Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

The Use of Narrative Inquiry in Student Affairs Research

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

The Use of Narrative Inquiry in Student Affairs Research

Article excerpt

The author examines the use of narrative inquiry in student affairs research based on the benefits of qualitative research presented by Magolda (1999). Three benefits of narrative research are presented, along with implications for student affairs research. Benefits include an increased access to student experiences and campus culture, as well as better-informed theories. Implications include changes in epistemological assumptions and a greater emphasis on student growth and relationships. The author draws on original narrative research to examine the benefits and implications.

Student affairs research continues to rely mainly on quantitative research to inform its understanding of students and guide its practice. Several authors have questioned the efficacy of the application of quantitative methodology to student affairs research, advocating the use of a qualitative approach instead (Baxter Magolda, 1992; Caple, 1991, Magolda, 1999). Issues of concern in student affairs, such as cognitive and social development, lend themselves to qualitative research (Baxter Magolda, 1992; Chafe, 1990). Since most of the issues that concern student affairs researchers require the use of language-based data collection, qualitative methods are the most appropriate approach for data collection (Polkinghorne, 1988).

In 1991, the Journal of College Student Development dedicated an entire edition to qualitative research (Caple, 1991). Several authors called for an increased use of qualitative research in higher education (Kuh & Andreas, 1991; Patton, 1991). The use of qualitative methodology in education research has increased, although not necessarily at the post-secondary level (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990; Patton, 1991). Much of the recent research has focused on secondary education and classroom instruction (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990; Fairbanks, 1996).

This is not to say, however, that qualitative research is absent from higher education. In an article that examined methodological trends in research articles published in a major student affairs journal, Davis and Liddell (1997) examined 577 articles published between 1987 and 1995. Although the authors found a statistically significant increase in the number of articles employing qualitative methods, the overall number of qualitative articles lagged behind the number of quantitative articles. During the 8 years examined by the authors, only 39 of the 572 published articles were qualitative in nature, compared to 437 quantitative articles.

Even with the paucity of qualitative research articles, examples of qualitative research are evident. For a recent study by Feagin, Vera, and Imani (1996) that examined racial discrimination at a predominately white university, the authors used focus groups to gather data from African American students and their parents. The ethnographic study of residence hall living by Moffatt (1989) serves as another example of the application of qualitative research to the study of issues in higher education. Finally, Baxter Magolda (1992) utilized the method advocated in this article, narrative inquiry, to inform her theory on cognitive development.

Recently, Magolda (1999) advocated using qualitative methods, specifically ethnography and case studies, to inform student affairs research. Magolda defined ethnographic research to include "observations occurring in a natural setting," in which the researcher becomes the Asubjective instrument for data collection" (p. 11). Furthermore, definitions of ethnographic research stress the importance of culture and context (Swchandt, as cited in Magolda, 1999). While content is important for ethnography and narrative inquiry, the latter focuses more on the process of story construction. Although the two methods overlap and are complementary, the distinction between them is important.

This article continues the discussion begun by Magolda (1999). Magolda cited three main benefits of the increased use of ethnographic methods to student affairs professionals' understanding of college students. …

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