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Complementary Research Methods. Michele Jacobsen, PhD Postdoctoral Fellow, SERN University of Calgary [email protected] Overview.

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Complementary research methods l.jpg

Complementary Research Methods

Michele Jacobsen, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow, SERN

University of Calgary

[email protected]

Jacobsen, D. M.

Overview l.jpg

  • Outline relative merits of Triangulation - the integration of both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies

  • Review a variety of research methods:

    • Experimental design, ethnography, case study, survey methods.

  • Discuss Nowaczyk and Underwood’s (1995) paper.

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Fundamental Goals...

  • Of Science:

    • To Understand, To Predict, To Control

  • Of Scientists:

    • To communicate discoveries and findings to a community of peers

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Designing ResearchDimensions of Analysis

  • Research Purposes - theoretical or applied?

  • Research Problems - what questions are asked?

  • Research Settings - simulated or natural?

  • Research Investigators - background and training

  • Research Methods - a continuum

    • Experimental, Ethnography, Case study, Survey

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Evaluating Research

  • Validity

    • A concern for most social scientists is the complex nature of the phenomena under study: human behavior.

    • Multiple perspectives are required in order to adequately reflect the richness of these complexities.

  • Reliability

    • Consistency, Replicability

  • Usefulness or Value of Investigation

    • Contribution to knowledge

    • Advance THEORY and PRACTICE in discipline

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Goal: To Understand, Predict

Descriptive accounts

Similarities and Contrasts

Applied and Theoretical

Research Questions

Field study

Natural conditions


Goal: To Predict and Control

Measure and Evaluate

Generalize to population, reproduction

Basic and Theoretical

Hypothesis testing

Lab study

Controlled, contrived

Research MethodologiesA continuum rather than “either/or”

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Validity and Reliability

  • Both Quantitative and Qualitative research designs seek reliable and valid results. For example:

    • Quantitative Reliability: Data that are consistent or stable as indicated by the researcher's ability to replicate the findings.

    • Qualitative: Validity of findings are paramount so that data are representative of a true and full picture of constructs under investigation.

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Part Versus Whole

  • “Whole” is often greater than “Parts”

  • It is a non-trivial matter to infer the behavior of the whole from the behavior of its parts

    • Quantitative research designs strive to identify and isolate specific variables within the context (seeking correlation, relationships, causality) of the study.

    • Qualitative design focuses on a holistic view of what is being studied (via documents, case histories, observations and interviews).

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Data Collection

  • Quantitative

    • Emphasis on numerical data, measurable variables

    • Data is collected under controlled conditions in order to rule out the possibility that variables other than the one under study can account for the relationships identified

  • Qualitative

    • Emphasis on observation and interpretation.

    • Data are collected within the context of their natural occurrence.

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Static and Dynamic

  • Quantitative

    • The accumulation of facts and causes of behavior through careful isolation, measurement and evaluation of variables.

    • Predictability and Control over time.

  • Qualitative

    • Concerned with the changing and dynamic nature of reality.

    • Understanding a Point in time

Jacobsen, D. M.

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  • Combines independent yet complementary research methods.

    • Simultaneous triangulation:

      • Use of both qualitative and quantitative methods at the same time

      • e.g., Survey methods and Case study

    • Sequential triangulation:

      • Results of one method are essential for planning the next method

      • e.g., Exploratory Pilot study precedes Experimental design

  • Also known as “mixed methods”

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Benefits of Triangulation

  • Advantages of each complement the other

    • resulting in a stronger research design, and

    • more valid and reliable findings.

  • Inadequacies of individual methods are minimized

    • threats to Internal Validity are realized and addressed

  • Example

    • Quantitative design strives to control for bias so that facts, instances, phenomena can be understood in an objective way.

    • Qualitative approach strives to understand the perspective of participants or a situation by looking at firsthand experience to provide meaningful data.

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Additional Benefits

  • Triangulation offers a balance between logic and stories.

  • Qualititative research, which emphasizes exploration, understanding, contextualizing, introspection, and theory construction, provides a strong base for wider quantitative measures, scaling, and generalization.

  • Quantitative research, which emphasizes large samples, can provide an overview of an area that can reveal patterns, inconsistencies, and so forth, that can be further investigated with qualitative methods.

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Effectiveness of Triangulation

  • In order for Triangulation to be used effectively, four principles must be adhered to:

    • 1. research question(s) must be clearly focused;

    • 2. strengths and weaknesses of each chosen method must complement each other;

    • 3. data collection methods should be selected according to their relevance to the nature of the phenomenon being studied;

    • 4. a continual evaluation of the approach should be under-taken during the study. Corner (1990)

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Range of Research Methods

  • Experimental design

  • Ethnography

  • Case study

  • Survey

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Experimental Design

  • Hypothesis testing

  • Independent and Dependent Variables

    • For example - Predictor: method of instruction, Resulting differences: math performance

  • Sampling of Population

  • Experimental and Controlled Conditions

  • Random assignment

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Experimental Research

  • The researcher does something to the subjects or objects or research, and then attempts to determine the effects of these actions

  • Reporting

    • Careful description of sampling procedure

    • Inferential statistics, effect size, and so on.

Jacobsen, D. M.

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  • Defined: a picture of the “way of life” of some identifiable group of people

  • Anthropology - “doing fieldwork”, “going native”

  • Preoccupied with culture, and how people interact with each other

  • Qualitative Methodology - Both a research process and a product

    • Outcome: an ethnographic account

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Ethnographic Process

  • The ethnographer is the primary research instrument

  • One year or more in the field setting

    • long enough to see a full cycle of activity

    • For example, a full school year

  • Tension and balance between involvement and detachment

    • Outsider’s broad and analytical perspective on group studied

    • Insider view, familiarity, empathy, identification with group

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Field Research Techniques

  • An Inquiry Process of multiple methods:

    • Participant observation

      • privileged, active participant

      • passive observer

    • Interviewing

      • key informants, structured, unstructured

      • groups, surveys and questionnaires

    • Making and using records

      • historical documents, archives, written records

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Validity and Reliability of the Ethnographic Account

  • “The satisfactoriness of the explanation is what counts, not the power of the method for deriving it”.

  • Significance is derived socially, not statistically

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Case Study

  • Understanding the intricate complexity, idiosyncrasy of one particular case

    • investigation of a “bounded system”

    • Some entity deemed worthy of close watch

      • a single child, a single classroom, a single school, a single national program…

  • Goals

    • Understand and report the uniqueness of individual cases (both commonalities and differences)

    • Usually no attempt to represent case by single or multiple “scores”

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Case Study Methods

  • Similar to ethnographic field methods

    • ASKING - Interviews

      • Gather narrative and testimony

    • WATCHING - Observations

    • SEARCHING - Written records and artifacts

  • Reporting

    • Develop a conceptual structure, look for patterns, consistencies, repetitions, and manifestations pertinent to your research question(s)

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Validity and Reliability

  • There are many different stories to be told

    • Different researchers have different questions to answer, different conceptualizations of the situation, and set different boundaries for the case

  • Generalizability: What is true of one case is often true about other cases

    • Consistencies can be found - predictability

    • How many cases are needed before patterns emerge? It depends...

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Survey Research Methods

  • Purpose and Goal

    • Describe specific characteristics of a large group of persons, objects, or institutions

    • Understand present conditions, rather than the effects of particular intervention (as in experimental research)

  • Sample of Population

    • Groups of interest are well defined and chosen using well defined rules

    • Representativeness

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Survey Methods

  • Mail

    • postage and printing costs, participation rate

  • Telephone

    • sampling, wage and time costs, participation rates

  • Face-to-Face

    • wage and time costs, participation rates, like structured interview

  • Web-based

    • anytime, anywhere, cost effective

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Issues in Survey Construction

  • Item (question) and scale construction

  • Pilot Testing and revision

  • Sampling procedures

  • Analysis and reporting of results

  • Generalizability

    • Drawing conclusions about the conditions, attitudes, opinions, or status of a population of persons, objects, institutions, or other entities.

Jacobsen, D. M.

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Nowaczyk and Underwood (1995)

  • "Possible Indicators of Research Quality for Colleges and Universities"

    • Used qualitative method, “focus group”, to investigate research quality in higher education

Jacobsen, D. M.

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  • Academics promoted the use of both quantitative and qualitative measures to report on “quality”


      • Journal publications, conference presentations, books and book chapters, awards, grants, budget, and so on…


      • Reputation of publication, reputation of granting agency, quality of conference, peer reviews of research programs,…

      • Quality of institutions that hire graduate students

      • Societal benefit of research

Jacobsen, D. M.

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  • Jaeger, R. M. (1997). Complementary Research Methods for Research in Education, (2nd ed). American Educational Research Association: Washington, DC.

  • Edyburn, D. L. (1998). The Electronic Scholar: Enhancing Research Productivity with Technology. Prentice-Hall: Columbus, OH.

  • Nowaczyk, R. H., & Underwood, D. G. (1995). Possible indicators of research quality for colleges and universities. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 3(20). [On-line]. Available:

  • Bowen, K. A. (1996). The Sin of Omission -Punishable by Death to Internal Validity: An Argument for Integration of Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods to Strengthen Internal Validity. [On-line]. Available:

Jacobsen, D. M.