Methods in collecting data for research about children

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This essay looks at the different research methods used in relation to children and young people and focuses on the distinct features and ranges of methods in collecting data.

There are two main research method used by researchers i.e. Quantitative and Qualitative. Punch (2005) states that 'Quantitative research is empirical research where the data are in forms of numbers and Qualitative research is empirical research where the data are not in the form of numbers.' (p.3)

Quantitative research deals with the numerical world which requires you to count or measure the data i.e. the frequency of occurrence of certain areas of the room being used.

Punch (2005) quotes that 'beginning of the 1960's, the traditional dominance of quantitative methods was challenged, that challenged a major growth of interest in using qualitative methods and in turn produced a split in both methods. However, a prolonged debate begun, some thought quantitative approaches should be used to study human behaviour while others thought qualitative approaches are appropriate' (p. 2). However today, there is an increased interest in using both methods. This is simply due to the quantitative-qualitative methods remain the two approaches used in research today. Punch (2005) also states 'a major consequence of these developments is that qualitative methods have moved more into mainstream of research'. (p.2)

Professor Jane Aldgate (2004a) quotes 'research is testing out ideas and what we call hypotheses, about whether a particular service performs as well as it's meant to do. I want to question assumptions that are made in the legislation and assumptions that are made by policy makers and practitioners, so that in the end, we can provide them with information that will improve services for children'. [1:59]

Research is an essential tool, it enables you to explore theories, ideas and being able to learn and find new things, but undoubtedly, enables you to confirm facts and identify areas in need of further explanations, such as obtaining answers. The overall benefit to research is in terms of a greater understanding and explanation of children, for example, how they learn in school, relationships with their peers, parents and carers. However, critically research can have its downsides, such as being time consuming, being stressful, being frustrating as well as the inevitable, changing your plan of action half-way through the project simply because the project is taking longer than you anticipated. These are some of the common examples.

There are various forms of research as outlined by Lewis (2004) States 'Liz Coates examines how children's drawings can be supplemented and enriched by what they say to themselves. Wataru Takei observed the hand gestures of 2 deaf children before they begun Japanese Sign Language. Jon Sutton addressed the question whether children who bully have an understanding of what others are feeling'. (p. 2)

There is various research tools can be used such as questionnaires, surveys, interviews, video recordings, naturalistic observations and some use special designed tasks such as standardised reading tests. Children can often be used as part of the research, such as allowing the children to take photographs, asking questions and escorting the researchers around the setting. Researchers also ask questions and participate in-group discussions. These questions create knowledge by exploring issues by actively engaging with the participation of research. Critically, Fraser (2004) states 'answering questions, discovery, creating knowledge, engaging with people - all these can be 'research', but none of them necessarily require methods that are exclusive to social and psychological research. For example, a good journalist might be similarly being involved asking questions but their knowledge is widely deemed to be different from that of a researcher.' (p.18)

Fraser (2004) quotes 'if research is empirical, it means that any knowledge that is derived has been developed not merely from thinking or theory but from observation or experiment which requires us to accept sensory experience as valid'. (p.18)

Empirical research is dependent upon the kind of questions used as the research paradigm, which is a set of forms of which contain a particular element. Fraser (2004) quotes 'systematically investigations of experience need not always involve counting properties attached to the child or young person. It can involve systematically understanding perceptions directly through what the children do, say, sing and wear' (p. 19)

Observations are used to collect data in both in Quantitative and Qualitative assessments and there are different ways of observations can be undertaken. Punch (2005) quotes 'five observational paradigms which can be distinguished in the way observational methods have been used such as Formal Sociology, Dramaturgical Sociology, Studies of the public realm, Auto-observation and Ethnomethodology' (p. 178-179). However, Ethnomethodology focuses on everyday life and how it's structured, although many Ethnomethodologists prefer observational methods over interviews. Therefore, Ethnomethodologists have given much of their attention to conservation analysis as this fundamentally the base of communication. Critically, Punch (2006) states 'Ethnomethodological observation is more structured and objective and less mediated by the subjective perspective of the researcher'. (p. 179)

Quantitative approaches are highly structured and are very detailed, although Qualitative approaches are unstructured, as the observations are in natural open-ended way. The researcher does not always use predetermined categories.

Punch (2006) quotes 'The most common terms used are independent variable (for cause) and dependent variable (for effect). The term control variable signifies a variable whose effects we want to remove or control'. (p. 67) We may want to control the variable due to several comparisons we may want to make during the study. As stated by Punch (2006) 'it is extraneous to the variable that we really want to study but, at the same time, may influence those variables and relationships' (p. 67)

Experimental research is a controlled between two groups, one being experimental and the other being a control group and can involve one group experiencing two different conditions. It is where theoretical research with something which can improve the lives of children and therefore, has a practical element.

Interviewing is a useful technique and one of the main collections of data in qualitative research. This is because, it is a useful way to collect people's definitions and perceptions and can be classed as one of the powerful way we can develop an understanding of people. Punch (2006) 'While interviewing is basically about asking questions and receiving answers, however there is more to it than that, especially in qualitative research' (p. 169)

Jane Aldgate (2004b) quotes 'semi-structured interviews is a technique where you have in your mind a definite question that you want to ask and then you follow it up by exploring the meaning of that question in more depth. For example, you would ask a child what was their understanding of going into foster care but you would want to get more than that. You would want to know what the child's feelings were about going into foster care and so you would want to explore the child's attitudes and feelings' [07:17]

Typical examples of interviewing can be face-to-face group interviews, individuals, questionnaires and can be structured, semi-structured and unstructured. As Punch (2006) states 'structured can be like survey interviews, semi-structured can be in-depth interviews and unstructured can be group interviews.' (p.169). These types of interviews can be administered with children and can be structured by asking a series of pre-established questions. A typical example is 'School Council/Curriculum Meetings' were the researcher works with several children simultaneously, rather than just one. As Punch (2006) stresses 'Since different types of group interviews have different purposes, which type should be used in a particular research situation depends on the context and research purpose' (p. 171)

The role of the researcher changes as they become a facilitator, and less than an interviewer. This is because the researcher will be monitoring, facilitating and recording the conversations and interactions. Consequently, this provides a unique role for the interviewer by them having appropriate skills in this area.

Group interviews can make a substantial contribution to research. Morgan (1988) quotes 'points out that the Hallmark of focus groups is the explicit use of the group interaction to produce data and insights that would explicit use of the group interaction to produce data and insight that would be less accessible without the interaction of the group'. (p. 171)

A questionnaire can be often used as an equivalent to a structured interview with an agreed set of questions. Jane Aldgate (2004b) 'It's very important that the questions are constructed in a way that doesn't lead either adults or children towards a particular answer. Let me give you an example. I was working with children whose parents were visiting them in foster care. So I wouldn't say to the children 'Do you think your parent ought to visit you in foster care?' I would say, 'What do you think about parents coming to visit their children in foster care?' in a much more sort of open-ended way'. [07:49]

Critically with questioning, children need to feel comfortable in answering them and consequently, children will often take their time to answer. Therefore, you need to follow their timing and notice their body language as well as notice what they are doing. It is critical to also state that the children have the right to not answer any question. This could be because their uncomfortable with a certain question.

Samantha Punch (2004b) quotes 'I think we have to recognise that because interviewing is an extension of normal human interaction it's inevitable that we're going to make mistakes. Sometimes the dynamic just doesn't work as in everyday conversation'. [22:53]

Punch (2006) states 'good research questions need to be clear, specific, answerable, interconnected and substantively relevant'. (p. 46) Bad research occurs fails when questions are unclear and not specific or fail on the grounds of the empirical criterion as above at the beginning this paragraph.

As with research there are many pro's and con's associated with quantitative research methods. The pros (motivators) could include, such as surveys which can provide reliable direction for planning programs and messages, surveys can be anonymous, which is useful for sensitive topics and like qualitative research methods, surveys can include visual material and can be used to protest prototypes. However, critically the cons (barriers) could include children who are willing to respond may share characteristics that do not apply to the audience as a whole, which creates a potential bias in the study and they can be costly.

The table below looks at some different methods used:

Qualitative Methods

Quantitative Methods

Methods like in-depth interviews, reviews and focus groups.

Methods like on-line, paper and verbal format surveys.

The method could be a part of the inductive process used to formulate theory.

The process method used to test hypotheses that make up a theory.

More subjective which describes a problem or a condition, usually from the point of view of those experiencing from it.

More objective which provides observed effects of a program on a problem or condition.

Text-based methods.

Number-based methods.

In a previous paragraph, the author talked about the different research methods i.e. Qualitative and Quantitative. The main difference between the two lies in the process of measurement. As Punch (2006) states 'this has often engendered rigid positions about research, and which has been at the centre of debates between proponents of the two approaches'. (p. 58) To move past these positions, does not mean that we must combine the types of data, but only when we can do so appropriately. Empirical study can combine Qualitative and Quantitative data, or a combination, however the data we end up with, should be determined by what we are trying to find out together with the background knowledge, circumstances and aspects of the research project.

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