The ability of q methodology to study the character development of college students
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The ability of Q-Methodology to study the character development of college students. Chris M. Ray Oklahoma State University. Introduction.

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The ability of Q-Methodology to study the character development of college students

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The ability of Q-Methodology to study the character development of college students

Chris M. Ray

Oklahoma State University


  • There is a common perception of decreasing values in America’s youth (Wynne, 1985). Violent crimes, teen pregnancy, and suicide have all been increasing in recent years.

  • Additionally, children’s self-report of cheating and lying in their personal and public lives is increasing (Murdock, et al, 2004).

Introduction (contd.)

  • Recent scandals such as those involving the Enron Corporation and WorldCom indicate that these declines are not limited to children.

  • While these events are increasing the research regarding moral and character education, Q-methodology remains a rare exception.

Introduction (contd.)

  • Research suggests that individual perceptions are the best predictors of individual behavior and that educators’ beliefs influence their perceptions, judgments, and practices (Bandura, 1986; Dewey, 1933; Pajares, 1992; Rokeach, 1968).

  • As such, understanding the nature of beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions is essential to understanding choices, decisions, and effectiveness.


  • Introduced in 1935 by William Stephenson in a letter to Nature

  • In 1953, Stephenson published The Study of Behavior, which has provided the groundwork for later Q-research

  • Q is essentially “the scientific study of subjectivity” (McKeown & Thomas, 1988)

Concourse Theory

  • A Concourse Defined:

    • “the flow of communicability surrounding any topic” (Brown, 1993, p. 94)

    • Essentially, it consists of all the ideas associated with any given research topic

  • Can be examined through interviews with individuals related to the research topic, or through the collection of ideas such as books, articles, newspaper clippings, radio or television recordings, etc.

The Q-Sample

  • The Q-sample is a smaller selection of ideas that is used to represent the larger concourse.

    • Item Sources (McKeown & Thomas, 1988)

      • Naturalistic - statements taken directly from the target population

      • Ready Made - taken from an external source

    • Q-Sample Designs (McKeown & Thomas, 1988)

      • Structured - All areas of the concourse are uniformly covered

      • Unstructured - No attempt to create uniformity

The Q-Sort

  • The actual process of ordering the statements.

  • Condition(s) of Instruction

    • The directions given to the participants that tell them how to compare the items

  • The completed Q-sort represents the subjective perspective of the participant (Brown, 1993)

Statistical Analysis

  • Data is then analyzed using three statistical procedures (Brown, 1993).

    • Correlation

    • Factor Analysis

    • Statistical Rotation

  • People, rather than traits, are correlated and factor analyzed

Factor Interpretation

  • Interpretation attempts to identify what is unique about each factor

  • Considerations for Interpretation

    • Distinguishing Statements

    • Extreme Statements

    • Consensus Items

    • Demographic Information

A Sample Study

  • According to Colby, et. al. (1983a) and Gould (1978), character development has been determined to continue beyond the college years into the mid-30’s.

  • Research indicates that character education has a direct relationship to the development of individuals (Colby, Kohlberg, Gibbs & Lieberman, 1983a; Colby, et. al., 1983b; Rest, 1983; Kohlberg, 1969).

Purpose of Study

  • The purpose of this study was to describe the perceptions of college faculty, staff, and students concerning the ways that higher education influences the character development of college students

Research Questions

  • What are the perceptions of faculty, staff, and students regarding methods and approaches to the character development of college students?

  • How do current methods and approaches relate to ideal practices?

  • Are there any demographic differences among the various perceptions?


  • Q Method

  • Q-sort procedure

    • 48 statements

    • Range of -5 to +5

    • 2 conditions of instruction

      • What are ways that college students currently develop character and human values?

      • What are ways that college students could develop character and human values?

  • Demographic survey

Instrument Development

  • Quasi-naturalistic sample

    • Dalton’s (1985) “Values Activities Matrix”

  • Structured (deductive) factorial design

    • 3 Methods

    • 4 Approaches

    • 12 combinations, 4 statements each


  • Structured sample

    • Snowball sampling procedure

    • Factorial Design

      • Categories: Faculty, Staff, and Students

      • Levels: Male and Female

  • Actual Participants

    • Students: 11 (6 M, 5 F)

    • Staff: 10 (5 M, 5 F)

    • Faculty: 1 (1 M, 0 F)

Data Analysis

  • Data was analyzed using PQMethod (Schmolck, 2000).

    • Principal components factor analysis (PCA)

    • Varimax rotation

    • Q-analyzed


  • 6 sorts did not define any factor

    • 3 Confounded

    • 3 Non-significant

Participant Perceptions?

  • Factor A - Formal Learning

    • “Traditional settings are the key”

    • Strongest Defining Statements

      • By encountering appropriate role models (+5)

      • Through class discussions of moral issues (+5)

      • By being informed of institutional rules and regulations (-5)

      • Through participation in a committee reviewing student fees (-5)

    • Lecture style (transmission/assimilation)

    • Externally-imposed

Participant Perceptions?

  • Factor B - Judicious Learning

    • “Rule systems shape character”

    • Strongest Defining Statements

      • By participating in individual counseling (+5)

      • Through successful mediation of conflicts (+5)

      • By participating in orientation classes (-5)

      • Through meetings with academic advisor (-5)

    • Experiential in nature

    • Self-imposed

Participant Perceptions?

  • Factor C - Guided Learning

    • “Future preparation builds character”

    • Strongest Defining Statements

      • Through meetings with academic advisor (+5)

      • Through successful mediation of conflicts (+5)

      • By familiarizing themselves with the student code of conduct (-5)

      • Through participation in an advisory committee to develop a new campus policy (-5)

    • Utilizes a mentor / guide

Actual vs. Ideal?

Demographic Differences?


Demographic Differences?


Demographic Differences?



  • Actual vs. Ideal

    • “Guided Learning” (Factor C) is perceived to occur, though it doesn’t seem to be perceived as ideal

    • There were no major differences between actual and ideal for the other two factors

  • Demographic Differences

    • Position - Staff tend to view judicial systems as the primary effort whereas students and faculty tend to view the formal setting as the primary effort

    • Gender - Factor C seems to be predominately male (all sorters were male)

    • Age - Most sorters for Factor A were 18-25, whereas most sorters for Factor B were 26-33


  • Character education research is highly complex

    • Lack of clear definition of “character” and “character education”

    • Knowledge, interest, and commitment from the leader and others involved

    • Perceptions of school community have an impact

    • Requires transmission of subjective values


  • All of these issues can be explored using Q-methodology

  • As such, Q can serve a much-needed role within the study of character education


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