A User-Friendly Look at Qualitative Research Methods

By Gerdes, Daniel A.; Conn, James H. | Physical Educator, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

A User-Friendly Look at Qualitative Research Methods


Gerdes, Daniel A., Conn, James H., Physical Educator


Abstract

The present article explores the basic methodology of a qualitative research approach to examining variables in physical education and coaching. The article offers a brief overview and comparison of qualitative methods to traditional quantitative methods often implemented in research investigations. The authors identify several qualitative techniques and a brief explanation of each, along with a descriptive scenario that assists the reader in grasping and applying the information in a practical manner.

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A "User-friendly" Look at Qualitative Research Methods

In a recent conversation among some of our colleagues, the subject came up about how we in higher education train and prepare physical education teachers. We noted how virtually all physical education teacher preparation programs reflect very similar components, such as methods classes, assessment and evaluation classes, psychological/social aspects classes, motor learning classes, anatomy and kinesiology classes, to name a few. In addition, formal research methods training that occurs among many graduate programs seemingly perpetuates the notion among scholars that the traditional "scientific method" is the best, if not the only, legitimate way to conduct scholarly research.

Qualitative methodologies, for some reason, are not traditionally associated with physical education research. One study, however, utilized qualitative methods as a means to evaluate curricula and teaching (McLaughlin, et al., 1992), thereby enhancing the pedagogy of a program. Where most coaches and teachers are interested in movement skill acquisition and demonstrated movement competence in learners, few physical education practitioners, to include coaches, recognize the utility of the qualitative approach, as in examining, for instance, the issue of effectively building team morale. This issue of building morale seems to be an essential component of coaching effectiveness. Yet few researchers and practitioners would describe team building as an easy process.

A couple other scenarios of interest to teachers and coaches might be worth discussing at this point to add insight to the reason these professionals might want to attempt a research task in the first place. One such scenario might be building effective player/coach relationships, or in the case of a classroom teacher, effective teacher/student relationships. In collecting the perspectives of players and parents, in their own words, a coach or teacher might be better able to examine the processes of establishing a personal rapport that inspires as opposed to a demeanor that cajoles.

A second scenario could be one involving team chemistry. The situation might be such that, for some as yet unexplained reason related to team chemistry, the team has not performed to its potential. In this very real example, a coach might then be able to glean from interviews with his players and assistant coaches, a perspective not otherwise available. As the coach arranges for meetings or "dialogue sessions" with his/her players, perhaps an insight could be gained toward the problem and its solution. Given the appropriate forum, many coaches would be amazed at the insights their players could offer them on such matters. Unfortunately, however, players' views are often discounted as untrustworthy or immature and coaches rarely have time for much other than practice planning and game preparation.

When one stops to consider what makes great teachers and coaches truly great, the fundamental, rudimentary kinds of knowledge only appear at the surface of something much deeper. For example, knowing, and even being able to perform, the pedagogical fundamentals of designing a lesson, using a model, using visual aids, giving reinforcement, and checking for understanding does not necessarily make one a great teacher. As most all of us have experienced within our educational backgrounds, there is something presumably within and about a teacher that engages learners in a way that is anything but ordinary, something uniquely special and seemingly intangible, that causes learners to blossom and realize exceedingly greater measures of their potential. …

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