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This chapter is about research method that we have applied for this thesis and the reasons that why we have choose this method in our research. In this section, this study's research method is started with Research strategy, research types, data collection techniques which we have followed. Furthermore, we will talk about research credibility and research ethical issues.
Students and researchers have to find out the best suited way to describe and document their proceedings, findings, thesis and dissertations depending upon the characteristics as well as nature of the research. There are two main methods to document a research: Qualitative research and Quantitative research. Before going into the details of our preferred choice, we would like to bring our clearer view to both terms. Quantitative research, in its simplest meanings, is more appropriate when the difference in terms of measurements and amounts (more or less, bigger or smaller, often or seldom) is to be studied (Thomas R.M, 2003). Seal (1999) argues that in quantitative research, researchers can use tables of numbers based on standardized measurement devices which are introduced and described in the literature to summarize the measurements. Thomas (2003) defined quantitative research as following:
"Quantitative research uses numbers and statistical methods. It tends to be based on numerical measurements of specific aspects of phenomena; it abstracts from particular instances to seek general description or to test causal hypotheses; it seeks measurements and analyses that are easily replicable by other researchers".
In the contrast, qualitative research is more concerned in the interpretation of events and social behaviors (Thomas R.M, 2003). According to Cresswell (2007) qualitative research is an inquiry process of understanding based on distinct methodological traditions of inquiry that explore a social or human problem. A researcher builds a complex, holistic picture, analyzes the world, reports detailed views of informants and conducts the study in natural setting. Thomas (2003) defined qualitative research as following:
"Qualitative research is multi-methods in focus, involving and interpretive naturalistic approach to its subject matter. This means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret phenomena in terms of meanings people bring to them. Qualitative research involves the studied use and collection of a variety of empirical materials - case study, personal experience, introspective, life story, interview, observational, historical, interactional and visual texts that describe routine and problematic moments and meanings in people's lives".
Qualitative research can be achieved through many data collection methods such as observation, interviews, focus groups and documents and others (Fisher et al., 2007). The nature of our research question clearly indicates that we need a detailed and deep study about the issue. A qualitative study is useful approach to get deep understanding (Creswell, 2007) and research questions starting with why or how are difficult to quantify, which is cause of a qualitative approach recommendation for such types of research questions that have an explorative research methodology (Yin, 2003). Along with the research question, this research study is aimed to deepen the understanding of Virtual University's working in Pakistan. This facet strengthens our choice to conduct a qualitative research along with several others e.g. nature of research questions. Our aim is trying to find an answer that what benefits are being provided by virtual university in Pakistan. Benefits can't be measure and taken into an amount especially in our research study. Some may argue that benefits can be measure in currency or something else but that's very seldom and in quite different settings. Secondly, the main research question focuses on how does ICT supported distance education work in Pakistan. This question can't be answered in magnitudes and measurements. Aforementioned conditions set qualitative research as best option for us to follow in order to conduct this research study and answer the research questions.
Yin (1994) also describes different purposes of research: explanatory, Exploratory and descriptive. According to Yin (1994), a researcher can use a research strategy to on the basis of its approach and characteristics. Research method is crucial to the acquisition of scientific values and knowledge as explained by Marczyk et al. (2005): "Science can be defined as a methodological and systematic approach to the acquisition of new knowledge". Supplemented by (Bryman 2001, confirm it with the reference style) explicit findings gathered through systematic approach according to the research question(s) should be included in the every research. Our research study has twofold purpose: to understand the working of ICT supported technologies in Pakistan and how the ICT can be used and implemented to fulfill the educational needs and maximum benefits. The brain storming session started with the phenomenal success of Virtual University of Pakistan. Virtual University is the first, yet one and only, of its kind in Pakistan and have a phenomenal success ratio along with the high quality education. The amorphous and unorganized brainstorming to this research essay was started with the concept of e learning in Pakistan. E learning is widely accepted all over the world and believed to have its blend in education sector and has already formed a new wave of learning system, although, the descent of distance learning is associated to late 1800. Virtual university in Pakistan was inaugurated in March 2002. The idea behind the development of this institution was to use the previously established infrastructure (for conventional learning institutes) and provide quality education with a blend of accessibility and flexibility. During our pre-study and unstructured brain storming phase, we came across the fact the hybrid learning model is mainly used for such kind of projects.
We started to explore the research area by exploring e learning in its different shapes in general, different models for e learning, technologies used for e learning, in house and off the shelf products and solutions to different challenges. This later was followed by focusing on e learning in Pakistan and its success during past couple of years. This literature study helped us to narrow down the research topic with a well defined focus point, define the problem area to work upon and form well structured research questions. Pre study along with the literature study also helped us to develop the theoretical foundation of our research study. The data for research study, including both documentation provided by the university personnel and in-detail interviews with personnel representing Virtual University of Pakistan and the students of Virtual University of Pakistan. Students will be selected randomly and will be contacted for interviews to prevent the influence of some specific group representation. The interviews and data gathered will be analyzed by using the analysis framework and will be presented in the analysis section of this report.
There are diverse styles of research studies out there. This research essay is influenced from pragmatism and positivism with a blend of explanatory study. Pragmatism focuses on thinking and solving problems in a realistic way. Oxford University press defined pragmatism as "thinking about solving problems in a practical and sensible way rather than by having fixed ideas and theories"[reference] where as Cambridge online dictionary defines it as "when you deal with a problem in a realistic way rather than obeying theories and fixed rules". Positivism in its meanings defined by Oxford University Press is "a system of philosophy based on things that can be seen or approved, rather than on ideas". Our research study is explanatory in nature as explanatory research study is used to deepen the knowledge of the object field and to seek the comprehension. Positivism and pragmatism are clearly defined in the academic literature and perhaps have very well formed boundaries in the literature but when it is the case to enforce them in practice, they sometimes overlap. However we are not claiming that our research have strictly followed any of these, since they are broader concepts in scientific argumentation, but stating our research study has shades of these comprehensive concepts.
Our research study is explanatory and we think it's rather important to mention what type of knowledge is sought and aimed for given that there are several types and categorizations and immeasurable knowledge existing in a variety of formats out there, and the answers as well as analysis might have different connotations depending upon the kind of knowledge is aimed for. Sociology department at Ohio state university has categorized the purpose of research as following: Explorative, Descriptive and Explanatory. The purpose of exploratory research surrounds the discoveries in the focused topic and unveils the facts about it. It also helps in the formulation of questions, set directions and provides the feasibility of future studies. Specific details of the situation are studied in Descriptive Research with a well formed and focused research question. Whereas, Explanatory research focuses on the reason behind the situation being or have been occurred. Explanatory research normally uses theory and much of the research being published in journal nowadays is explanatory [Ohio State University].
While writing a research essay, along with other deliberations, it was taken care at a great extent to provide the comprehensiveness knowledge of the subject to the reader. A reader of an academic research essay can be a knowledge seeker, a student, an industry professional and a research scholar. A reader should also be able to find out the connectivity and the red thread throughout the research study. Whereas the research study should, in itself, be able to exhibit connectivity, evidence and scientific argumentation as well as the emergence of the research area and research problem. To ensure this, we found thematic structure well suited for our purpose. Thematic structure, in linguistics, as defined by Wikipedia has three purposes in it as following:
"to convey given information and new information"
"subject and predicate"
"Frame and insight"
The literal process, however, from the very beginning to end was literary since the knowledge retrieved from the literature, the pre-study phase and the information received from different sources was gathered, processed and analyzed in different rounds and so was added to the research report. To ensure the connectivity, we also plotted the summery to each chapter at the end and an introduction was to the chapter was also placed at the start of each chapter. We categorized the date in each chapter with contribution categories called as headings and sub sections called as subheadings to ensure the hierarchical structure of the report and, somewhat, make it rather easier for the reader to understand.
The following figure shows the steps taken and the process to complete the research study.
Different type can be used during a research study to strengthen the research and support findings. Date gathered during the study also richens the quality of research and support the discussion and analysis (Seals 1999). During our study, we found three basic types of data gathering are appropriate for to support our argumentation; Interviews, observations and documentation (Seals, 1999). Different types of data gathering techniques not only support the validity of the data gathered and help in the generalization. Moreover, internet was also used as secondary type to gather quality data (Creswell, 2007) but also fortify the research to form the triangulation in the research study. Additionally, internet was also used as a secondary type for date gathering.
Interview guide generation
An interview guide indicates the topics and sequence of these topics in the interview, which should be prepared before conducting the interview (Kvale, 1996). Our interview guide (Appendix No) contains questions which we selected to keep in view the focus of our study. We have open questions to get maximum information from interviewees. Nodoubt answers of such questions difficult to compare with each others (interviewees), but its sure that the theme of these answers will be common (Østbye et al. 2003:143).
Interviews were the basic element of our data gathering strategy as mentioned earlier. According to Yin (2003) in data gathering and analyzing, interviews are the basic and fundamental sources. Since we have adopted a qualitative approach in order to conduct our study so the possibility to design questionnaires was eliminated. According to Preece et al (2003) there are four types of interviews: Structured, Semi Structured, Unstructured and group interviews. Whereas group interviews are more a kind of discussion in which interviewer has less control over the interview activity. The rest; semi structured, structured and unstructured interviews provide much control to the interviews in the form of predefined set of questions. Preece et al, (2003) also argued about the choice of interviews types depending upon the objective and the research questions. Our research questions and objective has set us to design semi-structured interviews since the aim is to have an overall understanding of the working of ICT based distance learning in Pakistan. According to Preece et al, (2003) semi structured interviews are more appropriate when the aim is to get a comprehension or feed back to some specific issue. Semi structured interviews are a blend of structured and unstructured interviews consisting both open and closed questions. In order to maintain consistency, we designed interviews so that we can start interviewing in a pre-planned way and later can dig deeper into the topic and query the interviewee to get the very relevant information. Now we would like to bring our reader to our designed structure of the interview.
Structure of the interview
In order to design the interviews, we followed preece et al, (2003) who outlined 5 main sessions in an interview namely; Introduction session, warm up session, main session, cool - off session and closing session.
Introductory session: evident by its name, both interviewees and interviewer were formally introduced to each other and the objective of the research was explained to the interviewee. Confidentiality and other ethical issues were also discussed and got approved during this session.
Warm up session: non threatening questions were posed during this session to gather basic information about the interviewee and his/her responsibilities in the organization. E.g. for how long have you been working in this organization?
Main session: Main session consisted of the questions to adhere the problem and was focused to answer the research questions. Questions in main session were well aligned to gather the basic understanding to the very detailed information about the focused topic.
Cool off session: cool off sessions consisted of rather important and open question to proceeding towards the end of the interview. E.g. would you like add any more detail?
Closing session: interviewer thanks to the interviewee and switches off the recording signaling that interviewee has ended.
Not having so much structurised interviews entertained interviewees with a less controlled environment which helped them to explain their perspective and viewpoints in a different angle and their involvement towards the subject. This kind of interview technique also has disadvantages as there is no clear boundary to define what lies outside of the objective and how to control the interviewee and mold them back to the topic.
Different data collection motivation has different degree of interview structures. When selected the interview structure there are a few different types to consider in order justifying that why the specific type was chosen.
"At one extreme is the structured interview, where the interviewer asks the respondent a predetermined set of questions which cannot be changed or restructured. An unstructured interview on the other hand, takes on an opposite approach. In such an interview the respondent is able to talk freely about the topic without any steering or influence from the interviewer (Teorell & Svensson, 2006). In between these two extremes is the semi-structured interview where the formulation of the questions can vary depending on the respondent. The interviewer only uses an interview guide with a few topics and issues that need to be covered (Fisher, 2007). The choice of the level of structure should be guided by the purpose of the research" (Franzén & Günes 2008).
We selected semi-structure interviews because we want to give the interviewee the chance to contribute more without interrupting and restricting. Our purpose to select semi-structure interview is that the interviewee not only reply to our questions, but also can express additional point's comments which may contribute to the research even further.
In addition, Franzén & Günes (2008) explain:
"Moreover, semi-structured interviews will enable adaption to each respondent and interview setting by al- lowing us to: change formulations of the questions, reorder them, and follow up with new questions if needed. A problem with a less structured approach is the increased difficulty of carrying out the analysis due to the complexity of the information gathered (Holme & Solvang, 1997). Nonetheless, we believe the gains will be superior to this drawback."
Respondent / Interviewee Preparation and Scheduling
The selection of interviewee or respondent is very important because right information is only get from relevant person. In order to get information about first part of our thesis "working of ICT based education", we selected managerial staff that has complete background, history and current status of VU project. For this purpose first we get detailed information like designations, roles and duties of all employees from all departments of VU. As this was difficult task but we clearly mentioned our purpose of research, which prepare their mind to cooperate with us.
To get in contact with the right persons we started by contacting the highest possible employees by email. Many phone calls and emails were necessary to find the right person, and agree on an interview date. These are all people with busy schedules and any appointment had to be done early. Since time is money it is important not to waste the interviewee's time. Being well prepared and having clear questions will make the interview a fairly quick and easy process for all parts involved (Kvale, S. 1996). Interview is not only way to collection of data even construction of data (Kvale, 1996). In order to have access of inteviewees' data for later use a location and a recording device is necessary. The most appropriate candidates for interviews were the technical staff and managerial staff of VU because they can provide desired information.
Table: Structure of Interviewees
Designation & Department
Number of Interviews
Way of Interview
Interview Plan / Procedures
We will take up interview with a brief introduction of ourselves, reasons to conduct interview and background of our research project. Furthermore, we will also get bio data of our selected interviewees to understand their knowledge and experience in relevant area (Briony, 2006). Being well prepared and having clear questions will make the interview a fairly quick and easy process for all parts involved (Kvale, S. 1996). Normally our interview time will be in between 50 to 70 minutes to ensure our interviewee not feel wastage of time, and will try to make the interviewees feel comfortable and free.
We will also keep in view all rules and regulations of interview like our roles, environment and questions type which will be asked. Our role being an interviewer well behaved and will lead to normal conversation (Østbye et al.2003:104). In our case, we can not conduct face to face interview which is very expensive and time wastage for us travel to Pakistan. So, we will conduct interview by using Skype and email. As we could not know the environment of interviewee's place but we will conduct interview at that date and time which will be feasible for interviewees.
There are different ways to conduct interview, for example by mail, email, telephone, VoIP, or face to face. We will prefer email and VoIP (Skype). We decided that we will conduct first interview by email, the output of this interview and from this interview we will develop follow-up questions. After first email interview analysis, we will conduct second interview by Skype which give us the opportunity to ask follow-up questions to get more detailed information.
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Several types of documents were collected from the personnel representing of Virtual University of Pakistan to understand the working of the organization. However, we don't claim that all aspects of organizational working were got into attention e.g. financial matters, policy matters. These documents helped us to understand the initial set up stage of VU, purposes of VU project, contents development, contents delivery, student teacher interaction, Learning Management system and many others things which we do not think suitable to add in our research. Most of these documents were gathered electronically in digital form. Some of them were for public use and can also found on the Virtual University's website and some were confidential and the sole purpose to deliver them was to have a better understanding. These documents provide us valuable information which helped us to structure more appropriate interview questions.
Use of literature
We conducted a literature review to provide the intellectual problem area and position of our research to the current literature within the topics of interest (Creswell, 2007). We preferred the selection of those articles about e-learning which are mostly cited or referenced by other authors. Articles are primary based on scientific articles found from the Electronic Library Information Navigator (ELIN) and the Internet, complemented with commonly well-recognized reference literature. To search relevant data, we used keywords of"e-learning", "e-learning system", "ICT based learning","ICT based education", "Virtual Education", "Virtual University", and"Virtual Learning" in different combinations. We also used books which were issued from Economic School's Library as well as used e-book. We took initial step to explore about e-learning from an e-book"Theory and Practice of Online Learning". These sources of information were used to get detailed information about e-learning basic concepts, e-learning system, e-learning models, learning techniques and methods used for research in this area of study. This was done to review Published literature from e-libraries, books, journals and papers related to the proposed topic. The literature review provide context of our research and tell about work done by others researchers previously in this area of study (Dawson, 2005).
Literature has been an important part of research study with an aim to collect the sources of literature from both, scholars and E learning practitioners. Of course, at some certain points we had to narrow down our research just on the E learning in Pakistan. We collected scholarly articles and research papers to brighten and deepen our concepts about E learning. We also used online web sources and search engines (google, yahoo) and dictionaries, wherever we found it reliable, to make us better understand different concepts and present them in the most appropriate way to our reader. After collecting literary material, while interpreting it we found it rather important to have a critical view on the sources as well as the material itself since some of the material was rather old and was presenting quite different look as compared to current times. Whereas some of the recent research articles glorifies the present trends.
Data analysis is stems the research work and is an important part. Data analysis has some certain steps as argued by Miles and Huberman (1994), data analysis consists of data reduction, data display and data Marczyk et al (2005) "in most type of research studies, the process of data analysis involves the following three steps: (1) preparing the data for analysis, (2) analyzing the data and (3) interpreting the data". In our research study, the first step preparing data was performed in the form of literature review and the study of documents provided by the virtual university personnel which in deed was a continuous and iterative process.
It is important to justify that a research study has reliability and validity. In this section, we are going to present that how we have worked and followed the validity and reliability which are belong to the scientific quality research (Creswell, 2007; Seale, 1999). Furthermore, Bias and Ethics are also discussed to support the research quality of our thesis.
Research reliability and validity are two factors that must be considered to make the research trustworthy (Björklund & Paulsson, 2003). In our research validity is concerned in which extent we really measured what we set out to measure, and reliability is concerned that our results will be same if our research results investigation by someone again with the same set of instruments.
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Kvale (1996) describes validity is "a method investigates what it is intended to investigate." In our study, the interview validity are mainly involves if we can correctly understand what the interviewee mean. As Kvale (1996) states when choose the transcript's linguistic style it is also important to achieve valid translation from the oral to written documentation. Therefore, we checked the text with our interviewee after transcribing. We send them our transcription of their opinion, if some parts of the transcription they do not agree, we will communicate with them and modify the transcription.
â€¦â€¦â€¦. To be addedâ€¦by Mrâ€¦ Waqasâ€¦.
Ethical behavior helps to protect individuals, communities and environments, and offers the potential to increase the sum of good in the world (Israel, 2006). Being responsible researchers, we have to make sure our behaviors will not harm any participants who are belonging to our research process during research or after the publication of final report. So to make sure good ethics in the research, we informed interviewees by email and by telephone (Appendix No) about issues including the research topic, research question, research scope, data confidentiality, privacy, personal identity, research outcome and the questionnaires (Appendix No) before interview. It has also been indicated to Interviewees that what may happen to the data, including its potential use in any reports or publications because this study might be used by the other people later. So, we managed this research in this way that there should not be any damage to interviewees and their institute. To keep in view Privacy, anonymity and confidentiality factors; interviewees have been informed that they can withdraw from the interview without specifying any reason (Singer &Vinson, 2002). For better understanding, the transcribed interview data will send back to interviewees to verify that everything according to interviewees' words of mouth and not any change has made in their answers. In addition, interviewee knows the purpose of using the data and where it will be used. Thus, the empirical data used in this study should not harm any interviewee (Israel & Hay, 2006).
Informed consent, confidentiality, and the role of the researcher are the ethical guidelines (Kvale, 1996), so we make sure that our interviewees will not have any problem to understand our research topics and information which we want to get from them, for example, our purpose of research, nature of research, who is the researcher, how long is the interview will take, how we will use their data and how to disseminating the research findings (Briony 2006). Moreover, the interviewees have been requested kindly for their cooperation and not compelled them for participate in our research
To ensure high quality research study, researcher should think over the bias. A researcher should advance into a research with a clear and open mind in order to avoid any bias to influence the end result (Backman, 1998; Oates, 2006). There is no clear definition of bias but it can be related to preconception and prejudice (Hammersley & Gomm, 1997). According to Harmmersley and Gomm (1997), bias has considered a positive feature because bias reveals hidden aspects of phenomena. Unbiased research not only focusing on our own believes and assumptions, but give importance to others point of views and experiences.
We address the possible bias by reflecting and presenting our position as researchers. "A consideration of self as a researcher and self in relation to the topic of research is a precondition for coping with bias." (Norris, 1997, pp. 3). We also be self-critical throughout the entire work (Norris, 1997), we tried to have periodical discussions among our group members and had critical analysis about the pros and cons of our theoretical framework, methods and findings. We strictly follow right track and follow the path which we had planed as well as we tried to be aware when, how and why we have deviated from the planned route. Our strategy leads us to come back on right track.