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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Wilhelmina C. Savenye

Rhonda S. Robinson




(see footnote)

Educational technology research is changing. Assumptions, questions, methods, and paradigms that formerly dominated research in the field are changing. Research questions and methods that might once have been deemed unacceptable are gaining acceptability; studies published using alternate paradigms may now be published. Are these "new methods" really so new? Are they based on the same perceptions of quality as the well-established quantitative methods? Are we losing the big picture in research? Are researchers really calling for the end of quantitative research, the positivistic research paradigm, all that has gone before?

It is the goal of this chapter to introduce educational technology researchers, both new and experienced, to the conceptual basis and methods of qualitative research. The goal is a modest one, due to the need for brevity in a small chapter in a large handbook. Controversy will not be sidestepped, but will not specifically be entered in to. Readers will be introduced, for example, to the "paradigm debate" currently swirling in the field and to the assumptions of various researchers who adhere to one view or another. Just as one cannot learn to conduct research by reading one book, a researcher who determines to conduct research to be labeled qualitative will need to study sources beyond this chapter to determine his or her own assumptions on which to base the work. The researcher must thus enter the debate, and will be responsible for describing the foundational ideas of the study. He or she will want to conduct the study with the utmost attention to quality, therefore will want to turn to more-detailed texts to learn more deeply how to apply qualitative methods. This chapter will point the researcher to such references and resources; however, we do not intend the chapter to be a definitive self-study text in conducting qualitative research. We intend to make the chapter a small and useful tool, a simple guide to assist educational technologists in learning and making decisions about qualitative research (by jose at tf) . It is thus intended as a beginning point, a brief tour of qualitative methods that may serve an educational technology researcher well in preparing to answer chosen questions, and serve the field in allowing new questions to be explored.


The objectives of this chapter are listed below. It is hoped that after reading this chapter, educational technology researchers will be able to:

  1. Define the term qualitative research and compare it with other terms, including naturalistic inquiry and ethnography.
  2. Describe some of the assumptions underlying qualitative research and compare these assumptions with those underlying quantitative research.
  3. Describe and select from various qualitative research methods.
  4. Begin to be able to use qualitative research methods at a basic level in research studies.
  5. Describe common problems in conducting-and evaluate the quality of-qualitative research studies.
  6. Describe a few of the ethical issues involved in conducting qualitative research.
  7. Describe issues related to analyzing and reporting qualitative findings.

The authors would like to thank Marcy Driscoll, David Jonassen, and Susan Tucker for their support and comments.

Updated August 3, 2001
Copyright © 2001
The Association for Educational Communications and Technology

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