Triangulation is the use of two or more methods of data collection in the study of human behaviour (Cohen and Manion 1994 p233). Triangulation in social research has the same aim as in navigation or surveying – to improve validity and overcome bias, but the type of triangulation used is dependent on the nature of the research project. Denzin (1970) defines six types of triangulation that can be used in research as time triangulation, space triangulation, combined levels triangulation, theoretical triangulation, investigator triangulation and methodological triangulation. Three of these types were used in this study and they are described below.
A social system changes with time and time triangulation collects data to reflect this. A study with a cross sectional design collects data concerned with time related processes from different groups at one point in time. This study attempted to follow the development of students’ ideas in quantum mechanics throughout their university studies. Data was collected from groups of students from four different levels of university study.
Combined Levels Triangulation
A social system can be divided into three broad levels, being individual, group and collective. Combined levels triangulation collects data from more than one level to show that human behaviour encompasses these three levels of a social system. This study collected data from individual participants and small groups.
There are two subdivisions of methodological triangulation: within methods and between methods (Holloway 1997 p157). Within methods aims to increase reliability by repetition of single method whilst between methods focuses on validity by using multiple methods and looking for convergence in the data collected. This study employed a range of data collection techniques (e.g. interviews, examination scripts, concept maps) in its initial stage that resulted in several data sets converging and revealing a set of common themes. This led to the development of an interview protocol and set of guide questions that was implemented with 60 subjects.
Finally, the preliminary research plan was reviewed and separated into two distinct stages and another column was appended containing pertinent notes associated with methodological aspects of the study.
This plan performed two important roles within the study, as a guide for the research and as a point of reference for discussing the research project with colleagues and students.
Table 3-3 : Research Project Plan – Stage 1
Table 3-4 : Research Project Plan – Stage 2
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THE DEVELOPMENT OF A RESEARCH PLAN 23
3.1 INTRODUCTION 23
3.2 EDUCATIONAL ENVIRONMENT 23
3.3 RESEARCH SETTING 26
3..1 The School of Physics 27
Description of Junior Physics Courses 27
Description of Intermediate Physics Courses 28
Description of Senior Physics Courses 30
3..2 The School of Chemistry 30
Description of Junior Chemistry Courses 31
Description of Intermediate and Senior Chemistry Courses 31
3.5 METHODOLOGICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVES 34
3..1 Foundations for Selecting Appropriate Educational Research Methodologies 34
Human nature 35
3..1 Grounded Theory Approach – Stage 1 37
Selection Criteria 39
Developing Theoretical Sensitivity 39
Data Collection 39
Theoretical Sampling 40
Data Analysis 40
Open Coding 40
Axial Coding 40
Selective Coding 41
3..2 Phenomenological Approach – Stage 2 41
3..3 Phenomenographic Influence – Capturing Variation 43
3..4 Interview Protocol 44
3..5 Triangulation 49
Time Triangulation 49
Combined Levels Triangulation 49
Methodological Triangulation 49
Figure 3-1 : Example page from preliminary interview transcript showing layout 48
Table 3-3 : Research Project Plan – Stage 1 51
Table 3-4 : Research Project Plan – Stage 2 52
1 For example, in two undergraduate texts; (Young (1992) and Hecht (2000)) only the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics is presented without any hint that alternative interpretations exist and continue to be debated.
2 At the School of Physics, University of Sydney between 50% and 90% of a student’s assessment is by formal written examination.
3 Based on discussions with students and lecturers at the University of Sydney, 2000.
4 For example, calculus of many variables and the concept of an operator.
5 The textbooks required are Serway Moses and Moyer, Modern Physics, Saunders College Publishing, 2e 1997 for the Normal streams and Eisberg & Resnick, Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, Solids, Nuclei and Particles, J.Wiley 2e, 1985 for the Advanced stream. The recommended references are Halliday, Resnick and Walker, Fundamentals of Physics; French and Taylor, An Introduction to Quantum Physics; Kittel, Introduction to Solid State Physics; Schiff, Quantum Mechanics (Advanced) and Omar, Elementary Solid State Physics (Advanced). Two popular level books on the interpretation of quantum theory are also recommended Gamow, The new world of Mr. Tompkins and Whitaker, Einstein, Bohr and the Quantum Dilemma.