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Using interviews as a data collection instrument

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5110 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The main goal of educational research is to provide leaders, teachers, learners, and administrators with systematically obtained information that helps to improve the quality of the learning and teaching in schools. Educational research differs from other types of research such a laboratory or clinical research. Educational research is connected with the social sciences approach in research.

According to the literature review in research there are about five types of research: basic research, applied research, evaluation research, action research, and orientational research.

Basic and Applied Research: Basic research is driven by a scientist’s curiosity or interest in a scientific question. The main motivation is to expand man’s knowledge base about human and other natural processes. Some examples are: how did the planet earth begin? What is the genetic code of a specific organic item? Basic research lays down the foundation for the applied science that follows. If basic work is done first, then applied spin-offs often eventually result from this research.

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Applied research is focused to solve practical issues of the modern world, rather than to acquire knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Main goal of the applied scientist is to improve the human conditions. Some examples applied researchers may investigate are: improve agricultural crop production; improve the energy of transportation. Some scientists believe that the time has come for a shift in emphasis away from purely basic research and toward applied science. Basic and applied research can be viewed as two endpoints on a research continuum:




Evaluation Research: is the continually acquisition and assessment of information to provide useful feedback for an object. Main aim of most evaluations is to provide feedback to administrators, staff and other groups. Evaluation concerns defining the quality of an evaluation object. A currently popular way to classify evaluation is to divide it into five types: Needs, theory, implementation, impact, and efficiency assessment. For this purpose it is important to ask the following questions connecting with the five types of assessment:

Is there a need for this type of program?

Is this program conceptualized in a way that it should work?

Was this program implemented properly and according to the program plan?

Did this program have an impact on its intended targets?

Is this program cost effective?

Action Research: focuses on solving ‘fields’ problems. Usually is conducted by the investigators after they have learned about the methods and concepts of the research. It is important to understand that action research is a continuing process or situation of mind; for example, teachers who are action researchers are constantly observing their students for frameworks and thinking about ways to improve teaching and classroom organization.

Orientational Research: Traditionally was called critical theory because main issue was to create an ideological position. Originally this theory was based on Karl Marx’s theory of economics, society, and reform/change. Orientational research is focused on some form of inequality, or discrimination in society. Some areas in which inequality manifests itself are large differences in income, wealth, access to high quality education, power, and occupation. Here are some major areas of interest to orientational researchers: Class stratification, Gender stratification, Ethnic and racial stratification.


Main important issue is to discuss the sources of knowledge and how people learn about their world, society, and institutions. The main resources from which we learn can be divided into the following:


expert opinion,


Experience and empiricism means that source of knowledge is based on observation, experiment, or experience. In the case of expert opinion we trust the expert opinion. It is important to investigate that the expert is an expert in the specific area under study and you should check to see if the expert has a vested interest in the issue. Rationalism or reasoning has two forms:

Deductive reasoning is the process of creating specific conclusion from a set of premises. Deductive reasoning is the most classical approach used by the great rationalists in the history of western civilization.

Inductive reasoning is the reasoning from the particular to the general. The conclusion from inductive reasoning is probabilistic. For example you make a statement about what will probably happen.

Science is another approach for the generation of knowledge and relies on a mixture of empiricism for example the collection of data, and rationalism (i.e., the use of reasoning and theory construction and testing).

Scientific Methods

The two major methods are the inductive method and the deductive method.

The deductive method involves the following three steps:

Define the hypothesis (based on theory or research literature).

Collect data to test the hypothesis.

Decision to accept or reject the hypothesis.

The inductive method. This approach also involves three steps:

Observe the world.

Search for a pattern in what is observed.

Create a generalization about the pattern occurring.

Objectives of Educational Research

There are five main objectives of educational research.

Exploration. Is the way you are trying to generate ideas about something.

Description. Is the process of describing the characteristics of something or some phenomenon?

Explanation. This is the procedure of showing how and why a phenomenon operates as it does. If you are interested in causality, you are usually interested in explanation.

Prediction. This is your objective when your primary interest is in making accurate predictions.

Influence. This objective is different because involves the application of research results to impact the world.

Qualitative and quantitative research methods can be used in the same survey project, either simultaneously or in splendid isolation. By using this way it is possible to gather more information than if using only one method, and to substantiate qualitative research with quantitative data. It is important to decide which methods are most suited to our survey requirements. They are quantitative research, qualitative research, and mixed research depending on the way of collecting data.

Qualitative Research Methods

There are five main types of qualitative research:



Case study research.

Grounded theory.

Historical research.

Phenomenology: By this qualitative research approach the researcher attempts to understand how an individual or a group of people experience a phenomenon. For example, you might interview 30 soldiers and ask them to describe their experiences of the deaths of their friends in war.

Ethnography: By this approach we focus on describing the culture of a group of people. Culture is the shared attitudes, values, norms, practices, language, and material things of a group of people. For an example of ethnography, you might decide to go and live in Asia country and study the culture and their educational practices.

Case study research: is an approach of qualitative research that is focused on detailed analysis of one or more cases. For an example, you might study a classroom that was given a new curriculum for technology use.

Grounded theory: is a qualitative approach to developing a theory form data that the researcher collects. For an example, you might collect data from parents who have pulled their children out of public schools and develop a theory to explain how and why this phenomenon occurs.

Historical research: is the study of events that occurred in the past. An example, you might study the use of corporeal punishment in schools in the 19th century.

Mixed Research Methods and Sources of Research Ideas

Mixed research is a general type of research in which quantitative and qualitative methods and techniques are mixed in one study. There are research ideas and issues became from many sources like the following: everyday life, practical issues, past research, and theory. Everyday life is the most common source of research ideas based on people experiences and ideas. Practical issues can be a source of creating research ideas like current problems in our schools. Past research can be a source of research ideas because a lot of educational research usually generates more questions than it answers. Most of the researchers come up with a specific idea that will fit into and extend the research literature. Theory can be a source of research ideas, for example can you summarize and focuses a set of past studies into a theory? Do you have any “theories” that you believe have merit?

Literature Discussion

After you have identified your research idea, and an issue that sounds interesting to you, the next step is to start review the literature about the investigated subject. As an investigator we are interesting to discover what has already been researched. Also we are interesting to show methodological techniques and problems specific to our research problem that will help us in designing a study. A literature review can take a different form in qualitative and quantitative research:

Qualitative research: Literature is especially important during the later stages (e.g., interpreting results, discussion) of exploratory research. A literature review is conducted to see what has been done and to provide sensitizing concepts.

Quantitative research: the researcher directly “builds” on past research. Therefore, review of prior research must be done before conducting the study. In quantitative research, the literature review will help you to see if your research problem has already been done, show you data collection instruments that have been used, show designs that have been used, and show theoretical and methodological issues that have arisen.

Statement of Research Questions

After we have completed the literature review next step is to create a set of the specific research questions and hypotheses we want to study. In quantitative research, a research question typically asks about a relationship that may exist between or among two or more variables. It should identify the variables being investigated and specify the type of relationship (descriptive, predictive, or causal) to be investigated. We will typically state specific hypotheses that we have developed from literature review. A hypothesis is the researcher’s prediction of the relationship that exists among the variables being investigated. In qualitative research, a research question asks about the specific process, issue, or phenomenon to be explored or described and are often generated as the data are collected and as the researcher gains insight into what is being studied.

The Research Proposal

After we have identified the research idea, reviewed the research literature, determined the feasibility of the study, made a formal statement of the research questions (and hypotheses for a quantitative study), we are ready to develop a research proposal to guide the research study.

Methods of Data Collection

The method of data collection refers to how the researcher obtains the empirical data to be used to answer his/her research questions. Once data are collected they are analyzed and interpreted and turned into information and results or findings. All empirical research relies on one or more method of data collection.

There are six main methods of data collection.

Tests: are standardized tests that usually include information on reliability, validity, and norms as well as tests constructed by researchers for specific purposes, skills tests, etc.

Questionnaires: self-report instruments.

Interviews: situations where the researcher interviews the participants.

Focus groups: a small group discussion with a group moderator present to keep the discussion focused.

Observation: looking at what people actually do.

Existing or Secondary data: using data that are originally collected and then archived or any other kind of “data” that was simply left behind at an earlier time for some other purpose.

Qualitative research emphasizes the significance of looking at variables in the natural setting in which they are found. Detailed data is gathered through open ended questions that provide direct quotations. The interviewer is an integral part of the survey. This differs from quantitative research, which gathers data by objective methods to provide information about relations, comparisons, and predictions. One way of defining qualitative research is by data collection strategies. The basic data collection strategies are: interviews, observations, and document analysis. Qualitative research is flexible and attempts to answer “why” questions of the investigation. It is important to underline the characteristics that define qualitative research:

Purpose: here the investigators are more interested in understanding the why’s of the situation. Interpretation of behaviour.

Focus: seeks for a complete understanding of an issue.

Data: Data are usually words. Data are people driven and personal.

Instrumentation: the researcher is the main data collection instrument.

Reality: the view of reality is complex and cannot be reduced to a set of discrete variables.

Values: researchers explicate their values in the research design.

Orientation: research questions may be refined during the course of the research.

Conditions: research is conducted under natural conditions.

Results: focus on collecting rich and thick data.

Using Interviews as research instrument

Data collection can be derived from a number of methods like interviews, focus groups, surveys, telephone interviews, field notes, taped social interaction or questionnaires. Therefore, which data collection method to use is depended upon the research goals and advantages and disadvantages of each method? It is important the researcher to be able to access the data for the study. Data can be collected from a number of sources like written documents, records, workplaces, the internet, surveys or interviews.

There are four types of interviews: structured interviews, semi-structure interviews, unstructured interviews and non-directive interviews.


Interviews are a systematic way of listening and talking to people in order to collect data from individuals through conversations. Usually the researcher or the interviewer uses open questions. Data is collected from the interviewee which is the primary data for the study. Interviewing is a way to gain knowledge from individuals. Interviews are an interchange of views between two or more people on a topic of mutual interest. Also interviews are ways for participants to get discussed about their views, and it is part of real life situations. The researcher has to make a decision and choose the right method for the study. The researcher has to ask the appropriated questions. The proper training and proper interviewer behaviour can help a lot in achieving the main goals of the study.

According to Gray (2004), there are many reasons to use interviews for collecting data and using it as a research instrument:

We are interesting for personalized data.

There are opportunities required for probing.

A return rate is important.

Language difficulties.

The researcher has to prepare before the actual interview. Once the interview is started the researcher needs to ensure that the respondents have the following:

Basic information about the purpose of the interview and the project of which it is a part.

A clear view of why they have been asked.

A view of the length of the interview and that you would like to record it.

A view of precisely where and when the interview will take place. Gillham (2000, p.38)

The researcher needs to have the appropriated skills and abilities in order to be effective the interview procedure. The most important are: an ability to listen, to be non-judgmental, to think on his/her feet, and a good memory.

An interview guide is an essential component for approaching interviews. An interview guide is the list of questions, topics, and issues that the researcher wish to cover during the interview. It is important the researcher not ask personal or illegal questions, be comfortable with silences, avoid ambiguity, and wait for the respondent to speak.

Actually there are six steps to produce an interview guide:

Identify questions and appropriate topics.

Detail classification.

Draft and order the questions.

List any probes or prompts.

Pilot the questions and identify problems.

Structured Interviews

The most ordinary type of interview is the structured interview in which the same questions are asked of all respondents in the same sequence and wording. Bryman (2001), explains that the aim is for all interviewees to be given exactly the same context of questioning. This means that each respondent receives exactly the same interview stimulus as any other. The goal of this style of interview is to ensure that interviewees’ replies can be aggregated. This type of interview introduces some problems like understanding specific questions. Also may be respondents not have sufficient information to answer the question. (Corbetta, 2003). The strengths of structured interviews are that the researcher has control over the topics and the format of the interview. Result of that is a common format, which makes it easier to analyze code and compare data. David and Sutton (2004) discussed another strength is if the question is inappropriate, data can be recorded like facial expressions etc. Also, since there is a interview guide, the respondents may hear and interpret the questions in a different manner.

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Semi-Structured Interviews

Usually are non-standardized and are used in qualitative analysis. According to David, & Sutton (2004), the interviewer does not do the research to test a specific hypothesis. The investigator has a list of issues, and questions to be covered. The order of the questions can be changed depending on the direction of the interview. There is an interview guide but additional questions can be asked. Corbetta (2003), explains that within each topic, the interviewer is free to conduct the conversation as he/she thinks fit, to ask the questions he/she deems appropriate in the words he/she considers best, to give explanation and ask for clarification if the answer is not clear, top prompt the respondent to elucidate further if necessary, and to establish his/her own style of conversation. Gray (2004) suggested that probing is a way for the interview to explore new paths which were not initially considered. The strengths of semi-structured interviews are that the researcher can prompt and probe deeper into the given situation. Inexperienced interviewers may not be able to ask prompt questions and situations.

Unstructured Interviews

This type of interview is the most flexible and non-directed method of collecting data. Usually is not used a detailed interview guide and each interview is different. Interviewees are encouraged to speak openly and give as much detail as possible. Interviewer has received no training about interview process and has not prepared enough. The interviewers ask questions that respondents would be able to express their opinions, knowledge and share their experience. It is possible the researcher may not obtain data that is relevant to the question of the study and the interviewer may not know what to look or what direction to follow the interview. In an unstructured interview the researcher has to be a good listener and note new or interesting data the interviewee gives. Good communication skills are needed for this type of interview. The strengths of unstructured interviews are no restrictions are placed on questions. There are flexible and can investigate underlying motives. Disadvantages are that they can be inappropriate for inexperienced interviewers. Also, respondents may discuss about irrelevant issues and may be difficult to code / analyze the data.

Non-directive Interviews

The reviews of structured and semi-structured interviews are underlined by the main characteristic which is that the researcher controls the questions of the study. In non-directive interviews there is no preset topic to follow and questions are not pre-planned. Usually the interviewer follows what the interviewee has to say, listens and does not take the lead. The interviewee talks freely about the issue. The interviewer has the objectives in mind and check or rephrases the answer in order to understand more clearly. It is possible that the interviewer does not know which directions the interview will take. There is a connection with the psychology and psychotherapy methods and actions. (Corbetta, 2002).

Strengths of non-directive interviews are the discovery of the deep-seated problem and the subconscious emotions.

Ethical Aims

According Gray, (2004) in conducting interviews confidentiality must be given and respondents should not be harmed or damaged in any way by the research. Sometimes when the respondents are upset then the interview can be cancelled or pause for short period of time. Patton, (2000) suggested the following ethical issues and solutions:

1) Explain purpose of the inquiry to the respondent and state what the respondent will gain.

2) Risk assessment: think in what ways the interview might put the respondent at risk like stress or political repercussion etc.

3) Confidentiality, anonymity, and inform consent.

4) Data access and ownership: who has the authority to access data and for what purposes?

5) Data collection: what lengths will you go to in trying to gain access to data you want?

6) Advice and Mental health for interviewer and interviewee: appoint an adviser on ethical matters.

7) The researcher must remember that the purpose of research is to collect data and not to change the respondent’s opinions.

Paradigma: Leadership Capacity Characteristics

In Secondary Schools.

Research on school change indicates that schools successful in sustaining school improvement build capacity for leadership in the organization. Leadership capacity involved creating conditions within the school for self-renewal, growth, and the development and distribution of leadership throughout the school organization (Harris & Lambert; Lambert, 1998; Lambert; Lambert, 2005(a); Lambert, 2005(b); Lambert, 2006). Characteristics of leadership capacity included broad-based, skilful participation, shared vision, the use of inquiry, collaboration and collective responsibility, reflective practice, and high or improved student achievement. Through the use of change strategies and processes, this development of leadership capacity was supported and encouraged by school leaders (Lambert). Thus the purpose of the study was to examine what occurred within schools successful in implementing and sustaining school change through the examination of characteristics of leadership capacity.

The literature review revealed the concept that schools successfully sustaining change or improvement efforts developed leadership capacity within the school organization (Fullan, 2000, 2002b, 2005b; Hargreaves & Fink, 2003, 2004; Lambert, 2003, 2005a ). Leadership capacity was understood as a framework for sustaining school change or improvement.

The research questions addressed in this study are as follows:

Is there a difference in the leadership capacity characteristic: of broad-based, skilful participation in the work of leadership, of shared vision resulting in program coherence, of inquiry -based use of information to inform decisions and practice, of roles and actions reflecting broad involvement, collaboration, and collective responsibility, reflective practice that consistently leads to innovation, of high or steadily improving student achievement and development in schools successful at sustaining school improvement than schools not yet successful at sustaining school improvement?

This researcher collected and analyzed qualitative data on the phenomenon of leadership capacity to validate and corroborate qualitative results and findings. Qualitative data collected through the use of focus group interviews providing in-depth descriptions from a smaller sample size. The qualitative data was collected and analyzed in the sequence to help with explanation and comprehension of findings. The target population for the study was 4 public schools in Paphos district. After the chief school administrator, director agreed to allow contact about participation in the study, contact was made with the principals of the attendance centres of the school district.

Teachers were sent a letter of consent and a survey in schools meeting the criteria with consent to participate received from the building principal. The schools were previously grouped into categories and for the random sample these schools remained in the category assignment made earlier. From each category, two schools were selected randomly to participate in the focus group survey. All of the teachers in each of the schools chosen were sent an informed consent letter for the focus group interview. All of the teachers in the school consenting to participate were included in the focus group interview. The focus group interview was used as a data collection method that provided a qualitative approach to gathering information on characteristics of leadership capacity. Focus group research is “a process of disciplined inquiry that is systematic and verifiable” (Krueger & Casey, 2000, p. 198) and was used to provide the researcher with insights to enhance understanding and interpretation. During the interview, procedures for data collection included the use of field notes and electronic recordings. A transcript of the comments and discussion was made and reviewed by participants so that any corrections could be made to the transcript to ensure accuracy in content and meaning.

The School Assessment Interview was composed of questions adopted from Lambert (2003). The questions provided additional information on the characteristics of leadership capacity promoted by the school’s leader. The interview questions were designed to assess the behaviours of principals as developers of leadership capacity within the school organization.

The School Assessment Interview consisted of 10 open-ended questions focusing on essential principal behaviours for building leadership capacity within a school. Each question related to a subscale of the Leadership Capacity School Survey. The validity of the interview protocol questions was established through pilot testing the questions with a group of educators to ensure the questions were understandable and clear (Krueger & Casey, 2000). The survey questions were grounded in the literature and in research involving leadership capacity and sustaining school improvement (Fullan, 2003;Hallinger, 2003; Hargreaves & Fink, 2004; Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005; McREL, 2001; Peterson & Smith, 2000; Sergiovanni, 2005; West, M.; Ainscow, & Stanford, 2005). The School Assessment Interview was used as a strategy to gather descriptive data in the interviewee’s own words so that insights on perceptions could be interpreted.

One focus-group interview was conducted with teachers at each chosen school by the researcher. An interview protocol was used and the focus group interview was electronically recorded to ensure accuracy. The text was then transcribed and prepared to allow for validation of the data by participants. For analysis of qualitative data, the constant comparative method of data analysis was employed (Merriam, 1998). The data was coded utilizing grouping and labelling that aligned with the six leadership capacity characteristics forming the subscales within the written survey creating categories or themes (Creswell & Clark, 2007). Next step in this survey it will be the presentation of data and synthesis of the analysis of data collected.


School Assessment Interview Protocol – Participant Version. School A B C D

1. How does your principal communicate the school’s shared vision that lets you know that the vision is alive and well?

2. When a member of your school asks the principal permission for an action, how does the principal respond?

3. Describe how the principal seeks advice or consultation from others in your school.

4. How does the principal encourage choice or establish options for others in your school?

5. Describe the how the principal responds to a request for a quick decision when one isn’t required?

6. What types of leadership opportunities does the principal provide for or offers for others in your school?

7. Does the principal promote collective responsibility by involving others in determining criteria for success and determining progress or lack of progress? If so, please offer an example.

8. Describe how professional development opportunities for instruction and assessment are designed in your school?

9. What actions of the principal have encouraged and supported reflective practice in your school?

10. Can you think of an occasion when the principal has provided the opportunity for the members of your school to pose your own questions and sought your own answers about teaching and learning?

Lambert (2003)


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