The Delphi Ordeal: How I got into qualitative research

I’m trained in quantitative methods. During my whole education, qualitative research never entered the picture. It was looked down and if interviews are done, you wouldn’t look for themes or patterns, but you’ll end up counting the concepts mentioned and base your analyses on frequencies.

When I did my first qualitative study (interviews) in 2009 I didn’t thought it through very well. It was meant to provide insights into what kind of questions to ask in the survey. Looking back at it, it served its purpose. The results never got published outside the project for which it was meant, but it taught me to approach strangers with a higher hierarchical position than I and ask them questions. At that time, I was still too afraid to push them when I didn’t understood the answer

My second qualitative research was planned. Again, when I started it, I didn’t really looked forward to it, but I worked together with a colleague and friend who is a qualitative researcher. On top of that, the setting we were looking at had too few participants to do a survey. So in a way I had no choice. In that study, questions were developed together. However, we didn’t had a theory in mind, but rather just wanted to dig into a phenomena. I interviewed five administrators and professors for the Learning and Working Project. That study was exciting for personal reasons: I felt like getting into the heads of those powerful people (at least at our university) and trying to understand why they gave us 1 000 000 Euro to play with. I also had more guts to push the participants for an answer, to ask for clarifications and to chase down rabbits.
As a follow up to this study, I also interviewed all the project members (15 people). The questions for those interviews were based on a theoretical framework. Interesting about this, is that I had to answer my own questions. Even thou when preparing the questions I had cues and keywords in mind, answering some of the questions was harder than expected. It was a good experience to be once on the receiving side in the interview. The outcome of these interviews can be read at:

Bohle Carbonell, K., Dailey-Hebert, A., & Gijselaers, W. (2013). Unleashing the creative potential of faculty to create blended learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 18, 29–37. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2012.10.004

Bohle Carbonell, K., Dailey-Hebert, A., Gerken, M., & Grohnert, T. (2013). Problem-Based Learning in Hybrid, Blended, or Online Courses: Instructional and Change Management Implications for Supporting Learner Engagement. In C. Wankel & P. Blessinger (Eds.), Increasing Student Engagement and Retention in e-learning Environments: Web 2.0 and Blended Learning Technologies (pp. 359–386). Emerald Group Publishing Limited. doi:10.1108/S2044-9968(2013)000006G015 

Now, my third qualitative research will begin next week. This time it is a Delphi study, something new for me. What I learned so far from it, is that the design took far longer than expected. I wanted to start it 3 months ago, but discussions with professors took longer. Looking back at the design of the study, I should have given me more time to ask experts if they would like to participate. 7 days to find 15 people to participate in it, is cutting it very short.

(The fourth qualitative study I’m doing is based on team observation, but so far the qualitative data is going to be transformed into frequencies. In my eyes it is more quantitative…The fifth one is on hold and is a mixed-method study. Not such a bad track record for a quantitative researcher…)

Tips for Quantitative Researchers going Qualitative

  1. Don’t underestimate the coding. It is going to take you far longer than you expected.
  2. Plan time for coding.
  3. Make sure that the method is appropriate for your research question.
  4. Discuss your codes with other people. What ‘we’ would call Cronbach alpha and factor analyses, they call ‘interrater reliability’. You need different people to code the same document and you need to agree on how the documents are coded.
  5. Keep track of your decisions. Make an audit trail.
  6. Qualitative research articles are written differently.
  7. Lastly, don’t forget, it is research: It can be fun and inspiring, but it can also be frustrating,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *