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Exploring Ethical Validation as a Key Consideration in Interpretive Research Quality

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Qualitative Methodologies

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.726.1 - 26.726.21



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Paper Authors


Joachim Walther University of Georgia

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Dr. Walther is an assistant professor of engineering education research at the University of Georgia (UGA). He is a 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 range from the role of empathy in engineering students' professional formation, the role of reflection in engineering learning, and interpretive research methodologies in the emerging field of engineering education research.

His teaching focuses on innovative approaches to introducing systems thinking and creativity into the environmental engineering program at the University of Georgia.

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Alice L. Pawley Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Alice Pawley is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education and an affiliate faculty member in the Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies Program and the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue University. She was co-PI of Purdue’s ADVANCE program from 2008-2014, focusing on the underrepresentation of women in STEM faculty positions. She runs the Feminist Research in Engineering Education (FREE, formerly RIFE, group), whose diverse projects and group members are described at She received a CAREER award in 2010 and a PECASE award in 2012 for her project researching the stories of undergraduate engineering women and men of color and white women. She received ASEE-ERM’s best paper award for her CAREER research, and the Denice Denton Emerging Leader award from the Anita Borg Institute, both in 2013. She helped found, fund, and grow the PEER Collaborative, a peer mentoring group of early career and recently tenured faculty and research staff primarily evaluated based on their engineering education research productivity. She can be contacted by email at

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Nicki Wendy Sochacka University of Georgia

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Dr. Nicki Sochacka received her doctorate in Engineering Epistemologies from the University of Queensland, Australia, in 2011. She is currently a member of the CLUSTER research group at the University of Georgia where she holds a research and teaching position. Nicki’s areas of research interest include: STEAM (STEM + Art) education, diversity, interpretive research quality, the role of empathy in engineering education and practice, and student reflection.

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Exploring Ethical Validation as a Key Consideration in Interpretive Research QualityWe recently proposed a Quality Framework to assist engineering education researchers infostering and evaluating the quality of interpretive studies. The framework comprises twodimensions: i) a process model with two stages of Making and Handling Data, and ii) fourvalidation constructs (Theoretical, Procedural, Communicative, and Pragmatic Validation) andProcess Reliability. In this paper, we propose a fifth validation construct – Ethical Validation –as a critical dimension of research quality that, we argue, lies at the heart of conducting andevaluating interpretive research.The exploration presented here draws on research practice anecdotes from two interpretiveresearch projects conducted by the authors. In both projects, we used the Quality Framework as away to purposefully foster quality throughout the entire research process. We draw on ourrespective research documentation to analyze and discuss key challenges around research qualitythat surfaced in the projects.This analysis of the quality challenges reveals that the four validation constructs provide aconceptual frame and language to identify, articulate and navigate key issues of research quality.However, while the four validation constructs provided precise insight into the theoretical natureof the quality challenges, our analysis reveals that they did not capture the researchers’ fullexperiences of navigating those challenges. More specifically, a range of deep ethicalconsiderations and the aspect of both researchers’ and participants’ emotions in the processseemed to fundamentally underpin the quality considerations but were not reflected in thetheoretical examinations using the existing five categories.Based on this analysis, we develop the notion of “ethical validation” as a new key component inconsiderations of interpretive research quality. This concept extends beyond the traditionalconcept of ethical research conduct to include questions of the researchers’ larger responsibilitiesto the participants, the role of values and intentions in using research findings, or the equitableand meaningful engagement of all members of the research team. We suggest that a theoreticallycoherent concept of ethical validation spans the entire research process, from making to handlingdata, and integrates with the prior quality constructs to complement the contextually holisticview on research quality proposed in the prior framework.

Walther, J., & Pawley, A. L., & Sochacka, N. W. (2015, June), Exploring Ethical Validation as a Key Consideration in Interpretive Research Quality Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24063

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