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Quantitative And Qualitative Research Methods: Bridging The Gap

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



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Page Numbers

6.826.1 - 6.826.12

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Alisha Waller

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3630

Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods: Bridging the Gap Alisha A. Waller, Ph.D. Georgia State University


In the past decades, engineering educators have published interesting research, mainly using quantitative research methods. A few studies have used qualitative research methods, but none has effectively combined both approaches for a more comprehensive understanding of the underlying issues. In this paper, I discuss qualitative and quantitative methods and their theoretical frameworks, and review the work of Tonso, published through the American Educational Research Association. Next, I illustrate how the addition of qualitative research could enhance two important engineering education research studies. Finally I propose a synergistic research model that uses both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies and explore the necessary resources to implement such a model.

I. Introduction

The learning process is fascinating and complex, universal and yet uniquely personal. Within engineering education, we have made great strides in the past 30 years in understanding many fundamentals of learning engineering. We have explored the impact of appropriately structured cooperative learning activities, the connections created through integrated curricula, and many other important advances in the teaching and learning of our discipline. The majority of engineering educational research has been conducted by engineering faculty, and rightly so. However, it usually has been conducted by applying the “scientific method” in one form or another. While this approach yields an important perspective, it is not sufficient for understanding the complex process of human interaction we call learning. In addition, engineering faculty are not accustomed to articulating explicitly the theoretical frameworks or assumptions underlying their disciplinary research. In engineering, laws and theories, such as PV = nRT and light as energy and particle, are implicitly agreed upon by the discipline and therefore not explicitly stated as assumptions (unless that theory is the one under investigation). In education, however, such certainty and agreement are not holistically agreed upon; hence, frameworks, assumptions, perspectives, and paradigms must be stated and their relevance and impact on the study must be discussed. Without such explicitness, informed peer review is impossible.

Our central argument of this paper is that a great need exists for constructing a strong bridge between the discipline of educational research and the discipline of engineering education research. This bridge needs to be bi-directional, as each discipline can provide unique opportunities to the other. Engineering can learn from education how to conduct educational research in a more rigorous, grounded, and relevant way. Education can learn through and be challenged by the unique characteristics of teaching and learning engineering. The bridge also

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Waller, A. (2001, June), Quantitative And Qualitative Research Methods: Bridging The Gap Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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