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Challenges to Ensuring Quality in Qualitative Research: A Procedural View

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Research in Engineering Education II

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.298.1 - 25.298.17



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Paper Authors


Joachim Walther University of Georgia

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Joachim Walther is an Assistant Professor of engineering education research at the University of Georgia (UGA). He is Co-director of the Collaborative Lounge for Understanding Society and Technology through Educational Research (CLUSTER), an interdisciplinary research group with members from engineering, art, educational psychology, and social work. His research interests span the formation of students' professional identity, the role of reflection in engineering learning, and interpretive research methods in engineering education.
He was the first international recipient of the ASEE Educational Research Methods Division's Apprentice Faculty Award, was selected as a 2010 Frontiers in Education New Faculty Fellow, and is currently a UGA Lilly Teaching Fellow. His teaching focuses on innovative approaches to introducing systems thinking and creativity into the environmental engineering program. In this context, he is involved in the development and implementation of the Synthesis and Design Studio series at UGA.

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Nicola Wendy Sochacka University of Georgia

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Nicola Sochacka received her doctorate in engineering epistemologies from the University of Queensland in 2011. Her research interests span socio-technical transitions, with a particular focus on sustainable urban water management, and integrating socio-technical methods of inquiry into engineering practice and education. She currently holds a research and teaching position at the University of Georgia.

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Nadia N. Kellam University of Georgia

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Nadia Kellam is an Assistant Professor and Engineering Educational Researcher in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Georgia. She is Co-director of the CLUSTER research group with faculty members from engineering, art, and educational psychology. Her research interests include interdisciplinarity, creativity, identity formation, and the role of emotion in cognition.

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Addressing questions of research quality in an interpretive engineering education research project.Background and motivationAssessing research quality in interpretive approaches to educational research is a longstandingbut, at the same time, contested issue. In the context of engineering education research, thecommunity is increasingly embracing a broad range of interpretive methods. Because of thesometimes contrasting epistemological and ontological positions held by members of thisinterdisciplinary field conceptualizing, research quality across the various approaches ischallenging and thus necessitates an explicit discourse around research quality in interpretiveapproaches.What was done?This paper draws on an interpretive engineering education study recently published in theJournal of Engineering Education to identify and discuss specific issues, challenges andimplementation strategies concerned with research quality that were experienced by the researchteam. Through the analysis of these examples from concrete research practice, a process-oriented model of ensuring documenting and demonstrating research quality was developedbased on the engineering metaphor of Total Quality Management (TQM).ResultsThe process-oriented model is presented in Figure 1 and illustrates the research process as thestages of Making Data and Handling Data that allow the researcher to locate and explicate thefunction of particular quality strategies relative to the context, methods and circumstances of aspecific research project. To further facilitate the contextual exploration of ways in whichparticular strategies contribute to substantiating of knowledge claims, the paper offers a typologyof four fundamental aspects of validation and process reliability. These aspects of theoretical,procedural, communicative and pragmatic validation were found to provide a useful lens forexamining research quality in the example study but are not intended as a comprehensive orprescriptive view on research quality.Rather, the paper proposes this novel process-oriented view on interpretive research quality as astarting point for further discourse which could lead to a more coherent view of interpretiveresearch quality that is specific to the context of the engineering education research community.More specifically, the notion of quality from the engineering context sheds light on a number offundamental ways of perceiving quality in the interpretive inquiry. This points, for example, to aprocess-oriented view involving all stakeholders throughout the research process that relies onthe explicit documentation and demonstration of a continuous process to implement quality that,at the same time is not attainable as an absolute measure.Conclusions and significanceThe view on research quality developed here can help researchers expand their conception ofresearch quality beyond the a posteriori application of standards of rigor or the isolatedapplication of individual quality strategies. Based on this early model, the paper proposes abroader, systematic discourse in the community around the issue of research quality that is ableto take into account the methodological diversity that is currently developing in our discipline.Figure 1: Process-oriented quality model of the research process and example strategies.

Walther, J., & Sochacka, N. W., & Kellam, N. N. (2012, June), Challenges to Ensuring Quality in Qualitative Research: A Procedural View Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21056

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