Qualitative data isn’t as “bad” as I have been told. I think the negativity around qualitative research, especially in behavior analysis, stems from the age-old debate of quantitative is better than qualitative. The reality is that this is not the case. Both have distinctive features and seek to answer different types research questions. In some cases, you can even combine the two approaches to conduct research – literally the best of both worlds.
Honestly, I really didn’t think that I would like qualitative research. The funny thing is that I’ve had experience with several qualitative components, I just didn’t know it (in my defense it was labeled as quantitative). For example, when consulting with parents or organizations about a behavior, practitioners often do not know much about the behavior. The first step is always to observe the behavior and gather as much information as they could. This could be from interviews, direct observation of the environment and the behavior, an assessment to determine what variables are causing and maintaining the behavior, or a number of other data collection methods. A practitioner needed this information to determine what behavior they were going to be measuring as well as the conditions under which the behavior occurred. There is essentially a lot of unknowns that a practitioner or a researcher must uncover. It seems like the start of a qualitative research project, right? Gather a lot of information about the topic so you can analyze the data. But this was really the start of a quantitative approach to formulating a hypothesis to test it.
Qualitative researchers typically rely on various methods for gathering information including participating in the setting, observing directly, in-depth interview, and analyzing documents and other relevant materials. In class, we had the opportunity to practice gathering qualitative data informally using direct observation. We were provided with a short clip of a video in which two children were playing a video game. The objective was to gather field notes. One thing I will need to investigate more is reporting of the information discovered. For me, I took a lot of notes on the environment and the participants. In particular, the environment includes the physical world within the video game as well as the description of the fictitious characters. The participants were the two children playing the game as well as the interaction between the two. I even took data on specific behaviors such as the demands, praise, and instructions. The general tasks the children were completed were noted. However, I’m not sure the best way to convey this information to someone else. Does it need to be in more a narrative? Are short-hand notes okay? Do I need to transcribe everything the children say? I’m assuming it depends on the research question, but in this case, what would be considered enough information? I’m assuming you want enough information that the readers can visualize what is happening. But do you want to get lost in detail? I’m still not sure. Analyzing the information is another topic I’m not sure about. We ran out of time towards the end of class to really explore the different methods to analyze data. After reflecting on the experience, I feel as though I have more questions than answers. But I suppose in research, having questions is sometimes a good thing.