Reflections on the Impact on Data Collection and Analysis When 'Insiders' Carry out Research into Teacher Education
Sutcliffe, Ruth, Linfield, Rachel Sparks, Geldart, Ros, Research in Education
While participating in a collaborative enquiry, issues surfaced for lecturers who had not fully anticipated the emotions and stress that may be created by carrying out 'insider research' and the way being an 'insider' could impact on data collection and analysis.
The focus for the enquiry was a problem-based learning (PBL) approach introduced into professional studies modules, for trainee student teachers within an English university. The enquiry spanned ten weeks and included eleven lecturers delivering the modules and twenty-four of their students, plus a further eight colleagues to collaborate in the wider research process. Lecturers completed diaries and were interviewed at the end of the semester by colleagues not directly involved in the teaching of the modules. All lecturers were to participate in analysing the data. The guiding questions for the diaries and interviews were to reflect upon what went well/less well in terms of professional practice and student learning, with an opportunity to offer further comment.
Unfortunately, as insider researchers, we knew one another and our writing styles well enough to identify colleagues. As a result, when the interviews revealed a generally positive view of PBL and the new professional studies modules, we knew this was at odds with the commonplace view at that time. Several lecturers had clearly felt unable to express their genuine opinions about the PBL approach and its impact on their own practice and student learning. As diaries and interview transcripts were scrutinised by colleagues, the conflict between attempting to analyse this data as impartial researchers was clearly problematic since we were also the 'researched'.
In accordance with Mercer (2007), Drake (2010) and Witcher (2010), the personal profiles of each insider influenced their motivation to participate and, for those providing data, the degree to which they felt able to exhibit insecurities and emotions within the interviews and diaries. Indeed, some lecturers admitted that they had edited or distorted their reflections:
I felt very exposed and was very upset by the whole experience . . . I subsequently withdrew my first diary and returned it only after heavily editing it.
As an insider I found being interviewed by a fellow academic in our department rather problematic. I did not want to reveal . . . my insecurities with the module content, nor my perceived ineffectiveness at delivering the PBL scenarios - so I lied. …