Since men are born tabula rasa, both cognitively and morally, a rational man regards strangers as innocent until proven guilty, and grants them that initial good will in the name of their human potential. After that, he judges them according to the moral character they have actualized.
— Ayn Rand
Rand captures the way I relate to other people. Everyone starts out “on my good list.” You get taken off the list by what you do.
I am currently involved with two situations that require me to start with Rand’s “innocent until proven guilty” premise. First, I am studying standards of validation and evaluation of qualitative research. Second, I am grading research papers submitted by students in one of my upper-level courses. Each situation requires judgment.
I accept the findings of a qualitative research project as trustworthy until I can validate it. I also accept students’ research papers as trustworthy until I can read, check, and assess them.
From John W. Creswell (2007), I am learning that “qualitative researchers strive for ‘understanding’, that deep structure of knowledge that comes from visiting personally with participants, spending extensive time in the field, and probing to obtain detailed meanings.”
As an instructor, I am striving to understand why my students did what they did with their research papers. In my previous post, “What exactly do you want?”, I explored how students want the most specific details about how to complete assignments in order to score the highest grades. This research paper was assigned the first week of the semester and due mid-term. The instructions filled one page of the course syllabus. Instructions were clear, concise, and complete. For example, APA style is APA style. How much clearer can you be? Point deductions for infractions were clearly spelled out.
Creswell and others are teaching me to validate my qualitative research. I will employ “validation strategies” in an attempt to assess the “accuracy” of the findings as best described by me (the researcher) and the research participants. I will conduct research, analyze my findings, then use validation strategies to check and re-check my work. At some point, I will be reasonably assured of the validity of my research.
Yet, when I read these research papers, I am appalled at the quality. I think of the qualitative research training I am currently receiving. Is there a way to get behind what I am reading, to go beyond the senseless errors to find out why the results are the way they are?
Creswell says to think in terms of credibility. Public relations professionals know that credibility is essential to persuasion. So, too, is credibility essential to qualitative research. And credibility is essential to a student’s research paper as well.
Creswell adds that self-reflection contributes to the validation of the work. In the end, I guess self-reflection is all I have concerning the disappointing research papers.