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4.2.2 Research Methodology

A theoretical clarification of the terminology needs to be stated as often people use the term research methodology and method synonymously or confuse the two.

Research methodology is a more generic term that can be referred to general logic and theoretical analysis of the methods appropriate to a field of study (Mason, 2002). In contrast, research method is a term that refers to the specific techniques that researchers use to collect data, such as surveys, interviews, observation (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003).

A research methodology that is valid to economic education research at secondary school level and facilitates the in-depth exploration of key issues pertinent to the research questions stated earlier was required. However, it is important to note

that all research both quantitative and qualitative studies, is based on some assumptions about what constitutes ‘valid’ research and which research methods are appropriate (Myers, 1997). Therefore, it is worth knowing what these assumptions are in order to carry out research. The most pertinent philosophical assumptions for this study are those which related to the underlying epistemology which guides this research.

This section, therefore, aims to illustrate the underlying philosophical assumptions in the following subsections.

Research Philosophy

A research paradigm is a loose collection of logically related assumptions, concepts, or propositions that orient thinking and research (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003) and which has a deep philosophical significance, therefore, it should be congruent with a philosophy of knowledge (Byrne, 2001). Philosophy of knowledge is known as epistemology.

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy concerned with the study of knowledge, its presuppositions, sources and foundations, as well as its extent, limits and validity (Ibbitson, 2005). It assumes a separation between knowing and being.

According to Orlikowski and Baroudi (1991), epistemological assumptions within a research framework are concerned with the “criteria by which valid knowledge about a phenomenon may be constructed and evaluated” (p. 8).

There are two major philosophical paradigms in the broader context of research theory in the social sciences. They are positivist and interpretivist paradigms.

Positivists believe that there is a real world “out there” and consider that knowledge can only be passed on what can be observed and experienced through scientific means similar to those that were developed in the physical science (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2005). In other words, positivists generally attempt to test theory in an effort to increase the predictive understanding of phenomena under study (Myers, 1997). The associated style of reasoning in positivist studies is

‘deductive’ where they begin with theories and define variables for study, and predicts their relationships through framing hypotheses that are then tested

(Williamson, 2006). Hence, the experimental design with emphasis on cause and effect is a common research method used in positivist studies in which validity and reliability are key constructs for positivist researchers (Powell, 1997).

In contrast, the interpretivist paradigm takes a different view of the nature of reality (Williamson, 2006). For instance, interpretivist researchers conduct studies with the assumptions that access to reality is only through social constructions such as language, consciousness, shared meanings, experiences and understanding of the social world that sees human action as being the force that creates what we perceive to be society (Streubert & Carpenter, 1995). Similarly, interpretivist research does not predefine dependent and independent variables as it is in the positivist paradigm, rather it focuses on the full capacity of human sense making as the situation emerge (Myers, 1997). Interpretive researchers aim to explore perspectives and shared meanings and to develop insights into situations, such as schools, and classrooms (Wellington, 2000). It also often takes place in natural settings that embrace an inductive style of reasoning, and emphasize qualitative data (Williamson, 2006). The social world is seen as a social construction which is closely associated with constructivism as opposed to positivism. Constructivism is one of several interpretivist paradigms in qualitative research (Williamson, 2006), which is concerned with the ways in which people construct the meaning and understanding of their social world (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). It maintains that individuals construct their own new understandings through the interaction of what they already know and believe and the ideas, events, and activities with which they come in contact (Cannella & Reiff, 1994; Richardson, 1997).

As has been indicated earlier the purpose of this study was to explore current teaching methods in the Maldives and trail a cooperative learning model to help students to learn economics more meaningfully. An exploratory focused study like this can adopt a constructivist approach of research design because it

"assumes a relativist ontology (there are multiple realities), a subjectivist epistemology (knower and respondent cocreate understandings), and a naturalistic (in the natural world) set of methodological procedures" (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p. 21). Interpretivist researchers operating within this paradigm are oriented to the production of reconstructed understandings of the social world in contrast to

the positivist criteria of internal and external validity that are replaced by terms such as trustworthiness and authenticity (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). According to Denzin and Lincoln (2005) a constructivist researcher “value transactional knowledge … [and] … connects action to praxis and builds on antifoundational arguments while encouraging experimental and multivoiced texts” (p. 184). Hence one could argue the appropriateness of this approach to this study because the aim of this study was to understand teachers’ and students’ perceptions about their own classroom experiences in secondary schools. Constructivism requires a close relationship between researchers and participants to elicit from teachers and students their own stories told in their own words (Charmaz, 2000).

The nature of the phenomenon being investigated in this research study does not lend itself to the extensive use of methods aligned with the traditional positivist paradigm, such as empirical testing of hypotheses. Therefore, this study is designed with the construction of emic understandings of the above outlined school phenomenon and generation of data from the perspectives of teachers and students to tell their stories with precision and appropriate depth (Jones & Hill, 2003). The research methods for this study, therefore, were anchored in a constructivist approach to the design (Charmaz, 2000; Crotty, 1998).

Qualitative Approach

The previous section has discussed the philosophical position for this study. This section aims to outline and discuss the specific methodological approach in order to inform the research focus.

As there are different philosophical paradigms in which qualitative research can inform (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005), there are various qualitative research approaches that enable researchers to move from the underlying philosophical assumptions to research design and data collection (Myers, 1997). Qualitative researchers approach the world from a different perspective and set of understandings from quantitative researchers (Roberts & Wilson, 2002). In other words, while qualitative research methods do not form a monolithic set of traditions, assumptions, and techniques as quantitative research methods tend to do, they certainly share some common characteristics (Bryman, 2004; Werner &

Schoepfle, 1987). With regard to this Lincoln and Guba (2000) stated that the philosophical and ontological foundations of positivist and interpretivist paradigms that underlie these methods are fundamentally incommensurable. The main differences between quantitative and qualitative approaches are linked to what is seen as the different underlying philosophies and worldviews of researchers in the two paradigms (Cupchik, 2001). For example, the quantitative view is described as being ‘positivist’, while the worldview underlying qualitative research is viewed as being ‘subjectivist’ (Muijs, 2004).

As has been discussed in the previous section, the underlying philosophical paradigm for this study was a constructivist approach which fits in interpretivist qualitative approaches. Qualitative approaches to research have become increasingly important modes of inquiry for social sciences (Brantlinger, Jimenez, Klingner, Pugach, & Richardson, 2005; Marshall & Rossman, 1990). Yet, settling on one definition of qualitative research is difficult because the qualitative research studies genre is broad, complex and growing. This is primarily due, as Lancy (1993) points out, to the fact that "... topic, theory, and methodology are usually closely interrelated in qualitative research” (p. 3). However, one could say that qualitative research is an approach that usually emphasises meaning rather than quantification in the collection and analysis of data (Bryman, 2004). In this regard, Denzin and Lincoln (1994) describe qualitative research as “multi-method in focus, involving an interpretive, naturalistic approach to its subject matter” (p.

2). In other words, qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of or interpret phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Similarly, Cresswell (1994) indicated that qualitative researchers build a complex, holistic picture, analyzes words, reports detailed views of informants, and conducts the study in a natural setting. Qualitative research is also defined as research methodologies, procedures (Bloland, 1992), or “the nonnumerical examination and interpretation of observation for the purpose of discovering underlying meanings and patterns of relationships” (p. 537). Qualitative research inquiry, therefore, must occur in a natural setting rather than an artificially constrained one such as an experiment (Marshall & Rossman, 1990), and should seek understanding through inductive

analysis – moving from specific observation to the general (Babbie, 2001;

Bryman, 2004).

One of the central characteristics of qualitative research is that individuals construct reality in interaction with their social worlds (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).

Constructivist approach thus underlies what I am calling an interpretivist qualitative study. Glesne and Peshkin (1992) claim that "Qualitative inquiry is an umbrella term for various philosophical orientations to interpretive research” (p.

9) that include ethnography, grounded theory, case study, and so on.

According to Bryman (1988) there are several characteristics of qualitative research. Some of these characteristics include the objectives of qualitative research which aims to explore subjects' meanings and interpretations of their setting. Qualitative researchers need to work with subjects and should have prolonged and close relationships with them. In addition, the findings of qualitative research are not to confirm hypotheses but to generate them, and the outcome of the research study should be applied only to the individuals involved in the research. Furthermore, qualitative research assumes that social realities are formed by subjects' consensus of their experiences.

Since the purpose of qualitative research is to produce meaningful and relevant data (Whiteley, 2002) a constructivist paradigm based on the philosophy of interpretivist approach to answer the research questions indicated in the previous section appeared was well suited to this study because of its acceptance of the inherent subjectivity of the research endeavour (Cassell & Symon, 1995).

Constructivist approach looks at the systems people create to interpret the world around them and their experiences, and it advocates that each individual constructs his or her own reality or perception (Byrne, 2001).

As stated, the overall objective of this study was to explore the influence of cooperative learning on students and teachers, and qualitative research methodology appeared to be the most appropriate research methodology for it.

First, exploring teaching and learning of economics issues and trialing a cooperative learning model intended to help students to learn economics in a

meaningful way was a situation that involved “sociocultural patterns of human behaviour” (Zevenbergen, 1998, p. 19). Second, qualitative research is a systematic enquiry that can trace and document certain teaching and learning effects (Brantlinger et al., 2005). Third, qualitative approach focuses on the participant’s perspectives, interpretations of their social world, and recognises that these are of value in understanding behaviour. Therefore, it was envisaged that qualitative data would enable me to capture the dilemmas, understandings, feelings, values and experiences of the teachers and students in secondary schools as they occur. Thus, this study employed some elements of both ethnographic and grounded theory approaches and included observations, workshops, interviews, and questionnaires. Ethnographic and grounded theory methods would enable me to understand the meanings and perspectives of teachers and students, and their particular words to be used to convey their meanings directly to the reader.

The following subsections will provide an outline of the elements of both ethnographic and grounded theory approaches.


Although the literal meaning of the word ethnography is writing about people, in a broad sense it encompasses any study of a group of people for the purpose of describing their socio-cultural activities and patterns (Burns, 1995). In that sense Harris and Johnson (2000) described ethnography as a “written description of a particular culture - the customs, beliefs, and behavior - based on information collected through fieldwork” (p. 45). Similarly, O’Connell-Davidson and Layder (1994) state that ethnography is concerned with studying people in their natural environments which “centralises the importance of understanding the meanings and cultural practices of people from which the everyday settings in which they take place” (p. 165). Therefore ethnography is an approach used for examining aspects of people by finding out their point of view and creating for the reader the shared beliefs, practices, artefacts, folk knowledge, and behaviours of some group of people (Goetz & Le Compte, 1984). An ethnographer studies and investigates these aspects of socio-cultural phenomena by actively participating and establishing face-to-face relationships with informants as the fundamental way of

demonstrating to them that he or she is there to learn about their lives without passing judgment on them (Brewer, 2000; Gold, 1997).

As with all interpretivist approaches ethnographic researchers are flexible and

“open to the setting and subjects of their study" (Gorman & Clayton, 1997, p. 38).

With regard to this Bow (2002) indicated that there is no single way of undertaking an ethnographic research. The researcher participation or engagement has been described as the most prominent feature of the ethnographic approach because the researcher is in the situation as things actually happen and observing things first-hand (Woods, 1994, p. 310). Also interaction with people helps the researcher to see how people lead their lives and come to understand people’s experiences (Adam, 2004). In this respect, ethnographers stress moving within social worlds to understand the customs, beliefs and behaviour and take account of cultural context.

Ironically the word 'culture' is difficult to define. Culture can encompasses more than traditional focus on societal ways of life (Ramanathan & Atkinson, 1999) and include social institutions within those societies such as schools or classrooms. As has been indicated earlier this study explores the issues of classroom teaching and learning in secondary schools which can be identified as social institutions. Given the meaning of culture and for the purpose of the present study, I would like to draw upon a definition of culture proposed by Spindler and Spindler (1992):

For each social setting (i.e. classroom) in which various scenes (e.g. reading, 'meddlin', going to the bathroom) are studied, there is the prior (native) cultural knowledge held by each of the various actors, the action itself, and the emerging, stabilising rules, expectations, and some understandings that are tacit. Together these constitute a 'classroom' or 'school' culture. (p. 70)

Ethnographic research relies on a variety of different kinds of data based on the principle that multiple perspectives enable more valid description of complex social realities than any single kind of data could alone (Ramanathan & Atkinson, 1999), which involve observations, interviews, questionnaires, and so on, to arrive at a theoretically comprehensive understanding of a situation being investigated.

One of the main characteristics of ethnography is to emphasise data and analysis which move from detailed description to the identification of concepts and

theories which are grounded in the data collected within the location, event or setting (Pole & Morrison, 2003). Therefore, the issue for the researcher is how the particulars in a given situation are interrelated. In other words, the researcher needs to explain the relationships within the data that are collected and see their relevance to the study being investigated. In this respect Bannister, Burman, Parker, Taylor and Tindall (1994) indicated that: (a) the researcher needs an ability to comprehend the language of the informants; (b) the researcher needs to see relationships within the data that are collected or observed; and (c) the researcher needs to see the relevance of data to the particular study.

Like any other research methodology, ethnography has its own limitations or challenges. One of the criticisms of ethnography is that it requires a great many hours of observation to understand the environment being studied. In addition, a qualified or sophisticated observer is needed to write clearly and rapidly, and often the observational records tend to be very long and therefore difficult to quantify and interpret (Burns, 1995). Ethnography has been accused of subjectivity that may distort the findings (Burns, 1995; Cohen, Manion, &

Morrison, 2003), with some arguing that a particular interpretation of specific social action by the researchers concerned is little more than anecdote and opinions presented in a style that perhaps has more in common with journalism than science (Pole & Morrison, 2003). As a result, its concentration on the location being studied is seen to have little to contribute to understand the wider social issues, being both time and space bound. Furthermore, because the observers often become active participants, the issue of power relationships may arise between the researchers and the informants, even when the research is collaborative (Zevenbergen, 1998).

From the above discussion it is not difficult to identify the link between ethnographic research methodology and a study concerned with aspects of teaching and learning of economics in secondary schools. Since the purpose of ethnographic research in education is to uncover social, cultural or normative patterns of the school (Burns, 1995), ethnographic evaluation was a relevant methodology for a study like this because it investigated teaching and learning of economics in schools, which involved socio-cultural patterns of human behaviour.

In addition, an ethnographic approach allowed the researcher to take into account the cultural context of the participants and thus gain insights about their experiences, which helped to investigate the research questions of this study. The researcher (being a Maldivian who speaks the language and appreciates the cultural values and norms) was able to participate fully in the study and was more likely to understand the participants’ point of view. As Goulding (2002) indicates:

The researcher must have some basic understanding of the culture and norms of behaviour of the particular society/culture under study … be fluent in the language of those studied in order to ensure accurate translation of informant’s words.

Words may take on a different meaning when translated literally by an outsider, and other considerations need to be given to the culture significance of non-verbal communication. (p. 27)

Throughout the research it was very much a collaborative effort, although some of the participants may have assumed some power differences given that the researcher’s main work at the Faculty of Education of the Maldives College of Higher Education was training economics teachers for secondary schools. As Zevenbergen (1998) notes:

In spite of intentions being democratic and collaborative, the researcher enters the fieldwork in a position that is privileged and authoritative ... Ultimately, the researcher has the power over what will be observed; what will be asked in the interviews; how the observations, data, or both will be used; who will gain most from the research; and what discourses will be used to frame the research, observations, and data. (p. 30)

Grounded Theory

Grounded theory is a qualitative research methodology that is aimed at the development of theory grounded in empirical data (Geiger & Turley, 2003), and it is believed that it has become by far the most widely used framework for analysing qualitative data (Bryman, 2004). The grounded theory approach, therefore can be defined as a “general methodology of analysis linked with data collection that uses a systematically applied set of methods to generate an inductive theory about a substantive area” (Glaser, 1992, p. 5). Strauss and Corbin (1998) extended further, stating that in this method, “data collection, analysis, and eventually theory stand in close relationship to one another” (p. 12). Grounded theory methods share a number of characteristics with other qualitative methodologies (Goulding, 2002), but a major distinguishing characteristic of grounded theory is the emphasis on the close examination of empirical data prior to focused reading in the literature (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). In addition, it is an

interpretivist mode of enquiry which has its roots in symbolic interactionsim, where individuals engage in a world which requires reflective interaction as opposed to environmental response (Goulding, 2002).

Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss originally developed the grounded theory approach that was characterized as one oriented towards the inductive generation of theory from data that has been systematically obtained and analysed (Glaser &

Strauss, 1967). In 1967 they published the Discovery of Grounded Theory in which they argued the importance of a method that would allow researchers to move from data to theory, so the theories would be specific to the context in which they had been developed (Willig, 2001). Hence, grounded theory was designed to open up a space for the development of new, contextualized theories generated within the qualitative paradigm that evolved during the research process itself, and is a product of continuous interplay between data collection and analysis (Glaser, 1978, 1992; Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Goulding, 1998, 2002;

Strauss, 1991; Strauss & Corbin, 1990, 1994).

Distinct differences in perception of the grounded theory method have appeared between the two authors of the above book—the Discovery of Grounded Theory—

since its inception (Bryman, 2004; Goulding, 2002). The complex process of systematic coding approach to grounded theory promoted, most notably in Strauss (1987), and Strauss & Corbin (1990) was criticised by Glaser (1992) on the basis that what it contained was a methodology which ignored 90 per cent of the original ideas. Glaser argued that it was too prescriptive and emphasised too much the development of concepts rather than of theories. Basically, to Glaser, it was an erosion of grounded theory (Stern, 1994) because he is more deeply committed to the principles and practices generally associated with what can be described as the qualitative paradigm, and therefore, believes the theory should only explain the phenomenon under study. Strauss however, advocates excessive use of coding matrixes to conceptualise beyond the immediate field of study (Goulding, 2002).

Strauss' repeated emphasis on grounded theory retaining "canons of good science"

such as replicability, generalizability, precision, significance, and verification may place him much closer to more traditional quantitative doctrines (Babchuk, 1996).

These philosophical and procedural differences among the originators of the

grounded theory and the diffusion of grounded theory methodology across a number of disciplines have produced an adaptation of this methodology in ways that may not be completely congruent with all of the original principles. The adaptation of grounded theory elements were advocated by numerous researchers based on the argument that procedures outlined in grounded theory are a guide to be built upon according to the nature of the research problem (Dey, 1999; Glaser

& Strauss, 1967; Urquhart, 1999). However, regardless of the discipline there remain a set of fundamental processes that need to be followed if the study is to be recognised as a product of the methodology (Goulding, 1998).

There are three main elements of grounded theory—namely concepts, categories and propositions. Concepts are the underlying meaning or pattern within a set of descriptive incidents (Glaser, 1992) that are the basic units of analysis since it is from conceptualisation of data, not the actual data per se, that theory is developed (Pandit, 1996). In this regard Corbin and Strauss (1990) stated that:

Theories can't be built with actual incidents or activities as observed or reported;

that is, from "raw data." The incidents, events, happenings are taken as, or analysed as, potential indicators of phenomena, which are thereby given conceptual labels. (p. 7)

The second element of grounded theory is category, which is a higher level that is more abstract than the concepts it represents (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Categories designate the grouping together of instances that share central features or characteristics with one another (Willig, 2001), which represent the

“cornerstones” of developing theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Researchers are able to identify categories when they progress the analysis through the comparison of the contents of one interview or observation episode with another, and with emerging theoretical concepts in an effort to identify underlying themes (Barnes, 1996; Wells, 1995). The constant comparative analyses highlight similarities and differences that lead to derivation of theoretical categories that help explain the phenomenon under investigation (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Glaser, 1992). Willig (2001) stated that the main objective of “constant comparative analysis is to link and integrate categories in such a way that all instances of variation are captured by the emerging theory” (p. 33). In this way, advocates of grounded theory seek a

continuous interplay between data collection and theoretical analysis for the purpose of theoretical saturation.

Meanwhile, propositions indicate generalised relationships between a category and its concepts and between discrete categories (Pandit, 1996). The generation and development of concepts, categories and propositions is an iterative process (Pandit, 1996) that involves the progressive identification and integration of these elements. The whole process of integration of these elements is to make meaning from the data (Willig, 2001).

The coding process is the heart of grounded theory analysis (Bryman, 2004). It involves reviewing transcripts or field notes and naming or labelling things such as categories and properties. According to Charmaz (1983) codes serve “as shorthand device to label, separate, compile, and organise data” (p. 186), which is comprise of three types in grounded theory: open, axial and selective (Strauss &

Corbin, 1990). Open coding is the process of breaking down the data into distinct units of meaning (Goulding, 2002; Strauss & Corbin, 1990) concerned with identifying, naming, categorizing and describing phenomena found in the text. In open coding, a full transcription of interviews, observation or field notes is read line by line in an attempt to identify key words or phrases that group together through constant comparison to form categories and properties (Bryman, 2004;

Goulding, 2002; Strauss, 1987), which are the basic building blocks in grounded theory construction (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).

As open coding breaks down the data into concepts and categories, axial coding puts those data back together in new ways by making connections between categories and properties (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Thus, axial coding is the process of developing and delineating core categories and their sub-categories that involve moving to a higher level of abstraction (Goulding, 2002) through a combination of inductive and deductive thinking (Babchuk, 1996).

Selective coding, on the other hand, represents the integration of the categories that have been developed to form the initial theoretical framework (Pandit, 1996).

For example, selecting or choosing one category to be the core category, and

relating all other categories to that category. According to Strauss and Corbin (1990), selective coding is “the procedure of selecting the core category, systematically relating it to other categories, validating those relationships, and filling in categories that need further refinement and development” (p. 116). The integration of all categories to form core categories becomes the basis for grounded theory as it is what Strauss and Corbin (1990) call the storyline that frames the account.

There are some limitations with grounded theory as is the case with all research methodologies. The most widely raised criticism of grounded theory concerns its epistemological roots. It has been argued that grounded theory subscribes to a positivist epistemology and that it sidesteps questions of reflexivity (Willig, 2001, p. 5). In addition, the process of grounded theory research is extremely time-consuming and involves long periods of uncertainty (Pandit, 1996).

Based on the above discussions of ethnography and grounded theory, it can be suggested that both methodologies are highly compatible and the many characteristics held in common between the two methods justify incorporating elements of grounded theory and ethnographic approaches in this study.

As previously reviewed, ethnographic research can provide a thick description that is believed to be very useful data for grounded theory analysis (Glaser &

Strauss, 1967). Unlike other qualitative methods grounded theory shares with ethnographic approaches a style of analysis that interweaves data collection and theory building (Locke, 2001). In addition, ethnographic research involves studying people in their natural environments (O'Connell-Davidson & Layder, 1994). Similarly, grounded theory performs best with data generated in natural settings (Robrecht, 1995). This study investigated social, cultural or normative patterns of the three selected schools in their natural environments. Furthermore, ethnography and grounded theory both have derived from the symbolic interactionist perspective (Goulding, 1998; Robrecht 1995), and both often rely on participant observations (Wells, 1995). Finally, grounded theory is applied in problem areas where there is not much existing literature (Urquhart, 2001). A search of the literature on teaching and learning of economics at secondary school

level reveals that the area which is the main focus of this study appears to be under-researched (Walstad, 2001). Therefore, one could say that ethnography offers a method of data collection that is conducive to inductive theory building (Glaser & Strauss 1967).

In this section I have highlighted the basic elements of both ethnography and the grounded theory approaches. With this understanding of the research approaches in mind, the following section now outlines the research assumptions.