In this synthesis of narrative qualitative inquiry, I will review the readings that I have done on narrative inquiry. I will also present my plans for using the narrative inquiry tradition to develop my exploratory study. Finally, I will provide lessons learned throughout the process and discuss whether a narrative inquiry approach is appropriate for answering my research questions.
Creswell (2013) states that “introducing and focusing the study, data collection methods, and data analysis and representation” are the essential components of a narrative inquiry. 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). As I start to develop my rationale and research questions for my exploratory qualitative study, I found Creswell’s five prong process to be helpful. I am interested in exploring the experiences of high school science teachers when using virtual labs with their students. I am planning to explore this topic using a narrative inquiry approach.
Creswell (2013) identifies several approaches to conducting a narrative inquiry. These approaches include: biographical studies, auto-ethnographies, life histories, and oral histories. In my exploratory study I plan to use a life story narrative approach. I am not, however, trying to portray the person’s entire life history. Instead, my questions will focus on capturing a defined time period in the lives of two teachers, namely their experiences using virtual labs as a teaching tool in their high school chemistry course. This life story narrative approach will take the form of a personal experience story. Denzin (1989a; as cited in Creswell, 2013) states that a personal experience story may be used to study an individual’s personal experience in a single episode and/or in multiple episodes. In this pilot study, I will be asking the 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 will collect information about the teachers’ background. This information will help 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 points to the need to understand teachers’ experiences with virtual labs as it may be one strategy to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Currently, little research has been done in this area, especially among high school science students. My study will address this existing gap in the literature by exploring teachers’ experience with virtual labs using a narrative inquiry approach and examining the impact of virtual labs on student learning using quantitative methodology. 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 narrative inquiry. These include in-depth interviews, personal observations, field notes, and attendance at events. In their study entitled “Transformational Teaching Experiences of a Novice Teacher”, Kumi-Yeboah and Waynne (2012) use a combination of in-depth interviews, observations of teacher-student interactions, field notes, and follow-up interviews to trace the evolution of a teacher from a novice to an expert. For my exploratory study, I also plan to use a variety of data collection techniques including in-depth interviews with two teachers to elicit their experiences with virtual labs and to observe how they use virtual labs in their classrooms. In my initial interview, I would like to ask six main questions to capture 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?
In my data collection phase, I am purposely choosing my two participants for the following reasons. First, the participants are new teachers (two years of teaching) in my department and because of that they have limited experience with virtual labs. Thus, I will not interview them 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. However, during the actual study I would like to interview just one veteran teacher who has extensive experience with virtual labs. This is in accordance with Creswell’s (2013) description that narrative inquiries are best suited for studying the lived experiences of a single individual. 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 teachers on the opportunities and difficulties of using virtual labs as a teaching tool in the science classroom. .
Finally, in my data analysis phase, I intend to identify and interpret the major themes arising from the teachers’ stories. This is where the information gathered from the interviews will help create developing themes regarding the participants’ experiences with virtual labs. I will then, present a visual comparison of the themes that may have developed from the interviews to show similarities and differences between the interviewees. I realize that including just two participants in my exploratory study may result in findings that are devoid of richer and triangulated stories (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 study to refine the interview guide and methodology that I use for my dissertation.
The use of various data collection methods in a narrative 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). I plan to use both in-depth interviews and observations as part of my exploratory study. It is my hope that the exploratory study will offer me some insights on what additional methods of data collection and analysis I should use as part of my 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 conclusion, the synthesis for this week has helped me to frame my research study using a narrative inquiry approach. As part of this process, I came to realize that other approaches may be more appropriate to answer my research question, namely categorizing the types of experiences that science teachers have when using virtual labs. For example, a phenomenological inquiry could help me understand the essence of the teachers’ shared experiences using virtual labs. Therefore, in synthesis two, I will explore these same questions using a phenomenological approach of qualitative inquiry. This will help me to determine which approach, narrative or phenomenological, is best suited to help me answer the questions outlined in my dissertation study.
Case, J. M., Marshall, D., & Linder, C. (2010). Being a student again: A narrative study of a teachers’ experience. Teaching in Higher Education,15(4): 423-433.
Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Kumu-Yeboah, A., & Waynne, J. (2012). Transformation teaching Experiences of a Novice Teacher: A narrative of an award winning teacher. Journal of Adult Learning, 23(4): 170-177.
Mann, S. J. (2003). A personal inquiry into an experience of adult learning on-line.
Instructional Science, 31, 111-125.