunistic and use the best-fit method. According to Mutch (2005:58) it is a known factor that the “Hawthorne effect” may set in. This is a phenomenon which presents itself when participants know and are aware that they are being evaluated and may respond by increasing their effort or altering their behavior. While it was important for me to become a participatory observer there was the danger of losing objectivity in interpretation of data as bias is likely to set in.

The exploratory nature of qualitative research

In the study, an exploratory sequential design was utilized. This is a two-phase design which starts with the collection and analysis of quantitative data. This first phase is then followed by the collection and analysis of qualitative data. The second phase of the study is designed in such a way that it follows from or connects to the results from the first phase. The strengths of the exploratory study are that it is considered the most straightforward of the mixed methods designs. The exploratory method also offered a number of advantages to this research. The structure, according to Creswell and Clark (2007:69) allows for one kind of data collection at a time. The final report can then be written in two phases, making it both straightforward to write and easy for readers to follow.
While there are many advantages to implementing an exploratory study, there are challenges to be aware of as well. The design does require time to implement, the qualitative phase often requiring more time than the quantitative phase. The researcher also needs to decide whether or not to use the same individuals for both phases, to draw individuals from the same population for the two phases, or to use individuals from the same sample for both phases. The existing study used individuals drawn from the same setting but belonging to different sections of the population community for the two phases. While students were used for the quantitative phase, the qualitative phase comprised of lecturers’ perceptions.

The interpretive nature of qualitative research

This study is largely interpretive in character. This, according to Maykut & Morehouse, (1994:178) means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them. Meaning is tied to a specific setting and population and therefore changes over time. Qualitative analysis can also be defined as iterative in that theories emerge as data is collected and they should therefore be tested, refined, and retested against new information until explanations are repetitive (Maykut & Morehouse, 1994:178)
Data analysis of a qualitative study is “a ‘non-mathematical analytical procedure” in which the researcher examines the meanings of people’s words and actions (Maykut & Morehouse, 1994:178). The approach that best suited my study was one which the two authors describe as:
…an ‘interpretive-descriptive’ approach. Here, the researcher selects and interprets the data and weaves descriptions, participants’ words, raw data from the observation notes and the recordings, and his/her own interpretations into a rich and believable descriptive narrative (Maykut & Morehouse, 1994:178).
The data would be used to generate and evaluate theories and generalizations. At the same time I assumed that beneath the outer surface of reality lie social deeper structures or links. The surface reality only partially reflects what goes on unseen beneath the surface.
As Holliday (2001:249) succinctly puts it:
…events on the surface are “outcroppings”. We cannot observe a loving relationship for example we can only see its outward manifestation through a kiss, specific deeds and acts of kindness. Likewise we cannot directly observe a social trait like enhanced performance. We can see its outward signs in differences in how people conduct themselves, their chore enthusiasm and career assumptions and so forth. Qualitative data analysis will ensure that we are not misled by outward observation but that we reflect the deeper structures and forces that lie unseen beneath the surface.
In the data reduction process, the researcher balanced the presentation of data and analysis so as to avoid an excessive separation of data from analysis referred to in research terminology as the “error of segregation” (Holliday, 2001:97). According to Holliday (2001) this happens when the data is separated from analysis so much that the link is lost and it becomes difficult for the readers to see the connection. Collecting data more than once offered the opportunity of refining the developing theories as well as testing any hypothesis that grew from the data.
Qualitative methodology also fits the theoretical grounding of my research in constructivism. In this study, the researcher’s interpretation is just one of many possibilities and throughout the data collecting phase, the researcher and the participants jointly construct knowledge. Denzin and Lincoln (2000:164) point out that there is no single interpretive truth that qualitative interpretations of research data are constructed. They also comment on the multi-method focus of qualitative research by stressing that “the use of multiple methods, or triangulation, reflects an attempt to secure an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon in question” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000:164).

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 The phenomenological approach

Thomas (1998) suggests that the choice of an investigative method depends on the nature of the particular question the investigator hopes to answer. In this study, the aim to ascertain the extent to which class size impacts on achievement in the mainstream classroom determines that the most appropriate methodology is one from the interpretive paradigm.
Achieving the aims of this study required the ability to access the experience of the participants. To accomplish this, a phenomenological approach was chosen. Patton (1990), states that phenomenological studies have become an important research method, especially in instances when one needs to understand specific phenomena in depth. Bogdan and Biklen (2003:23) concur with this assertion by Patton (1990) and add that:
Researchers in the phenomenological approach do not assume they know what things mean to the people they are studying but attempt to gain entry into the conceptual world of their subjects in order to understand how and what meaning they construct around events in their daily lives .
They believe that multiple ways of interpreting experiences are available to each of us through interacting with others.
Although this section is normally referred to as “analysis”, the tools used in this phase could be seen as tools of interpretation and condensation and specifically as a process of synthesizing as Holliday (2001:98) refers to it. Researchers such as Holliday (2001) believe that the true test of a competent qualitative researcher comes in the analysis of the data, a process that requires analytical craftsmanship and the ability to capture an understanding of the data in writing. In showing the workings of the data it is also vital to display an understanding of design logic. This entails fitting the analysis procedures with the methodological position of the study, then consistently and coherently managing the analysis according to the principles of study design.
In this section I assumed a holistic perspective and searched for themes shedding light on the case which may also include cross-case analysis. The whole phenomenon under study could only be understood as a complex system that is more than the sum of its parts. This meant placing focus and emphasis on complex interdependencies that could not be meaningfully reduced to a few discrete variables. Being true to, respecting and capturing the details of the individual cases that were studied was vital as cross-case analysis would only be dependent on the quality of individual case studies. Immersing myself in the details and specifics of the data to discover important patterns, themes and inter-connections would prove beneficial as I came to a creative synthesis of all the data that was gathered. The findings would be placed in a social, historic, and temporal context and this means being sensitive to links between and across time and space. Complete objectivity was paramount as subjectivity would undermine credibility. According to Holliday (2001) once my focus was balanced, understanding and depicting the world authentically in all its complexity ensured that I was self-analytical, politically aware and reflexive in consciousness.
During the analysis it was vital not to lose sight of “the case” under study therefore I made every attempt to reconstruct the participants’ realities and portray the multiple viewpoints existing in the case, for example, noting the varying viewpoints from different educators in the same institution. Other units that are imbedded in the case were also examined for example the students, the classrooms and the resources. These multiple cases were first examined in total as independent entities before being compared in a cross case analysis to search for similarities and differences and draw inferences from these findings. Through data analysis I used the validity strategies such as triangulation to help increase the validity or trustworthiness of the case study findings. Data and method triangulation, which refers to coming from various points and angles towards a “measured point” to find the true position, was used. This use of multiple approaches would increase validity hence boosting credibility (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003:23).

Qualitative research and constructivism

The term constructivism references the acknowledgement of the social construct of knowledge. As constructivists we begin with a great deal of skepticism that bias can truly be eliminated from scientific enquiry. Constructive researchers are interested in the construction of knowledge between the researcher and the researched and thus discuss bias in relation to the situatedness of all interviewer/interviewees situations. Constructivists assume that there are many possible interpretations of the same data, all of which are potentially meaningful. Constructions are therefore not separate from those who make them. They are not, “…part of some objective world that exists apart from their constructors” (Lincoln & Guba, 1989:143). In this regard a “mal-construction” according to the two educationists, would be an analysis that is, “incomplete, simplistic, uninformed, internally inconsistent, or derived by an inadequate methodology” (Lincoln & Guba, 1989:143).

Research Methodology

Bbier and Mouton (2007) describe methodology as the methods, techniques and procedures that one uses in the process of implementing the research design. Thomas (1998:172) in his book on classical methodology defines research design in the following manner:
…the arrangement of conditions for collection and analysis of data in a manner that aims to combine relevance to the research purpose with economy in procedure. It refers to the outline, plan or strategy to be used in seeking an answer to the research question(s)…

Sampling

There are many sampling strategies used in qualitative research. Qualitative samples tend to be purposely selected rather than randomly selected. According to Denzin and Lincoln (2000), “purposeful sampling is used as a strategy when one wants to understand something about certain select cases without needing to generalize to all such cases”. In a sample survey, data is collected from a sample of a population to determine the incident distribution, and connectedness of events and conditions. This is a non-representative subset of some larger population and is constructed to serve a specific need and purpose.
Regarding the size of the sample, Patton (1990:184) suggests that “there are no hard and fast rules for sample size in qualitative researches, it all depends on what you want to know, the purpose of the inquiry, and what can be done with the available time and resources”. The sample strategy in this study was designed to complement the larger number of participants in the questionnaire with the more in-depth interview of a smaller group of participants. This way I could both gauge the diverse range of views from the larger group and gain insights of a selected smaller group with the time and resources available. It was vital to avoid getting grid-locked into rigid designs that eliminate responsiveness and pursue new parts of discovery as they emerge. To this end I selected purposeful sampling and use of the case study or bounded system because it is “information rich” and illuminative, that is, it offers useful manifestations of the issue at hand. Homogenous sampling in this case is aimed at unraveling insights about the phenomenon, not imperial generalization from a sample to a population. It focuses, reduces variation, simplifies analysis and facilitates group interviewing and observation. At the same time it is stratified, thus allowing for purposeful sampling which illustrates characteristics of particular sub-groups of interest, making it easier to draw comparisons.
The population for this study was first year ACS students belonging to two distinct groups under study, the small and the large class size group of three different lecturers. For logistical and cost reasons, the gathering of data for this study was restricted to three lecturers. The participants were specifically selected from the two extremes of each of the three lecturers groups. Despite this change, a large number of students were involved in this study. The end head of the Communication department gave me the consent to conduct this research. A total number of 147 students who were in class on the day of observation were invited to participate. One hundred and twenty one students returned the signed consent form indicating they were willing to participate. One hundred and four students participated in the research questionnaire. I discarded four questionnaires because the responses were inappropriate for the question. In the end, the questionnaire data were collected from 100 participants. Details of the interview selection are discussed in section 4.2.3.

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Data collection

Data Collection is a term used to describe a process of preparing and collecting data. According to Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2000:179) data collection is …a method in which information related to the study is gathered by suitable mediums. The type of data is basically classified on the basis of its collection method and its characteristics.
Primary data is that which is collected first-hand by the researcher without relying on any kind of pre-researched information, for example interviews and questionnaires. Data classification is also made on the basis of attributes of the data; namely qualitative and quantitative which have already been described at length in this study.
Ellis (1993:364) states that the use of different methods of data generation in this research enabled various responses about students’ experiences and attitudes to be presented in a useful and pragmatic way, which strengthens the trustworthiness of the study and reinforces the notion that multiple sources of data could lead to a deeper understanding of the phenomena being studied. Brannen (1992) also suggests that qualitative investigation gives as much attention to internal as to external factors that influence a person’s actions or responses.
This study makes use of questionnaires, observations and semi-structured interviews to gather data. The interaction between the researcher and the participants was unpredictable during the interviews. Group semi-structured interviews can also, according to Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2000) bring together also provide more opportunities to understand the participants’ responses. Questionnaires comprising open-ended and close-ended questions enabled me to focus on a particular class of respondents to be questioned. The questionnaire was geared to illicit responses with varied opinions. There was an interaction between the participants and the researcher on the specific data the researcher wanted answers to. This mixed method approach combined with my own reflections as a researcher enabled me to ascertain the trustworthiness of the data collected as “authenticity” rather than reliability, which is often the issue in qualitative research (Silverman, 1993).

Questionnaire

Questionnaires and surveys have long played a role in research as a means of gathering (typically quantitative) background information in order to examine the connection of particular variables to outcomes (Lumley & Brown, 2005:198). Questionnaires that enable the researcher to quantify pre or post categorized answers to questions are an example of quantitative research techniques. The answers to such questions can then be counted and expressed numerically. Such responses can help to quantify the size, distribution and association of certain variables in a study population. Questions such as how many, how significant and how often can be answered by using such data collection techniques.
Depending on the degree of freedom permitted for responses, questionnaires may also contribute qualitative data when open-ended questions allow respondents to give a clear picture of their experiences. Lumley and Brown (2005) concur with Cohen et al (2000) in suggesting that attention needs to be given to the questionnaire itself, the approaches that are made to the respondents and the explanations that are given to the respondents, the data analysis and the data reporting. Factors which might impact on every stage of the use of a questionnaire were carefully considered and the details are encapsulated in the following information:
The questionnaire could be completed anonymously and it allowed participants to take as much time as they needed to complete it. It was also an efficient way of gathering data from a large number of participants at times that were convenient for their timetables.
Ten students were invited from my own group to complete the questionnaire first. This initial sample group acted as a pilot study to check clarity of the questions, the language used in the questionnaire and the appropriateness of the data gathering procedures. They provided useful feedback which led me to edit and amend some sections for clarity. The pilot data was not included in the research. I introduced myself briefly and gave each participant a code; simply the number on the page from one to ten before they started answering the questions to ensure confidentiality. I also explained the instructions and some of the terminology used in the questionnaire. The participants were encouraged to ask questions.
Neuman (1997) suggests that questions should be sequenced to minimize the discomfort and confusion of respondents. After an introduction explaining the survey, it is best to start with easy-to-answer questions in order to help the respondents to feel comfortable about the questionnaire (Neuman, 1997). This questionnaire consisted of three parts: the first part had questions on general information followed by questions on experience and the last part had questions on attitudes. The responses required in the questionnaire were straightforward and brief. Most questions only required a tick, a yes/no or a number to respond. The participants were reminded about the purpose of the research and confidentiality in a paragraph at the beginning of the questionnaire. It was also made clear that participation was voluntary and their opinions were valued. The questions were designed to reflect the self-reported nature of the data.
The questions were also designed to enable participants to report on their experiences of class size on mediation of learning and achievement in mainstream classrooms. The questionnaire ended with some open-ended questions which could provide useful data. This led to the next section on data analysis where all the material was interpreted, condensed and analyzed.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1: BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Statement of the problem
1.3 Research aims
1.4 Research objectives
1.5 Research questions
1.6 Motivation
1.7 Statement of hypothesis
1.8 Research Methodology
1.9 Clarification of concepts
1.10 Organisation of remaining chapters
CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 Introduction
2.2 The advent of larger classes
2.3 Class size reduction vs. achievement
2.4 Harnessing numbers to boost achievement
2.5 Teaching and learning in Applied Communicative Skills
2.6 Higher education and change
2.7 Summary
CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Research paradigm
3.3 Research methodology
3.4 Summary
CHAPTER 4: DATA ANALYSIS, INTERPRETATION AND FINDINGS
4.1 Introduction
4.2 The nature of qualitative data analysis
4.3 Description of data analysis
4.4 Analysis of responses from student questionnaires
4.5 Responses from interviews with lecturers and overall discussion
4.6 Summary
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Conclusion
5.3 Recommendations
5.4 Closing remarks
List of References
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