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Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches to Studying The Impact of Technology in The Classroom

Introduction:

In the following essay I will discuss how effective quantitative and qualitative research methods are in research writing and studying complex contexts such as that inhabiting the intersection between education and emerging technologies. The pros and cons of each research method will be incorporated into the study of academic studies as well as corporate relations. In addition to research methods, the study of technology affecting classrooms, students, and teachers will be introduced. The compare and contrast method will be used to explain the Internet study in classrooms, in addition to the qualitative and quantitative research methods. Using qualitative research, results from instructors will be incorporated as to using technology resources in the classroom. Another more modern research method, triangulation methodology, will be introduced in this paper along with a critique on how effective this new form of methodology is and how it effects the study of educational institutions and professors. Triangulation methodology will be discussed in the context of the actual researchers’ opinions of using this method over the sole use of qualitative and quantitative research.

Old Friends: Qualitative and Quantitative Analyses Similarities and Differences

In order to fully understand the intent of this paper and the discussion that it encompasses, qualitative and quantitative research methods should be clear and fully comprehended. Meyers explains that quantitative research methods were primarily created to assist people who studied natural phenomena in the natural sciences. Survey methods, laboratory experiments, numerical methods such as mathematics and formal methods such as econometrics are examples of quantitative research (Meyers 2004). Although surveys are considered quantitative, they do have a hands-on approach from participants, similar to the qualitative research methods. Qualitative research techniques were primarily created for researchers doing studies about social and cultural phenomena. Ethnography, action research and case studies are some examples of this type of research. The usual data sources for qualitative research include participant observation, interviews and questionnaires, fieldwork, and interviewee responses (Meyers 2004).

Action research relies more on changes within a given framework. For example, if employees are having problems with a set of mandatory rules within a company, a researcher would use action research to find out the underlying problems and come to an ethical conclusion. Human resources workers make use of action research in many cases. Case study research is most common with Information Systems (IS) and is usually done from a realistic experience that may need elaboration. At one point and time, case studies were more technical but now the concentration for case studies is based around organizational communication. Examples of case study research may include how to make a workforce better; which employee practices bring better production rates; the type of employee practices that are used in a company (industrial, human relations, functional), etc. All case study research does not rely on workplace environments though. An example of a case study that may be considered in the field of teaching, as will soon be discussed, could be whether technology is being taught successfully in a classroom setting or the changes that need to be made to teach technology productively in an educational environment. When doing ethnographic research, the researcher has to spend a reasonable amount of time in the location of the research area, to find out hands-on, personal results. Going back to the original example for action research, instead of the researcher interviewing employees to find out problems within mandatory rule practices, an ethnographic researcher may actually sit in with the employees and have to perform these mandatory rules him/herself. If one were to do an ethnographic research study on technology in an educational environment, the researcher would definitely have to sit in the classroom with the students and find out personally how the teacher is going about his or her teaching methods. Note: If the researcher is also very savvy at computers, this person will find out how literate the teacher is and how credible the teacher is at instructing others on how to use this equipment.

With the more in-depth philosophy of this method, researchers tend to choose the qualitative research method instead of the quantitative research method. Qualitative research methods are intended to assist researchers in comprehending individuals, behavior, and the social and cultural backgrounds and frameworks within which they live (Meyers 2004). Kaplan and Maxwell (1994) explain that sometimes when behavior and attitudes are analyzed into textual data, they sometimes lose their original meaning with the participants when the information is quantified. In the study on technology in education, quantitative research may rely on how much the students actually learned from being instructed by computer research instead of how effectively they grasped the steps in taking to do computer research.

As with any profession, researchers tend to have favorite ways of doing things. In this case, the researchers may have a preferred way of doing their investigation. But there are times when they combine the two methods to get the most efficient data and results. When research methods are combined in a study, this is referred to as triangulation, according to Gable (1994), Kaplan and Duchon (1988), Lee (1991), Mingers (2001) and Ragin (1987).

Markus (2004) completed a triangulation study on the behavior of managers. The results revealed were established on both quantitative and qualitative data from observations of the behaviors of managers. Markus’ study shows that the information richness theory is questionable. When the information richness theory was shown to attempt to prove that managers would use voice mail over electronic mail, the theory agreed. But when Markus delved further into this study, she found that not only was there not enough evidence to back this theory up, but that managers, and senior managers, used electronic mail much more often than originally explained (p. 518)..

Additional Complexities and Permutations of Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies:

With respect to these two types of methodologies for research, qualitative and quantitative, there are other aspects that need to be taken into consideration. Qualitative researchers prefer the term “empirical materials” over data because quantitative research concentrates on numerical research, whereas qualitative research is more hands-on. Qualitative research is done through surveys, interviews, fieldwork, and other means of communication that do not necessarily involve such stilted results as statistical analysis. Quantitative research method does bring surveys into question, but there isn’t the same amount of personal, first-hand knowledge that comes with it. Qualitative research takes into consideration what quantitative research may find sketchy research. Things like letters, memos, reports, email messages, magazine articles, newspaper articles, and other references that can be considered biased because of the author’s hand in the works are essential in the qualitative structure (Meyers, 2004).

The distinction between primary and secondary sources of data is determined by the practice used in data collection and sources from the data. Primary resources may be considered amateurish works that give an intimate portrayal of a research study. These sources, like the ones mentioned above, tend to be unexposed to the masses or received information from the qualitative research him/herself. Sources that are secondary in nature can be thought of as any resources that have been published, ex. articles and books. If the data collection techniques being considered are for a case study, it is normal practice for the researcher to utilize interviews as well as documentary materials. These techniques are implemented without the use of participant observation. To delve further into these techniques for data collection, more can be learned in a detailed discussion article by Denzin and Lincoln (1994) about the collection process. Other researchers who have published articles on the collection process include Miles and Huberman (1984), Rubin and Rubin (1995), and Silverman (1993).

Methods of analysis also have distinctions between the types of research methodologies under discussion. There is a logical difference between data gathering and data analysis when studying the analyses of each given method. Usually this distinction is made in respect to quantitative research and causes much controversy among many qualitative researchers. Meyers (1994) explains that the line of questioning may manipulate the answers given for a research study, according to the hermeneutic perspective, if a question for research is portrayed as a closed question, compared to open-ended questions that welcome unexpected results (Meyers 2004). Instead of using the term “data analysis”, mode analysis is more accurate because of its affect on collecting, analyzing, and interpreting numeric data. Whereas quantitative research is concerned with numbers (ex. statistics), qualitative research is more concerned with textual knowledge.

Using The Internet in The Teaching Context and The Fear of Technology:

It is not news that technology generally became a huge part of our lives, especially in the 21st century. The Internet is used for students and businesspeople alike, whether it’s research for a term paper or checking stock quotes. Most individuals use the Internet to function on a daily basis. But not everybody embraces the Internet so graciously. Some of the people who fear the technology phenomenon are schoolteachers, who still generally like to teach by the book instead of by the Internet. Their reasons include having to worry about whether students will use Internet time to actually do research for assignments or waste time and the school’s money by checking their email or visiting inappropriate sites.

Marilyn Western (1999) believes that the Internet is an enhancement in the academic world to better teachers and students because it doesn’t just concentrate on today’s society. Many times students and teachers can find information from the past or information that is yet to come, which is useful in the research world. Without past experiences and current experiences, there would be no way to predict what the future holds. Without the past, there would be no base. The Internet is said to be well-rounded enough to give us the full cycle perspective. An example of using research for studying the past is asking a relative about their living arrangements or cost of living in the past. Present research could include current literary works in regards to current events. And because technology is ever-changing, the future can be predicted to change at any point and time. With continuous upgrades, students may find many interesting scientific hypotheses to analyze. Marina McIsaac (1999) believes that people are shaped by ever-changing events in technology. In her work, McIsaac examines how technology has effected education and explains many ways that teachers can use this new phenomenon to their advantage. Her work in pedagogic studies explains to teachers that there is an upside to having a computer in front of a student to do a homework assignment. McIsaac explains that if the Internet was put here to help better academic growth, its purpose may as well be taken advantage of. Teachers should try to learn how web-based technology can help them in their teaching path.

Given the unparalleled growth of probability for the Internet and its beneficial perks in the classroom, why do some teachers not embrace the idea of integrating it? The vast majority of people, including teachers, have heard about the many racist, sexist, pornographic sites that are on the Internet. And when computer users aren’t running into those, they are bombarded with irritating pop-ups or paranoid of accidentally putting a virus on their computers. Witt (2003) acknowledges that the Internet is not perfect. Although the vast amount of information is a great thing, the Internet comes with flaws just like any other invention in the world. A teacher’s job is to take reasonable steps to protect students from the negative aspects and this includes the Internet. According to the Internet In the Classroom Web Page (2004) article, the best way to go about bridging the gap between the pros and cons of the Internet is to set up guidelines as to how the Internet should be used in a classroom setting, specifically stating what should not be tolerated in a pedagogical environment. In addition to these guidelines, heavy supervision is also recommended.

Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches to Solve The Problem

In a current article by Stoel and Lee (2003) they suggest that teachers would be making a smart choice by integrating the Internet into academic work. With it being so prevalent in professional society, there’s no better place to learn how to use technology effectively than in a classroom. Stoel and Lee explain in their studies that since the Internet is becoming so popular in college coursework and in college classrooms, the significance of this new technology must need to be explained so students will understand why it’s imperative to use. The researchers also reported that their research suggests, “student’s experience with the technologies may influence their acceptance. The technology acceptance model was used as a framework to study the effect of student experience with Web-based learning technologies on their acceptance of those technologies.” Analysis unearthed that interacting with technology had a positive influence on perceived ease of use.

In Stoel and Lee’s 2003 study, the two researchers explain that the easier the technology system is, the quicker people will want to learn it and be at ease learning it (pg. 365). Technological studies must be done efficiently and patiently so as not to discourage the unfamiliar student from learning. When technology is taught on a consecutive basis and the lessons taught are grasped and retained by the student, then this invention will become an assistant instead of a hindrance. With this assistance, comes fondness if used enough.

The methodology used by Stoel and Lee and the most beneficial in regards to research study is qualitative research methodology. Quantitative methodology may not provide the most beneficial conclusions, considering the mathematical modeling encompasses this type of methodology. Qualitative research methods were designed primarily for use in the social sciences and enable researchers to study social and cultural phenomena. The Internet and the use of technology in the classroom can certainly be considered cultural phenomena. According to Meyers (2004), qualitative research methods and collection of data sources include observation, interviews, questionnaires, documents, texts, the researcher’s impressions and reactions.

In another current article by Barabash, Guberman-Glebov and Baruch (2003), one specific discipline is researched: mathematics. Researchers explain that primary and secondary schools are being presented with mathematics courses by Internet. These researchers base their conclusions on the mathematics training programs, which were presented to schools from primary and secondary levels. In their analysis, they find that the teachers used for this experiment were just as efficient using different forms of e-learning as they would in normal-based learning. Their e-learning program worked in showing people how technological teaching can become a success.

Qualitative research methods are most efficient when conducting observations. Therefore this researcher concludes that once again the qualitative research methodology is the most beneficial when evaluating data obtained from research done on technology and Internet usage in the classroom. Both qualitative and quantitative methodologies are used in another current article, regarding teachers’ apprehensions with using the Internet in classrooms. In an article with international based research, authors Terrazzo and Bertolini verifies that the Internet’s reputation is growing . Areas like Italy are now becoming involved and have heard about the up and down relationship between computers and computer users. The Internet is still a new adventure to people from Italy, and with mass media speculating on the Internet, Italy is absorbing all of this information (p. 189). Terrazzo and Bertolini proceed to explain that Internet apprehensions are mainly hypothetical at this current point in time. After an exploratory research project, the beginning results are compared using two research methods; qualitative and quantitative research.

They concentrate on how much and for what purposes do students use the Internet at home and in school. Students using the Internet more at home were considered to be in the elite class, their families provided them with all of the necessary technological supplies, and sufficient cultural and technical resources to better their learning. The downside to these students having so much exposure to computers is that they are constantly monitored by their parents and never get the opportunity to freely surf the web. The up side to having the Internet in school is the freedom to do academic research by the teacher’s standards and maybe delve a little further into the topic on their own time. But with some students who do not have the opportunity at home or in school to gain more computer knowledge, this is an obstacle in the course of 21st century learning.

The researchers of this article reported that both qualitative and quantitative methodologies were used in determining the conclusions of the study and in analyzing the research. Due to the statistical nature of some of the data collected, quantitative methodology was most beneficial for analysis of that data, whereas the social and cultural phenomena data conducted through observation and interviews was best analyzed using qualitative research methodology. Ann Hilton (2004) explains that while triangulation is still in its theoretical stage, it is being used nonetheless, combining qualitative and quantitative research methods together to find the strengths and strongest points of each one. Although some people would still prefer one method over the other (qualitative vs. quantitative) because of the different sources used (ex qualitative research uses fieldwork while quantitative research uses statistics), the triangulation method is sought-after more now than before, regardless of researchers still trying to perfect it.

Triangulation Methodology:

  • Triangulation to study educational decision-making is completed by using three or more sources to get a comprehensive perspective into student’s behaviour, attitudes, and accomplishments.
  • The following list by Foster, R.L. (1997), summarizes the different types of triangulation:
  • Investigator triangulation: research team with shared interest in a topic and assorted perceptions and areas of proficiency regarding a topic.
  • Data triangulation: multiple data sources with comparable foci to attain varied perspectives through a range of data about topic.
  • Time: collect data at different points in time.
  • Space: collect data at different sites.
  • Person: collect data from more than one level of persons: individuals, groups, or collectives.
  • Theory triangulation: suggestions obtained from competing theories — normally occur at conclusion of study.
  • Methods triangulation: more than one research method or data collection technique because each taps different dimensions of each problem.
  • Unit of analysis triangulation: the dimension of analysis (e.g. individual behaviors and interactions between individuals).
  • Analysis triangulation: more than one strategy to analyze the same data set for validation. 2

This method, known as triangulating, is to acknowledge all angles and to substantiate data and provide it with completeness. Triangulation methodology has the reputation of being complex because the study tries to relate several different outcomes and validate each one of them so they make sense on a broader scale. When considering the benefits of research methodologies, it is important to remember that the use of triangulation is considered to be more complete in the contextual holistic illustrations of data and theories, and reveals the various levels and varied dimensions of the given phenomenon. When considering triangulation methodology, it is equally important to note that triangulation should not be utilised with the expectation that each source of data will confirm each other. Instead of confirming one another, each source will contribute and compliment each additional piece of the “puzzle” (Hilton 2004). This can result in minimizing the bias of the research and the validity of the results. Qualitative or quantitative methodology does not deliver completely in respect to the assurance that the truth will be established. Nevertheless, when qualitative and quantitative methods are combined judiciously, the combination of methods can provide more complete insight. In addition, rival explanations can be ruled out if the researcher uses more than one type of method to analyze the data and form conclusions.

Formal conclusion about the triangulation methodology for research is not consistent. According to Hilton (2004), some scholars do not believe it would be beneficial to use a combined method of qualitative and quantitative theories and results. Researchers accuse this blend of research as being method slurring. In other words, the studies are different and combining them makes the results look sloppy. These scholars also argue that since qualitative and quantitative research are completed by different guidelines and many times have different results, it is unfair to try to use triangulation methodology to combine the two. Although researchers do use qualitative and quantitative measures to do some research, it is unlikely that they will combine the two together. They will present them as two separate researches and two separate conclusions. Triangulation methodology tends to group unlikely analyses together. Yet in appraising triangulation it is essential to remember that there are potential advantages of multi paradigm embracing research. Triangulation methodology leaves the researcher no choice but to study with an unbiased nature. With two different frameworks to choose from, the researcher will have to report each as an independent study. Even if triangulation uses more than three sources, it is unlikely that multiple sources, especially if done through different research techniques, will have the same results. Triangulation theory cannot be done without a concentrated study motive (i.e. family or individual analysis). Meyers (2004) gives a thorough understanding of why triangulation research methods are so hard to accept. First, because triangulation methods do combine qualitative and quantitative theories, the person who uses both must be an expert at it. Without shared knowledge of both research methods, it’s unlikely that the researcher will have a firm understanding of how to combine the strengths and analyze the data to become a triangulation method result.

Hilton 2004 examines this means of research further. By triangulation method researchers using numbers and literary works like letters, memos, newspaper articles, etc., there are arguments about how two different sources, serving two different angles, can be combined to come up with one agreed upon theory. Although in plain sight, it is easy to see where one method uses all numbers to get results and the other has evidence of unpublished work to help in its results, there are some who agree that it can be done.

Mitchell (1986) suggests that the data should be studied independently and focuses on what the purpose of the study is. If the fieldwork part and the peoples’ views are the most important focus of the project, then qualitative research would be the more desirable mode of analyses. If the research is focused more on statistics, quantitative research would be the safest, best, and most reliable. Mitchell also says “whether a conceptual or statistical approach will be used to merge the two different types of variables…the statistical approach should be used only if the variables can be defined carefully and completing the process for conceptual triangulation.” Triangulation is a wholisitc approach – integrating aspects of both qualitative and quantitative frameworks and synergetically combining them to create something new.

Triangulation Framework And Technology:

In Markus’ 1994 article Electronic Mail as the Medium of Managerial Choice, the author verifies the results that IRT (Information Richness Theory) has given, using electronic mail (email) in the workplace. According to IRT, managers prefer to be face to face instead of using technological supplies. The listener and the speaker both can consider each other’s body language, tone of voice, the actual vocabulary used when confronting each other, and subtle sounds that would further increase the lines of communication. This conclusion makes sense because in average talk between people, one speaker may find that another breathes a different way when faced with certain news. For example, when a person may be uncomfortable with an answer, they may sigh before answering. In an email, unless the sender types in his/her feelings (icons are useful in this regard, but not necessarily professional), the message can be understood differently by the reader. In the Internet savvy world we live in, many people have gotten at least one email that was written in all caps. The reader may have taken these capital letters as yelling and this distracted the reader from understanding the message fully. But Markus found some inconsistencies in the IRT study. In addition to communication difficulties, she found that managers weren’t documented as using email as much as they were, so how can this study be relevant if not all the information on the statistical data for email use was considered? Upper management used it more than anybody, but in the IRT study, this information was not revealed.

Markus (1994) observes that even though it has evolved, IRT “remains an individual-level rational choice explanation of behavior” (p. 523). When considering Markus’ paper and research methods in the context of qualitative research methods, there are several aspects to consider. Qualitative research was designed for the social sciences primarily to facilitate researchers in the study and research of social and cultural phenomena (Meyers 1904). The reason a researcher would opt to use qualitative research over quantitative research is because of the observation factor. In Markus’ paper, observation is used in both the quantitative and qualitative respects of the research methods and is integrated in her use of triangulation.

Internet Usage in Educational Contexts - Research

Challenges Advantages and Disadvantages of Instructional Technology in the Community College classroom by the authors AL-Bataineh and Brooks (2003) is another current piece of literature using research methods to analyze the usage of the Internet in the classroom. In this study, AL-Bataineh and Brooks present a historical examination of computer-based technology integration based on the lessons learned over twenty years (Valdez, McNabb, Foertsch, Anderson, Hawkes, & Raack, 1999). Encompassed in their discussion are the viewpoints of usage during the fifteen-year implementation within a school district. Included in their examination are current issues related to the technology plan. According to AL-Bataineh and Brooks, some issues were bound to come up from the beginning days that technology was introduced to the world while others had to actually wait until technology was used by a reasonable number of people before further research could be delved upon. By actually watching how the machines affect students in an academic environment, seeing how they work without constant technical supervision, and how well the Internet teachers, researchers get a further understanding of how useful or how effective the Internet is in an academic society.

The researchers in this study used a qualitative research method. Although they were studying information from twenty years back, statistical and mathematical data were not the primary concern of the study. Rather AL-Bataineh and Brooks’ primary concern was on attitudes and trends over a historical period of time. Mathematical modeling would not have been a useful research method in this study.

Wiesenmayer and Koul published an article that incorporates the viewpoints of teachers, along with the studies and research methods used to obtain analysis of their results. Wiesenmayer and Koul use a qualitative research methodology to determine teachers' perspectives on the impact of Internet usage within their teaching practices. Wiesenmayer and Koul explain that semi-structured interviews with ten teachers and two identical on-line surveys were used to collect data from teacher participants in the West Virginia K-12 Rural Net Project. The results were mixed; there was widespread appreciation of the impact emerging technologies such as the Internet were having on education, as well as frustration at some aspects of youth use of certain technologies.

Jay Becker reports in the 1999 article, entitled Internet Use by Teachers, that from 1999 to 2002 with the TLC survey, Internet use from teachers and students should be notated. Due to the nature of data collected, a quantitative research methodology was executed by Becker. Becker’s primary concerns included how often academic society uses the Internet, how necessary the Internet is in a classroom setting for an instructor’s sake, the availability for instructors to use these programs, the different ways to use the Internet, the understanding a teacher has on the levels of the Internet, different forms of the Internet in regards to company differences (ex. AOL, Earthlink, Yahoo, etc.), whether teachers enjoyed the Internet enough to effectively learn how to pass their technical learnings along, and how the teacher’s perception of the Internet affects the students.

In Becker’s 1999 study, a research study for instructors using the national probability sample and purposive sample, teachers were chosen from schools that were using the Internet often to teach and schools from special education reform programs. Instructors were either chosen from a probability sample or picked intentionally to exercise the learned attempts at technology.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the qualitative research method is preferable over the quantitative for this particular research study. Although this is not to say that a quantitative research method or the triangulation method is disregarded or unreliable. As a general rule of thumb, the qualitative research method works best in dealing with technology and Internet usage questions because they are cultural phenomena. From the evidence gathered during review of the literature and after examination of quantitative, qualitative and triangulation research methodologies, it has been determined that in most cases, qualitative research methodology benefits the study of Internet usage in the classroom and interpretation of the results of other studies that have been conducted in this area. However, in some cases such as the one just discussed by Becker, due to the nature of the investigation, a quantitative research methodology could be the appropriate method best served in certain situations. Triangulation is complicated, still criticized heavily by many scholars for its shared analyses of two different research techniques, and should be carefully weighed when considering doing research methodology for data analysis.

End Notes

1. Ngwenyama, Ojelanki K., Copyright 1997 by the University of Minnesota ISSN 0276-7783 This web version contains corrections of the hardcopy version appearing in MIS Quarterly. Latest corrections made on May 17, 1998. Virginia Commonwealth University.

2 Foster, R.L. (1997). Addressing epistemological and practical issues in multi-method research: A procedure for conceptual triangulation. Advances in Nursing Science, 10(1): 1-12

3 Mitchell, E.S., (1986). Multiple triangulations: A methodology for nursing science. Advances in Nursing Science, 8, 18-26.

4 Communication Richness in Electronic Mail Critical Social Theory and the Contextuality of meaning. MIS Quarterly, Volume 21, Number 2, pp. 145-167, June 1997 Copyright ©1997 by the University of Minnesota ISSN 0276-7783 This web version contains corrections of the hardcopy version appearing in MIS Quarterly. Latest corrections made on May 17, 1998.

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