4. A series of comments on research in science education

In the preceded comment I wrote a little about qualitative and quantitative methods. Here I will write a bit more about qualitative methods.

The methods I have used in my education so far is semi-structured interviews, a couple of times, interviews with a guide of questions – all according to Samhällsvetenskapliga metoder av Alan Bryman. The title in English is Social Research Methods (http://www.bokus.com/bok/9780199588053/social-research-methods/) . The data from the interviews where set against other sources of data, i.e. books and Internet sources. Beforehand I had formed questions to be answered by the data collection. I did this kind of ”research” 4-5 times in different reports. Regarding research questions, I had formed them myself, or in some cases, with a friend whom I where working with. However, according to Mogens Niss (seminar at FontD november 2015) good research questions need to be:

Clear, precise, deeply intellectual, scientifically interesting, significant – degree of richness of consequences of answers, originality, researchable (!). Niss especially underlined the following:

”Disciplined inquiry has a quality that distinguishes it from other sources of opinion and belief. The disciplined inquiry is conducted and reported in such a way that the argument can be painstakingly examined.” (Cronbach & Suppes, 1969, p. 15).

However, the points stated by Niss above is aimed mostly at trained researchers because how can undergraduates state scientifically interesting and significant questions? Undergraduates and others in training will have to be able to answer questions already answered or with a smaller group aimed at replicating research or something like that.

One thing that recently entered my mind, awakened by a close friend whom is a sociologist, is ethics of research. The different reports, stated above, had almost none reflections of research ethics. I remember that one of the reports, where I interviewed four 15 year old students, I beforehand gave them a paper with information on what the research was intended for and what the recorded interview will be used for, who will listen to it. The paper with information the student took home for signature (meaning read and agreed upon by their parents or caregivers). In that sense I had reflected on the ethics of research regarding who will be listening to the interviews (me alone) and what it will be used for and that the students will be held anonymous. However, my sociologist friend said that I was not trained at all in doing the interviews and that such a interview is not aligned with the guidelines on the University where I studied at the time. I believe the research plan was given a go ahead from my instructor, but still not ok according to the guidelines. I agree with my sociologist friend, but there are a lot of undergraduate ”research” that cannot be done in this sense, there are a lot of reports that will have to have data only from books and other written sources. Maybe interviews of people over 18 years of age, but also the respondents will have to be chosen in such a way that no sensitive subjects arise, the open interview format (semi-structural interviews, the follow up questions is dependent on the answers given, anything might come up). My sociologist friend gave a couple of examples where rape victims and people who considered suicide at some time where interviewed by a untrained interviewer (undergraduate students). In those cases the respondents might have some kind of  relapse, they might need professional help. There are other problems with research ethics not being taken into consideration accordingly. The whole research project needs to be held against research ethics (a set of questions needs to be considered regarding ethics), why do we need to have these research questions answered? Why do we need to have this area researched?

Vetenskapsrådet has ethical guidelines and they write the following:

”The various demands placed on a researcher’s behaviour are part and parcel of the researcher role as it is conceptualized today; they are built into the research process. But these demands are based on society’s usual ethical norms and values. As you read the recommendations in this book, you will discover that a great deal of what is said can be summarized in a number of broad rules that all correspond to more general life rules.

You should:

  • tell the truth about your research.
  • consciously review and account for the purpose(s) of your studies.
  • openly account for your methods and results.
  • openly account for commercial interests and other associations.
  • not steal research results from others.
  • keep your research organized, for instance through documentation and archiving.
  • strive to conduct your research without harming people, animals or the environment.
  • be fair in your judgement of others’ research.” – Good Research Practice page 12 here

Also, on page 65 Vetenskapsrådet states the following: ”[…] social sciences (integrity-sensitive information on individuals and groups that can be revealed in studies). In these cases, the requirement for public access, openness and transparency sometimes comes into conflict with the requirement to protect research subjects’ and informants’ personal integrity. These issues also carry a danger that current regulation systems increase the risk that studies will be performed outside the healthcare arena, where there is less transparency. It is thus important to have general discussions on ethical issues in the handling of integrity-sensitive material. Awareness of both the rules and problems needs to increase within the research community.”

You can only have anonymous respondents if you do not write who they are somewhere. If you write somewhere who they are the information about them might come out in public, that has happened in Sweden where the Swedish court decided that collected data (sensitive data!) was of public demand. This is rather tough but the research has to take ethics and the Swedish law into consideration. Also, untrained undergraduates to do interviews, they will have to have someone to look at who they will interview and what questions they will ask, also what answers they might get and make them think through how they will react to possible answers given by the respondents.

I think I will have to come back to qualitative research methods…

 

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