INTERVIEWS, PARTICIPANT JOURNALS, ETHNOGRAPHIC OBSERVATION AND FOCUS GROUPS: THE AFFORDANCES OF A MULTI METHOD QUALITATIVE APPROACH IN THE STUDY OF STUDENTS AND TEACHERS
Cardiff University (UNITED KINGDOM)
About this paper:
Conference name: 1st International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 6-8 July, 2009
Location: Barcelona ,Spain
Abstract:The paper draws upon a two year research project on Learning and Working in Further Education Colleges in Wales. The research was jointly funded by the Economic and Social Science Research Council (ESRC) and Welsh Assembly Government. The overall aim of the research was to explore the relationships between the social organisation of FE in Wales, the interactions between teachers and students and learning outcomes for both groups.
The paper provides a reflexive account of the research methods employed in the field work which investigated the learning journeys of both students and teachers over a two year period from 2005 to 2007. The study which set out to provide an illuminative account of learning and working contemporary further education colleges is firmly based in qualitative methods which are sensitive to the social context in which data are produced (Mason 2002).
The paper briefly locates the research project in the wider UK Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP), introduces some important facts about education in Wales and provides a brief outline of the key research questions which framed the study. The research design and data collection strategies are then discussed in relation to their affordances for enabling the research team to assemble a detailed account of students’ and teachers’ experiences in an hitherto under researched sector. The multi method qualitative approach adopted used ethnographic observation, in -depth interviews, participant journals and focus groups.
Three colleges located in different parts of South Wales provided the settings for the research and nine teachers and fifteen students were sampled from each one to reflect the diverse nature of course provision and age of learners. The 27 teachers and 45 students as “core participants” were tracked over time via in-depth interviews at various stages and their regular completion of a structured learning journal. Extensive first-hand observation of these core participants in a variety of different learning settings combined with their interview transcripts and written journal entries, built up a valuable and important picture. Drawing upon extracts from the different data sets we demonstrate that the combination of qualitative research methods and sustained fieldwork ” brought us up close,” gave us privileged insights into learners, their teachers and their learning settings and has shed much needed light on what it means to be a student or to teach in the further education sector in Wales.