Designing Mixed Methods Research

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This week’s readings provide an overview of various types of mixed methods research designs. As with previous discussions on design, the selection of the most appropriate mixed design is guided by the study’s purpose and research questions and/or hypotheses. The choice of design links the research questions and/or hypotheses to the data that will be collected achieving alignment among research components.

In this Discussion, you will explore the basics of mixed methods research designs, calling upon your growing understanding of both quantitative and qualitative research.

With these thoughts in mind:

Post your response to the question, “To what extent is mixed methods research simply taking a quantitative design and a qualitative design and putting them together?” Next, explain the types of research questions best served by mixed methods research. Then, explain one strength and one limitation of mixed methods research. Finally, provide a rationale for or against the utility of mixed methods research in your discipline.

3-4 Paragraphs. APA Format. Support response with appropriate examples and citations.

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Mixed Methods Research: A Research Paradigm Whose Time Has Come by R. Burke Johnson and Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie The purposes of this article are to position mixed methods research (mixed research is a synonym) as the natural complement to traditional qualitative and quantitative research, to present pragmatism as offering an attractive philosophical partner for mixed methods research, and to provide a framework for designing and conducting mixed methods research. In doing this, we briefly review the paradigm “wars” and incompatibility thesis, we show some commonalities between quantitative and qualitative research, we explain the tenets of pragmatism, we explain the fundamental principle of mixed research and how to apply it, we provide specific sets of designs for the two major types of mixed methods research (mixed-model designs and mixed-method designs), and, finally, we explain mixed methods research as following (recursively) an eight-step process. A key feature of mixed methods research is its methodological pluralism or eclecticism, which frequently results in superior research (compared to monomethod research). Mixed methods research will be successful as more investigators study and help advance its concepts and as they regularly practice it. or more than a century, the advocates of quantitative and qualitative research paradigms have engaged in ardent dispute.1 From these debates, purists have emerged on both sides (cf. Campbell & Stanley, 1963; Lincoln & Guba, 1985).2 Quantitative purists (Ayer, 1959; Maxwell & Delaney, 2004; Popper, 1959; Schrag, 1992) articulate assumptions that are consistent with what is commonly called a positivist philosophy.3, 4 That is, quantitative purists believe that social observations should be treated as entities in much the same way that physical scientists treat physical phenomena. Further, they contend that the observer is separate from the entities that are subject to observation. Quantitative purists maintain that social science inquiry should be objective. That is, time- and context-free generalizations (Nagel, 1986) are desirable and possible, and real causes of social scientific outcomes can be determined reliably and validly. According to this school of thought, educational researchers should eliminate their biases, remain emotionally detached and uninvolved with the objects of study, and test or empirically justify their stated hypotheses. These researchers have traditionally called for rhetorical neutrality, involving a formal F Educational Researcher, Vol. 33, No. 7, pp. 14–26 14 EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER writing style using the impersonal passive voice and technical terminology, in which establishing and describing social laws is the major focus (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998). Qualitative purists (also called constructivists and interpretivists) reject what they call positivism. They argue for the superiority of constructivism, idealism, relativism, humanism, hermeneutics, and, sometimes, postmodernism (Guba & Lincoln, 1989; Lincoln & Guba, 2000; Schwandt, 2000; Smith, 1983, 1984). These purists contend that multiple-constructed realities abound, that time- and context-free generalizations are neither desirable nor possible, that research is value-bound, that it is impossible to differentiate fully causes and effects, that logic flows from specific to general (e.g., explanations are generated inductively from the data), and that knower and known cannot be separated because the subjective knower is the only source of reality (Guba, 1990). Qualitative purists also are characterized by a dislike of a detached and passive style of writing, preferring, instead, detailed, rich, and thick (empathic) description, written directly and somewhat informally. Both sets of purists view their paradigms as the ideal for research, and, implicitly if not explicitly, they advocate the incompatibility thesis (Howe, 1988), which posits that qualitative and quantitative research paradigms, including their associated methods, cannot and should not be mixed. The quantitative versus qualitative debate has been so divisive that some graduate students who graduate from educational institutions with an aspiration to gain employment in the world of academia or research are left with the impression that they have to pledge allegiance to one research school of thought or the other. Guba (a leading qualitative purist) clearly represented the purist position when he contended that “accommodation between paradigms is impossible . . . we are led to vastly diverse, disparate, and totally antithetical ends” (Guba, 1990, p. 81). A disturbing feature of the paradigm wars has been the relentless focus on the differences between the two orientations. Indeed, the two dominant research paradigms have resulted in two research cultures, “one professing the superiority of ‘deep, rich observational data’ and the other the virtues of ‘hard, generalizable’ . . . data” (Sieber, 1973, p. 1335). Our purpose in writing this article is to present mixed methods research as the third research paradigm in educational research.5 We hope the field will move beyond quantitative versus qualitative research arguments because, as recognized by mixed methods research, both quantitative and qualitative research are important and useful. The goal of mixed methods research is not to replace either of these approaches but rather to draw from the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of both in single research studies and across studies. If you visualize a continuum with qualitative research anchored at one pole and quantitative research anchored at the other, mixed methods research covers the large set of points in the middle area. If one prefers to think categorically, mixed methods research sits in a new third chair, with qualitative research sitting on the left side and quantitative research sitting on the right side. Mixed methods research offers great promise for practicing researchers who would like to see methodologists describe and develop techniques that are closer to what researchers actually use in practice. Mixed methods research as the third research paradigm can also help bridge the schism between quantitative and qualitative research (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2004a). Methodological work on the mixed methods research paradigm can be seen in several recent books (Brewer & Hunter, 1989; Creswell, 2003; Greene, Caracelli, & Graham, 1989; Johnson & Christensen, 2004; Newman & Benz, 1998; Reichardt & Rallis, 1994; Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998, 2003). Much work remains to be undertaken in the area of mixed methods research regarding its philosophical positions, designs, data analysis, validity strategies, mixing and integration procedures, and rationales, among other things. We will try to clarify the most important issues in the remainder of this article. Commonalities Among the Traditional Paradigms Although there are many important paradigmatic differences between qualitative and quantitative research (which have been frequently written about in the Educational Researcher and other places), there are some similarities between the various approaches that are sometimes overlooked. For example, both quantitative and qualitative researchers use empirical observations to address research questions. Sechrest and Sidani (1995, p. 78) point out that both methodologies “describe their data, construct explanatory arguments from their data, and speculate about why the outcomes they observed happened as they did.” Additionally, both sets of researchers incorporate safeguards into their inquiries in order to minimize confirmation bias and other sources of invalidity (or lack of trustworthiness) that have the potential to exist in every research study (Sandelowski, 1986). Regardless of paradigmatic orientation, all research in the social sciences represents an attempt to provide warranted assertions about human beings (or specific groups of human beings) and the environments in which they live and evolve (Biesta & Burbules, 2003). In the social and behavioral sciences, this goal of understanding leads to the examination of many different phenomena, including holistic phenomena such as intentions, experiences, attitudes, and culture, as well as more reductive phenomena such as macromolecules, nerve cells, micro-level homunculi, and biochemical computational systems (de Jong, 2003). There is room in ontology for mental and social reality as well as the more micro and more clearly material reality. Although certain methodologies tend to be associated with one particular research tradition, Dzurec and Abraham (1993, p. 75) suggest that “the objectives, scope, and nature of inquiry are consistent across methods and across paradigms.” We contend that researchers and research methodologists need to be asking when each research approach is most helpful and when and how they should be mixed or combined in their research studies. We contend that epistemological and methodological pluralism should be promoted in educational research so that researchers are informed about epistemological and methodological possibilities and, ultimately, so that we are able to conduct more effective research. Today’s research world is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, complex, and dynamic; therefore, many researchers need to complement one method with another, and all researchers need a solid understanding of multiple methods used by other scholars to facilitate communication, to promote collaboration, and to provide superior research. Taking a non-purist or compatibilist or mixed position allows researchers to mix and match design components that offer the best chance of answering their specific research questions. Although many research procedures or methods typically have been linked to certain paradigms, this linkage between research paradigm and research methods is neither sacrosanct nor necessary (Howe, 1988, 1992). For example, qualitative researchers should be free to use quantitative methods, and quantitative researchers should be free to use qualitative methods. Also, research in a content domain that is dominated by one method often can be better informed by the use of multiple methods (e.g., to give a read on methods-induced bias, for corroboration, for complimentarity, for expansion; see Greene et al., 1989). We contend that epistemological and paradigmatic ecumenicalism is within reach in the research paradigm of mixed methods research. Philosophical Issues Debates As noted by Onwuegbuzie and Teddlie (2003), some individuals who engage in the qualitative versus quantitative paradigm debate appear to confuse the logic of justification with research methods. That is, there is a tendency among some researchers to treat epistemology and method as being synonymous (Bryman, 1984; Howe, 1992). This is far from being the case because the logic of justification (an important aspect of epistemology) does not dictate what specific data collection and data analytical methods researchers must use. There is rarely entailment from epistemology to methodology (Johnson, Meeker, Loomis, & Onwuegbuzie, 2004; Phillips, 2004). For example, differences in epistemological beliefs (such as a difference in beliefs about the appropriate logic of justification) should not prevent a qualitative researcher from utilizing data collection methods more typically associated with quantitative research, and vice versa. There are several interesting myths that appear to be held by some purists. For example, on the “positivist” side of the fence, the barriers that quantitative educational researchers have built arise from a narrow definition of the concept of “science.” 6 As noted by Onwuegbuzie (2002), modern day “positivists” claim that science involves confirmation and falsification, and that these methods and procedures are to be carried out objectively. However, they disregard the fact that many human (i.e., subjective) decisions are made throughout the research process and that researchers are members of various social groups. A few examples of subjectivism and intersubjectivism in quantitative research include deciding what to study (i.e., what are the important problems?), developing instruments that are believed to measure what the researcher views as being the target construct, choosing the OCTOBER 2004 15 specific tests and items for measurement, making score interpretations, selecting alpha levels (e.g., .05), drawing conclusions and interpretations based on the collected data, deciding what elements of the data to emphasize or publish, and deciding what findings are practically significant. Obviously, the conduct of fully objective and value-free research is a myth, even though the regulatory ideal of objectivity can be a useful one. Qualitative researchers also are not immune from constructive criticism. Some qualitative purists (e.g., Guba, 1990) openly admit that they adopt an unqualified or strong relativism, which is logically self-refuting and (in its strong form) hinders the development and use of systematic standards for judging research quality (when it comes to research quality, it is not the case that anyone’s opinion about quality is just as good as the next person’s, because some people have no training or expertise or even interest in research). We suspect that most researchers are soft relativists (e.g., respecting the opinions and views of different people and different groups). When dealing with human research, soft relativism simply refers to a respect and interest in understanding and depicting individual and social group differences (i.e., their different perspectives) and a respect for democratic approaches to group opinion and value selection. Again, however, a strong relativism or strong constructivism runs into problems; for example, it is not a matter of opinion (or individual reality) that one should or can drive on the left-hand side of the road in Great Britain—if one chooses to drive on the right side, he or she will likely have a head-on collision, at some point, and end up in the hospital intensive care unit, or worse (this is a case where subjective and objective realities directly meet and clash). The strong ontological relativistic or constructivist claim in qualitative research that multiple, contradictory, but equally valid accounts of the same phenomenon are multiple realities also poses some potential problems. Generally speaking, subjective states (i.e., created and experienced realities) that vary from person to person and that are sometimes called “realities” should probably be called (for the purposes of clarity and greater precision) multiple perspectives or opinions or beliefs (depending on the specific phenomenon being described) rather than multiple realities (Phillips & Burbules, 2000). If a qualitative researcher insists on using the word reality for subjective states, then for clarity we would recommend that the word subjective be placed in front of the word reality (i.e., as in subjective reality or in many cases intersubjective reality) to direct the reader to the focus of the statement. We agree with qualitative researchers that value stances are often needed in research; however, it also is important that research is more than simply one researcher’s highly idiosyncratic opinions written into a report. Fortunately, many strategies are recognized and regularly used in qualitative research (such as member checking, triangulation, negative case sampling, pattern matching, external audits) to help overcome this potential problem and produce high-quality and rigorous qualitative research. Finally, qualitative researchers sometimes do not pay due attention to providing an adequate rationale for interpretations of their data (Onwuegbuzie, 2000), and qualitative methods of analyses too “often remain private and unavailable for public inspection” (Constas, 1992, p. 254). Without public inspection and adequate standards, how is one to decide whether what is claimed is trustworthy or defensible? 16 EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER Fortunately, many (or most?) qualitative researchers and quantitative researchers (i.e., postpositivists) have now reached basic agreement on several major points of earlier philosophical disagreement (e.g., Phillips & Burbules, 2000; Reichardt & Cook, 1979; Reichardt & Rallis, 1994). Basic agreement has been reached on each of the following issues: (a) the relativity of the “light of reason” (i.e., what appears reasonable can vary across persons); (b) theory-laden perception or the theory-ladenness of facts (i.e., what we notice and observe is affected by our background knowledge, theories, and experiences; in short, observation is not a perfect and direct window into “reality”); (c) underdetermination of theory by evidence (i.e., it is possible for more than one theory to fit a single set of empirical data); (d) the DuhemQuine thesis or idea of auxiliary assumptions (i.e., a hypothesis cannot be fully tested in isolation because to make the test we also must make various assumptions; the hypothesis is embedded in a holistic network of beliefs; and alternative explanations will continue to exist); (e) the problem of induction (i.e., the recognition that we only obtain probabilistic evidence, not final proof in empirical research; in short, we agree that the future may not resemble the past); (f) the social nature of the research enterprise (i.e., researchers are embedded in communities and they clearly have and are affected by their attitudes, values, and beliefs); and (g) the value-ladenness of inquiry (this is similar to the last point but specifically points out that human beings can never be completely value free, and that values affect what we choose to investigate, what we see, and how we interpret what we see). Pragmatism as the Philosophical Partner for Mixed Methods Research We do not aim to solve the metaphysical, epistemological, axiological (e.g., ethical, normative), and methodological differences between the purist positions. And we do not believe that mixed methods research is currently in a position to provide perfect solutions. Mixed methods research should, instead (at this time), use a method and philosophy that attempt to fit together the insights provided by qualitative and quantitative research into a workable solution. Along these lines, we advocate consideration of the pragmatic method of the classical pragmatists (e.g., Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey) as a way for researchers to think about the traditional dualisms that have been debated by the purists. Taking a pragmatic and balanced or pluralist position will help improve communication among researchers from different paradigms as they attempt to advance knowledge (Maxcy, 2003; Watson, 1990). Pragmatism also helps to shed light on how research approaches can be mixed fruitfully (Hoshmand, 2003); the bottom line is that research approaches should be mixed in ways that offer the best opportunities for answering important research questions. The pragmatic rule or maxim or method states that the current meaning or instrumental or provisional truth value (which James [1995, 1907 original] would term “cash value”) of an expression (e.g., “all reality has a material base” or “qualitative research is superior for uncovering humanistic research findings”) is to be determined by the experiences or practical consequences of belief in or use of the expression in the world (Murphy, 1990). One can apply this sensible effects- or outcome-oriented rule through thinking (thinking about what will happen if you do X), practi- cal experiences (observing what happens in your experience when you do X), or experiments (formally or informally trying a rule and observing the consequences or outcomes). In the words of Charles Sanders Peirce (1878 ...
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