2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 88-2
Presentation Time: 8:15 AM


DOLPHIN, Glenn, Geoscience, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Department of Geoscience, Calgary, AB T2N 1N4, Canada, glenn.dolphin@ucalgary.ca

I have “massaged” Dobzhansky’s quote to give context to the nature of this presentation on methodology when doing qualitative geoscience education research. There is a perception that quantitative investigations deal only in numbers, while qualitative investigations anything but numbers. Actually, they differ in terms types of questions investigated. While qualitative methods work best for exploratory situations (what is going on, here?) and hypothesis generating, quantitative methods are experimental (is there a systematic effect to what is going on here?). In either case, the researcher needs to have a theoretical framework (the theory-in) to give structure to the investigation. For biologists, this would be the theory of evolution (see Dobzhansky's quote), for geologists, the theory of plate tectonics. The theoretical framework determines the questions we ask, what counts as data, and how to interpret that data. Strong theory is “broad” (coherent with knowledge across different disciplines).

The theoretical framework guides data gathering and analysis. The researcher, then, inductively develops an explanatory model (the theory-out) for the data. This explanation is stronger if it is coherent with other knowledge or “deepens” the theory-in; explains mechanisms of the theory-in. Due to the nature of qualitative research, and abductive and inductive reasoning, the results usually answer different (but related) questions than those going in. This presentation will recount how a study, focused on student learning in an introductory geology course, turned into a study on decision making of the instructor of that course. I will demonstrate how changing my theory-in from Barnett and Hodson’s (2001) “Pedagogical Context Knowledge” to Lakoff and Johnson’s (1980) “Experientialism” allowed me a “deeper” theory-out about the instructor’s teaching, while also being coherent with knowledge from philosophy, cognitive linguistics and neuropsychology.