Bias: Qualitative Research and Students

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Abstract

The issue of bias in qualitative research is an important one, and demands special attention and discussion in any qualitative research methods class. This reflective paper, written in the tradition of teacher-research, presents an analysis of how my students and I, working in an online classroom environment, learn together about the role researcher self and subjectivity play in designing and conducting qualitative research. While researcher bias and subjectivity are commonly understood as inevitable and important by most qualitative researchers, the beginners in qualitative research classes are generally not very comfortable with the idea of research that is not value-neutral. A systematic and reflective analysis of some of the teaching and learning activities, and of the online exchanges in these classes suggests that issues that require more critical thinking and reflection are dealt better using the power of written word. When students write down how their understanding of an issue is developing, the knowledge gained from the experience of putting the idea in comprehensible sentences is many times the knowledge gained when they make a verbal and often casual comment on the issue being discussed in the classroom. Since online instruction allows students to work at their own pace, factors such as differences in students' ability to communicate - through verbal or written expression, and their level of understanding of the content can be better addressed in an online classroom. The students' and instructor's voices in this paper, and the unique framework in which they are organized convey their increased understanding of qualitative research as a process of self-discovery. Introduction

Over the last two years, I have taught online qualitative research courses to several groups of students. During this time I also designed and taught qualitative and practitioner research methods courses in traditional face-to-face classrooms. While teaching is always a challenge, it is more so when the instructor and students only communicate electronically, and besides the occasional online chats, the discussion is generally asynchronous. Though there are several aspects of qualitative research - philosophical and methodological - that span our discussions in these online classes, one issue that often attracts great deal of discussion is that of researcher bias.

This reflective paper, written in the tradition of teacher-research presents a peek into some of the online exchanges my students and I had in these online classes surrounding the issue of bias in qualitative research. The recent interest in teacher research movement marks a paradigmatic shift by presenting "a different view of the teacher - as knower and thinker" (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999, p. 15). My objective in writing this paper is to think and reflect on my action as an online teacher of qualitative research, and in that process explore ways to improve my teaching practice. I see my role not just as a teacher, but also as a teacher-researcher interested in learning by systematically reflecting on my practice and producing a narrative of such reflection. Berthoff (1987) described teacher "RE-searcher" as one who did not need findings from researchers sitting in their university offices, but works to improve curriculum and instruction through dialogue with other teachers to generate theories grounded in practice. While I do have a university office, I strongly believe that as university teachers, we must constantly reflect on our teaching and engage in constructive dialogue with other university teachers. The present article, though grounded in my practice, invites readers to reflect on their own practice as teachers of qualitative research.

While researcher bias and subjectivity are commonly understood as inevitable and important by most qualitative researchers, the beginners in qualitative research classes are generally not very comfortable with the...
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