Shifting towards mixed methodologies

Through my lived experiences I have interfaced with the construct of “research” in a number of different ways. Through directed and casual reading, conducting research projects with various levels of formality, and writing to both summarize and report on research, my conceptualization of the construct has changed and evolved. Similarly, my worldview has broadened and shifted. My ontological and epistemological perspectives continue to be shifting and context dependent. Over the past few months I have engaged with mixed methodology in my coursework and in one strand of my research. This methodology is well suited for my current way of thinking as it “encourages the use of multiple worldviews” (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011, p. 13). To unpack how I have emerged at this point, in this post I describe my interactions with worldviews and “research” before my current program of study, briefly consider my development as a student and research fellow at the University of Vermont, and ponder my current questions about mixed methodology.

With an undergraduate degree in the physical sciences, my early perceptions of research were solely quantitative. Although a positivist stance did not saturate all dimensions of my worldview, it was certainly how I thought in the academic realm. I moved from there into religious studies, where I strongly embraced a phenomenological epistemology (e.g. Cristi, 2001; Johnson, 2002), with a focus on the process of the individual (e.g. Christ, 2003; Daly, 1985; Hartshorne, 1984). From there I moved into graduate work in education, where I was exposed to a constructivist perspective of student knowledge. Finally, I transitioned into teaching, where I taught science and math. From a content perspective I moved back to privileging quantitative information and a post-positivist perspective, while from a process perspective I considered myself a constructivist.

As an undergraduate, academic research was something conducted by other people. Occasionally I would read journal papers, but certainly not fully comprehend the content. As a graduate student in religious studies, again research was something that I consumed, and that which I took in was transparently grounded in the individual’s perspective. The independent research I was able to conduct was similarly personally bound. Reflecting on my time as a teacher, I now perceive the amount of informal research with which I was engaged on a daily basis. This included gathering quantitative and qualitative data on my students, and synthesizing it using my understandings of how a student could be successful. In this work I considered individual students and entire classes as foci of analyses at different times and for different purposes. Although I was deliberate in my own way, this ad hoc mixed methods research lacked a systematic method.

My work as a student and a research fellow at the University of Vermont has greatly widened my understanding of qualitative and quantitative research. Through coursework I have started to build an understanding of numerous approaches to qualitative work as outlined by Savin-Baden and Major (2012) and Creswell (2013), among others. The researcher-as-instrument (Glesne, 2011) stance in particular helped me to better understand the ways in which multiple meanings are made and presented in empirical research. Through participating in numerous projects at the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education I have come to understand the constraints placed on researchers, and how experimental design adapts to these challenges. Similarly, my coursework in and implementation of quantitative methods has made it clear that there are a large number of idiosyncrasies under the positivist veneer of “quantitative methodology” that I perceived previously from my position as a less-informed outsider. I now see that, as pointed out by Sandelowski (2014), there is as much variance within each of the qualitative and quantitative traditions than there is between these constructs. Reading research after having produced research of my own  allows me to move past participating in naïve reconstruction of logic, and instead try to understand the “logic in use” (Sechrest & Sidani, 1995) by the researchers. Reading in this way can help draw out the pragmatic deviations from any sort of perceived methodological “purity” in elements of the design and process of the research.

My background experiences and my recent and current research work have taken me through qualitative and quantitative methodologies and the deep assumptions surrounding these fields. At this moment in my studies and career, I find myself shifted towards a more pragmatic stance towards conducting research and progressing through the program. It is not surprising, then, that I am interested in mixed methods, a methodological tradition grounded in pragmatism (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011; Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2005). Through my experiences and my coursework, I have enjoyed  growing in my understanding and adding these techniques to my researcher toolkit.

References

Christ, C. P. (2003). She who changes: re-imagining the divine in the world. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed). Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.

Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. (2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed). Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.

Cristi, M. (2001). From civil to political religion: the intersection of culture, religion and politics. Waterloo, Ont: Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press.

Daly, M. (1985). Beyond God the Father: toward a philosophy of women’s liberation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Glesne, C. (2011). Becoming qualitative researchers: an introduction (4th ed). Boston: Pearson.

Hartshorne, C. (1984). Omnipotence and other theological mistakes. Albany: State University of New York.

Johnson, P. C. (2002). Secrets, gossip, and gods: the transformation of Brazilian Candomblé. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Leech, N. L. (2005). On Becoming a Pragmatic Researcher: The Importance of Combining Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methodologies. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 8(5), 375–387. http://doi.org/10.1080/13645570500402447

Sandelowski, M. (2014). Unmixing mixed-methods research. Research in Nursing & Health, 37(1), 3–8. http://doi.org/10.1002/nur.21570

Savin-Baden, M., & Major, C. H. (2012). Qualitative research: The essential guide to theory and practice. New York: Routledge.

Sechrest, L., & Sidani, S. (1995). Quantitative and qualitative methods: Is there an alternative? Evaluation and Program Planning, 18(1), 77–87. http://doi.org/10.1016/0149-7189(94)00051-X

 

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About Mark W. Olofson

Mark is in the third year in the EDLP Ph.D. program at the University of Vermont. His research interests include modeling teacher knowledge in technology-rich learning environments, the effects of adverse childhood experiences and residential mobility on early learners, and the globalization of public school privatization policies. When he isn't reading, writing, or discussion education, Mark enjoys backpacking, whitewater paddling, and bicycle touring.