PBL – Qualitative Research Design

My research question is “How do teachers describe evidence of student motivation in classrooms where problem-based learning is implemented?”  This is best addressed using a qualitative research design, which would serve as a basis for “understanding current practices” (Gall et al, 2015, p. 445).  A phenomenological case study would allow for in-depth observation of student engagement in this particular active-learning setting, as well as awareness of any changes over time. The basis for a phenomenological perspective lies in the educator’s description of motivation, which is a measure of the educator’s lived experiences within the classroom.  However, it would warrant examination from a constructivist viewpoint, as well, for student motivation is a result of how the students might have “constructed reality” within the problem-based learning environment, and the consequences of those constructions directly impact “their behaviors…and interact[ions]” (Gall et al, 2015, p. 351).

It would be best to utilize a small sample size in order to allow more in-depth reflection and analysis of the evidence, but the teachers should encompass a wide range of experience.  It would not be uncommon for students to appear more engaged in a veteran teacher’s class if the educator was more comfortable with the active learning environment; varying the participants would adapt for these differences in teaching efficacy and allow the focus to remain on the phenomena of interest, the focus in this case being motivation in relation to problem-based learning as an instructional approach.  Each participating educator should be identified within a secondary-level classroom to ensure the generalizability of results in relation to student developmental level and expectations.  Purposeful sampling would allow researchers to “rely on their judgment” (Gall et al, 2015, p. 353) to select participants that meet these considerations.

Since educators are describing their own observations within the classroom, the data will reflect an interpretivist view, and the research design will need to include procedures that support and validate the findings in light of such subjective anecdotes.  The best method to obtain teacher descriptions would be through interviews with the educators.  However, to assure the validity of interpretations and assumptions, the researchers should observe the classroom that is being described as “participant observers” (Gall et al, 2015, p. 354), which would allow for stronger evaluation and explanation of results.  This would ensure representation of both “emic and etic perspectives” (Gall et al, 2015, p. 345).  Data could be further triangulated by examining student work samples that would reflect engagement with the material.  This would crystallize the findings, as it “use[s] multiple methods to collect data about the same phenomenon in order to confirm research findings or to resolve discrepant findings” (Gall et al, 2015, p. 354).

In analyzing the data, research interpretation should be based on grounded theory principles, which in this case could be instructional theory related to active learning.  The researcher could then reflect on educator conversations and description to develop major themes resulting from the analysis.  In a study that included multiple educators, this would ensure that individual bias was minimized.

Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2015).  Applying educational research: How to read, do, and use research to solve problems of practice (7th ed).  Boston, MA: Prentice Hall, Inc.

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