Year: 1992

Author: Ainley, John, Sheret, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The present paper makes use of both qualitative and quantitative data in a study of the progress of students through the senior years of high school. In using complementary sources of data the approach was essentially pragmatic and issue focused. A relatively small sample of schools was studied over an extended period of time, four years, with the intention of exploring the school factors which contributed to student progress. Analyses based on the two types of data were intertwined throughout the study. A simple distinction might be that quantitative data would provide the basis for identifying the extent of the influence of school factors and qualititative data would help to understand the ways in which those factors influenced student progress. In practice the interactions were more complex. Much debate about quantitative and qualitative approaches to social research has a partisan tenor. Adherents strongly proclaim the virtues of their chosen methodology. Yet, amid this climate of dispute, there are calls to end the "paradigm wars" so that a richer discourse about educational issues can be informed by the interplay of studies based on different approaches (Gage 1989). Other writers go even further in arguing that there are often benefits in combining both quantitative and qualitative approaches in the one study (Seiber, 1973). One writer, (Bryman, 1988: 127-156)) identified and elaborated a number of different ways in which these approaches can be, and have been combined and suggests that "when qualitative and quantitative research are jointly pursued mush more complete accounts of social reality can ensue." Arguments in support of combining qualitative and quantitative research need not necessarily diminish the importance of differences. It is evident that conflict among advocates of these approaches has existed for a considerable time (Rizo, 1991). Bryman (1988: 93-126) argues that the differences between the approaches can be categorized as based on "technical" or "epistemological" grounds. Among those for whom the differences are "technical", and based on methods of investigation, there should be "few impediments to the possibility of a research strategy which integrates them." If the differences are seen as "epistemological", and represent "views about the way in which social reality ought to be studied", then combining approaches might not be so feasible. Bryman argues that a study of the methods used in a range of research studies suggests that any supposed link between epistemology and method is not necessarily clear in practice. Such a conclusion supports the view of Reichardt and Cook (1979) that it is an exaggeration to see qualitative and quantitative "method-types" as paradigms.