The Study Dude – Banana? The Limited Flavours of Theory

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to introduce a new theory like AU’s Dr. George Siemens did. don’t hesitate: add to the thimble of qualitative theories.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s Study Dude lists some theories that apply to quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods strategies. John W. Creswell, author of Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, highlights key theoretical views.

Quantitative Theory
Taking a quantitative course is good. Taking a quantitative course from an outside faculty is not so good.

When I was in the communications faculty, I opted to take a sociology course in multiple linear regression: a quantitative course. Most of the sociology students had solid backgrounds in statistical methods, but a number of students, including myself, who came in from outside faculties, had little to no background. Now, I did a lot right in the course, especially in the math components, but I kept getting docked marks for leaving off the words “with such-and-such variable(s) held constant.” This repeated error knocked my grade down by about two letter grades. The sociology students all seemed to include the magic words; all of us external people failed to do so.

By the last few classes, the only student remaining from outside faculties was me. Everyone else withdrew. This class served as a key reason why I didn’t get the grade to enter the PhD program. No-one told me I needed a 3.8 GPA or better to get into the PhD program. If I had known this, I may have withdrawn, too.

As a matter of fact, no-one told me that students need about a 3.60 or better, depending on the year, to get into the master’s program. Did you know that?

Almost as bad, when my supervisor found out I enrolled in a quantitative course, she was angered. Quantitative methods were shunned in my faculty. But, years later, I got a job offer to work for a market research company. So, the sociology course in multiple linear regression, combined with my numerical background, paid off.

In spite of all this, in that multiple linear regression course we didn’t tackle quantitative theories?just statistical analysis. But, Creswell comes to the rescue by shedding light on the theories that quantitative research designs use.
– Quantitative research uses variables. Variables are measurable or observable things.
– Variables also go by the name “constructs.”
– Variables that you measure can be things like demographics such as annual income or self-reported attitudes such as how likely one is to vote.
– Independent variables cause, influence, or predict an outcome. For instance, rain (an independent variable) influences photosynthesis.
– Dependent variables represent the actual outcome.
– Other variables such as mediating variables and moderating variables can also appear in research. Mediating variables are sandwiched between the independent and dependent variables. Moderating variables multiply two variables together to see what kind of an influence the two together have.
– Control variables and confounding variables also exist. What are they? Not quite sure.
– When doing a quantitative study, discuss how your chosen theory might predict or explain an outcome.
– The theory should capture the direction and magnitude of the variable’s influence on one another. For instance, with increased spirituality comes increased resilience for individuals experiencing the loss of a loved one. A theory would explain or predict why this relationship happens.
– Express your theory as a bunch of if/then statements, or as a bunch of hypotheses, or as a visual representation. As an example, for a bunch of hypothesis, you can say things like, “The higher x, the higher y. The higher x, the higher z. They higher y, the higher z.” If/then statements are similar, but seem to add a bit of explanation. As for the visual representations, these contain diagrams with your independent variables all on one side pointing with arrows to your dependent variables. The intervening variables go in between.
– If your topic is about a single person, then look to psychology literature for a theory. If your topic is about groups of people or an organization, then look to sociological literature.
– Try to find one theory that fits your study. Remember that theories are expressed in general terms, so you might luck out and find something which your specific variables might fit into. For instance, a theory that generally says rewards lead to greater motivation could fit nicely with your work if you are studying how a possibility of tenure (the reward) can lead to increased publication (the increased motivation).

Qualitative Theory
The qualitative theories all seem to cover the same theme: marginalization and oppression. When I went into grad studies, I felt that the choice of qualitative theories could be reduced to under ten key ones, and they all contained the same theme. But, I didn’t want to condemn the powers-that-be for my marginalized status. Instead, I wanted to find a happy medium?yes, a happy one?of cooperation and compromise. When my supervisor heard my preference for a theory that didn’t exist, she was angered, and we soon parted ways.

Yes, I believe the university has gone to the extreme left, influencing political ideology and silencing critics. We now attack people in power without acknowledging a lot of the good they do like create jobs, goods, and services. As a marginalized person, I wanted to acknowledge that good and find compromise. That’s not a lot to ask of a university, is it?

Qualitative theories all seemed very similar, representing marginalized people. But, what happens when the powerful people?the so-called oppressors? become the marginalized? I wonder if these methods will represent them then. The enemy turned victim turned enemy turned victim, academic research gets the bipolar stamp, in my mind.

However, hope prevails: some qualitative theory, for instance, allows you to build theory from scratch. Yes, the Study Dude has high hopes for you. Build your own theory if you’ve got the time and money.

Creswell outlines the theories for qualitative research:
– Qualitative theory boils down to three types: (1) themes-based theories, (2) theoretical lenses, and (3) theory built from scratch.
– First, as for themes based theories, ethnographic research employs themes such as “social control, language, stability and change, or social organization” (p. 61). Themes are like hypotheses that you can fit your research into. Themes-based theories serve like placeholders for your ideas.
– Second, as for theoretical lenses, such a lens would include perspectives like feminism, racialized discourses, critical theory, queer theory, and disability inquiry.
– Third, as for theory built from scratch, the constructing of a theory becomes the final destination of your research. You can discover themes in your research (for example, from interviews of subjects) and then produce a model and a theory from your themes.
– There are at least three ways to build theory from scratch: (1) through grounded theory (where your theory emerges from interviews from your participants, for example), (2) through naturalistic generalizations (where your theory takes in your own personal experiences), and (3) through pattern theory (where metaphors and analogies serve as the foundation).
– You can skip the theory altogether if you want. Phenomenology studies often skip theory altogether. In these studies, the researcher discovers the nature of an experience from the view of the research subjects.

Mixed Methods Theories
Mixed method strategies can involve theories with themes of marginalization, too. Alternatively, a mixed method strategy can use theories that people have built from scratch: a grounded theory, for example. Also, in a mixed method strategy, you can even leave out the theory altogether.

I wonder, what theories have others built that ultimately faced rejection from journals. Oftentimes, a theory can be ridiculed and shunned?slid under the rug?until fifty or so years later when It’s revived.

For instance, the researcher who discovered that doctors washing their hands prevented infections committed suicide because of the ridicule he faced. And, if you come up with a theory that goes against the grain, you might receive an F on your defence. Universities seem to silence opposition nowadays. In that light, an interesting study would look at which theories get rejected for not conforming.

And yes, my thesis sucked. I didn’t fit the critical theory mould. Through these Study Dude articles, I hope to one day find theories that don’t focus on victims and oppressors, but that seek compromise between two voices.

Creswell outlines the theories available for mixed methods research strategies:

– You can use “a social science or a health science theory… as a framework to be tested in either a qualitative or quantitative approach” (p. 66).
– One way to use mixed method is to have no bias with your quantitative approach but lots of bias with your qualitative approach.
– For instance, you can use a feminist, disability, racial, critical theory, and other lens in a mixed methods study.
– Questions you should ask yourself include whether the research represents people who experience discrimination or oppression, whether the community studied will accept your findings as representative, whether your findings lead to new hypotheses, and whether your findings will lead to social change.

Creswell doesn’t really say much about the mixed methods approach to theory outside of emancipative contexts.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Creswell, John W. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

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