QUALITATIVE RESEARCH METHODS IN THE EDUCATION SYSTEM

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Research ethics deals with the interaction between researchers and the people they study. The topic becomes a concern due to past abuses and mistakes made especially in the course of biomedical research. This has led some qualitative researchers to conclude that their research is unlikely to benefit from such guidance or even that they are not at risk of perpetrating abuses or making mistakes of real consequence for the people they study. Conversely, biomedical and public health researchers who use qualitative approaches without having the benefit of formal training in the social sciences may attempt to rigidly enforce bioethics practices without considering whether they are appropriate for qualitative research. Between these two extremes lies a balanced approach founded on established principles for ethical research that are appropriately interpreted for and applied to the qualitative research context. Agreed-upon standards for research ethics help ensure that as researchers we explicitly consider the needs and concerns of the people of study, that appropriate oversight for the conduct of research takes place, and that a basis for trust is established between researchers and study participants. Whenever research is conducted on people, the well-being of research participants must be the top priority while the research question takes the secondary importance. Thus if a choice must be made between doing harm to a participant and doing harm to the research, it is the research that is sacrificed. But the principle must not be dismissed as irrelevant, or the researchers can find themselves making decisions that eventually bring them to the point where their work threatens to disrupt the lives of the people they are researching. It must consist of the following elements;

Respect for persons requires a commitment to ensuring the autonomy of research participants, and, where autonomy may be diminished, to protect people from exploitation of their vulnerability. The dignity of all research participants must be respected. It ensures that people will not be used simply as a means to achieve research objectives. Beneficence requires a commitment to minimizing the risks associated with research, including psychological and social risks, and maximizing the benefits that accrue to research participants. Researchers must articulate specific ways this will be achieved. Justice requires a commitment to ensuring a fair distribution of the risks and benefits resulting from research. Those who take on the burdens of research participation should share in the benefits of the knowledge gained. In other words, the people who are expected to benefit from the knowledge should be the ones who are asked to participate. In bio-medical research, respect for communities, should be added which confer on the researcher an obligation to respect the values and interests of the community in research and, wherever possible, to protect the community from harm.

Validity is an issue that has been described in great deal by advocates of quantitative researchers. In qualitative research it is defined as the extent to which the data is plausible, credible and trustworthy; and thus can be defended when challenged. Different opinions on the issue with some suggesting that the concepts of validity is incompatible with qualitative research and should be abandoned, while others argue efforts should be made to ensure validity so as to lend credibility to the results. Validity addresses whether the research explains or measures what the researchers would be measuring or explaining. It therefore deals with the appropriateness of the method to the research question. In other words the qualitative researchers should be asking themselves 'how well matched is the logic of the method to the kinds of research questions they are asking and the kind of social explanation they intend to develop'. This is the case for justifying the appropriateness of the method to the research question. Concerns with the issues of validity in qualitative research have dramatically increased. Traditionally, validity in qualitative research involved determining the degree to which researchers' claims about knowledge corresponded to the reality (or research participants' construction of reality) being studied.

The second issue with regard to validity is the interpretations of the data as all interpretations are subjective. The issue lies in tracing the ways by which the researcher arrived at a particular interpretation. In other words, they are responsible for showing that they did not "invent" own interpretations, but are the products of conscious analysis. This involves a constant justification of the interpretation and a relentless internal evaluation of their motives for interpreting in a particular way. Literature reviews can provide some guidance on the scholarly tradition of data interpretation within the broad research area. Data interpretation is therefore rarely the product of a flash of inspiration. More often, solid data interpretation is the product of slow and pain-staking context formation. Therefore another function of the literature review is to provide the context with which to interpret the data that has been generated. Another way of increasing the validity of qualitative research is to show the research subjects excerpts of the interpretation of the interviews and asks them whether they agree or disagree with the researcher's interpretations. This will help to avoid in the researcher recording or having different interpretations than those intended by the research subjects.

The issue of validity in qualitative research has not been disregarded by Stenbacka (2001) as she has for the issue of reliability in qualitative research. Instead, she argues that the concept of validity should be redefined for qualitative researches. Stenbacka (2001) describes the notion of reliability as one of the quality concepts in qualitative research which "to be solved in order to claim a study as part of proper research".

Sampling

The lack of transparency that is sometimes a feature of qualitative research is particularly apparent in relation to sampling. It is sometimes more or less impossible to discern from researchers' accounts of their methods either how their interviewees were selected or how many there were of them. Most qualitative research uses small non-probability-sampling techniques in their research study. They go against the grain as far as conventional survey approaches are concerned which open up the prospect of accusations of sloppy and biased research design. Qualitative researchers are often, clear that their samples are convenience or opportunistic ones, and, on other occasions, the reader suspects that this is the case. The resort to convenience sampling is usually due to the availability of certain individuals who are otherwise difficult to contact or a belief that, because it aims to generate an in depth analysis. Prior to carrying qualitative research, the researcher need to establish sample selection criteria with regards to what characteristics will needs to be reflected in the sample to address the research question. This will be based on information given by the policy advisor and other subject specialists, as well as a review of the current literature.

The researcher will need to know whether particular sub-groups require to be included to ensure breadth. The criteria used may be based on demographic characteristics or behaviors or attitudes, and will need to be prioritized if purposive sampling is to be employed. This is influenced by the fact that the study is often based on a relatively small number of cases so it may not be possible to include all of the sample criteria in the sample design. Some criteria may be considered more important than others in relation to the research objectives. It should be remembered that there is no test of significance and one cannot make "sample-to-population" statements. The deep description of the characteristics of the subject/sample being studied may allow one to conclude the extent to which it is comparable to other subjects/samples. If the subjects/sample is comparable, then one would be more comfortable to make generalizations. If it can argued that what is being observed is not dependent on the context, (i.e. not "context limited") and may be transferred to other contexts; then the findings may be generalized. To replicate the study is the most difficult to accomplish because we are dealing with the natural setting which will invariably change. Unless there is data to show these changes, it will advisable to be cautious when claiming that the study can be replicated. 

Where the sample population is clearly defined, such as when testing already operational survey questions, and where resource and time constraints are in place, then a more constrained purposive sampling strategy can be devised that avoids iteration and does not necessarily achieve saturation, on the grounds of diminishing returns. Whatever approach is used, some advance knowledge of the population under investigation is necessary when carrying out purposive sampling.

PART B

Review on article "MOTIVATIONAL FACTOR TOWARD PURSUING A CAREER IN SPECIAL EDUCATION" written by Tammy L. Stephens and Wade W. Fish.

Purpose and/or research questions

In the study, the researchers intend to find the answers with regards to factors that contributed towards perception in the field of special education which are; what initiate the interest of educators to pursuit in special education career?, factors that contributes towards job satisfaction or dissatisfaction and to what levels it affect the phenomenon, decisions whether to remain in the field and finally the recommendations that school districts should take so that it can effectively recruit and retain special educators.

Theoretical framework / models

The study used qualitative methodology as means of collecting the data as it is consider to be the appropriate method of collecting data when dealing with potentially multiple realities, mutually shaping influences, and value patterns according to Lincoln & Guba (1985). Semi-structured recorded telephone interviews were used for the purpose of "obtaining here-and-how constructions of persons, events, activities, organizations, feelings, motivations, claims, concerns and other entities" to get the special educators' perception with regards to special education as it encourage interviewees to expand upon ideas, which provide the researcher opportunities to generate abstract ideas through descriptive material (Bogdan and Biklen). Respondents consisted of 15 educators employed in public school districts throughout the north Texas area and comprised of 11 special education teachers, three diagnosticians and one former special education teacher who is currently serving as a high school principal at the time of the interviews. Four of the special education teachers within this study were previously general education teachers.

Data collection and analysis methods

The structure of the interview questions used in the study was designed to understand the reason of why the special education teachers decided to pursue a career in the field of special education and what factors that contributes toward them to remain or leaving the field. They were also asked to provide feedback regarding to the efforts taken by their school districts' to recruit and keep the special education teachers in service. Nine open-ended questions were asked to each of the participants and the telephone's interview was recorded to ensure accuracy of the recorded data. It was later transcribed verbatim by the researchers for facilitating increased in-depth knowledge and followed by inductive data analysis. By doing this, researchers are likely to discover common influencing factors during the implementation of the inductive analysis. Data were analyzed by both researchers and an independent coder based upon categories to construct meaning through the constant comparative method as a "means for deriving theory". Stages of constant comparative method include the comparing of incidents applicable to each category, the integration of categories and their product, the delimitation of theory, and the writing of theory (Lincoln & Guba). Within the transcribed data, 'single piece of information were uniquely identified by particulars ideas or units through color-coding. This method was utilized to label and distinguish among categories of the data. Data were then organized based upon seeking emergent categories revolving around similar characteristics.

Research conclusions

The study found that empathy towards students, family members, and opportunities to fill job vacancies were factors that cited the most for contributing toward decision to initially pursue careers in special education. Majority of interviewees indicated that they initially pursued a career in special education due to their empathy towards students with special needs and most participants were satisfied with their jobs because it provided them the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of students with special needs. Witnessing students' academic progress was cited as a contributor to overall satisfaction. Although satisfaction was indicated by most participants, there were some who voiced dissatisfaction due to factors such as excessive demands and lack of support. As documented in previous research, the excessive amount of paperwork and lack of administrative support were also cited as factors contributing to dissatisfaction. Although school districts are experiencing difficulties retaining special educators, most participants within this study indicated that they would remain in the field of special education as they perceived the profession to be rewarding and providing them with personal fulfillment in addition to continued support and opportunity to work with quality staff. A number of factors were identified which would cause the special educators leaving the field of special education and these factors includes current special education legislation, excessive demands placed on special educators, lack of support, increased pressures and expectations related to testing requirements and excessive paperwork. The high attrition rate among special education teachers has resulted in emphasis towards researching ways to address the recruitment and retention of these professionals. Participants within this study suggested that school districts could recruit and retain more special educators if they were to provide competitive salaries, extra financial incentives, and opportunities for potential candidates to work with students with special needs. Additionally interviewees also recommended that school districts work closely with university teacher preparation programs to identify qualified candidates for special education.

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