In this synthesis I will discuss my understanding of mixed method research design. I will also discuss which methods (qualitative or quantitative) that I will use to drive my research inquiry. In addition, I will discuss in detail the case study approach that I will use in my pilot study. Finally, I will discuss the lessons I learned throughout the process and discuss why a case study approach and a mixed method design are appropriate for answering my research questions.
A mixed method study uses both qualitative and quantitative research designs. In the 1990’s mixed method study design gained popularity (Creswell, 2011). Green (2007) define a mixed method study as “research in which an investigator collects and analyzes data, integrates findings, and draws inferences using both qualitative and quantitative approaches or methods in a single study or program of inquiry” (p.20). According to Creswell (2011) mixed method study increases the breadth and depth of our understanding of the research data, findings, and also corroborates the study findings. By corroborating the findings of the study, it ensures stronger validity of the study findings.
To use mixed method design, Creswell (2011) suggests that the research question must match the study design. It is important for the questions formulated to address both the needs for a quantitative and a qualitative study design. One mixed method study entitled “Merging Qualitative and Quantitative Data in a Mixed Method Research: How to and Why not” by Driscoll et al (2007) discusses both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. In addition, Driscoll et al study discusses data interpretation methods used to assess the utility of mixed methods designs that uses both qualitative and quantitative transformative research design. In this study, the author describes two mixed method data collection procedures and two qualitative data analysis procedures. The procedures of data collection discussed in the article are concurrent and sequential data collection methods. Concurrent data collection design is used to validate one form of data collection with another. For example, qualitative data collection methods can be used concurrently with quantitative data collection methods to validate collected data and findings. On the other hand, a sequential data collection method employ either a qualitative data collection method first followed by a quantitative data collection or a quantitative data collection method first followed by a qualitative data collection method. For example, surveys could be used first to collect data. Then, the collected data could be analyzed to generate findings. However, if the findings do not tell the whole story, then, in depth interviews could be used with a segment of the study population to validate and/or augment the findings from both data collection methods.
In my study I plan to use the sequential data collection method. First, I plan to utilize in depth survey with educators to solicit their experiences using virtual labs in science education. Then, I will analyze the data from the in-depth survey to information gaps that will help me to develop a survey to help validate and corroborate the in-depth interview data and findings. Therefore, the qualitative component of the study will drive the quantitative part of the study. In other words, the qualitative research findings will help me devise a survey instrument to be used in the quantitative study.
Now I will turn my discussion on the case study qualitative approach that I plan to use in my mixed research study. According to Creswell (2013) “identifying the problem to be studied, identifying the context, using multiple sources of data collection, data analysis, and representation” are the essential components of a case study. Creswell also identifies five components that should be included as part of the introduction to a well-conducted qualitative research study. These components include: 1) a clearly defined topic, 2) a well-stated research problem, 3) a literature review justifying the problem, 4) identification of gaps and deficiencies in the existing literature, and 5) a justification and rationale for why the problem is an important area of research (Creswell, 2013; p. 132). I have developed my rationale and research questions for my exploratory qualitative study following Creswell’s five prong process. I am interested in exploring the experiences of high school science teachers when using virtual labs with their students. I am exploring this topic by using the case study approach.
Case studies are differentiated into various types based on the purpose and the size that bound the case. For example, a case study can involve (be bounded by) one individual, a few individuals, a group, and an entire program (Creswell, 2013). Based on intent Creswell (2013) identifies three approaches to conducting a case study inquiry. These approaches include: intrinsic case study, the single instrumental case study, and the collective or multiple case study. According to Stake (1995) a single instrumental case study focuses on a single issue bounded in one case. In a collective case study the researcher select one issue or concern and then select multiple case studies to illustrate the concern. A collective case study can be achieved by to study either multiple perspectives of a case within a single site or by selecting several cases from multiple sites. Finally, intrinsic case study focuses on the case itself. Some cases present unique or unusual situation. For example, evaluating an educational program that is not working as intended and then creating detailed descriptions of the unique case to illustrate the problems and how to solve those problems. In this pilot case study, I asked teachers to recall the episodes where they used virtual labs in their classrooms and to relay to me their personal experiences using these labs in their classrooms. In addition, I collected information about the teachers’ background. This information will help me to contextualize how their experiences using virtual labs were influenced by their educational background and their teaching philosophy.
During my review of the literature, I identified two qualitative studies that described the experiences of teachers who became students. Their experiences as students helped them identify strategies to improve their teaching. Mann (2003), a college professor, described her own experience as a student attending an online course. From her experience, she identified several strategies that teachers can use to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Similarly, Sinclair (2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010) spent two years as a student in a mechanical engineering program. During her time as a student, she identified several challenges that students encounter when entering a new discourse or discipline. She also identified strategies that educators can use to help their students be successful in a new discourse.
The two studies illustrate the need to understand teachers’ experiences with virtual labs since it may be one strategy to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Currently, little research has been done in this area, especially amongst high school science students. My study will address this existing gap in the literature by exploring teachers’ experience with virtual labs using a case study approach and examining the impact of virtual labs on student learning using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. In addition, the teachers’ experiences and stories from my exploratory study will help other educators understand the challenges and opportunities associated with using virtual labs in their classrooms, including identifying best practices for integrating virtual labs into the science classroom.
Creswell (2013) describes several types of data collection techniques that can be used as part of a case study. These include in-depth interviews, personal observations, field notes, and attendance at events. In an interpretive case study entitled “An Investigation of Experienced Secondary Science Teachers’ Beliefs About Inquiry: An Examination of Competing Belief Sets”, Wallace and Kang (2004) used a variety of data collection methods. These methods include: (1) semi-structured formal interviews; (2) informal interviews; (3) field notes from observation and video tapes of classroom teaching; (4) lesson plan and student materials documents; and (5) written reflections of the teachers. For my exploratory study, I used in-depth interviews and observations with three teachers to elicit their experiences with virtual labs and I also observed how they use virtual labs in their classrooms. In my initial interview, I asked six key questions to capture the teachers’ experiences with virtual labs. These questions include:
1) Tell me about your educational and professional background;
- Probe: How did you become an educator?
2) What is your teaching philosophy?
3) How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?
4) Describe the professional development that has helped you to be effective in using virtual labs for teaching?
5) What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?
6) What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?
To collect data for the pilot case study, I purposely chose my three participants. First, two of the participants are new teachers (less than three years of teaching) in my department and because of that they have limited experience with virtual labs. One of the interviewee was a veteran educator with over 12 years of teaching experience. Thus, I will not interview the same educators during my actual dissertation study. Second, the participants and I work in the same hallway and have the same planning period; therefore, I have easy access to them. According to Creswell (2013) a researcher may select ordinary research participants due to easy access. In addition, a researcher may select participants with different perspectives on the problem to achieve a purposeful maximal sampling. In this case I choose ordinary participants based mainly on accessibility. However, during the actual study I would like to interview one veteran teacher who has extensive experience with virtual labs. This is in accordance with Creswell’s (2013) description of the single issue-single individual case study that I plan to use for my case study. During my interview with this veteran teacher, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of how she uses virtual labs in her classroom in order to provide guidance to other educators on the opportunities and difficulties of using virtual labs as a teaching tool in the science classroom. .
I started to analyze the three in-depth interviews I conducted with the educators. I have identified several major themes that arose from the teachers’ experiences. I will use the developed themes to create a detailed chronological description of each participant’s experiences with virtual labs. I will then, present a thematic analysis of the themes that have developed from the interviews to show similarities and differences between the interviewees. I realize that using just one method of data collection in my exploratory study may result in findings that are devoid of richer and triangulated data (Sinclair, 2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010). However, I hope to use the lessons learned from the interviews conducted as part of my exploratory case study to refine the interview guide and methodology that I will use for my dissertation.
The use of various data collection methods in a case study increases the validity of the study findings by offering the means to cross check the developing themes across the data collection methods (Sinclair, 2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010). In my dissertation study, I plan to use in-depth interviews, observations, and surveys as part of my mixed method study. It is my hope that this exploratory study will offer me insights on which additional methods of data collection and analysis I should use as part of my mixed method dissertation study. In addition, the exploratory study will help me to determine if the initial questions that I have developed are appropriate for collecting teachers’ experience or whether the questions need to be refined. In addition, the findings from this exploratory will help me to determine whether a mixed methods approach is an appropriate study design for my dissertation.
In conclusion, this analysis helped me to frame my research study using a case study approach in a mixed method study
design. As part of this process, I came to realize that case study alone is not sufficient to answer my research question, specifically categorizing the types of experiences that science teachers have when using virtual labs. For example, a mixed method study design could help me understand the essence of the teachers’ shared experiences using virtual labs better by corroborating the findings from in-depth interviews with surveys from a larger population of educators who use virtual labs in science education across the country. Therefore, in my dissertation, I plan to use both qualitative and quantitative study designs to sufficiently answer the questions outlined in my dissertation study. As a result, the qualitative study will drive the quantitative study.
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