AECT Handbook of Research

Table of Contents

40: Qualitative Research Issues and Methods: An Introduction for Educational Technologists

40.1 Introduction to Qualitative Research
40.2 Qualitative Research Methods
40.3 Analyzing Qualitative Data
40.4 Writing Qualitative Research Reports
40.5 Ethical issues in Conducting Qualitative Research
40.6 Criteria for Evaluating Qualitiative Studies
40.7 Learning More about doing Qualitative Research
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In addition to the ethical issues raised by authors cited earlier in discussions of specific methodologies, there continues to be great concern that qualitative researchers conduct and report their studies in an ethical manner. Punch, in his recent work (1994), however, suggests that qualitative researchers not be daunted or deterred by ethical issues. In fact, under the heading "Just do it!" he advises that "Fieldwork is fun; it is easy; anyone can do it; it is salutary for young academics to flee the nest; and they should be able to take any moral or political dilemmas encountered in their stride" (p. 83). He describes the ethical issues that are in common with most scientific research, such as biomedical research in this country at this time. For instance, all researchers must be concerned with preventing subjects from being harmed, protecting their anonymity and privacy, not deceiving them, and securing their informed consent. In discussing recent debate about qualitative methods, however, Punch adds other issues that arise. Questions may include: Does the pursuit of scientific knowledge justify the means? What is public and what is private? When can research be said to be "banning" people? Does the researcher enjoy any immunity from the law when he or she refuses to disclose information? (p. 89). He discusses the concepts of codes, consent, privacy, confidentiality, and trust and betrayal in detail. He further describes three developments that have stirred up the debate. These include the women's movement and its attendant concern that women have been studied as subjects/objects, the trend toward conducting action research in which participants are partners or stakeholders to be empowered and therefore not to be duped, and, finally, the concern of funding agencies for ethics that has led to requirements for the inclusion of statements of ethics in proposals and reports. Croll (1986) addresses similar issues and recommends that researchers conduct their studies in good faith, and that the research should be not only not harmful to subjects but also worthwhile.

Erlandson et al. (1993), in their discussion of ethical issues, echo the previously mentioned concerns with regard to privacy, confidentiality, harm, deception, and informed consent. They add that in contracted research, situations may arise that could compromise the research by restricting freedom or encouraging suppression of negative results. From a more "action research" type of perspective, these authors add to Croll's idea that studies should be of value to subjects, that they should educate, subjects (see 9.7.5). Educational technology researchers must determine for themselves their answers to ethical questions, realizing that their work may or may not fall into the category of action research.

For a broader and more in-depth discussion about ethical issues, the reader may wish to refer to Ethics and Anthropology: Dilemmas in Fieldwork, by Rynkiewich and Spradley (1976); the Beauchamp, Faden, Wallace, and Walters (1982) book, Ethical Issues in Social Science Research; or the Bower and Gasparis (1978) book, Ethics in Social Research: Protecting the Interest of Human Subjects.

Many authors blend concerns for ethics with criteria for evaluating the quality of qualitative studies, in that an unethically conducted study would not be of high quality. The criteria to use in determining whether a qualitative study is sound and strong will be illustrated in the following section.

Updated August 3, 2001
Copyright © 2001
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