Faculty Publications


Qualitative methodologies in chemical education research: Challenging comfortable paradigms

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Journal of Chemical Education





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Throughout this discussion of qualitative research, it is clear that the setting, the participants, and the researcher are all key elements of the research each of which has a dramatic effect on the data that is collected and the way in which it is interpreted. Often qualitative researchers do not let this specificity of site and personnel concern them, because they are interested in the setting that is being studied. As a consumer of qualitative research, one has a right to ask; what good is this to the greater community at large? When reporting the research, a sense of the setting and its participants should be delineated clearly. As the consumer, one should read this account and ask herself how similar her situation is to this one. If the two settings are very similar, then the lessons learned by the researcher may have meaning in this new situation. If the settings are very different, then one should read the research to see if any of it rings true for his/her situation. If it does not, then one may have opened another interesting door for further research. Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of qualitative classroom research, is that it provides the reader an opportunity to hear students and teachers. The voices of students often are unheard especially in large lecture classrooms at large universities. The questions my students ask have been asked by other students and have gone unasked by even more students. Qualitative research provides a method useful for exposing these voices especially for professors who find themselves teaching in rooms full of voiceless faces in a large university. In the rush to change curriculum and practice, teachers' voices are often overlooked as well. When one engages in a qualitative classroom study, the background noise that fills all classrooms is examined and valued. The voices of the participants in the classroom are listened to and as consumers, we have an opportunity to hear things perhaps in a new way. Qualitative research provides the opportunity to see the ordinary in an extraordinary light. This should help to inform the chemistry community as we try to improve instruction and curriculum in chemistry classes in a variety of settings.

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