Mark Alexander Williams

Return to research methodologies

by Mark Williams

Reading Bird's (1992) case study on Mixed methods research, who talks about the role of the insider research and frames the study in her own experience noting that "my theoretical viewpoint and frames of reference undoubtedly influenced the research". Also that the experience of being a student/adult learner also led to understanding the impact of the research.

The use of mixed methods in this study both tested hypotheses and through Analytic Induction developing new ones. My study is likely to follow this, but using a Grounded Theory approach.

Bird goes on to justify the use of mixed methods research, stating that research is more fruitful when both major methods are used and that to adequately answer the question, both sets of data had to be used interactively. Questionairres were used becuase of the timeframe that data needed to be collected and it had to be representative of the various courses.

The reason for the first phase of the study was to investigate the validity/test out an existing survey into drop out rates. In my case, I will be doing the same with the JISC digital student project responses in a creative educational environment. The study will inform the survey questions. A catchphrase of the project is that 'Digital Students Are Different' which recognises the broad set of digital practices that students have in the HE environment. My study will test out these assumptions.

The questionnaire phase for my study will enable me to evaluate existing literature and also as insider researcher inform my professional role.

The interview phases will focus specifically on individuals across 3 years of study on each course, providing a longitudinal response and also a more specific response regarding the institution. I will need to explore and probe issues in a semi-structured/conversational way to understand individual knowledge of social, economic and and institutional environments, leading down paths that I may not have considered and which makes the structured nature of the questionnaire inappropriate.

Bird also notes that the choice of research method was also a result of being an insider researcher and having the appropriate access. My existing work with the two subject areas almost certainly meant that I had a more positive result in the questionnaire stage and it also meant that I then had contact with students that wished to participated further in the study. An outside researcher may be more objective, but the insider has advantages of participant observation and using an external frame of reference such as the JISC/NUS benchmarking tool, partiality can be avoided and objectivity obtained

A key hypothesis from the first questionnaire stage f the Bird study was rebuked in interviews, showing the importance of mixed methods. The interviews showed a more nuanced approach and made the research more rigourous.

Bird, M. Combining Quantitive and Qualitative Methods: A case study of the implementation of the open college policy in BRANNEN, J. (ed.) Mixing methods: Qualitative and quantitative research, pp.127-43, Aldershot, England: Ashgate [u.a.]