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Challenges of Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods in Case Study Methodologies of Education P

Qualitative research is a kind of methodology which focuses on various frameworks of inquiries and searches the possibility of analysis. Methods of inquiries could be varied in nature and the research could be conceptualized later for a detailed analysis of the case study.

Patton, Michael Quinn (2014) in his recently released book titled 'Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods, Integrating Theory and Practice' draws his experience of more than four decades in conducting applied social science research. His methods of programme evaluation have resulted into some of the most comprehensive and systematic studies on qualitative research and evaluative methods. Patton focuses on inquiry frameworks and analysis options which are readily available for research.

Case studies in his work are clubbed with extended researches and evaluative examples for readers. Core issues, debates and controversies have been presented in an unorthodox manner by presenting each chapter with the features of voice and style manner of extended remunation. All these features have made the analysis more engaging and emphatic than the traditional understanding.

Kuzmanic, Marja (2009) in her research report titled 'Validity in qualitative research: Interview and the appearance of truth through dialogue' addresses several issues related to validity in qualitative research and explores the ways in which validity has been discussed and applied in research with qualitative interviews. One of the most important issues raised by the author is the extent to which the criterion of traditional positivists is valid and applicable. Issue of relevance is also raised for the sake of evaluation of the research under the qualitative interviewing technique.

Qualitative interview techniques are characterized by features such as relationship between the interviewee and the interviewer. This technique is peculiar in a sense that the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee is build up by ways of meaning and narrative that are constructed through the interview between the participants. Some of the important features and characteristics of the relationship between research participants are necessary for the assessment of its validity.

There are different roles assigned to the quantitative and the qualitative researches. Research paper considers credibility, transparency and reflexivity as some of the alternatives to the positivist notion of validity concepts which have been advocated by author.

Under a qualitative research there could be varied types of interviews and there are significant differences among all these types. A researcher can find various concerns in the study but significance should be given to the differences in methods. Validity could be established only with the help of a corresponding appropriateness within a specific methodology. This specific methodology could be exclusive for a given topic.

The element of validity can never be specific for a research tool but it can also be associated with the formulation of a researcher and activities in which research is conducted. There could be procedural characteristics of validity wherein validity must associate itself more than the actual measurement. According to the procedural characteristic, validity should be able to measure elements and features more than the intended measurement.

The use of research methods is invariably different for different propositions and different subject variables. The validity of a method is extremely difficult to judge in the initial stages of a research especially when the research is based on qualitative approaches.

The validity of a variable does lie within the component or the method, it however relates to the subject when associated with the method used in the research. It can also play an important role when a particular subject is defined for a specific method. The validity is identified with the theoretical understanding of the researcher and specific method followed for conducting the interview.

An epistemological understanding and a self reflective method could be followed for the interview process. Validity hence is associated with certain processes of research which could be identified under the qualitative research proposals and have a multi dimensional approach. As long as the researcher is associated with the research pattern, validity of an element is constructed and reconstructed with the help of researcher's association with the research element and its interests.

Research design is defined as the plan, structure and strategy of investigation. The plan is the overall scheme or programme of the research. It includes an outline of what the investigator will do from writing the hypotheses and their operational implications to the final analysis of data. Strategy, as used here is more specific than a plan. It includes the methods to be used to gather and analyze the data. In other words, strategy implies how the research objectives will be reached and how the problems encountered in the research will be taken about.

Research design sets up the framework for the whole study. It tells us what observations to make, how to make them and how to analyze the qualitative representations of the observations. Design does not tell us precisely what to do, but rather suggests the direction for making observation and analysis.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is a well-established academic tradition in the social science research. Qualitative methods are necessary to increase understanding of complex and sensitive impacts and processes. They are also helpful in studying differential impacts between stakeholders and the reasons for differences. Qualitative method significantly helps in conceptualizing potential consequence of any recommendation of the research.

Qualitative methods are studied under three different propositions which are: Qualitative Interviews, Direct Observations and Case Studies.

1) Qualitative interviews could be of various types which can range from semi-structured questionnaires to open-ended and ad hoc conversations.

2) Direct observation is a method which includes participant and non-participant observation, ethnographic diaries. Photography and videography techniques have also been recently included in the method of Direct observations.

3) Case study method combines different methods to compile a holistic understanding. Case studies are used for individuals, households, communities, markets or institutions.

Qualitative methods are generally associated with evaluation of the social dimensions of development programmes. Qualitative methods have also made significant contribution to areas which are generally seen as quantitative such as investigation of impact on incomes and markets. Failure to analyse qualitative dimensions of livelihoods such as non-market activities and power relations leads to misrepresentation and inaccuracy in analysis of economic impacts.

Qualitative methods have also conventionally been used more in the context of micro-level analysis. However more recently there has been increasing emphasis on qualitative analysis of macro-level policy, organizations and advocacy.

Principles of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is based on a number of principles. Qualitative methods are more usefully seen not as a discrete set of tools and techniques, but as complementary methods which can be adapted along a continuum of overlap with quantitative and participatory methods.

Qualitative methods are differentiated from quantitative methods in a number of important respects. Some of the important characteristics of Qualitative methods are that Qualitative methods are Holistic in nature. Qualitative methods seek to understand the complexity as a more accurate reflection of reality. Another important characteristic of Qualitative method is that it recognizes multiple realities. The focus in this method is on understanding different perceptions, aspirations and interests and how these influence accounts of facts and events rather than attempting to reduce them to one version of reality.

Qualitative methods are heuristic, interpretative and inductive in nature. In a qualitative research any assessment to be assessed and progressively builds up a comprehensive understanding of the processes involved. A Qualitative research also requires field work because of the need to relate all different dimensions together. There is also a central role of the outside researcher in Qualitative method.

Another important aspect is that a qualitative method gives due importance to information of the individual. Investigation of records is also considered to be one of the key differences between qualitative and participatory method as qualitative method seeks to understand current events rather than intervening into future events. The investigation of the researcher records various developments rather than influencing events.

Methods of Qualitative Research

Focus Groups

The focus group is a qualitative method of assessment which encourages a free flow of ideas. It is typically led by one moderator but can sometimes be assisted by a scribe or other team members. A focus group usually consists of 8-12 pre-screened members for assessment purposes. The session can last anywhere from 1-2 hours. Rather than simply analyzing numbers and statistics, a focus group allows researchers to observe and take note of visual aspects such as respondent's body language and facial expressions.


According to Schuh & Upcraft (2001), interviewing is a valuable assessment tool as it allows the participant to share experiences, attitudes and beliefs. The use of direct quotations in the assessment findings helps the researcher present an accurate depiction of what is being evaluated. Interviews can be of three types:

1) Structured
2) Semi-structured
3) Unstructured

Structured interviews are referred to as very controlled assessment tools with fixed, pre-planned questions. Semi-structured interviews involve some planning, but there is freedom to vary the course of the interview based on the participant's responses. Unstructured interviews are the least rigid and do not involve comprehensive preplanning.


Field observation is another method for collecting qualitative data. The objective of observation is to collect data in a relatively natural setting. Under this tool of qualitative research method, the individual identified as the observer is the instrument for the data collection. The observer notes things such as what people say, do etc.


A rubric is referred to as a list or chart that describes the criteria used to evaluate or rate student performance. Rubrics are helpful tools in assessing student learning, behavior or performance. All these attributes so as to rate student performance are found difficult to capture in more traditional assessment techniques such as surveys. Some of the important types of rubrics could be enumerated as: Checklist rubric, Rating Scale rubrics, Analytic rubric, Holistic rubric.


A survey is a common and inexpensive way to collect data about program effectiveness, student needs, learning outcomes and user satisfaction. While paper surveys have long been used to gather information, online surveys provide a more efficient way to collect data. There are two types of online surveys: web-Based Survey and E-mail Surveys.

Participant Narratives/Journals

According to Duignan, P. (2008), participant narratives and journals represent a type of document analysis used in order to extract themes in regard to the topic being evaluated. The analysis can range from an extraction of general themes to a tight, specific and detailed analysis. It may use either quantitative analysis or qualitative analysis. In a quantitative analysis, there could be a number of times that a theme occurs and in the qualitative analysis identification of major themes is distinguished.

Visual Methods

Visual methods are a form of research that uses drawings, maps, photo diaries, and other visual collections to elicit information. This research method encourages participation of the subject rather than the researcher therefore diminishing the dichotomy between the observer and the observed. There could be different types of visual techniques such as: Scientific Images, Narrative Images, Phenomenological Images and Reflexive Images.

Participant Counters

Participant counters are used to track usage of programs and services. These are also used to track student participation in events. Most often, this assessment method is used to tally the number of students participating. However, if demographic data is also gathered participant counters can be used to determine who is using services or participating in events and who is not.

Contributions of Qualitative Research

Qualitative methods are useful compliments to quantitative and participatory methods in order to increase understanding of the researcher about the developments of the research. Qualitative methods are useful in informing the selection of criteria and indicators, highlighting any limitations or complexities and hence assisting in their interpretation.

Qualitative methods are also necessary to investigate more complex and sensitive impacts which are not so easy to quantify or where quantification would be extremely time-consuming and costly. They are also used to investigate more sensitive issues which cannot be easily aired in the public forum of participatory methods. Qualitative methods highlight the voices of those who are most disadvantaged in ways which might be difficult to the public and consensual nature of participatory methods or missed in the process of aggregation of quantitative methods.

Qualitative methods can also be used for probing of key informants to further investigate issues of diversity and conflict. They enable more probing investigation of contexts and development processes and the complex interactions between contexts, grassroots aspirations and strategies, institutional structures and enterprise interventions. Qualitative methods are necessary in investigating more complex and sensitive issues essential to understanding the feasibility of proposals from participatory workshops.

Challenges of using Qualitative Methods

The strengths and contributions of qualitative methods can easily convert into its major weaknesses if they are not utilized in an efficient manner. Qualitative research is frequently dismissed as 'unscientific' and 'anecdotal' by researchers who use more of quantitative analysis. Various potential challenges can be overcome through careful use of qualitative methods.

Qualitative research is an adequately resourced part of an impact assessment which ensures reliability. This also avoids any anecdotal and biased reporting. Initial identification of indicators, categories for sampling and analysis and initial formulation of hypotheses is considered as important dimension in this regard. Issues raised during the impact assessment process for crosschecking is important.

A number of limitations of qualitative methods can easily be addressed with the help of better use of the particular methods. Some of these methods are continual probing, reflection and refinement of hypotheses, good levels of rapport, focused targeting of informants recording.

Given the open-ended and evolving nature of qualitative research, it is less easy to state precisely what questions and methods will be used, and which people will be interviewed.

Given the time-consuming nature of qualitative research and its potential contributions and limitations, careful thought should be given to ways in which it can be integrated with collection of quantitative data and also participatory methods as outlined above. This will require good communications between different members of the team to enable those responsible for the qualitative research to insert questions and issues as necessary.


McGrath (1982) argues that there is no one best methodological research strategy in social sciences. Hakim (1993) defines that 'the most common mistake is to think of documentary records as ready to use research data whereas they usually require more preparation, care and effort than an equivalent analysis of a research data set.'

Appleton and Cowley (1997) are of the view that 'documentary evidence can provide the researcher with a wealth of rich and detailed information which is unbiased by the data collection process.' Like all research methods, documentary research method requires rigorous adherence to research ethics. It is important to mention that quality control formula of handling documentary sources do exist and must be adhered to.

Every method of inquiry has its strength and weakness and it applies to documentary research method also. The choice of a research method is most suited on the basis of the appropriateness of the method. Weaknesses and strengthens of various research methods are subjects of ongoing debates.

(Charu Khatri/January/NAM Today/2016)

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