The actions in research must necessarily be limited not only to the imagination of the researcher but to the physical and intellectual conditions that surround the research. Practicality and feasibility are two core notions that were discussed this week.
“Research is the art of the feasible” (Blaxter, Hughes, & Tight, 2006, p. 157)
Should this insight be taken to heart, many pages of many research methods books would become redundant. Looking at my developing research question;
What is the ontology of epistemological beliefs in Japanese university undergraduates?
I am compelled to ask the following questions about the implied skill set required:
- Do I have sufficient knowledge about statistical methods, and is it feasible to learn in the given time frame what I need?
I have published one paper in which I used multiple regression and factor analysis. That, I have to admit, was a tough process during which I basically followed a textbook example while applying the method to my own data. I had my results checked by the maths professor and no errors were found. However, at the doctoral level, I will need to know not only the steps involved in factorial analysis but also the deeper rationale behind each step and the reasons I rejected other analytical methods. Furthermore, in validating an instrument, path analysis may be of more use, but that is unknown to me yet. And there may be other statistical tools that offer more rigorous possibilities. Yet, I am confident that I can indeed master statistics at this level.
- Is gaining access to sufficient numbers of students actually feasible?
Within my own sphere of influence, I have contact with around 200 students regularly. I would not want to rely on just these, but convenience sampling is acceptable in exploratory research (Blaxter et al., 2006), and if pushed, gaining access to around 10 students from each of the four year groups for the interview stage is non-problematic. However, doing so would invoke a serious ethical consideration: I am sensei to these people, the power dynamics involved (Cassell, 2009) would need to be handled sensitively before any confidence in the data could be assured. The value of my research to the organisation is clear, and I may have access to all a sufficient number of students. This is not established, and I need to explore how I can increase the chances of getting access to many more students.
- Is it feasible for me to conduct professional interviews in Japanese?
My Japanese language skills allow me to live and work in the country, but by no means do I have the proficiency to catch nuances and decipher half-spoken occluded hints during the real-time pressures of the interview. Holstein’s how of the interview reveals many tensions caused by language, but Horten, Macvy and Streven’s (2004, cited in Cassell, 2009, p. 510) suggestion of utilising two interviewers who have specialist expertise in the interviewees’ language (in my case, a Japanese co-interviewer would suffice) is difficult to obtain, not least due to the extraordinary effort that person would need to commit to (at least 40 hours of interview time plus help with the transcript). The option of holding focus groups (Wilkinson, 2004) may be a feasible alternative. This may alleviate much of the time pressure by quartering the interview time and also help overcome some of the inherent power imbalance by having participants discuss issues amongst themselves. Also, there is more chance that participants can ignore the adults in the room and develop more solidarity amongst themselves. Currently, though, I am not sure what the effect of a sensei or any other adult who embodies the role of sensei being present in the room will have on the openness of the discussion. Perhaps a model whereby participants have a set of printed questions and are asked to discuss these amongst themselves may be more productive, but again, there are problems here (for example, the inability at that point to use probing questions [Blaxter, Hughes & Tight, 2006]). Furthermore, I need to consider seriously the nature of my research question and ask if it can fit within a focus group methodology.
My current thinking centres on the reality that I am fluent in listening to Japanese (approximately TOEIC 800+ equivalent) and my students are fluent in English to a reasonably high degree (average TOEIC 550). I do not know if this has been attempted in cross-cultural interview methodology (if you know, please advise), but I may conduct the interview in simplified English and have the participants respond in their natural Japanese. Inaccuracies in interpretation can be highlighted during the coding sequences where participants have the opportunity to review their input and work together to create a more ‘active interview’ (Holstein & Gubrium, 2004), albeit one that has extended temporal boundaries.
What do others think about the feasibility of these aspects?
Blaxter, L., Hughes, C., & Tight, M. (2006). How to research (3rd ed.). Buckingham: Open University Press.
Cassell, C. (2009). Interviews in organizational research. In D. A. Buchanan & A. Bryman (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of organizational research methods, (pp. 500–515). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Holstein, J. A., & Gubrium, J. F. (2004). The active interview. In D. Silverman (Ed.), Qualitative research: Theory, method, and practice (2nd ed., pp. 140–161). London, UK: Sage.
Wilkinson, S. (2004). Focus group research. In D. Silverman (Ed.), Qualitative research: Theory, method, and practice (2nd ed., pp. 177–199). London, UK: Sage.