Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Vignettes in Qualitative Educational Research: Investigating Greek School Principals' Values

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Vignettes in Qualitative Educational Research: Investigating Greek School Principals' Values

Article excerpt

Scientists from various fields of study such as education, psychology, and sociology have implemented the vignette technique for diverse research purposes (Simon & Tierney, 2011, p.2). More specifically, researchers have applied vignettes to collect data in studies with different methodology (Wilks, 2004, pp. 80-81), to analyze data gathered and subsequently, present the findings in studies with qualitative design (Ely, Vinz, Downing, & Anzul, 1997, p.70) and lately, to construct and assess questionnaires (Martin, 2006, p. 2).

But the versatility of the vignette technique, in association with the fact that the latter is often not included in the manuals of research methodology in social sciences, leads to ambiguity and hinders its usage by aspiring researchers1.

More recently, few writers (see Barter & Renold, 1999, 2000; Bradbury-Jones, Taylor, & Herber, 2014; Hughes, 1998; Hughes & Huby, 2004; Schoenberg & Ravdal, 2000; Wilson & While, 1998) have discussed the methodological issues arising when vignettes are used to gather data, especially in qualitative studies, but none of these papers have focused on the educational domain in particular. Furthermore, some of the above writers such as Barter and Renold (2000, p. 308), Schoenberg and Ravdal (2000, p. 63) and more recently Bradbury-Jones et al. (2014, p. 427) have highlighted that there is still a need for more scientific articles exploring how vignettes are constructed and implemented as inquiring tools.

Therefore, the aim of this study is to contribute to this growing area of research about the evaluation of vignettes as a methodological data collection tool by investigating the Greek school principals' values in primary education. For that reason, we first examine briefly how vignettes are designed and administered to research participants in qualitative research, and we also outline the advantages and the weaknesses associated with the usage of this technique, according to the literature. Then, we present our findings of the application of vignettes in principals' values. Finally, we draw the conclusions from the usage of vignettes in our specific study.

The Technique of Vignettes

Clarification and Construction

A broad and frequently used in the literature definition of vignettes has been proposed by Finch (1987, p. 105) who stated that "vignettes are short stories about hypothetical characters in specified circumstances, to whose situation the interviewee is invited to respond." On the other hand, Jeffries and Maeder (2004-2005, p. 18) have more narrowly defined vignettes as "incomplete short stories that are written to reflect, in a less complex way, reallife situations in order to encourage discussions and potential solutions to problems where multiple solutions are possible," a definition which seems to fit in our case for investigating the values in the second part.

Researchers can obtain the information to create the context of the stories either from their own or participants' experience, by reviewing what other scientists have found about the topic under study, and from preliminary studies (Bradbury-Jones et al., 2014, pp. 431-432; Hughes & Huby, 2004, pp. 37-38). As mentioned by Ulrich and Ratcliffe (2007, pp. 165-166), "focus group" is an effective method to be used in preliminary studies for investigators to design the stories, when there is no substantial theory about the issue under investigation. Once the scenarios are completed, they typically involve respondents in a dilemma, where participants have to take a moral stance, or respondents have to judge, or make a specific decision (Bloor & Wood, 2006, p. 184).

The two other issues which have to be considered for the construction of hypothetical scenarios2 are the details in the stories and their length. The quantity of details is associated with the research design because the provision of less information in hypothetical scenarios favors the personal elements of participants to come to the surface, matching in a qualitative research design. …

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