Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Teaching Qualitative Research for Human Services Students: A Three-Phase Model

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Teaching Qualitative Research for Human Services Students: A Three-Phase Model

Article excerpt

In 1625, King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden ordered the royal shipyard to build four warships that would press his imperialistic ambitions forward. The most flamboyant of these vessels, the Vasa, was one of the biggest of its time with 64 cannons on its gun decks. In August 1628 the vessel, gleaming with fresh paint, was launched in the port of Stockholm at a splendid ceremony to the delight and applause of the crowds that viewed the event. Their joy was short-lived, however: a sudden gust of wind made the ship keel over while still close to land, and the Vasa capsized and sank.

An appointed commission of inquiry showed that the area allotted to the ballast (placed in the hold just above the keel to maintain balance) was not sufficiently wide enough to balance a vessel with two gun decks. The ship was unstable.

In general terms, the design of the Vasa, how its various parts were built and the ratio between them, were erroneous. Although the vessel was built by the best shipbuilders of the royal shipyards in Stockholm, and in accordance with the best knowledge and experience available at the time, some principal characteristics of its parts, and particularly the ratio of the weight it carried to the weight of its ballast and the laws of flotation, were not fully known to the artisans of the time. The shipbuilders of the time did not have a theory for designing and building a vessel, but rather built in accordance with traditional models familiar to them and by trial and error. They had no way of calculating stability and the proportions of the various parts, so they built the bigger and heavier vessels just as they built smaller and lighter ones (Maxwell, 1996).

This story illustrates the issues we seek to discuss in the present article, which are all connected to the following questions: What is the correct way of teaching qualitative research to human services students? What are the diverse parts of teaching qualitative research? When is the right and appropriate time to teach each of these parts? What are the appropriate proportions among the parts of teaching this subject? What connection should there be (if at all) between teaching qualitative and quantitative research? What should be the ratio between teaching the theoretical-philosophical parts explaining the nature of qualitative research and practice on observations and their analyses, interviews and their interpretations and grounding the findings in existing knowledge and different theories? How important (or not) is the use of language in general and rich language in particular, and when does description slide from scientific endeavor into creative writing that does not meet research criteria?

Qualitative research is very important as a worldview not only from the research standpoint but also as an inherent part of the human services profession, since it emphasizes the great and multifaceted complexity characterizing human experience and the sociocultural context in which humans act. For this reason, it is so important for us that our students not only know how to implement the technique of qualitative research, but also as human services personnel they internalize its fundamental nature and become qualitative researchers. That is the reason we felt it was crucial to develop an extensive developing model of qualitative research methods; we were not satisfied only with a standard practice of a semester basic course of qualitative methods, or in including these methods in a "general" (i.e., quantitative) research methods course.

Some researchers have already noted (e.g., Webb & Glense, 1992; Yassour-Borochowitz, 2005) that teaching qualitative research methods is an extremely complex task since students find the questions that result from qualitative approaches challenging such as their self-evident assumption that the objective of research is to discover one absolute truth, how we structure our knowledge of the world, and perhaps even the significance of being humans. …

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