Qualitative data are narrative, appearing primarily as words.
Qualitative data are usually collected through observations, interviews, or journals or by obtaining existing documents or records.
Observations involve carefully and systematically watching and recording what you see and hear in a given setting.
Classroom observations may be structured, semistructured, or unstructured.
Unstructured or semistructured observations allow for the flexibility to attend to other events occurring in the classroom.
Limitations of observations include: (1) the potential for students to behave differently while being observed, (2) observers may have to wait for extended periods of time to observe desired behavior that may not occur, and (3) different observers could observe different things.
Classroom observations can be recorded in the form of field notes, which may include observer’s comments or with videotapes.
Interviews are conversations between the practitioner-researcher and participants in the study in which the teacher poses questions to the participant.
Interviews typically follow an interview guide, which may be structured, semistructured, or open-ended.
When gathering truly qualitative data, interviews are probably best conducted following semistructured or open-ended formats.
Interviews can also be conducted in focus groups, which consist of simultaneous interviews of people making up a relatively small group.
Interviews may also be conducted informally or via e-mail.
Advantages of interviews include: (1) researchers can probe further to clarify responses, (2) data can be preserved through audio or video tapes, (3) conversations may be more comfortable for some individuals than writing.
Limitations of interviews include: (1) time-consuming, (2) lack of anonymity for respondents, (3) respondents may fear that their words will be used against them.
Data journals may also be kept by both teachers and students in order to provide valuable insights into the workings of a classroom.
Existing documents and records, originally gathered for reasons other than action research, are abundantly available in schools and may be used as additional sources of information. These include classroom artifacts, such as student work.
Reflective teaching, or the process or instrumentation for examining your own teaching is another source for qualitative data in action research.
It is important for teacher-researchers to establish the quality and trustworthiness of their data. This includes the accuracy, credibility, dependability, and confirmability of one’s qualitative data.
Validity of research data deals with the extent to which the data that have been collected accurately measure what they purport to measure. The criteria for establishing validity include descriptive validity, interpretive validity, theoretical validity, evaluative validity, and generalizability.
There are several common practices that can be used to ensure the trustworthiness of your data: triangulation, member checks, peer debriefing, and reflexivity.
Quantitative data are numerical and include just about anything that can be counted, tallied, or rated.
Surveys are lists of statements or questions to which participants respond.
Questionnaires are one specific type of survey involving the administration of questions or statements in written form.
Items on surveys can consist of open-ended questions or closed-response rating scales.
A closed-response question or statement provides the respondent with a number of choices from which to select. Analysis of the resulting data involves counting the number of responses for each option.
Open-ended items allow for a seemingly limitless number of possible responses. Analysis of these data involves categorizing responses into similar groups and then counting them.
An advantage of surveys and rating scales includes that they are very effective at gathering data concerning students’ attitudes, perceptions, or opinions rather quickly. Limitations include that analyzing the responses can be time-consuming and follow-up questions are not possible.
A checklist is a simple form of rating scale where only a dichotomy of response options (e.g., present or not present) exists.
Formative (administered during instruction) and summative (administered after a period of instruction) classroom assessments can also be used as sources of data in action research.
Tests and other formal instruments can be used as quantitative data, provided they are supplemented with other forms of data.
Validity of quantitative data has to do with the extent to which the data are what they are believed to be.
The five sources of validity for quantitative data include: validity based on instrument content, validity based on response process, validity based on internal structure, validity based on relations to other variables, and validity based on consequences of testing.
Reliability refers to the consistency of quantitative data and is determined statistically.
Remember the following: A valid test is always reliable, but a reliable test is not necessarily valid.
Remember to keep in mind ethics on your data collection, along with organization and alignment to goals.
It is recommended to keep a record specifying the research questions guiding your action research project, along with the specific data and sources of those data that you plan to use to be able to answer your research questions.