Journal Teaching Framework With Qualitative Research Methodology

Teaching Framework With Qualitative Research Methodology

The research presented in this paper was motivated by the need to improve the pedagogy of qualitative research in higher education. The research is drawn from my over a decade-long involvement in teaching research methodologies (quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods) to undergraduate, postgraduate, and corporate executives in Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia, and East Africa. 

From this experience, one of the common challenges confronting researchers wanting to use qualitative research methodology is the problem of assessing the rigour of qualitative studies. 

The current research addresses this issue and proposes a framework students can use to learn and experiment with ideas of achieving rigour in qualitative research. In contrast to quantitative research, which is pre-deterministic, and emphasises objective measurements and statistical methods of replicability, the qualitative research methodology is concerned with exploring, describing, explaining, and understanding the human phenomenon. 

It is based on the analysis and interpretation of personal narratives and lived experiences of participants (Sharts-Hopko, 2002). Since its formal recognition as the second important methodological tradition (Franklin, 1997), numerous disciplines have employed qualitative research methods to address complex social problems. Despite its growing contribution to methodological scholarship, the value of qualitative research studies has come under constant criticism (Ryan-Nicholls and Will 2009; Myers, 2000).

Critiques describe qualitative research as anecdotal, biased, and limited in its general ability power since it only relies on detailed information about a single in one setting (Cope, 2014). In response to these growing criticisms, there has been a growing debate on issues of rigour in qualitative research studies (Lietz et al., 2006; Hammersley, 1992; Guba and Lincoln, 1994, 1981). This body of research can be grouped into three broad categories. 

The first category of the literature argues that the outcome of a qualitative research study needs to undergo the same quality assurance process similar to the one used in quantitative research (Hammersley, 1992; Kuzel and Engel, 2001; Morse et al., 2002; Tobin and Begley 2004; Malterud, 2001). 

It is argued that “reliability and validity remain appropriate strategies for attaining rigour in qualitative research” (Morse et al., 2002, p. 13). Subsequently, a number of studies in the health and behavioural sciences have used quantitative approaches to assess the quality of qualitative research (Meyrick, 2006; Mays and Pope, 2000; Seale and Silverman, 1997). 

The second category of the literature proposes a different set of criteria and standards for judging qualitative research based on interpretative ontologies (Rolfe, 2006; Shenton, 2004; Koch and Harrington, 1998; Baxter and Eyles, 1997). Attempts to develop interpretative paradigms for assessing rigour in qualitative research studies led to the development of different terminologies and diverse conceptions of rigour (Morse, 1994; Oakely, 2000). Meyrick (2006), for instance, presents a framework to guide qualitative researchers in determining the rigour of qualitative research. 

The framework covers irresolvable epistemological and ontological issues. However, the framework is more complex for novice researchers to learn or apply because it assumes familiarity with qualitative research approaches. The third category of the literature on rigour questions the appropriateness of general guidelines for evaluating qualitative research. 

This research suggests that universal standards for assessing qualitative research are not needed because such standards are unlikely to capture the complexity of individual qualitative research projects, and the entangling web of relationships likely to evolve between the researcher, what is being researched, and participants (Yardley, 2000; Leininger, 1994; Howe, 1990; Dixon-Woods et al., 2004). 

The critiques of the use of quantitative measures, however, argue that social reality cannot be reduced to numerical approximation and that instead of relying on assessing rigour on objective grounds, qualitative researchers should instead engage in establishing the authenticity of research outcomes (Guba and Lincoln, 1989). 

The entangling web of the relationship between the researcher and what is being researched and the various moments of the context in which data collection occurred is referred to as reflexivity. Reflexivity is a critical determinant of rigour, the absence of which can drastically compromise the authenticity of interpretation and undermine the quality of research outcomes. 

Achieving reflexivity, however, requires an understanding of the researcher’s background and ontological standing in relation to the problem being researched, the methods they chose, and the analytical approach (Malterud, 2001).

There are a number of researchers who argue that developing a generic framework to assess plausible qualitative research though desirable is inadequate because of the diversity of qualitative research paradigms (Rogers and Popay, 1997; Barbour, 2001). 

However, it is argued in this paper that developing an instructional framework that clearly shows how qualitative research can be assessed, and the possible dimensions that need to be interrogated is key to educating novice researchers and experienced researchers from other traditions. The paper proposes the (T)trustworthiness, (A)auditability, (C)readability and (T)transferability (TACT) framework as a pedagogical framework for teaching and discussing issues of rigour in qualitative research methods courses. 

The main question addressed in the paper is: how can students learn the systematic process of assessing the rigour of qualitative research? To address this problem, the literature on qualitative research was reviewed and TACT was developed. TACT is a multidimensional framework primarily developed as a teaching and learning tool. 

It can also be used as a guide for those interested in inspecting the quality of research outcomes (e.g. peer-review of qualitative research methods or examination of doctoral theses). The intent of developing TACT is congruent with Koch's (2006) guidelines for evaluating the quality, and Morse et al. (2002) study the role rigour plays in enhancing research utility. The framework is also similar to some elements reflected in the work of Johnston et al. (2017).

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