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2007

QUALITATIVE RESEARCH IN SOCIAL STUDIES EDUCATION

Judith Preissle-Goetz

UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA

Margaret Diane LeCompte

UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, BOULDER

In 1970, one of us, then a classroom teacher not yet dreaming she would become an
educational researcher, struggled with the problem of how to design a study investigating
children's reactions to the value clarification lessons she was using. For guidance, her advisor
handed her a copy of Campbell and Stanleys Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for
Research (1963). She used a pretest-posttest control group design to produce a mediocre
investigation with ambiguous results. This enabled her to finish a master's degree, but left both
her and her thesis committee members with nagging questions about what had happened and
why. Fortunately, the days of such rigidity of design in educational research have ended.

1970

Experimental and
Quasi-Experimental Designs

Introductory research textbooks once discussed only experimental, quasi-experimental, and


survey designs. Now such books include simulation research, standardized observation,
historical research, case study investigation, conceptual re search, ethnography, and other
permutations of qualitative design (eg, Borg & Gall, 1989). In the past 20 years, approaches to
research design have diversified. Scholars who once felt compelled to use conventional
quantitative designs now use as criteria for choice of design their own research purposes and
questions. More scholars have pursued years-long investigations in various substantive areas: in
so doing, they have raised new questions and concerns.

Borg ethnography
1989 Gall

Our goal is to examine how one variety of research design-popularly referred to as


qualitative investigation—is being and can be applied to social studies education. What is
qualitative research? How is qualitative research different from and similar to quantitative
research? What is involved in apply ing qualitative research to social studies teaching and
learning? We intend our discussion to illustrate how qualitative design modes offer a fruitful
perspective on the significant issues and problems raised in social studies education.

WHAT IS QUALITATIVE RESEARCH?

Qualitative research is a loosely defined category of research designs or models (Goetz &
LeCompte, 1984), all of which elicit verbal, visual, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory data. These
data take the form of descriptive narratives like field notes, recordings or other transcriptions
from audio- and videotapes, and other written records, as well as pictures or films. Qualitative
researchers also may collect artifacts—products or things people use—such as objects people
make and records of what they do, say, produce, or write.

Goetz
1984 LeCompte
Qualitative research is based on and grounded in descrip tions of observations. These
descriptions address the question, "What is happening here?" Most qualitative research designs
are intended to address this question. It can be asked about anything—ordinary occurrences,
extraordinary events, or circumstances puzzling to an investigator.

Some methodologists object to the name qualitative research. They believe it to be


imprecise, misleading, and imply ing a lack of concern with quantity. Among the synonyms used
are interpretive research (Erickson, 1986), naturalistic research (Lincoln & Guba, 1985),
phenomenological research (Wilson, 1977), and descriptive research (Wolcott, 1980).

1986 Erickson
1977 Wilson 1985 Guba Lincoln
1980 Wolcot

Each of these labels emphasizes a characteristic of much qualitative research. Erickson's


preference for the term interpretive focuses investigation on meaning, highlighting the premise
that human activity can only be understood when the meaning of the action to the actor is
taken into account. Lincoln and Guba use the term naturalistic because it indicates a concern for
studying human life as it proceeds unaffected by the scientists interested in studying it. Like
Erickson, Lincoln and Guba are interested in understanding human phenomena from the
perspective of the human participants who produce them.

Guba Lincoln

The same quality is conveyed by the label phenomenologicat research, a philosophical


stance whose adherents assert that knowledge, reality, and value can only be known through
human experience (Giorgi, 1971). They focus on the concrete and specific characteristics of
phenomena as experienced by the human observer. Adequately representing the phenomena
requires that they be faithfully described just as they were experienced.

1971 Giorgi