In this essay I will be discussing the following, the qualitative and quantitative group observation that I have been involved with. I will be conferring to how myself and individuals within my group carried out our observation and the kind of data collection and generation strategies we used. I will also be highlighting the specificities of each observation process and discuss the merits and limits of each research approach. Throughout the essay I will be using methodological references to support my arguments.
As a group we carried out a quantitative observation. Quantitative research is scientific investigation ‘that includes both experiments and other systematic methods that emphasize control and quantified measures of performance’ (Hoy, 2010). As a group we decided to research the Bute café and whether students and staff purchased something and stayed in, purchased nothing and stayed in or whether they purchased something and got it to take out. We produced a tally chart to record our data and sat within the Bute café and observed what individuals purchased. Observations is a ‘systematic method of data collection that relies on a researcher’s ability to gather data through his or her senses’ (Zina O’Leary, 2017).
Quantitative observation allowed us to directly record what individuals were doing, it also allowed us to accumulate considerable amounts of data in a relatively short time-span.
Interpretations and findings gained during our observation were based on measured quantities rather than impressions and therefore provided us with a solid foundation for description and analysis.
Large volume of quantitative data can be analyzed reasonably quickly. However, large volume of data can also be a disadvantage to quantitative analysis, without care it can start to overload the researcher as there can be several cases, variables and factors to consider (Denscombe, 2014).
We also carried out a qualitative observation. Qualitative research is concerned with meaning. Qualitative researchers are interested in ‘how individuals make sense of the world and how they experience events’ (Willig, 2013). As a group we decided to observe individuals in the Bute café again, however, this time we observed what students and staff used the space for e.g. whether it was used for work or taking a comfort break. We started the observation and was not too sure how to collect the data as we did not know what to expect. As we started the observation we started to create a tally chart of behaviors we observed frequently e.g. students doing work on their laptops.
Qualitative observation allowed us to understand how individuals made use of the Bute café. We were able to gain ‘thick descriptions’ as we carried out a small scale research. This is an advantage of qualitative research in terms of the way it deals with ‘complex social situations and details of social life’ (Denscombe, 2014). However, this can also be a disadvantage as generalizability of the findings can be questioned. When carrying out an in-depth study on a small scale research it becomes more difficult to establish how far the findings may be generalized to other similar cases. Qualitative research also ‘prevents replication of the findings in other similar cases or sets of conditions’ (May, 2001).
However, quantitative research when using a large representative sample size often allows conclusions from quantitative research generalizable and also allows other researchers to conduct the same research again whilst achieving similar results.
One of the limitations in both our qualitative and quantitative observation was that it was difficult to distinguish between who was a staff member and who was a student. As we carried out a covert observation (individuals did not know research or observation was taking place) we could not ask individuals which category they would fall into. Some staff members could have also been students (vice versa) and therefore we had to make some ethical decisions about if the individual would fall into a certain category or if would skip them.
There are ethical issues involved in the use of covert research but the use of covert methods may be justi?ed in certain occurrences. For example, difficulties can occur when individuals participating in the research change their behaviour because they know they are being studied. However, ‘covert methods violate the principles of informed consent and may invade the privacy of those being studied.’ (Bryman, 2012)
We conducted both our qualitative and quantitative research using observations. Performing observations allowed us to use our ‘self’ as the main tool of our research and therefore we required no technical/statistical support which was an advantage. Observing individuals also gave us a better chance of maintaining naturalness of the setting than other research methods. For example, structured and unstructured interviews rely on what individuals say rather than what they do and this cannot automatically be presumed to reflect the truth and therefore the validity of the data can be questioned. Interviewees statements can also be affected by the identity of the researcher which deducts the chance of maintaining naturalness.
Questionnaires is also another useful method within research. Questionnaires are easier to arrange than, for example structured interviews. All respondents are expected to self-complete their questionnaire which minimizes the interpersonal factors or in which a question is asked. However, self-completion of questionnaire does not allow researchers to check the truthfulness of answer provided by the respondent.
Mixed methods research is a term which has been introduced within lectures. Mixed methods research is research that ‘integrates qualitative and quantitative research within a single project’ (Bryman, 2012). The mixed methods approach has many advantages; it allows researchers to compare and check their findings from one method against the findings from a different method. If similar data is produced from different methods, the findings become more accurate. The use of more than one method can also improve the findings of a research by constructing a fuller and more complete picture of what is being studied.
However, although mixed methods approach has become more common, the epistemological version about the nature of quantitative and qualitative research, believes quantitative and qualitative research are ‘grounded in incompatible epistemological principles’. According to this version of their nature, mixed methods of research is not possible.
In conclusion, observing individuals for our research has allowed me to gain experience carrying out observational research. The quantitative observation allowed us to directly record what individuals were doing and gain data within a short time-span. Whereas, the qualitative observation allowed us to gain an insight on how and why individuals done carried out particular activities.