Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

The Use of Triangulation Methods in Qualitative Educational Research

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

The Use of Triangulation Methods in Qualitative Educational Research

Article excerpt

Triangulation involves the careful reviewing of data collected through different methods in order to achieve a more accurate and valid estimate of qualitative results for a particular construct. This paper describes how we used three qualitative methods of data collection to study attitudes of students toward graphing, hands-on activities, and cooperative grouping techniques using the triangulation method.


The significance of qualitative research comes from the role it plays in investigating the reasons and processes leading to certain results. Qualitative research has been described as work done to understand "meaning that is socially constructed by individuals in interaction with their world. The world, or reality, is not the fixed, single, agreed-upon, or measurable phenomenon that it is assumed to be in positivist, quantitative research" (Merriam 2002). Data-collection methods of qualitative research commonly include field notes, student journals or documents, surveys, and interviews. Although large volumes of data may be collected using qualitative methodologies, drawing conclusions from a wide range of information often becomes a challenging task. This was our case when we collected data to monitor attitudes of students toward our general chemistry class format. These data included 55 sets of interviews, 116 sets of survey responses, 90 journal entries, and 38 field note entries. We were interested in finding ways to:

* discern if different qualitative data-collection methods would expose different meaningful issues regarding attitudes of students toward different teaching techniques,


* effectively monitor attitudes toward both objective (graphing activities) and subjective constructs (teaching techniques), and

* validate qualitative data by comparing interpretations of results from different data-collection methods.

Our investigative interests in assessment methods led us to the use of triangulation methods. Triangulation compares information to determine corroboration; in other words, it is a process of qualitative cross-validation (Wiersma 2000). Preferably, each method would measure the same construct while having a different error type inherent in that method. The deficiencies of each method would then average out, leaving a true estimate of a single result (Brinberg and Kidder 1982). Therefore, triangulation yields a more accurate and valid estimate of a result when each method of measurement actually converges on the same answer (Mark and Shotland 1987). However, complete convergence may not always occur in qualitative data. The result then becomes a range of possible estimates that includes the actual answer. The defining of the range is known as bracketing (Mark and Shotland 1987).

This article presents how we used the triangulation method to monitor change in attitudes of students toward cooperative grouping, hands-on activities, and graphing activities over the course of a semester. The triangulation scheme used data collected via three different qualitative research methods (interviews, surveys, and reflective journals or field notes). A schematic representation of our triangulation design is shown in Figure 1. Each vertex of the triangle produces results that are compared and weighed against the results of the other methods.

Instructional setting

Data were collected during a second semester general chemistry course taught in a format designed to foster cooperative grouping and hands-on activities known as cAcL2, or concept Advancement through chemistry Lab-Lecture, which is a dissemination project of SCALE-UP, Student-Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Programs (Beichner et al. 2005; Oliver-Hoyo and Allen 2004, 2005; Handelsman et al. 2004). This format is ideal for the collection of these data because it emphasizes the teaching and learning techniques represented in our triangulation scheme. …

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