Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Using a Non-Judgmental Stance to Promote Trustworthiness in Action Research

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Using a Non-Judgmental Stance to Promote Trustworthiness in Action Research

Article excerpt

The present article has a dual focus. The first focus is centered on an action research venture conducted in Malaysia where we attempted to transpose the foreign language classroom's learning management system (LMS) to Facebook on mobile phones. The second focus is on our effort to ensure that the respondents provide honest feedback as we promote a non-judgmental stance. To address the first focus, we distributed a subsidy to every student to enable them to purchase access to mobile Internet. Investigating how they spent this subsidy and how they discussed it provided information serving our second focus. As researchers and lecturers we strive to improve our teaching method through practitioner research, more commonly known as action research. As we struggle to make our teaching more efficient, we evaluate our actions and gauge them by the impact it has on our students. This is achieved through regular enquiries with our students on the difficulties they encounter and even on their ease of learning. Their feedback is generally collected through questionnaires at precise moments in the course, but more often semi-guided interviews are used to gain a deeper insight on how the students are experiencing our teaching.

Problem Statement

When we use interviews as the primary source of data to evaluate our own practice, we place a great deal of faith in our respondents' honesty. This raises one important question "how do we know that what the participant is telling us is true?" (Seidman, 2006, p. 23). This question is particularly crucial when the researchers are lecturers, and the respondents are Confucian heritage students.

McTaggart (1989) proposes 16 tenets of participatory action research. In the fifth tenet he describes the method as being a systematic investigation technique. For McTaggart this is achieved by keeping an open mind to adapt to the unexpected. Despite clear indications, we failed to grasp the best manner in which to remain open. Hashim in her article published in 2005 offered seven tenets of action research. We believe that the second tenet helped us resolve our dilemma. Hashim proposed not judging the informants as a way to remain free from biases. She further advised to follow this tenet from the beginning of the research to enable oneself to remain able to analyze the data from different perspectives.

Successful adoption of this non-judgmental approach has been reported by several qualitative researchers (i.e., Brown, 2008; O'Halloran, 2003). Respondents are less likely to feel judged and answer what they assume are expected responses when the interviewers are viewed as insiders (O'Halloran, 2003). Yet, in the present study the researchers did not have the same advantage of being considered insiders. Furthermore, members external to a group tend not to be trusted (Buchan, Croson, & Dawes, 2002). For this reason, the non-judgmental stance needed to be coupled with an effort to strengthen the relationship and increase trust to increase validity.

Armed with this information we decided to tackle our research on teaching French with Facebook on mobile phones with a non-judgmental attitude. First, we aimed to observe whether it would enable us to improve the reliability and validity of our data; and increase honesty of our respondents. Second, we sought to corroborate our findings by triangulating responses from different informants and different methods of data collection. Third, we intended to interpret findings with an open mind.


This action research was conducted in a Malaysian public university in a hybrid French as a foreign language course. Students met face-to-face on a weekly basis, and tasks and resources were available through an online platform. The online learning management system (LMS) was not optimal as it did not provide students with sufficient control over the way they could interact with the platform. The LMS allowed them to download documents provided by the lecturers, but not publish their own documents. …

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