There are those that believe that qualitative research is the best form of research, whereas others insist that only quantitative methods are appropriate in a research environment (CSU, 2004). Still others argue that both approaches are useful and appropriate though one is often more indicated than the other depending on the exact phenomena being examined and the nature or intent of the research being conducted (Potter, 1996; Lee & Poynton, 2000).
Fred Kerlinger once exclaimed that "there is no such thing as qualitative data, everything is either one or zero," however his claim is countered by another researcher, Campbell, who asserted that "all research ultimately has a qualitative grounding" (CSU, 2004).
Given the great debate that exists, researchers often find it difficult to determine which strategy is best and which is most likely to be accepted by peers when presenting a research program. Most researchers would aggress however that qualitative and quantitative data and research methods are equally important (Myburgh, et. al, 2000; CSU, 2004).
Qualitative research methods more often employs the use of words and interpretive analysis, whereas quantitative data analysis involves the use of numbers and statistics (CSU, 2004). There are some researchers that feel that quantitative is better because it is more 'scientific,' or at least they assume so because quantitative research requires the use of numbers. However, the major difference between the two is that qualitative research is more inductive in nature and quantitative research is more deductive in nature (CSU, 2004).
Because quantitative research is deductive, it requires that the research develop a hypothesis prior to conducting any research. Quantitative researcher also assumes that the researcher is an "objective observer" that is capable of neither participating in the study nor influencing the phenomena being studied (CSU, 2004)
This is not necessarily the case in qualitative research, where the researcher is able to learn about a situation by being immersed in it (CSU, 2004). Both approaches have benefits and drawbacks. The most obvious drawback or limitation of quantitative research is that it often focuses too closely on "individual results" and therefore fails to "make connections to larger situations or possible causes of results" (CSU, 2004). Qualitative research on the other hand, is sometimes considered to subjective or interpretive in nature, and is criticized for not being more 'scientifically' grounded because it is less likely to produce numbers or generate statistical analysis of a given situation.
In some studies, a combined approach may be indicated. For example, a quantitative approach may be established whereby the researcher develops an experiment to test a given hypothesis. Once that experiment is carried out, it is feasible that the researcher might then also include the use of qualitative approaches to supplement the findings or provide observational analysis via interviews and subject interaction to supplement the information acquired from the experimentation (CSU, 2004).
Most researchers however, agree that more problems are likely to result when a combined approach is used, and a greater margin of error might be afforded in situations where both approaches are used. A better approach would be the use of qualitative studies to gather initial information about a given phenomena, and later development of quantitative analysis or experimental research to gather additional information or to determine the cause and effect of patterns uncovered during a qualitative approach to research (Myburgh, et. al, 2001). There is general agreement among researchers that qualitative approaches to research may be considered a suitable prerequisite to future quantitative studies. In addition qualitative research is considered a logical starting point when little information is available about a given phenomena to begin with. The information gathered from this type of study may provide guidelines for future quantitative analysis (Myburgh, et. al, 2001).
Education and Literacy
With regard to education and literary competency, as far back as 1844 during the time of August Comte researchers argued that methods of "naturalistic approach" to research could be utilized to collect and study facts and observe trends and patterns through sensory input (Benz & Newman, 1998; Vidich & Lyman, 1994). Thus phenomena can be studied and observed and accounted fro more using qualitative means rather than via quantitative methods.
However, these views have changed, and in fact through the 1960s a more quantitative approach to examining educational research predominated among behaviorists and organizational theorists who determined that empirical fact gathering and 'hypothesis testing" were critical elements for studying educational and social phenomena alike (Benz & Newman, 1998: 5).
In recent years however once again a qualitative approach has become popular, emphasizing the need to examine each phenomena on a case by case basis in order to determine the best research methodology for uncovering facts or patterns related to any given phenomena (Benz & Newman, 1998).
Cohen, Gass & Tarone (1994) suggest that the validity of any discipline including literacy and educational competency is "predicted upon the assumption that the research methods used to gather data are sufficiently understood and agreed upon" (p. xii). There are many research issues that relate to basic questions of competence vs. performance in a classroom setting, as well as issued related to quantitative vs. qualitative research methodology, including whether or not research methodology should be based upon statistical analysis or a more theory based approach (Cohen, Gass & Tarone, 1994).
Literacy and language acquisition draws on many fields including linguistics and child language, and researchers working within this area are traditionally concerned with issues related to reliability and validity (Choen, et. al, 1994). Research should be focused on one of two traditions, (1) whether or not the goal is to explain and predict how natural phenomena work or (2) to understand and interpret the manner in which phenomena might be organized (Cohen, et. al, 1994). The first assert that a single, "discoverable reality" exists that may be explained by laws of nature and an approach that is cause-effect related (Cohen, et. al, 1991). This supports use of a quantitative methodology which is capable of showing causal relationships (Cohen, et. al, 1991: 324). This suggests that a qualitative approach serves primarily the approach of exploring and identifying issues rather than proving causal relationships. However, supporters of the qualitative approach assume that there are multiple realities that exist that might explain a given phenomena, and under this assumption is the notion that human events can't simply be interpreted in terms of contexts and uses, or in an idealized form, but must be interpreted individually to varying degrees (Cohen, 1994).
Data that explains information from a learner's point-of-view or self reported data, via use of interviews and direct observation, are valid methods of providing an ethnography, or information about learner behavior, and typically encompass a qualitative approach to research methodology (Cohen, 1994). In some cases this approach is clearly preferable, because seeing out the learner's point-of-view will provide a better understanding of the phenomena being examined, which may include literacy acquisition. As Cohen et. al (1994) there are limitations and benefits to both approaches to review.
Lee & Poynton (2000) point out that in the last several decades more and more attention has been given the significance of language acquisition and problems associated with it. The researchers affirm that research tools can provide alternative approaches to understanding given phenomena. Further Lee & Poynton (2000) point out that with regard to educational research typically a conflict exists. While researchers attempt to explain phenomena as a function of individual behaviors and have traditionally intended to understand the "complexities around the construction of knowledge and practices in the context of the changing culture" via a qualitative approach, there is pressure from funding and governmental authorities to provide linear and rational descriptions of phenomena including communication and linguistic skills necessary for efficient work and training, suggesting an emphasis toward quantitative analysis (p. 117).
Most 'funding' authorities view research as a task that should be structured around product-oriented activity, meaning that it should aim at identifying relevant competencies and relevant 'facts' related to given phenomena (Lee & Poynton, 2000).
Cross, David, Graham & Thralls (1996) suggest that most people conceptualize methodology as a literal phenomena, related to concepts and 'procedural apparatus' utilized by researchers in order to gather an analyze information. This definition however, according to the researchers, is too narrow, because as they point out it overlooks the fact that "methodologies exist within the larger framework of research narratives - stories or discourses - that shape the way disciplines make knowledge" (Cross et. al, 1996: 131). Further quantitative methodology is typically utilized particularly with regard to business environments where a need exists for the researcher to apply statistical tests and analysis to gather information and results (Cross, et. al, 1996). In other situations, a qualitative methodology is a valid approach when the researcher is attempting to utilize interpretation; the quantitative approach therefore requires that the researcher conduct the interpretative step and…