All entries for Sunday 10 July 2016

July 10, 2016

Rambling load of updates!

Research Design

The components of the research design were decided a few weeks ago and the components are now unlikely to change. The research design is based on a critical realist approach to a convergent paralleled variety of mixed methods, which includes the use of a questionnaire and grounded theory methods based on the Strauss and Corbin version. I did go through a phase of feeling overwhelmed a few weeks ago as I had decided to change the grounded theory method component, which spurred a huge quantity of questions and thoughts about compatibility and research design validity all at once. I think reflecting back I had become so convinced that Charmaz’s Constructivist Grounded Theory would work, till the philosophical stance changed from relativism to critical realism, that the need to change the grounded theory method was impactful on my confidence of the research design and my overall ability to understand it all. But with patience, time, careful thinking and further reading my confidence in the validity and feasibility of the research design is growing.

This is not to say however that I know everything about the research design components and I do not actually know that the research design will take off. However, at the moment I am meticulously and comprehensively studying each of the research design components and threading them together to make a complete, compatible research design that is relevant to the research context and phenomena of interest. This is being achieved through constructing arguments for the need of the research design within the specific context and relevance for the phenomena of interest, and also through building critiques of existing research designs and relevant design components within Educational research, particularly relevant to the phenomena of interest. This is a current, ongoing task with argumentation and critiques continuously being constructed and amended in various ways through reading relevant literature and thinking about this literature.

Upgrade Paper

Coming along nicely though I shall be dealing with a few questions at the next meeting with the supervisor, including questions regarding the methodological section: is it best to focus on describing the process of the research design? E.g., describe critical realism in a way that is relevant to explaining the process of mixed methods then explain the process of mixed methods and so on. Or is it best to focus on argumentation of the research design? Or a mixture of both?

First draft should be completed soon. The sections have been figured out, so now it’s a case of completing the sections and then begin the process of editing. This is an ongoing process.

Trial study

Decided to let an aspect of the trial period run on for a while longer than previously planned, just to find out what would happen further with the trial and I am pleased that I made this choice because I now have more than enough data to build a practical understanding of the qualitative analytical research methods relating to grounded theory. Additionally, I wonder if there is merit in using the data from trial period in the actual research study, given that grounded theory has an “all is data” perspective. It would be interesting if I could use this data, because that would give me a start on theorising from the codes and categories generated from the data, as described by grounded theory.

Questionnaire is yet to be trialled, but this will happen in the future. This shouldn’t take too long, as all that is required is to trial the design, think about possible statistical analysis methods, then trial the analysis methods, and then think about the way in which quantitative and qualitative data can be analysed to complement or converge with each other. Oh, not too much to do then!


So that’s about it, but enough to get on with! In summary, the immediate tasks are: continue to thread the research design together through argumentation, critique of existing research, and experimenting with the design theoretically and practically; continue with the upgrade paper, and continue with the trial study through trialling the grounded theory methods, and the questionnaire.

Change, uncertainty, and doubt: opportunities or challenges?

Change, uncertainty and doubt are three concepts that define the dynamics and intricacy of post graduate research. Change occurs as time progresses and can manifest itself in many different ways such as a change to research question, a change to the philosophical perspective, a change to methodology, and a change to research methods. The extent to which a design changes over time depends on the open mindedness, awareness, knowledge and skills that a researcher possesses, which entails realisation of any faults of their research design in relation to the context of the research.

I have experienced change to my research design from the research question all the way to the research methods, as I have been documenting on this blog for quite a while.

But does change entail uncertainty? Should change entail uncertainty? In what way should change be observed? In what way can we observe and deal with uncertainty? In what way should we manage change and uncertainty so that they can lead to opportunities and not difficulties? In what way can we manage doubt?

These are complex questions that provoke different answers. Different researchers will have different ideas about the certainty, or uncertainty, of their design based on their open mindedness, awareness, knowledge, and skills. Uncertainty could come about through a change in the initial selection of design components, which could cause the researcher to think immediately about the validity and relevance of the design to the context. In this context, change causes uncertainty particularly to the validity and relevance of research design. Alternatively, uncertainty could have caused that change to take place: comprehensive reading and thinking could lead the researcher to feel uncertain to the extent that changing a component eases this uncertainty. In this context, uncertainty causes change. When I mention uncertainty I’m talking about reasonable uncertainty and not emotional uncertainty; that uncertainty is born from reason and logically thinking about the design and relevant literature, and not some emotional connection with a particular component.

There is a third scenario: this uncertainty, whether occurring before or after a change in design components, might be found to be built on contestable foundations therefore further thinking and reading could actually render this uncertainty as invalid therefore no changes to research components would be required. In these cases, uncertainty and doubt might not come from this awareness and open mindedness but from other domains or dimensions of the self: confidence levels, self esteem, and so on.

In my opinion based on my own experiences, change can lead to uncertainty but that does not mean that it shall occur every time, and it should be embraced more as an opportunity to improve the design rather than opening the door to being defeated and consigning the design to the bin. During the past year or so I have continuously changed certain aspects of my design. A couple of main examples I have talked about on here is a change from pure qualitative methodology to a mixed methods methodology, and a change from constructivist grounded theory method proposed by Charmaz to a version of the grounded theory method developed by Strauss and Corbin. Additionally, the identification of critical realism as being the most appropriate philosophical guide of exploring the context and phenomena of interest.

These changes have introduced a mixture of uncertainty and certainty, and this still continues. I feel more certain that the research design is the correct way of exploring the phenomena of interest within the defined context as a result of all the literature that I am continuing to explore and question, as well as the critiques and arguments that are developing. But there is a continued sense of uncertainty because of the apparent uniqueness of the design within the context of the research, and therefore is in a sense unproven, and additionally few relevant theoretical and conceptual papers actually exist regarding the design specific to the context. This shall make the research itself a challenge in the sense that whilst certainty in the validity and feasibility of the design shall improve in the future, certainty in its verifiability and applicability cannot be reasonably determined until the research has been completed, although the trial study shall certainly help in this aspect. Even following the trail period I shall never reach absolute certainty about the research design: this is impossible without actually applying the design, reflecting upon the design, and critiquing it.

Change, uncertainty and doubt can bring about feelings of being overwhelmed (although that itself can cause uncertainty) and probably an element of self doubt. Whilst this is understandable (been there, done that, and shall no doubt go through such feelings again particularly of being overwhelmed), change and uncertainty need to be embraced as providing excellent opportunities for development. Embracing them as such opportunities shall lead to creative thinking and of developing unique solutions to existing problems, and therefore provide interesting opportunities to further the platform of debate and discussion about such solutions and problems. In my opinion, uncertainty about research design should be celebrated and embraced, because uncertainty can lead to a researcher’s most prosperous, creative, and inspiring design choices and insights into the phenomena.

‘till next time: keep calm!

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