CHAPTER 3 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY OF THE STUD
This chapter discusses the research design and methods that were followed in undertaking this study. A qualitative research approach undergirded by activity theory (AT) was adopted as developmental research method. The aim, as reflected in Chapter 1, was to evaluate the impact of AET computer-based programmes at the North-West Province mine (i.e. in the workplace). Using AT as a theoretical and methodological framework presented the opportunity to identify and examine the actions of the adult learners as they engaged in the activity systems. A focus on the object of the activity provided a significant backdrop against which the adult learners’ actions were performed, thus allowing for more informed data.
Henning, Van Rensburg and Smit (2004:31:59) state that research methods should include the researchers’ reflective knowledge of how language makes meaning, the role of theory in interpretation and understanding, and how ideology and politics manifest in the research. Onwuegbuzie and Leech (2010:882) simplify this explanation by saying that qualitative researchers study the phenomena in their natural settings, and then try to understand and interpret them. This chapter therefore begins by discussing the choice of the research methods, qualitative research as the approach of choice, and then moves on to discuss the research design, data collection techniques and procedures for data analysis, and ethical considerations that were observed when conducting the study.
This study asked questions grounded in the qualitative research design. These questions involved deciding what the research purpose and questions were, what information appropriately answered specific research questions, and the strategies most effective in the process of gathering and analysing data (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005:78). In qualitative studies, however, there is much more focus on the researcher and participants as individual persons. Depending on the philosophical framework, participants may even be viewed as co-researchers (Waters, 2017:97).
RESEARCH SITE AND TARGET POPULATION
This study was conducted at the platinum mine located in the North-West Province within the Rustenburg Local Municipality, approximately 20 km east of Rustenburg and 60 km west of Brits. The mine is situated close to the main Rustenburg-Marikina road and the Rustenburg-Thabazimbi road. The mine comprises three separate mining operations, with four AET centres, one for Full-Time adult learners based in a central location and three for Own-Time adult learners. The mine community is defined as those towns, villages and settlements that fall within a 50-km radius, or greater if appropriate, of the mine. Although the mine community generally falls within one or two municipalities, this mine is an exception to the rule as the 50-km radius covers five municipalities.
In the context of the mining industry, mine labour is defined as those employees who are employed directly by the North-West Province mine and not by other suppliers of goods and services. Labour falls into one of three categories, which are local employees, migrant workers and transitional workers. Local employees are employees who originate from the mine community. Migrant workers are those who originate from the rural labour-sending areas, who live in hostels or other mine-provided accommodation, and who have no formal local dependents. Transitional workers are those workers who bridge the definition of local and migrant workers by falling into both categories.
Three types of migrant labour include provincial migrant workers, South African migrant workers, and foreign migrant workers. Provincial migrant workers are those who come from areas within the mine’s host province but outside the mine community. South African migrant workers are those who come from other South African provinces. Foreign migrant workers are those who come from neighbouring states within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) states. It is these workers that are referred to as migrant workers in the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.
Generally, transitional workers are migrant workers with long service histories on the mine, who have become involved in relationships with local people and have established urban (second) families locally. The majority of AET enrolled learners at this mine are migrant workers.
The target group was adult learners, facilitators and centre managers at Own-Time and Full-Time classes presented at this mine under study. These adult learners mostly work underground and only a few are working on the surface area as supervisors. There were seventeen participants.
Familiarisation with the research setting of the study
Prior to formal data collection, it was important to devote some time to familiarising myself with the AET environment in general and with the two departments in particular, i.e. Full-Time and Own-Time. Though my face was not unfamiliar within the mine, I knew that my presence would affect the pace of the facilitators’ daily lives. Furthermore, because my fieldwork would include qualitative interviews and participant observation, I thought it would be important to make sure that the facilitators were comfortable with my presence. Some time was spent trying to gain their trust and building rapport.
As in any other qualitative study, the biases and assumptions of the researcher are embodied in methodological decisions, data analysis and in the writing process (Bakhurst, 2009:197). I was aware of these potential biases and attempted to keep them in mind when interpreting information and presenting results. Thus, I began my research convinced that my experience as an employee at this mine would aid my familiarity with the research field. Bias, commonly understood to be any influence that provides a distortion in the results of a study (Polit & Beck, 2014), is a term drawn from the quantitative research paradigm. Thirsk and Clark (2017:4) recently grappled with this issue of biases when discussing the contribution of hermeneutics for informing complex health-care interventions. They note that “the rigor of qualitative research is particularly vulnerable when it lacks some of the devices that have been employed in quantitative research to ensure that what is produced is not just well-composed rhetoric of a well-meaning, but biased, researcher’s opinion”. Thorne, Stephens, and Truant comment that most researchers “would recognize the concept [of bias] as being incompatible with the philosophical underpinnings of qualitative inquiry” (2016:2).
In the middle of research at the Full-Time AET centre, however, I faced a problematic situation due to the arrival of a new AET Full-Time centre manager. The old mine company was sold to a new mining company and the process of restructuring took place upon the signed agreement between the two mines. I often reminded myself of my position as a researcher. On my first encounter, it was noticeably clear that I was considered an outsider and was termed an investigator, which made some participants uncomfortable about sharing information, despite having met them the previous year on more than one occasion. After the proof of approval letters from the previous company were resubmitted, I was allowed to conduct research. This took some time with the back-and-forth e-mails that were exchanged with the relevant gatekeepers. The difficulties faced were recorded in my researcher’s diary at the time. Fortunately, at the Own-Time centres I encountered the same familiar people I had interacted with the previous year in the context of my job.
While I became an increasingly familiar face within the Full-Time AET centre, and enjoyed the opportunity to interact with each participant, I adopted a very specific stance: I was here to watch and learn. Because the study’s setting and participants were already familiar to me, I worked to see the Full-Time centre through new eyes. I made my researcher role explicit to the facilitators. Because of my extended presence among them (estimated one hour per day, from Monday to Thursday during lunch-time, for three weeks), not only was my presence familiar to the facilitators, but I was also able to conduct participant observation and interviews.
EXPLORING THE RESEARCH PARADIGM
A paradigm is best described as a whole system of thinking (Neuman, 2011:94). As TerreBlanche and Durrheim (2002:49) observe, the term paradigm refers to a research culture with a set of beliefs, values, and assumptions that a community of researchers has in common regarding the nature and conduct of research. In addition, Goduka (2012:126) posits that a paradigm is defined as the “entire constellation of beliefs, values and techniques shared by members of a research community”. As a researcher, I interpreted a research paradigm as a guide to the prospects and realities of this study, which assisted me in organising and classifying data.
More specifically, the paradigm would include the accepted theories, traditions, approaches, models, frame of reference, body of research and methodologies applicable to the study. It could be seen as a model or framework for observation and understanding (Creswell, 2007:19; Babbie, 2010:32-33; Rubin & Babbie, 2010:15).
The paradigm thus embraces the basic set of beliefs that guided the action in this study. I view research paradigms as innately reflecting beliefs about the world people live in and want to live in. According to Sefotho (2015:23), a paradigm is thus a comprehensive belief system, worldview, or framework that guides research and practice in a field of study. From a philosophical perspective, Sefotho (2015) states that a paradigm comprises a view of the nature of reality (i.e. ontology) – whether it is external or internal to the knower; a related view of the type of knowledge that can be generated and standards for justifying it (i.e. epistemology); and a disciplined approach to generating that knowledge (i.e. methodology).
A number of studies illustrate how the subject of philosophy and paradigms in research pose a predicament and challenge to students in establishing the relevant paradigms to their research studies (Tuli, 2010:97). Tang (2011:211) categorically declares the paradigm issue as “warring schools and approaches” that are both “intimidating and confusing” and challenging to students in social sciences. Sefotho (2014:2) postulates that “[o]ne of the most outstanding challenges of usage forming part of the dilemma may be aggravated by how paradigm is used interchangeably with its pillar principles in the form of ontological paradigm or epistemological paradigm”.
The interpretivist paradigm fits in the description of this research study as it seeks to find answers in a naturalistic, real, unobtrusive and non-controlling real-world situation (Tuli, 2010:100). It is argued, in agreement with Reeves and Hedberg (2003:32), that in the interpretive tradition there are no correct or incorrect theories. Reeves and Hedberg (2003) further note that the interpretivist paradigm stresses the need to put analysis in context. The predominant perspective is that meaning is constructed through interpretation of data as presented by participants who are the “social actors” and who draw understanding of “their world from their point of view” (Goduka, 2012:127).
The characteristics of interpretivism that were used in this study are categorised in Table 3.1. This table outlines the nature of reality (ontology), the nature of knowledge and the relationship between the inquirer and the inquired-into and the methodology (epistemology) used.
It is my contention that knowledge and understanding are constructed when learners reflect and interact with computers. In Chapter 2, I mentioned and discussed activity theories underpinning this study, the zone of proximal development and the contradictions in activity theory.
The interpretivist paradigm reinforces the theoretical framework intended for the formation of foundational premises of this study. This is accounted for in section 3.4.2.
A research design is a framework or guide for the planning, implementation and analysis of the study (Sefotho, 2015:23). According to McMillan and Schumacher (2010: 20), a research design is the description of the procedures for conducting the study, including when, from whom, and under what conditions the data will be obtained. In my own understanding, a research design is a detailed plan and point of departure, intentionally and purposefully drawn by the researcher as a path to be followed in the quest to arrive at valid answers to the research questions. The planning provides structure for the research and “indicates the type of study undertaken” (De Jager, 2012:59).
The design therefore becomes important to connect the methodology and the appropriate set of research methods to address the research questions that have been established in Chapter 1. Wahyuni (2012:72), Maree (2007:70) and Terre Blanche and Durrheim (2002:29) state that a research design is a plan or strategy that moves from the underlying philosophical assumptions to specifying the selection of participants, the data gathering techniques to be used and the data analysis to be done. Yin (2003a:19) adds that “colloquially a research design is an action plan for getting from here to there, where ‘here’ may be defined as the initial set of questions to be answered and ‘there’ is some set of (conclusions) answers”. In this study, the research design therefore was a set of guidelines that sought and discovered answers to the research questions.
The above discussion on research methodology and design, this study was a qualitative case study. Qualitative case study is participatory, field-based, interpretive, multifaceted and emergent (Creswell, 2003:175). A case study was appropriate for the exploration of the research problem under review. Furthermore, as an exercise of inquiry, a qualitative case study enables the understanding of social phenomena in authentic or natural environments. This study afforded me the opportunity to explore or describe a phenomenon in context, using a variety of data sources. Based on this view, the case study design was adopted for this study.
A case study
Yin (2003a:13) affirms that a case study provides an opportunity for discovery beyond that which is currently known. According to Shavelson and Towne (2002:99-106), the case study method helps to make direct observations and collect data in natural settings compared to relying on “derived” data. For this study, the unit of analysis was a group of people, individuals who shared a common object (or problem space) and who used tools to act on that object to transform it. In this study, a computer was a tangible object with rules, regulations and procedures used by adult learners who were appointed to different jobs under a division of labour. Those adult learners engaged with the computer during their AET classes for teaching and learning. As the learners engaged with the computer, they gradually built up the knowledge or skill and those skills became embedded in the day-to-day work exposure of some who use computers to execute their tasks at work.
The case study approach makes use of multiple methods of data collection such as interviews, document reviews, archival records, and direct and participant observations and subsequently renders “thick descriptions” of the phenomena under study (Yin, 2003b:278). The case study under review made use of individual interviews, participant observation, field notes and a focus group as methods of data collection.
The mine introduced the use of computers in AET classes for teaching and learning in the nineties and established a relationship with the service provider Media Works, a South African company that specialises in AET to provide them with the AET programme. Their curriculum includes computer-based or multimedia teaching and learning and face-to-face methodologies. The service provider uses Accelerate software, which is the platform that provides AET facilitators with what is required to present an outcomes-based lesson, powered by Navigate, a learning intervention management system (LIMS) used to track learners’ work and manage aspects of the learning intervention.
The case study followed a qualitative research approach, which is a type of social science research that collects and works with non-numerical data and seeks to interpret meaning from the data to help us understand social life through the study of targeted populations or places. In a case study, one or more cases can be investigated. When examining one case, we refer to a singular case study, and a multiple or plural case study is used to describe a study examining several cases. In this study a singular case study was explored. The intention of this case study was to spend six months from the time candidates were registered to enrol in the second term of the year. The regular attendees in this level formed part of this investigation, even though, according to the mine, Own-Time attendance is voluntary and Full-Time learners are relieved from their work to attend daily lessons. There were seventeen participants (volunteers) in this study, including four Own-Time and four Full-Time learners as well as five facilitators as the key people offering these studies, and four centre managers who oversee the delivery of the programme, which will be discussed in the findings (Chapter 4 of this study).
The case study was used to observe the AET learning process as it unfolded. I anticipated that the results would inform the mine that in the process of learning, some mine workers were transformed and gained new knowledge and skills, which would show a positive impact on their performance at work. This scenario assisted me to choose the type of case study which was guided by the overall study purpose. Yin (2003b:545) categorises various types of case studies, namely explanatory, exploratory and descriptive. He also differentiates between single, holistic case studies and multiple-case studies. Explanations and published examples of these types of case studies are provided in Table 3.2.
A descriptive case study design was chosen to better understand the case at hand. Its primary interest was in the subjects who were participants in the activity system. The case study design was best applied because the research addressed descriptive questions aimed at producing a first-hand understanding of the impact of the computer programme on participating mine workers. This case study was bounded by indicating what was studied according to the updated information systems success model (DeLone & McLean, 2003:17) as seen in Chapter 2, Table 2.1. These boundaries indicated the breadth and depth of the study and not simply the sample that was included (Stake, 1995:547).
Table of contents
List of tables
List of figures
List of appendices
List of acronyms and abbreviations
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY
1.2 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
1.3 PROBLEM STATEMENT AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS
1.4 AIM AND RESEARCH OBJECTIVES
1.6 MOTIVATION OF THE STUDY
1.7 AN OVERVIEW OF THE THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
1.8 AN OVERVIEW OF RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
1.9 DEFINITION OF KEY CONCEPTS
1.10 PROGRAMME OF THE STUDY
CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW ON TOOL (COMPUTER) MEDIATION AND ACTIVITY THEORY
2.2 OVERVIEW OF ACTIVITY THEORY (AT)
2.3 THE ROLE OF AN ADULT EDUCATION FACILITATOR
2.4 CRITIQUES OF ANDRAGOGY
2.5 INFORMATION SYSTEMS SUCCESS MODEL
CHAPTER 3 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY OF THE STUDY
3.2 RESEARCH SITE AND TARGET POPULATION
3.3 EXPLORING THE RESEARCH PARADIGM
3.4 RESEARCH DESIGN
3.5 RESEARCH METHODS AND DATA COLLECTION
3.6 DATA ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION
3.7 TRUSTWORTHINESS OF THE STUDY
3.8 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
CHAPTER 4 DATA ANALYSIS AND PRESENTATION OF FINDINGS
4.2 PARTICIPANTS’ BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION
4.3 FINDINGS FROM PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION
4.4 FOCUS GROUP INTERVIEWS
4.5 FINDINGS FROM STRUCTURED INTERVIEWS WITH CENTRE MANAGERS AND FACILITATORS
4.6 CONTRADICTIONS AND DISTURBANCES IN THE ACTIVITY SYSTEM
4.7 FOUNDATIONS OF LEARNING AND ZONE OF PROXIMAL DEVELOPMENT
CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSIONS, CONTRIBUTION, LIMITATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE STUDY
5.2 CONCLUSIONS OF THE STUDY
5.3 CONTRIBUTION OF THE STUDY
5.4 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
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