Investigating the current practices of quality assurance

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This section aims at providing an overview for research paradigm of the study and also providing justification of chosen paradigm with regard to the ontological, epistemological, methodological, and axiological perspective. The research design will then be discussed.

This study adopts a qualitative approach investigating the current practices of quality assurance in selected universities in Vietnam used as case studies under the perceptions of academic leaders, tertiary teachers and quality assurance staff as well as exploring the potential challenges and enablers for a genuine quality culture. This approach will prove rich and in depth meaning for the following research questions:

How can structure and culture inform quality assurance/improvement in the context of Vietnamese higher education institutions?

and is followed by the following sub-questions:

What is the current quality culture of HEIs in Vietnamese context?

How is quality assurance developed and managed in HEIs in Vietnam?

How do academic leaders, tertiary teachers and quality assurance staff respond to quality management?

What are the views of tertiary teachers and academic leaders (university rectors, faculty deans) and quality assurance staff about enabling factors and potential challenges to be overcome for a successful quality culture, i.e. for genuine quality improvement?

Research paradigm:

Paradigm is defined by Denzin and Lincoln (1994) as:

'the basic belief system on world view that guides the investigator, not only in choice of method, but in ontologically and epistemologically fundamental ways' (p.106)

Creswell (2009) uses another term, worldview as meaning 'basic set of beliefs that guide action' (Cuba, 1990, p.17 as cited in Creswell, 2009).

Those basic set of beliefs can be clearly viewed basing on responses to four conceptual and interrelated questions as confirmed by Denzin and Lincoln (2000):

The ethical question: 'How will I be as a moral person in the world?'

The epistemological question: 'What is the relationship between the inquirer and the known?'

The ontological question: What is 'nature of reality, and nature of the human being in the world?'

The methodological question: What are 'the best means of gaining knowledge about the world'? (p.157)

Ontology

This study will focus on the reality constructed by the participants under investigation. The reality of ontological question is as it applies to the phenomena of quality assurance in selected tertiary institutions in Vietnam. The study will focus on the different interpretations of quality assurance mechanisms by academic leaders, tertiary teachers and quality assurance staff and their perceptions of a successful quality culture in these institutions. There will be multiple realities involved in the research. The constructivist ontology is supposed to be appropriate for this study, where meanings the participants construct as they engage with the world they are interpreting, base on their historical and social perspectives and are always social, arising in and out of interaction with a human community (Crotty, 1998, as cited in Creswell, 2009).

Epistemology:

'What is the relationship between the inquirer and the known?'

(Creswell, 1998, p.76, Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p.157)

is the epistemological question of any study.

This study will describe and explore the phenomena of quality assurance in higher education in Vietnam. In the study, the researcher will interact with academic leaders, tertiary teachers and quality assurance staff through semi-structured, in-depth interviews. It is, therefore, interpretive in nature in terms of describing and exploring the phenomena of quality assurance as perceived by these various groups of participants.

Methodology:

Taken the aforementioned ontological and epistemological perspective into considerations, the study will apply a qualitative methodology, which assumes an inductive logic. This approach will allow categorising meaning emerging from the participants' perceptions and different interpretation of quality assurance in Vietnamese tertiary education. This will provide 'rich context bound information leading to patterns or theories that help explain a phenomenon' (Creswell, 1998, p.7).

Axiology

Axiology is related to values (Gough, 2000), or ethics (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p. 157). It is impossible to do social research and not be concerned about values. Howe (2009) stated the fact that "just as social research is theory-laden; it is also value-laden" is inescapable.

 Viewing ethics from an academic's perspective, this study will follow the New Zealand Association for Research in Education (NZARE) Ethical Guidelines (NZARE, 2010) as Guba and Lincoln (2005) assert that axiology is "part of the foundational philosophical dimensions of paradigm proposal (p. 200)."

Qualitative research:

Denzin and Lincoln (2003) define qualitative research as:

'a set of interpretive, material practices that make the world visible. These practices transform the world. They turn the world into a series of representations, including filed notes, interviews, conversations, photographs, recordings, and memos to self. Qualitative researchers study things in their natural environment, attempting to make sense of, or to interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them (p.3)'

Similarly, Creswell (1998) defines a qualitative study as 'inquiry process of understanding a social or human problem, based on building a complex, holistic picture, formed with words, reporting detailed views of informants, and conducted in a natural setting' (p.2).

This study adopts an inductive inquiry, with context bound information emerging to help explain the phenomena of quality assurance practices in higher education. There are various reasons proposed by Taylor and Bogdan (1998) for a qualitative methodology. First, it deals with the meaning the participants interpret things around them in their life, which helps the researcher understand people from their own perspective and the reality as they experience it. Second, qualitative research allows the development of concepts, insights and understandings from patterns emerging in the data rather than collecting data to assess preconceived models, hypotheses and theories. This inductive nature is appropriate for exploring how people interpret and respond to quality assurance mechanism in higher education and the ways they form their behaviour towards quality assurance.

In addition, Creswell (2003) details some specific criteria applied to a qualitative study: taking place in natural setting, being emergent rather than tightly configured, being fundamentally interpretive, holistic views on the social phenomena, the systematic reflection of the researcher on who she is and her own personal biography.

Research design

Philosophies The research is designed so as to describe the quality assurance systems in tertiary education in Vietnam and explore how academic leaders, tertiary teachers and quality assurance staff respond to quality assurance and also their perceptions for a successful quality culture. Figure 5 (adapted from Saunders et al, 2007) below shows different approaches available for a research and the study framework applied in this research.

Realism

Positivism

Interpretivism

Experiment

Deductive

Objectivism

Strategies

Mono method

Case study

Survey

Subjectivism

Choices

Mixed method

Cross-sectional or longitudinal

Functionalist

Time horizon

Multi method

Archival

Ethnography

Grounded

Pragmatism

Inductive

Radical humanist

Radical structuralist

Figure 5: The research paradigm (adapted from Saunders et al (2007, p.132)

Approaches

The element of research paradigm in this study is summarized as following:

Epistemology Constructivism

Theoretical perspective Interpretivism

Research approach Inductive

Documentation

Observation

Interviews

DocumentResearch methodology Qualitative Multiple case study

Data collection

The case study approach

The US General Accounting Office (1990) defines a case study as 'a method for learning about a complex instance, based on a comprehensive understanding of that instance obtained by extensive descriptions and analysis of that instance taken as a whole and in its context' (p.14). Although there are debates whether it is a method or a research design, Mertens (2005) considers case studies as one option in quality research strategy choice.

Yin (1994) suggests that the major rationale for using case study design is 'when your investigation must cover both a particular phenomenon and the context within which the phenomenon is occuring' (p.31) and also for Yin (2009) 'the distintive need for case studies arises out of the design to undertand complex social phenomena' and 'allows investigators to retain the holistic and meaningful characteristics of real-life events' (p.4). The research will cover current practices of assuring quality in different tertiary institutions in Vietnam. The case study approach, therefore, will be suitable because of the contextual nature of the phenomenon under investigation. This methodological approach 'involves systematically gathering enough information about a particular person, social setting, event or group to permit the researcher to effectively understand how it operates or functions' (Berg, 2004, p.251). 'Case study is not intended as a study of the entire organisation. Rather is intended to focus on a particular issue, feature or unit of analysis' (Noor, 2008, p.1602), in this case, the practices of quality assurance activities in different tertiary institutions. Furthermore, to allow for cross-comparision of contexts and to capture a wide enough spectrum of factors influencing quality assurance within various institutions, a multiple case study approach will be chosen. This enables the researcher to understand the complex real-life activities of academic leaders, tertiary teachers and quality assurance staff for quality delivery and assurance in different contexts. The research will investigate the different ways of conducting quality assurance activities in the selected institutions in order to explore how quality assurance systems are developed and operated in their contexts. Each case study is supposed to contain different variables of interest resulting from the unique context shaping its own quality assurance system.

Using a multiple case study approach first (1) allows in-depth analysis of the complex relationship amongst different systems of quality assurance and how different players perceived them together with deep insights into how different contexts affect their practices in assuring quality, second (2) allows the reseacher to identify particularity of each system in relation to particular contextual factors for different institutional identities as stated by Anderson (1993) that case studies concern how and why things happen, allowing the investigation of contextual realities and the differences between what was planned and what actually occurred, and third (3) allows the researcher to make comparisons amongst cases.

The choice for multiple cases is appropriate given that Yin (1993) argues multiple case studies should follow a replication, not sampling logic. Three tertiary institutions will be chosen to form multiple case studies in this research, which allows the replication or producing contrasting results but for predictable reasons from one phenomenon (Yin, 1994). However, the study does not aim at gaining the generalisation of the findings nor seeking a desirable outcome as Lincoln and Cuba (1985) argue '...the existence of local conditions makes it impossible to generalise' (p.124). Additionally, Stake (2000) warns readers not to lose the uniqueness of this case in an attempt to find similarities with other cases. The primary concern is to gain deep understanding of influential factors informing quality assurance practices and explanation of experiences in these varied contextual cases from the perspectives of the participants under investigation.

The purpose of using multiple case study in this research is not only to obtain the transferability through thick description, i.e. 'extensive and careful description of the time, place, context and culture' (Mertens, 2005, p.256), but also respect the particularity of each case. Though some authors (Yin, 1994, Merriam, 1988) view case study as a method for scientific generalizations, Stake (2000) emphasizes the importance of the intrinsic interest in each case, which is of vital for this study.

Selections of cases:

Within a qualitative paradigm, the major technique of sampling is purposive, as opposed to probability sampling in a quantitative study. Purposive sampling strategies are deigned 'to enhance understandings of selected individuals or groups' experience(s) or for developing theories and concepts' (Devers & Frankel, 2000, p.264). Purposive sampling seeks information rich cases which can be studied in-depth (Patton, 1990), that is 'individuals, groups, organisations, or behaviours that provide the greatest insight into the research question' (Devers & Frankel, 2000, p.264).

In explaining how to define the case or the unit of analysis, Merriam (1988) suggests 'the case can be an individual, a program, an institution, a group, an event, a concept' (p.44) and the key issue in determining the case is to decide 'what it is you want to be able to say something about at the end of the study' (Patton, 1980, p.100). Thus, the case in this study will be a holistic, intensive, rich description and analysis of policies and practices to assure quality of Business English undergraduate programme. A multiple case study also aims at examining 'how the program or phenomenon performs in different environments' (Stake, 2006, p.23). Thus, the practices of assuring quality in Business English program will be investigated at three tertiary institutions.

The strategies for cases in this study are subject to Patton's (2002) categories. First of all, homogeneous samples will be used for the researcher's selection of cases to enable her to describe 'the experiences of subgroups of people who share similar characteristics' (Patton, 2002 as cited in Mertens, 2005, p.318) or Goetz and LeCompte (1984) define it as comparable-case selection. In this study, three different tertiary institutions which deliver the same undergraduate specialized/professional program, Business English will be selected as cases in order to find out if there are any similarities or contrasting results in conducting quality assurance activities from top-down policies to bottom-up ideas. Business English undergraduate program, rather than other discipline is chosen because of what Patton (2005) calls 'convenience sampling', accessible to the researcher in terms of her major.

In addition, stratified purposeful sampling will be chosen to select three different institutions in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This selection bases on specified criteria, and a sample of cases is selected within those strata. Three tertiary institutions in Ho Chi Minh City- University of Finance and Marketing, Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Ho Chi Minh City University of Pedagogy will be chosen basing on the varied nature of the institutions which Hopkin (2004) refers to 'frame factors' which help to categorise institutions as 'mature', 'evolving' and 'embryonic'. Although his categories are applied broadly in the world including 'the traditional elaborate higher education systems of developed states' as mature systems, 'younger higher education systems' as evolving systems and 'higher education systems that are at the early stage of development' (pp.191-192) as embryonic one, he suggests the most meaningful implication of this categorisation can be inferred to the stage of higher education systems in itself as a frame factor. University of Finance and Marketing is classified as embryonic, Ho Chi Minh City Open University as evolving and Ho Chi Minh City University of Pedagogy as mature in terms of 'collective whole' rather than its 'components' (Hopkin, 2004, p.193). These three cases will be perceived as different in terms of a wide variety of frame factors both internally and externally influencing an institution: levels of development, institutional size, resource availability, quantity and quality of personnel, their general contextual environment and their unique historical characteristics. These varied cases, which formulate the basis of purposeful sampling of these cases under investigation, allow the researcher to collect rich information on the fullest possible range of factors that inform policies in assuring and improving quality in the developmenting context of tertiary education in Vietnam.

Selections of participants:

In this study the goal is to gain deep understanding of quality assurance practices and experiences from the perspectives of academic leaders, tertiary teachers and quality assurance staff, which therefore will form the three main groups of stakeholder. Different groups of stakeholders are believed to provide various conceptualisations on how quality is assured and committed in a complex and integrated system as a whole, i.e. an undergraduate programme. Academic leaders will be selected because they are both practitioners and managers of quality assurance from the top including rector or vice rector of institutions, dean of the department and Business English program if applicable given the contextual factors of each institution. The minimum number of academic leaders will be two for each case and up to three.

Quality assurance staffs are informants and will be in advantageous positions to likely provide rich sources of information on how quality is managed and assured at programmatic level. This may vary across institutions. The number of invited quality assurance staff will depend on the available staff working at both institutional and programmatic levels to ensure 'the maximum variation sampling' (Patton, 2002), up to three participants.

The same strategy will be applied for teacher participants in consideration of teachers' genders, age and experience, full time and part-time teachers. Eight teachers from each case will be invited to take part in interviews, a mixture of male and female teachers to ensure gender voice balance, both young and old teachers in terms of not only age but their experience in teaching and a balance of fulltime and part-time teachers. The numbers of full time and part time teachers can be varied due to the contextual environment of each institution.

Table 1: Three groups of participants in the study

Case study 1

Case study 2

Case study 3

Academic leaders

Rector 1

Rector 2

Rector 3

Dean 1

Dean 2

Dean 3

*Head 1 of Business English programme

Head 1 of Business English programme

Head 1 of Business English programme

Quality assurance staff

3 participants

3 participants

3 participants

Tertiary teachers

8 participants

8 participants

8 participants

(*) It can be noted that the dean of faculty and head of Business English programme can be one person dependent on the arrangements of each institution.

Data collection:

To study a case, Stake (2000) recommends data collection of the following types of information:

The nature of the case

The historical background

The physical setting

Other contexts, such as economic, political, legal, and aesthetic

Other cases through which this case is recognized

Those informants through whom the case can be known.

In terms of data collection, 'the case study method requires the use of multiple source of evidence', which helps address the issue of construct validity because 'the multiple sources of evidence should provide multiple measures of the same construct' (Gray, 2009, p.252), also enhances data credibility (Patton, 1990; Yin, 2003) and triangulation of evidence (Yin, 1994).

The findings of the study will be mainly drawn from three primary sources of evidence: the review of literature, document analysis and field work including observation and interviews. Instead of handling data from these multiple sources individually, they are converged in the analysis process contributing to the researcher's understanding of the whole phenomenon (Baxter & Jack, 2008). 'No single source has a complete advantage over the others; rather, they might be complementary and could be used in tandem' (Tellis, 1997, p.8). Similarly, Patton (1990) suggests that 'using a combination of data types increases validity as the strengths of one approach can compensate for the weaknesses of another approach' (p.224).

Yin (1994) advocates the use of 'as many source as possible' (p.80).

The following table (Table 2) outlines the strengths and weaknesses of each source of evidence used in the study from Yin (2009):

Table 2. Strengths and weaknesses of some sources of evidence by Yin (2009)

Source of evidence

Strengths

Weaknesses

Documentation

Stable - can be reviewed repeatedly

Unobtrusive - not created as a result of the case study

Exact - contains exact names, references, and details of an event.

Broad coverage - long span of time, many events and many settings

Retrievability - can be difficult to find

Biased selectivity, if collection is incomplete

Reporting bias - reflects (unknown) bias of author

Access - may be deliberately withheld

Interviews

Targeted - focuses directly on case study topics

Insightful - provides perceived causal inferences and explanations

Bias due to poorly articulated questions

Response bias

Inaccuracies due to poor recall

Reflexivity - interviewee gives what interviewer wants to hear

Direct Observation

Reality - covers events in real time

Contextual - covers context of 'case'

Time-consuming

Selectivity - broad coverage difficult without a team of observers

Reflexivity - event may proceed differently because it is being observed

Cost - hours needed by human observers

(Excerpt from Yin, 2009, p. 102)

The literature in quality assurance will be reviewed and discussed first in order to shed a light on the development of quality assurance, together with current debates, concern, practices and trends in the world as well as in the Vietnamese context. The contestable nature of both quality and quality assurance in tertiary institutions are not only common in developing countries but also developed countries in terms of whose responsibility to assure quality: the government, or university alone or being shared amongst academics and other groups of stakeholders. The second theme arisen in the literature review is the empowerment relationship between academics and other stakeholders which may impede or enhance quality assurance processes. Furthermore, a review of literature advocates the complicated phenomenon of quality assurance processes including multiple stakeholders' perspectives and very intricate to balance. Another issue refers to quality management and commitment tensions amongst different stakeholders. These current debates and concerns will guide questions during interviews.

The second source of evidence will be documentation. Documents could be Education Law, national directives, decisions, letters, memoranda, agendas, quality handbook, curriculum, self-study reports, or any items that could add to the database of quality assurance practices and activities including institutional mission, programmatic objectives, strategic plans, curriculum design and other explicit policies, procedures in assuring quality. These documents allow the researcher to figure out quality assurance frameworks within each case study. The most important angle of document analysis is how congruent it is between the policy in paper and practices in reality. The uses of documents are of importance to reinforce evidence from other sources. However, the research will be aware if being over-reliant on document as evidence in case studies as it has been criticized by Yin (1994).

While document analysis (descriptive studies) can provide a picture of a phenomenon as it naturally occurs, draw a picture of a situation, person or event or show how things are related to each other (Gray, 2009,pp.35-36) and cannot explain why an event has occurred (Blumberg, 2005 as cited Gray, 2009,p.36), interviews (explanatory studies) 'set out to explain and account for the descriptive information (Gray, 2009,p.36)'.

An interview for Gray (2009) is 'a conversation between people in which one person has the role of researcher' (p.369). Whether it is structured, semi-structured or unstructured, 'well-conducted interview is a powerful tool for eliciting rich data on people's views, attitudes, and the meanings that underpin their lives and behaviours' (Gray, 2009, p.370). In this study, semi-structured interviews will be used as a means of gathering information about a person's knowledge, values, preferences and attitudes (Cohen & Manion, 2000 as cited in Gray, 2009, p.370). Patton (1990) also clarifies the purpose of interviewing is 'not to put things in someone's mind but to access the perspective of person being interviewed' (p.278).

Also, open-ended interviews are considered appropriate in the qualitative research because of its nature, to get the perceptions of different groups of stakeholders on how quality assurance is developed and implemented in their institutions. Moreover, the interviews allow probing views and opinions in line with research objectives, research questions and the information gained from literature review so as to obtain the validity of the interviews, which may become problematic in unstructured interviews. They also provide space for respondents to expand on their answer (Gray, 2009).

When conducting an interview, following caveats suggested from Mhlanga (2009) will be taken into account. He suggests that the researcher is responsible for creating 'the right interview climate' (p.81), which means establishing and maintaining a positive interviewing climate, as concurrent with Maykut and Morehouse's (1994) arguments.

Table 3. Caveats for interviews developed from Mhlanga (2009)

Before interview

During interview

- not only make appointments but also be prompt for the interview appointments by emailing information relating to interviews.

- ensure that all the equipment needed during the interview is ready: recorder, batteries, mini-cassettes, note-taking equipment.

At the beginning of the interview,

greeting respondents, formally introducing with a smile.

spelling out the purpose of interviews to assure respondents of anonymity

informing the planned duration of the interview

asking for permission to tape record the interview

During the interview, the role of the researcher is a referee for

keeping on track of the topic while ensuring the freedom of respondents and avoiding unnecessary repetition

paying attention to their talk, maintaining eye contact, probing their responses and even nodding quite effective in motivating them

Terminating interviews socially appropriately: thanking

All interviews will be audio or video recorded, dependent on instruments' availability and interviewees' preferences. Recording interviews is very advantageous in terms of allowing the interviewer maximum concentration on asking questions and issues for richest information, and also capturing every word uttered by the respondents. In addition, the recording allows detailed and accurate transcription of data that cannot obtain from memory or notes-taking. However, for those respondents who prefer not to record, taking notes will be used. The interviews will be conducted in Vietnamese; therefore, after being transcribed they will be all translated into English.

As with other sections of interview design, McNamara (2009) makes some excellent recommendations for the implementation stage of the interview process. He includes the following tips for interview implementation: (a) occasionally verify the tape recorder (if used) is working; (b) ask one question at a time; (c) attempt to remain as neutral as possible (that is, don't show strong emotional reactions to their responses; (d) encourage responses with occasional nods of the head, "uh huh"s, etc.; (e) be careful about the appearance when note taking (that is, if you jump to take a note, it may appear as if you're surprised or very pleased about an answer, which may influence answers to future questions); (f) provide transition between major topics, e.g., "we've been talking about (some topic) and now I'd like to move on to (another topic);" (g) don't lose control of the interview (this can occur when respondents stray to another topic, take so long to answer a question that times begins to run out, or even begin asking questions to the interviewer) (Conducting Interview section, para 1)

Observations in this study will be direct ones, but very limited. The purpose of observation is mainly to maximise the time spent during the visits to selected institutions including but not limited to, library, computer and network system, laboratories, staff offices, and classroom.

Figure 6 below summarizes the process of multiple case study applied in this research.

Conduct third case study

Conduct second case study

Conduct first case study

Select cases

Document analysis

Document analysis

Interviews

Data analysis

Interviews

Data analysis

Document analysis

Data analysis

Interviews

Interviews

Develop theory

Interviews

Interviews

Design data collection tools and protocol

Write third case study report

Write second case study report

Write first case study report

Comparing and contrasting

Comparing and contrasting

Draw cross case conclusions

Modify theory

Develop policy implications

Write cross-case report

Figure 6: A case study process

Data analysis:

The analysis of this study will generally rely on the theoretical propositions that lead to the case study. Otherwise, the researcher could consider developing a descriptive framework around which the case study is organized.

The nature of fieldwork is to collect sufficient and adequate data until they can reach the level of 'data saturation' for research objectives. Unlike researchers of quantitative studies, who can commence analysing their data at the end of fieldwork, qualitative researchers can start their data analysis during their fieldwork.

Individual case study analysis:

Literature review

Direct observations

First case analysis

Interviews

Document analysis

First case study

Interview 2

Interview 1

Raw analysis of first interview

Remaining interviews

â-

â-

â-

Figure 7. Individual case study analysis

The above figure (Figure 7) shows stage-by-stage analysis. It is very beneficial for collecting data to gain a meaningful insight into what really happened in reality before understanding deeply why this happened. The data collection in this study will be planned in such a way that the analysis of previous source of evidence will guide the subsequent processes of data collection. It is worthwhile checking the previous interview before sitting for the next one in order to identify any weaknesses and then plans for improvements as Merriam (1988) asserts 'data collection and analysis is a simultaneous activity in qualitative research' and '…the emerging insights, hunches, and tentative hypotheses direct the next phase of data collection, which in turn leads to refinement or reformulation of one's questions' (p.119).

Also, proper data management will help to ensure research validity and rigour. All data from different sources of evidence will then be managed with the help of computer-assisted qualitative data analysis, Nvivo programme. It will serve as 'an able assistant and reliable tool' (Yin, 2009, p.128) to allow data to be coded and categorized. Once a case study database has been created, each case study will be analysed individually and then cross-case analyses will be made.

Yin (2009) suggests that case studies, as other empirical research studies, have a 'story' to tell, then an analytic strategy is needed to guide the researcher to crafting this story. Results from various sources of data will then be triangulated using pattern-matching, explanation-building analytic techniques proposed by Yin (2009). Moreover, the study will also apply the integrated strategies for cross-case analysis: case-oriented and variable-oriented as proposed by Miles and Huberman (1994). The data from the first case study will be organized and analysed into conceptual categories and emerging themes, then descriptions and explanations of various patterns will be made. Similar processes will be applied to the remaining cases, in which dominant variables in the first case will be paid more attention and any new variables will be noted to identify the uniqueness of each case. Case-oriented strategy allows deep understanding of how quality assurance is developed and exercised in each case individually whilst variable-oriented helps capture the wide range of contextual factors for cross-case comparisons on variables and patterns regarding quality assurance practices.

The following procedures will be used for data analysis as suggested by Creswell (2009). Though he confirms that this is a linear, hierarchical approach, it is an interactive in practice, various stages are interrelated.

Interpreting the meaning of themes/ descriptions

Integrating themes / description using case-oriented strategy

Validating the accuracy of the information

Description

Themes

Case 2

Case 3

Case 1

Coding the data (computer)

Cross-case analysis using variable-oriented strategy

Reading intensively through all data

Organizing and preparing data for analysis with the help of Nvivo

Raw data from documents, interviews, fieldnotes, observations

Figure 8. Data analysis procedures (adapted from Creswell, 2009)

Reliability, validity and generalizability:

Qualitative validity means that the researcher checks for the accuracy of the findings by employing certain procedures. The above figure shows various procedures aiming at ensuring the research validity. Data triangulation, rich, thick description, researcher-bias clarification, negative and discrepant information, and sufficient time in the fields suggested by Creswell (2009) are multi strategies will be used to check the accuracy of the findings.

In order to determine whether approaches in qualitative research are consistent and reliable, Yin (2003) suggests the procedures of case studies be documented as detailed as possible. Gibbs (2007 as cited in Creswell, 2009) proposes several reliability procedures from checking transcripts for not making any obvious mistakes to making sure of no drift in code definition, no shift in meaning of codes.

Generalisation is not the purpose of this study, though it is designed as multiple case study (Yin, 2009, Merriam, 1988, Miles & Huberman, 1994), this study aims at 'particular description and themes in context of a specific site', 'particularity rather than generalizability' is the hallmark of quality research' (Creswell, 2009, p. 193) in alignment with Denzin's (1983) and Guba and Lincoln's (1981) argument that generalizability is inappropriate for qualitative studies.

Ethical considerations

In addition to conceptualising the writing process for a proposal, researchers need to anticipate the emerging ethical issues during their research (Hess-Bieber & Leavey, 2006 as cited in Creswell, 2009). Researchers need to:

Protect their research participants

Develop a trust with them

Promote the integrity of research

Guard against misconduct and impropriety

(Isreal & Hay, 2006)

In terms of ethical issues, Creswell (2009) suggests a deep and thorough anticipation of potential issues in all phases of the research process including participants, research sites, and potential readers. Berg (2009) suggests that 'researchers must ensure the rights, privacy, and welfare of the people and communities that form the focus of their studies' (p.60) because of the increasing sophistication and penetration of data collection methods, data management and analysis, leading to increased awareness and concern over the ethical issues. For Punch (2005), these issues mainly revolve around a wide range of harm, consent, privacy, and the confidentiality of data. As Berg (2009) confirms 'the fundamental tenets of ethical social scientific research is the notion of, do no harm' (p.60).

Ethical issues in Data Collection by Creswell (2009):

'Researchers need to respect the participants and the sites for research' (Creswell, 2009, p.89). An informed consent form is developed (see Appendix A) for participants to sign before the study including the following information:

Identification of the researcher

Identification of the sponsoring institution

Indication of how the participants were selected

Identification of the purpose of the research

Identification of the benefits for participating

Identification of the level and type of participation involvement

Notation of risks to the participant

Guarantee of confidentiality to the participant

Assurance that the participant can withdraw at any time

Provision of names of persons to contact if questions arise.

(Sarantakos, 2005 as cited in Creswell, 2009, p.89)

Also, gaining the written agreement of individuals in authority (i.e. gate keepers) is needed to access participants and research sites. Not only do researchers respect the participants but also research sites in terms of disturbance. Creswell (2009) also notes that if there is no reciprocity between the researcher and the participants, an ethical issue will arise. As a result, both researcher and participants should benefit from the research.

Not only paying attention to ethical issues in data collection, Creswell (2009) suggests that the researcher needs to anticipate these issues during data analysis and interpretation including how to protect the anonymity of individuals, roles and incidents, a reasonable time to keep the analysed data and who owns these data, ensuring an accurate account of information. Furthermore, writing and disseminating the research also require focus on ethical issues, mainly the language use in the research, trying to avoid gender, sexual orientation, radical or ethnic group, disability or age. Other potential issues compose suppressing, falsifying or inventing findings. Additionally, exploiting the labor of colleagues is considered unethical. Finally, with respect to research dissemination, release of research details is important.

All ethical considerations and concerns for this study will be approved through the Human Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Education at Victoria University of Wellington.

Proposed Timelines

Following is the proposed timeline for the research:

Table 4: Proposed timeline for the research

No

Procedure

Timeline

Estimated duration

1

Full proposal and approval

August 2010 - April 2011

9 months

2

Ethics approval

May & June 2011

2 months

3

Data collection of first case

July 2011 - August 2011

2 months

4

Data analysis of first case

September - November 2011

3 months

5

Data collection of second case and third case

December 2011 - February 2012

3 months

6

Data analysis of second and third case

March - June 2012

4 months

7

Cross-case analysis and thesis writing

July 2012 - January 2013

7 months

8

Completion of draft thesis

February 2013 - September 2013

8 months

9

Finalise thesis

October- November 2013

2 months

10

Submit thesis

December 2013 - January 2014

2 months

Total period of time

42 months

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