All entries for February 2016

February 22, 2016

The Paradigms and Philosophies of Mixed Methods research: a whistle stop tour!

Those who have been following my blog during the past few months shall have noticed that Mixed Methods has been selected as the most appropriate methodology, that the Convergent Parallel design has been selected as the most appropriate variety of Mixed Methods, and that the methods of data collection have been decided upon along with most of the data analysis methods. What hasn’t been thought about till recently is the Philosophy of Mixed Methods.


Mixed Methods methodology developed as a result of the paradigmatic wars between quantitative and qualitative approaches: authors back in the 1960s and 1970s were adamant that both entail differing Philosophical and Paradigmatic assumptions and therefore frame the research in ways that were not compatible with each other. However, reconciliation between differing paradigms began and accelerated during the 1980s where writers opposed this methodological dualism.


Paradigmatic and philosophical assumptions and perspectives are extensive and the debates of suitability have been ongoing since reconciliation attempts began, so they are complex fields (seriously I am not kidden here: I’ve been thinking about this for years and I still don’t know everything and never will) where there isn’t a right or wrong answer. All that can be achieved is a researcher understanding their own views of reality and work towards developing arguments as to why their research contains particular paradigmatic and philosophical assumptions and perspectives. Do bear with me as I continue to learn and develop paradigmatic and philosophical assumptions about my research relative to a Mixed Methods methodology and also relative to the selected methods. This has to be a careful, thoughtful process: I cannot just select things at random. These assumptions are important to consider because they provide the basis or framework for a mixed methods project, or any research project.


There are certain paradigms (frameworks of research) that I can safely discard and suggest that they are not relevant to my research. This includes the feminism paradigm, which focuses research around women’s rights and whilst I have a lot of respect for women and their rights, feminism is not a part of my research so shall no longer be considered. The other paradigm is the Transformative-Emancipatory developed by Mertens (2003), which focuses on the intersection between Mixed Methods methodology and social justice although there is an observation that this has overlapped somewhat with the feminism paradigm. When you think about what feminism really means (not the extremists who perceive feminism as a male hating agenda) and its relationship with social justice, this makes sense. However whilst I have an increasing interest in social justice and this might be considered in future research projects it is not a part of my research currently therefore shall not be considered any further.


Moving toward discussions of paradigms that are more relevant, there is a selection of paradigms in relation to Mixed Methods that are most relevant for my Ph.D. The first is the PostPositivism paradigm, developed out of criticism of Positivism and therefore views reality as probabilistically true where Positivism (the paradigm of Science) views reality as really true and fully independent of the mind. Whilst PostPositivism works with quantitative methods and methodologies it also works with qualitative approaches and many who identify themselves as PostPositivists do utilise Mixed Methods. Another paradigm that is well acquainted with Mixed Methods is Pragmatism. Key differences between this and PostPositivism can be found at the Epistemological level in that PostPositivism understands reality as a single reality that is probabilistically true and independent of the mind whilst Pragmatists view reality as containing elements that are accessible and independent of the mind as well as elements that are constructed and therefore dependent on the mind. From an epistemological perspective, Pragmatism already leans more towards Mixed Methods than PostPositivism. However, Pragmatism is not without its problems therefore the third paradigm that is being considered is Critical Realism where apparently it can reconcile Absolutism and Relativism perspectives at the ontological level, whereas Pragmatism reconciles at the epistemological level from what I can currently understand but this does not appear to be reported much in the literature from what I have read so far. According to Creswell and Clark (2011) Critical Realism adopts and supports characteristics from both quantitative and qualitative approaches, although the use of Critical Realism is not as common as Pragmatism. But it has to be remembered that just because Pragmatism might be used more than PostPositivism and Critical Realism it doesn’t mean that it’s any more relevant to my research and the context of my research.


Additionally there are Mixed Methods projects that use multiple world views or paradigms, referenced as a dialectical paradigm, instead of a single paradigm, and have been based on the way that a researcher views social reality. Further, there are approaches that involving using multiple paradigms not in relation to the way that the researcher views reality, but of the type of Mixed Methods being used. For more information on this, read Greene (2007) and Creswell and Clark (2011)


As a side note, this whole linking between Philosophy and Methodology has been experienced in my research so far. Previously I had chosen to adopt a Constructivist Grounded Theory as the methodology and this entailed Relativist ontology and a Constructivist epistemology. Switching the methodology to a Mixed Methods approach entails a Philosophical view that in some way combines or reconciles Absolutism and Relativism ontologies and therefore Positivism (or PostPositivism in Social Sciences) and Constructivism epistemologies. It would not have been acceptable to have continued with a Relativist paradigm given that my research contains methods that include the collection and analysis of quantitative data, which aligns with a different paradigm. This would have been identified and critiqued in the Upgrade Paper and especially in the thesis and the Vivo examination.


So, gosh that was a long post! In brief, the paradigms that are of most relevance to this research are: PostPositivism, Pragmatism and Critical Realism. These shall be discussed more as I explore them in relation to Mixed Methods and in the context of my own research!

References:

Creswell, J.W., Plano Clark, V.L (2011): Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research (2nd Ed). SAGE: America

Greene, J.C (2007): Mixed Methods in Social Inquiry. Jossey-Boss: San Francisco

Mertens, D.M (2009): Transformative Research And Evaluations, Guilford Press: New York


February 21, 2016

Thoughts on the Upgrade Paper

This has been a main focus of the past couple of weeks and it’s coming together! It’s due in September but have decided to start it early and I am really pleased that I have started this early as it has provided me with the opportunities to think to a more substantial level about certain aspects of the research.

First Challenge: the approach to writing the paper

The first challenge is to understand the way in which it should be written, and different people will have different ideas but for me I am going to approach it from the perspective of an integrated narrative. What does it mean to write from an integrative narrative? Each chapter or section of an Upgrade Paper should not come across as a separate, somewhat disjointed follow up from the previous section or chapter, but must be connected in a story like narrative within which ideas and arguments flow seamlessly and are built up from a chapter or section to the next chapter or section. In order to achieve this, within each chapter or section consider the previous references and contextualise them within the current themes of discussion along with the other references relevant to that particular chapter or section. This creates the integration; the narrative story like style occurs through the appropriate use of language that connects previous ideas within a current context in a way that builds on those ideas and builds up the arguments.

As an example, in the literature review chapter of the Upgrade Paper I shall be referencing a few of the key authors in relation to various key terms and constructs that are a part of the research. Within each section of this chapter I shall be referencing those from the previous sections, along with extra references, and contextualising or make relevant their discussions to the current concept of discussion. Moving forward to the research design / paradigm chapter of the Upgrade Paper I shall use some of the references within the literature review chapter and contextualise their discussions relevant to the research design for example in terms of the way in which their discussions provide a basis for that design. This would be providing that integration of references, contextualisation of those references, and the creating of that story of the way that the design and aspects of the design came about. Some might not agree with this general approach but in my opinion there is worth and meaningfulness in using the same reference throughout different sections of a report as long as what they are saying is relevant towards the context of the discussions and contribute towards laying the foundation of whatever argument is being presented.

Second challenge: Mixed Methods at the Philosophical level

The other challenge for my own specific project could also provide itself as an opportunity. During the literature review chapter I wrote about the different ontological and epistemological perspectives as part of describing a particular construct of the research. When I thought a bit more about its relevance to the methodology of Mixed Methods, I became to realise that perhaps what I was thinking about Mixed Methods at the Philosophical level is not quite what I had previously thought. Some might have ran away from this or ignored this but I went with it, and it has led me to a point where I now realise that Mixed Methods at a Philosophical level is not quite what I previously thought it would be: but more about this in the next blog post!


In all, treat the Upgrade Paper as an opportunity to really explore your thoughts as they are currently. Identify opportunities and think carefully as you write out your thoughts, and embrace the challenges and the thinking that might oppose what you had previously thought. There is nothing wrong with that: it is what learning and research are all about and to ignore these opportunities to think more carefully about your research is to ignore it at risk of the validity, reliability, completeness of methodology, and feasibility of the research.


February 10, 2016

Conflicting Issues In Literature: Design And Methodology


Another issue that new researchers and Ph.D. candidates shall have to deal with is the conflicting terminology within literature. Terminology is conflicting because writers use different terms interchangeably to mean the same thing but the meanings behind the terms differ significantly. In the case of this blog post, the terms “design” and “methodology” have been and continue to be used in literature to mean the blueprint of a research project but they are terms that carry different meanings and I shall use this blog post to present my own definitions (and add to the already confused mess of terminological definitions), which are probably likely to change in the future!


A research design is the blueprint of a research project: a logically designed or constructed document that defines the layout of the research project, illustrating through narrative and diagrams (usually the case for the thesis) the methods used to collect and analyse the data in a way that provides answers for a hypothesis or research questions. A research design illustrates the relationship between the defined research problem, the defined research question, the methodologies and methods, the underlying Philosophical assumptions of these methodologies and methods, and the way in which data shall be collected and used to answer the research questions. Research design should be considered and developed following the identification of a research problem and the construction of the research questions. The different research designs within Educational Research include Experiment based, Observation based, Longitudinal based, Case Study, Ethnography, Grounded Theory, and Phenomenology, among others, all of which define that previously mentioned relationship and characteristics of that relationship in different ways.


Methodology is part of a research design that provides a framework for the data collection and data analysis. A methodology defines the methods that are to be used, the approach or model used to implement the methods, the timing of implementing these methods, the importance of these methods, and therefore the way in which assigned questions shall be addressed and the data that is to be expected. The key difference between methodology and design therefore is that methodology does not explain the overall research problem or research questions, but is associated with a particular research question or questions to address a particular aspect of the research problem. A design does illustrate the overall research problem and questions and the relationship between the research problem, the research questions, the methodology, methods, and expected data in answering aspects of the problems and the questions. A research methodology can be quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods.


I mentioned that Grounded Theory can be an overall design but it can also be a methodology within a design and, in the case of my research, a method within a methodology. Constructivist Grounded Theory was originally going to be a methodology within an explanatory research design, but this was dropped because Constructivist Grounded Theory as a methodology works exclusively with qualitative data. There was no way I could use quantitative data with the Constructivist Grounded Theory methodology therefore switched the methodology to Mixed Methods, and repurposed Constructivist Grounded Theory as a method within a Mixed Methods methodology. As I began to elaborate on my methodology in the Upgrade Paper I did come across a stumbling block: the literature and its conflicting approach to defining methodology and design, and authors were referring to Mixed Methods as both a design and a methodology.


What did I do to overcome this barrier? I thought carefully about the different types of Mixed Method methodologies and their suitability for the context of my research. The type of Mixed Methods that has been selected as suitable is convergent parallel and this has been referred to in the literature as a convergent parallel design although some authors have called it a convergent parallel model, but that’s just going beyond the point of driving a person insane.


I think therefore considering that the methodology defines the way that research questions are addressed, and that the design acts as the blueprint or illustration of the way in which the research shall proceed, it’s safe to say that the methodology is definitely Mixed Methods whilst the design of the research can be defined as a Convergent Parallel design.


This post is attempting to highlight the difficulty that some researchers might come across when dealing with terminology use in the research literature, and that it is so easy to be thrown off course initially as you try to develop a more substantial understanding of these terminologies. Developing that substantial understanding and a detailed, careful consideration of the terms “design” and “methodology” is the only way you are going to be able to properly define them.


Till next time: don’t accept a definition in the first resource you come across! Question and explore!


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