Chapter Three: Method and Methodology

Strategy of inquiry

In order to understand the role that open textbooks play within the open education movement—and also within institutions of learning—it is crucial to understand how open textbooks are used and understood by educators. Much of the research currently in existence that focuses on open textbooks examines them as an artifact; they explore the quality of the textbook or the benefits to post-secondary institutions or student savings. Viewing open textbooks as artifacts may only provide a shallow perspective of the motivation and rationale for using open textbooks. However, in speaking directly with educators about their experiences with open textbooks and motivations for using them we can begin to understand the role that open textbooks play in an educator’s pedagogy.  Implementation and adoption of textbooks are actions that are viewable externally in the way that a behavioral scientist would approach them, but there is also information available on a deeper level.

The primary research question for this thesis was an inquiry into current experiences around the implementation and adoption of open textbooks. A phenomenological approach was meant to focus on the lived experiences of educators and the context in which their adoption of an open textbook took place. The goal of the research was not intended to be generalizable to all educators and institutions, but to gain understanding about open textbook use through the rich detail described by interview participants. A lack of generalizability to all circumstances may not need to be a concern in an exploratory study such as this if it can provide the research community with avenues for further detailed enquiry and better understanding of educational phenomena.

As Flyvbjerg (2006) mentioned, there is often an inability in qualitative research to be able to offer generalizability about a whole of a group of people engaged in a particular phenomenon. He writes:

A purely descriptive, phenomenological case study without any attempt to generalize can certainly be of value in this process and has often helped cut a path toward scientific innovation. (Flyvbjerg 2006)

Qualitative research, in a wide context means, “any kind of research that produces findings not arrived at by means of statistical procedures or other means of quantification” (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, p. 17). Qualitative research reports are descriptive; this methodology incorporates explicative language and the “presence of voice in the text” (Eisner, 1991, p. 36).

Through qualitative research we can explore a wide array of dimensions of the social world, including the texture and weave of everyday life, the understandings, experiences and imaginings of our research participants, the ways that social processes, institutions, discourses or relationships work, and the significance of the meanings that they generate. (Mason, 2002, p.1)

As researcher, I came to this study as an outsider to teaching in post-secondary education. I was, however, involved with open education through my Master’s degree, in studying learning and technology, and have an intimate connection with this project. As Palys and Atchison (2008) noted, prior knowledge of the phenomenon under investigation is seen as an advantage by qualitative researchers, while quantitative researchers prefer that the researcher maintain distance from the phenomenon under investigation.

Qualitative research is rich with detail and insights into participants’ experiences within the world (Mason, 2002), and “may be epistemologically in harmony with the reader’s experience” (Stake, 2010, p. 5) and thereby more meaningful to the intended audience.  Qualitative research uses the natural or organic setting as the source of data. The researcher attempts to observe, describe and interpret settings as they are, maintaining what Patton (1990) calls an “empathic neutrality” (p. 55).

Phenomenological theory is influenced by grounded theory. They both “continually question gaps in the data—omissions and inconsistencies” (Moustakas, 1994 p.5) and grounded theorists and interpretive phenomenological researchers alike recognize the importance of social structure and context (Moustakas, 1994 pp. 5-6.).

The data collected in this study is phenomenographic, and as Smith (2011) advocated, I attempted to remain open-minded during the data collection process and let the participant’s experiences emerge on their own terms.

In order to understand the role that open textbooks play within the open education movement—and also within institutions of learning—it is crucial to understand how open textbooks are used and understood by educators. Much of the research currently in existence that focuses on open textbooks examines them as an artifact; they explore the quality of the textbook or the benefits to post-secondary institutions or student savings. Viewing open textbooks as artifacts may only provide a shallow view of the motivation and rationale for using open textbooks. However, in speaking directly with educators about their experiences with open textbooks and motivations for using them we can begin to understand the role that open textbooks play in an educator’s pedagogy.  Implementation and adoption of textbooks are actions that are viewable externally in the way that a behavioral scientist would approach them, but there is also information available on a deeper level.

It is important to note that there are variations on phenomenological strategies of inquiry, but the shared premise is on understanding the lived experiences of people involved in a phenomenon. The debate about what phenomenology includes can be intimidating for novice researchers (Finlay, 2009, p. 7); however, any phenomenological method is sound if it links properly with a phenomenological theory (Finlay, 2009, p. 8). There are two divides in phenomenological approaches. The first major division is in regards to subjectivity in the researcher. Husserl (1970) believed that transcendental phenomenology required bracketing our belief in the real world. He posited that a researcher must reduce their exposure, a method that required the researcher to set aside their knowledge. In the case of open textbooks, it would have been disingenuous as a researcher to say I could approach the topic with objectivity. Smith’s (2009) IPA provided an organic solution that fit with this research on open textbooks regarding the second major division within phenomenology—whether or not the researcher interprets the data, called hermeneutic phenomenology, or leaves the experiential accounts of the participants as strictly descriptive accounts, known as the Husserlian method (Finlay, 2009).

Hermeneutics is the theory of interpretation (Smith, 2011). IPA employs a double hermeneutic approach that acknowledges that the researcher has a dual role in the research in that they are trying to make sense of the participant trying to make sense of the phenomenon. The role of hermeneutics in this study is further explained in the data analysis section. The close proximity of me to the data made IPA the obvious choice for analysis.

Data collection

The interviews for this study were semi-structured and the topics of the interview were created by reflection on the themes that derived from the review of literature on both OER and open textbooks. One of the central premises of phenomenological research is to arrive at an understanding through the careful analysis of individual’s experiences (Finlay, 2009). The questions were pre-prepared and departed from as necessary, while keeping in mind that the “participant is the experiential expert on the topic at hand” (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin p. 58).

The level of detail in the project evolves as the data is collected, “code notes, memos, and diagrams will become progressively more detailed and sophisticated as the analysis moves through the three types of coding” (Punch, p.112).

In keeping with IPA, the data was collected using audio or video interviews, depending on the participant’s preference, with the focus on participant’s experiences with open textbooks. Interviews are considered the normal method of data collection in phenomenological research (Moustakas, 1994, p. 114), and in general, are the favorite methodological tool (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994, p. 353) for gathering data for qualitative researchers. Qualitative research can be enhanced by video by providing “unprecedented opportunities for social science research” (Heath, Hindmarsh & Luff, 2010, p. 2). Video allows for the researcher to later re-examine the participants’ responses in the context in which they were presented. Heath, Hindmarsh & Luff (2012) noted that in their experience, they had not found additional concern from participants with video recording so long as the participants had been properly informed.

The interviews took place from January 9, 2014 to February 12, 2014. The interviews ranged from 33:65 to 66:58 minutes in length. The participants received the transcript of their interview and were encouraged to view the video or listen to the recording, and at that time they were also encouraged to provide any additional thoughts that may have arisen about open textbooks. Three participants responded with minor alterations or additional material for the transcripts.


 

The participants

 

All participants were assured anonymity as part of this research, and a pseudonym was assigned to each participant. In addition, all personally identifiable information such as institutional affiliation was removed.

Participants for this research were selected using purposive sampling, a type of non-probability sampling. Since the intended purpose of this research was to examine the experiences of a group of people engaged in a specific set of experiences, working with open textbooks or open educational resources, participants were selected using non-probability sampling as they hold important information needed for this research (Maxwell, 2009, p. 221; Morse, 1991). In a phenomenological study, there are two main criteria for a participant: to have experienced the phenomenon, and to be willing to talk about that experience to an interviewer (Thomas & Pollio, 2002). Participant selection was based on the study’s need to ensure authentic, useful and rich data that represented the phenomenon. In this instance, all eleven participants did have experience with the phenomena of open textbooks. The range of exposure varied from implementing open textbooks to exposure from conferences or from other participants in the open education community.

Interview participants were recruited through a series of blog posts on the BCcampus website, which are cited in Appendix A, and through Twitter using the hashtag #opentextbook and with the assistance of the researcher’s online personal learning network (PLE). The tweets are also included in Appendix A. Due to some difficult in gathering participants, a variety of methods were needed in order to gather enough participants for the study.

The participants were instructed to contact the researcher through email and then given information about the study and an informed consent form to review (Appendix B). They were also reminded that they could opt out of the study at any time. If interested, participants were asked to sign and return the consent forms. 17 people expressed interest and thirteen people provided consent forms, but ultimately eleven interviews were conducted. Some people who expressed interest were not able to find a time that worked for both the researcher and the interviewee.

With the participants’ permission, the interviews were recorded either on Skype or through the telephone when Skype was not possible. Out of eleven participants seven used Skype and five interviews were conducted by telephone.

Participant characteristics

Of the eleven participants interviewed, three were female and seven were male. Eight of the participants taught at a college, one at a university, one at an open education institution, and one at a non-departmental public body. While this research was not intended specifically to be international in scope, the participants came from all over the world: United States (7), Canada (2), United Kingdom (1), New Zealand (1). The participants had all elected to participate knowing that they would be asked questions from the perspective of an educator. Six of the participants were full-time instructors, three were part-time or adjunct, one was recently retired, and one participant did not currently teach but had a background in teaching music.

CountryChart
Figure 2. Location of Participants by Country

Data analysis

In keeping with an IPA process, the data was analyzed using a double hermeneutic approach. This analysis considered that the researcher played a double role in the examination that she was conducting (Smith et al. 2009). While, “the participants were trying to make sense of their world; the researcher was trying to make sense of the participants trying to make sense of their world” (Smith et al, 2009). As discussed as a part of the strategy of inquiry, hermeneutics was the theory of interpretation that A double hermeneutic approach in IPA allowed for both “empathic hermeneutics” and “questioning hermeneutics” (Smith & Osborn, 2003). This means that the researcher was able to attempt an understanding of the point of view of the participant while also interpreting their answers critically.

researchFramework
Figure 3. Process of Data Analysis, IPA

Using IPA as praxis, the researcher recorded the video interviews, transcribed them using Transcriva (software that allowed for video and audio transcription), and re-watched or listened to the videos or audio recordings.  During the interview and throughout the review process the researcher took detailed notes of observations that arose.  Following Groenewald’s (2004) approach to field notes, four types of notes were made:

  • Observational
  • Theoretical
  • Methodological
  • Analytical

As Morgan (1997) stated, field notes require interpretation and are therefore a part of the analysis phase as well as the collection phase. After the researcher had typed them up, the transcripts were imported into a qualitative data analysis software program called Dedoose, which was the primary tool for analyzing data.

The procedures of phenomenological inquiry
Creswell (1998) proposed the following guidelines to ensure that the inquiry being used was phenomenological:

  1. The researcher must understand the philosophical perspectives behind the approach, especially the concept of studying how people experience a phenomenon.
  2. The researcher writes research questions that explore the meaning of that experience for individuals and asks individuals to describe their everyday lived experience.
  3. The researcher collects data from individuals who have experienced the phenomenon under inspection. Normally, this information is collected through long interviews.
  4. The phenomenological data analysis: the protocols are divided into statements or horizonalization, the units are transformed into clusters of meaning, tie the transformation together to make a general description of the experience, including textural description, what is experienced and structural description.
  5. The phenomenological report ends with the reader underlying better the essential, invariant structure of the experience.

 

The data collected was not intended to test hypotheses, but to make sense of the contextual understandings of phenomena.

Data reduction

CodeOccuranceAfterReduction
Figure 4. Code Occurrences before Reduction

The world cloud in Figure 4 depicts the frequency of occurrence of text code using the magnitude of the text. Larger words denote higher frequencies.

Once collected and coded, the transcript data was voluminous with 470 identified excerpts, 19 codes, and 10 sub-codes. To reduce the data I read and re-read the transcripts, and regrouped the material. Some of the data was coded in order to more easily retrieve information such as teaching experience and a mention of the 4Rs—these were a-priori codes based on the literature review. After the reduction of the data and the thematic grouping of codes, Figure 5 demonstrates a more specific theme that emerged from the data than was visible in Figure 4. The quality, selection, and implementation of open textbooks are regularly mentioned by all participants of the study.

 
CodeOccuranceAfterReduction
Figure 5. Codes after Reduction

Validity

A phenomenological approach rejects the idea of scientific realism, and so validity in this study was obtained through repeated re-examination of the material. IPA does not achieve validity by bracketing. Instead, Smith (2009) presented a table of criteria for a good IPA paper and those are the standards I have applied:

  • Clearly subscribes to the theoretical principles of IPA: it is phenomenological, hermeneutic and idiographic
  • Sufficiently transparent so reader can see what was done
  • Coherent, plausible and interesting analysis
  • Sufficient sampling from corpus to show density of evidence for each theme

 

Additionally, care has been taken to present excerpts of the data that give an “indication of convergence and divergence, representativeness and variability” (Smith, 2009).

 

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