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Qualitative Research Methods in Engineering

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Qualitative Research Programs & International Research Experience from Around the World

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Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1207.1 - 22.1207.10



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Paper Authors


Kevin Kelly Dublin Institute of Technology

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Kevin Kelly has a first class honours degree in engineering and a doctorate in education. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (UK), Fellow of the Society of Light & Lighting (UK) a Chartered Engineer with Engineers Ireland who are the accrediting institution in Ireland for professional engineers and are signed up to the Washington Accord; and a professional member of ASEE. He is a former chair of CIBSE (ROI).
He is Head of the Department of Electrical Services Engineering in the Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland. His research interests are in Energy Management, Lighting, Sustainable Buildings, Electrical Services Engineering and Organisational Change. He has presented peer reviewed papers at ASEE annual conferences in Hawaii and Austin, SEFI and SEFI/IGIP conferences in Norway, Finland, Hungary, Turkey, Slovakia and Ireland in the last four years.

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Brian Bowe Dublin Institute of Technology

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Title: An Examination into the Use of Qualitative Research Methods in Electrical EngineeringTraditional research methods and methodologies in science and engineering are basedon a positivist paradigm, i.e. of absolute truth. This raises epistemological questionsabout research questions that do not fall into this category. In other words how do welearn about and understand things that have different constructions? It will be shownin this paper that traditional positivist methods cannot answer all of the questionsraised in engineering?This paper will argue that we can learn some useful research methods from ourcolleagues in the social sciences. In fact as a supervisor of under graduate and postgraduate research projects in engineering, the writer has supervised a number ofinteresting examples and applications of qualitative studies. Apart from not beingable to answer questions with multiple constructions, one of the weaknesses ofquantitative research methods is that they result in thin descriptions of what happened,i.e. the technology worked or did not work in that application under these testconditions. So if a thicker description is required, one that allows theory emerge fromdata ( perhaps to be tested quantitatively later), how does one go about that?Guba & Lincoln1 argue that research methods must follow the research questions. Ifthe research questions are about what people think or know or did, then qualitativemethods often offer the best solution. A wealth of information and data can begathered from knowledgeable people about just about anything. Good qualityqualitative researchers will gather and analyse such data to answer such researchquestions in a transparent way that convinces the reader of the authenticity and rigourof the research process. Borrego et al2 argue that generalizability in quantitativestudies is replaced by the term transferability in qualitative studies. Such studies seekto provide a thick description in a particular context allowing the reader to makerelevant connections to their own experience. Qualitative research allows the readeridentify appropriate transferability.Evidence or data gathered using qualitative methods, for example through interviews,is not just anecdotal and it is rigorously collected and analysed. Nonetheless it may besoft evidence that does not prove a hypothesis. Indeed there may not be a hypothesisat all. In such cases a Conceptual Framework may be used to code or analyse what isusually a very large amount of varied data. Qualitative methods tend to raise seriouscoding difficulties because of the large amount of data to be analysed.The proposed paper will explore this topic further offering further appropriateapplications of qualitative research methods and provide more detail about the datagathering methods and the analysis. It will also ask what we can learn fromQualitative Research Methods.1 Borrego, M. Douglas, P.E. & Amelink, C.T. Quantitative, Qualitative and MixedResearch Methods in Engineering Education. ASEE Journal of EngineeringEducation, January 20092 Guba, E. & Lincoln, Y. (1998) Fourth Generation Evaluation. Calif: Sage.

Kelly, K., & Bowe, B. (2011, June), Qualitative Research Methods in Engineering Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18752

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