The term ‘data’ means the information researchers collect from the place they are studying. These form the basis for analysis. Data include the materials which are actively recorded by the person doing the study (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998). In my study I used semi- structured interviews, and a focus group discussion to gain my data.
Interviews are the most common form of data collection in qualitative research (Lichtman, 2010). Interviews are the most effective tool for my data collection process as my goal was to learn what my interviewees thought, believed and felt about school leadership and their roles as head teachers.
An in-depth interview using semi-structured interviewing techniques was used. Mutch (2005) defines the semi-structured interview as “an interview where a set of guiding questions is used but where the interview is open to changes along the way” (p. 225). She notes that qualitative interviews are usually semi-structured or unstructured and are conducted one-to-one in order to gain in-depth understanding from participant perspectives. Similarly, Kvale (1996) argues the aim of an interview is to gain open, nuanced descriptions of different aspects of the subjects’ life worlds; it is essential that the interviewer exhibits openness to new and unexpected phenomena rather than have pre-formulated questions and ready-made categories for analysis. The semi-structured interviews gave the interviewees the freedom focus on the dimensions they thought were important. I tried to keep the discussion on track so that the interview remained focused on the topic at hand (see Appendix G for interview questions).
I interviewed four head teachers from four different schools from a district of Bangladesh, at a time that suited them. The interviews were after the normal school day ends (4.00 p.m.), so as not to interrupt the usual work of the head teachers.
After a few days I conducted a focus group interview with the four head teachers. A focus group interview provides an opportunity for participants to interact with each other and share each other’s thoughts. It is not necessary or expected that the group will reach consensus in their discussion (Lichtman, 2010). As interviewer, I raised the issues. The questions for focus group interview were related to, and developed from, the leadership perceptions and practices discussed in the individual interviews (see appendix H for focus group interview questions).
Bogdan and Biklen (1998) explain, “by data analysis, we mean the process of systematically searching and arranging the interview transcripts, field notes, and other materials that you accumulate to enable you to come up with findings” (p.159). To analyse data I organized and broke it into manageable units, coded it, and then synthesized the material. Analysis and interpretation of data was an ongoing part of my data collection. A large amount of data was collected but I gradually narrowed this to what was relevant to the research questions. In qualitative research, it is not the numbers that make the data valid but rather the logical integration of data from different sources and different methods of analysis into a single, consistent interpretation (Bryan, 1984 as cited in Davidson & Tolich, 1999).
Through the process of data analysis I moved from raw data to meaningful concepts. Lichtman (2010) calls this the three Cs of analysis: from Coding to Categorizing to Concepts. According to Lichtman (2010) “coding conversation and text into meaningful chunks is a challenging task” (p. 197). Lichtman (2010) has broken down this process into six steps:
Step 1: Initial coding. Going from the responses to some central idea of the responses.
Step 2: Revisiting initial coding.
Step 3: Developing an initial list of categories or central ideas.
Step 4: Modifying your initial list based on additional rereading.
Step 5: Revisiting your categories and subcategories.
Step 6: Moving from categories to concepts (themes), (p.198).
When organising my codes into concepts, I focused on the data that was informative and directly related to my research questions. As my initial thoughts might have proved superficial or inappropriate, I reorganized, rewrote and rethought my categories several times before developing my final concepts or themes.
There has been extensive debate in regard to the extent to which the traditional canons of qualitative research – validity and reliability – apply to interpretive, qualitative research. As early as 1985, Lincoln and Guba (p. 288) advocated the use of “credibility”, “transferability”, “dependability” and “conformability” as alternatives for internal validity, external validity, reliability and objectivity, respectively. No matter what terms are used, however, Lincoln & Guba (1999) emphasise that, “the basic issue in relation to trustworthiness is simple: How can an enquirer persuade his or her audience (including self) that the findings of an enquiry are worth paying attention to, worth taking account of?” (p. 398). To establish the ‘trustworthiness’ of a study Lincoln & Guba (1999) suggest certain techniques should be followed. These techniques, as used in this study, can be summarised as follows:
• “Triangulation” was achieved through use of a variety of data gathering and analysis methods, thus enabling issues and understanding to be viewed from a variety of perspectives, and convergence, contradictions and irregularities established.
• Independent verification of the research process was gained from two supervisors and several colleagues.
• “Member checking” (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) was undertaken to gain participant views of the accuracy and credibility of the data, and resulting understandings;
• Rich description of the context, participants, and meanings is provided, to allow readers to make decisions regarding the credibility and transferability of findings.
• The thesis itself provides an audit trail that describes in detail how data were collected, how categories, and later concepts, were derived, and how decisions were made throughout the enquiry.
As Harrison, MacGibbon & Morton, (2001) argue, “As researchers, we make political decisions, consciously or unconsciously, when deciding whom we want to ask to speak about what and when we figure out how to do the asking, observing, or measuring”. I was, therefore, very careful in making decisions regarding the research methodology and methods, so that I maximised the trustworthiness of the study.
Researchers, particularly qualitative researchers, work with human beings so it is very important to maintain ethical considerations while conducting research. Qualitative researchers have the opportunity to do in-depth interviews with the participants. Lichtman (2010) describes the situation saying, “you know that much of qualitative research involves interactions with individuals. As a consequence of developing rapport with participants and getting them to trust you, you may find they open up to you in very personal ways. When this happens, you face an ethical challenge” (p. 52).
As a beginning researcher I assumed that I might face this type of challenge while conducting my study in Bangladeshi private high schools. Normally, in Bangladesh, head teachers are controlled by higher authorities. They feel insecure if they think their information may be made available to a higher authority. In this case I assured them that the information given in the interview or conversation would only be used for the purpose of research, and I would do all I could to ensure their anonymity.
According to Bogdan and Biklen (1998) there are two issues which dominate the official guidelines for ethics in research. These issues are:
1. Informants enter research projects voluntarily, understanding the nature of the study and dangers and obligations that are involved.
2. Informants are not exposed to risks that are greater than the gains they might derive (p. 48).
As I undertook my qualitative research under the auspices of the College of Education, University of Canterbury, I complied with the rules and regulations of the Educational Research Human Ethics Committee (ERHEC). First I sought approval from the ERHEC for my research involving human participants, to ensure it complied with the guidelines provided. According to the ERHEC Principles and Guidelines (2009) there are five primary principles underlying the guidelines:
• Informed and voluntary consent
• Respect for rights of privacy and confidentiality
• Limitation of deception
• Minimisation of risk
• Obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi (p. 1)
I took account of these principles while doing my project. The final guideline, obligation under the Treaty of Waitangi, was not applicable for me because this research work was conducted in Bangladesh. I informed the participants about the nature of the research so that they could make an informed decision to participate. Participants were also made aware that they could withdraw from the study at any time and that they could also withdraw the information they had provided earlier. Participants were not induced against their will to take part in the study. Privacy and confidentiality have been maintained and all the documents kept safely. (A copy of the letter to the participants is attached in the appendix E).
SHEIKH MOHAMMAD ALI: Assistant Professor in Education, Govt. Teachers’ Training College, Rangpur, Bangladesh.