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Chapter 4: Methodology and Research Design

4.1 Methodology

The main driver in mixed methods research is the desire to obtain a “better understanding of a problem” )Creswell & Plano Claru, 2007; p. 5). The current study followed a mixed methods approach in which data were collected using quantitative pre-experimental procedures followed by interviews with some of the students. In the current study the questionnaire and interview approaches were given approximately equal weight.

However, there was a greater emphasis on the quantitative analysis phase, in which interviews were used to explain and understand the quantitative results following a

"sequential exploratory strategy" (Creswell, 2009).

The study investigated students’ perceptions and attitudes toward the use of SMS as an educational tool in higher education. People’s attitudes are complex and

multidimensional, and they can be influenced by many factors (Triandis, Adamopoulos &

Brinberg, 1984). Croninger and Valli (2009) argued that due to the complexity of attitudes and perceptions, they are best studied using a mixture of overlapping and related

methodological approaches.

The underpinning philosophical assumptions of mixed methods research guide the methods of inquiry, data collection and analysis (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007). As a paradigm, mixed methods research combines the epistemological and ontological

philosophical assumptions (i.e., positivism and interpretivism) that underpin the qualitative versus quantitative debate (Creswell, 2011). Positivist research assumes that reality is

“objective, tangible and single. Interest is focused on what is general, average and

representative so that statistical generalization and prediction are possible” )Decrop, 1999, p.157). Questionnaires are one of most popular data collection methods in positivist social studies. Interpretivist approaches assume that “access to reality )given or socially

constructed) is only through social constructions such as language, consciousness, shared meanings, and instruments” (Myers, 2013, p.39). Interviews have been one of most popular data collection methods of interpretivist studies.

However, a research design may include a mix of data collection from any and all relevant sources (Johnson, Onwuegbuzie & Turner, 2007). Data sources may come from both quantitative and qualitative approaches within single studies or even across several studies. Croninger and Valli (2009) further argued that a mixed methods design should

focus on the relationship between the quantitative and qualitative streams. They explained that “data might be used from one stream to expand, corroborate, or interrogate data from another stream or to stand alone as an independent investigation of a related phenomenon”

(p. 543). Each approach has its own methodology and terminology. Ary, Jacobs, Sorensen and Razavieh (2010) explained this:

Quantitative research uses objective measurement to gather numeric data that are used to answer questions or test predetermined hypotheses. It generally requires a well-controlled setting. Qualitative research, in contrast, focuses on understanding social phenomena from the perspective of the human participants in natural settings.

It does not begin with formal hypotheses, but it may result in hypotheses as the study unfolds (p. 22).

In mixed methods research, there are two options for the sequence of the quantitative and qualitative phases: concurrent or sequential (Creswell, 2009). In the concurrent approach, both forms of data, qualitative or quantitative, are collected at the same time during the study. In sequential approaches, there are two options for the sequences of the two phases.

First, the study may begin with a qualitative phase followed by a quantitative phase. The qualitative phase has an exploratory purpose, while the quantitative method can check for the generalisation of results to a population. Second, the study begins with a quantitative method and following up with a qualitative method. The quantitative method would provide a measure of general points of view, while the qualitative method would involve detailed exploration with a few individuals.

The main benefits of a mixed methods design include triangulation and

complementarity, both of which improve the study’s validity and interpretability (Greene, Caracelli & Graham, 1989; Rocco, Bliss, Gallagher & Perez-Prado, 2003). Triangulation improves the study’s validity through searching for convergence among different sources of information (Creswell & Miller, 2000). Complementarity improves a study’s validity and interpretability through detecting overlapping and diverse facets of the investigated phenomenon, yielding deeper, detailed understandings of such phenomena (Greene et al., 1989). Hoppe-Graff and Lammm-Hanel (2006) argued that mixed-methods research is superior regardless of whether the goal of the research is nomothetic (i.e. it aims to generalise the results) or idiographic (i.e. it aims to obtain results which apply only to the

specific situation). They believed that mixed methods research can better meet generalisation and objectivity criteria for the results than research which only uses a qualitative or a quantitative approach.

The literature contains different examples of the use of mixed methods research. For example, Classen et al. (2007) combined quantitative data from national statistics and qualitative data from focus groups to examine older driver safety in the US. The two types of data showed similar results but from different points of view. Another example of mixed methods research, but with a different order in the qualitative and quantitative phases, is Tashiro’s )2002( study that explored the health promoting lifestyle behaviours of college women in Japan. The study started with interviews. The interviews were analysed and the findings were used to develop a questionnaire. The questionnaire was used to determine if the findings from the qualitative phase could be generalised to a population.

In summary, students’ perceptions and attitudes are multifaceted and multidimensional. This suggests that they should be studied by the use of a similar approach that has a mixture of overlapping methods: quantitative and qualitative. The above examples show the benefits of using mixed methods for understanding different points of view. The study consisted of two rounds of data collection. The first round took place before the SMS intervention and the second round after the SMS intervention. Each round included collecting data using a questionnaire and interviews.

In the quantitative component, questionnaires were used to measure students’

perceptions and attitudes toward the use of SMS. Questionnaires were used to collect data about experiences that were not directly observable, such as attitudes and beliefs (Gall, Gall

& Borg, 2003). Gall et al. (2003) summarised the advantages for using questionnaires to collect data: they can reach a large number of respondents with a low cost and less time in comparison with other data collocation methods. However, they reported that a

shortcoming of questionnaires is that they cannot probe deeply into respondents’ beliefs and attitudes. Therefore, interviews were conducted to collect more in-depth information from some participants to better understand the questionnaire results and the results for the statistical analysis.