Sample Business Studies Dissertation Methodology on Mixed Methods Research for Nursing and the Health Sciences

Research Methodology

1. Research background

            The paper aims at researching the academic integrity of business online courses offered in Saudi Arabia. The study on the integrity of online teaching is limited, as most researchers and scholars have not dwelt much on it. The academic integrity of the online courses is very wide and to this effect, this research will focus on the best methodology to apply in the study with regard to the teaching practices. Many higher learning institutions in Saudi Arabia have embraced the concept of online teaching but the outcome of the courses offered through online means may differ from the traditional ones because of the teaching methods (Baghdadi, 2011). The ability of educators to deliver their message to the students effectively influences their academic success (Alshwaier, Youssef & Emam, 2012). There are learning institutions that combine the in-person and online teaching methods but there are also others that use full online teaching where the students do not meet face to face with the teachers. Different students have varying methods of understanding thus it is important for the institutions of higher learning to implement more than one strategy of instruction.

            To achieve optimum results in online teaching, the instructors are required to ensure that the students understand the academic integrity of online courses. The teachers must explain to the students the values or principles of online learning. The instructors are also required to ensure that the students understand the need to practice the academic integrity when doing their online examinations and assignments.  Creation of an academic integrity contract between the instructors and the students is an essential way of enhancing integrity in online courses.  However, most of the institutions of higher learning are less concerned with the academic integrity, especially in relation to the methods of teaching adopted. Online courses are very convenient especially for the students who have to attend to other economic activities such as jobs (Sait et al, 2008). The flexibility of the online classes is meant to suit the specific needs of the students and the method of learning is gaining popularity by the days.  Due to the large number of students who depend on the learning method, it is important to assess the performance of the students who take online courses with those taking similar courses in the regular system (McCabe, Trevino & Butterfield, 2002).  There have been cases of cheating and plagiarism among the students who pursue online courses. It is thus impossible to assess the real impact of the teaching methods used due to the cheating. The nature of the teaching methods adopted in online learning is partly to blame for the poor academic integrity in the courses because it is the responsibility of the teachers to sensitize the students on the need to uphold the integrity.

2.      Research questions

The study will be aimed at answering the following questions;

  1. What are the perceptions of the teaching staff and the students on the academic integrity of online courses?
  2. What are the factors that shape the perceptions of the students and the teaching staff on academic integrity of online courses?

3.      Paradigm

To carry out the study effectively, it is crucial to consider the paradigm or a guide that helps in decision making. It helps the researcher focus on a more specific area of study thus enhancing accuracy. The study will adopt a post-positivism type of paradigm to investigate the perception of the academic integrity in the business online courses in Saudi Arabia. The research will narrow down to the teaching practices used in the online courses to come up with the best conclusion on how the methods used in teaching may affect the academic integrity of online courses. Post positivism holds that any theories that exist can be revised considering new research findings (Creswell & Plano, 2007). This is the most appropriate paradigm for the study as it will be helpful in establishing new insights on the teaching methods adopted in online learning.  

4.      Methodology

            Going by the nature of the research problem, the most suitable methodology is the exploratory mixed method research. The online mode of studying does not have many years in practice thus the amount of past research available is inadequate (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004). In fact, the study on the perception of students and the teaching staff on the academic integrity of online courses will be the first one to be done in Saudi Arabia. This makes the exploratory mixed method research methodology the most suitable. Further, the methodology is suitable for collection of data where the variables and instruments are not available in a particular region. The exploratory mixed method research is also important in helping the researchers make explicit philosophical positions (Plano-Clark et al, 2008). Multiple methods of data collection will be used in the study to enhance the accuracy of study results (Creswell & Plano, 2007).  The quantitative research applied in the methodology will aim at assessing the frequency of constructs. To enhance the understanding of these constructs, the research will use qualitative method. The integration of the different forms of data from the qualitative and quantitative research will enhance the strengths of data while minimizing the weaknesses (Jick, 1979).  

4.1. Phase One: interviews (qualitative method)

            The study will consider a convenience sample of the two study groups, that is, the students and the teaching staff. The number of individuals who will be interviewed from the two groups ranges between eight and ten. This is a convenience sample size that will be helpful in determining the perceptions of the groups on online courses and the factors that shape their perceptions. Using interviews as primary data collection method enables the researchers to explore the perceptions of the interviewees accurately (Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2009). It is thus an appropriate method of data collection in the study. The study will employ the structured interview used in qualitative research (Hollway & Jefferson, 2000). This entails asking the respondents predetermined questions and the interview does not take long compared to the structured and semi-structured one. The maximum time that the respondents will spend in the interview is twenty minutes, thus making the study less time consuming.

By using the interviews, it will be possible for the interviewees to understand the social phenomenon under investigation in a deeper way as compared to using quantitative methods such as questionnaires (Boeije, 2002). Interviews are especially useful in situations where there is inadequate literature about the study question (Crouch & McKenzie, 2006). The interview questions will be open-ended so as to obtain as much information from the respondents as possible. The open –ended questions allow the respondents to explain their answers further beyond giving a yes or no response (DiCicco‐Bloom & Crabtree, 2006). The method is most suitable for the study because it will allow the researchers to determine the perceptions of the respondents on online learning. The use of close-ended questions would not be appropriate because it does not give the respondents space to express their feelings and it may be difficult for the researcher to determine their perceptions (Kitzinger, 1995). The use of pilot interview will help the researchers to determine if the research questions are easy to understand so as to decide whether to go ahead with the major data collection or change the research questions (Fossey et al, 2002).

4.1.1. Analyzing the data collected from interviews

            In order to enhance the understanding of the responses provided by the participants, it is important to carry out a qualitative data analysis. Data cannot be helpful unless it is accurately analyzed. The analysis helps in identifying the similarities and differences in the views of the respondents. The most appropriate method of data analysis in the study will be coding because it is easy to understand. The main elements that are used in data analysis include labeling that helps the researchers distinguish similar views for the rest thus making work easier. Coding also helps in identifying similar concerns raised by the respondents (Weston et al, 2001).

            Open coding is the first step in the data analysis and it enhances the accuracy of the data analysis. It enables the researcher to distinguish different concepts within the area of study (Sandelowski, 2000). Data is broken into small concepts under different headings and subheadings to enhance its interpretation (Cassell & Symon, 2004). Axial coding is the next step that involves confirming whether the concepts identified in the open coding are relevant to the area of study (Rabiee, 2004).  The axial coding determines the effects and the contexts of the identified concepts so as to draw accurate conclusions (Basit, 2003). The last phase in the data analysis method involves transferring the final categories of data into data tables as a way of organizing the data results for analysis (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005). Effective data analysis will lead to formulation of the survey questions necessary in the quantitative research.

4.2. Phase two: surveys (quantitative method)

            Due to the nature of the study, the methodology used will allow an integration of qualitative methods through interviews and quantitative methods through survey. The research will involve a comprehensive survey of the students and teaching staff from the Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud University business college. Most of the online courses are related to business and humanity courses thus the sample will be the most suitable in the study. To narrow down on the sample size and characteristics the study will only be conducted to the students who are enrolled in the 2016 first semester and their teaching staff.  Through the survey, it is possible for the researcher to determine the accuracy of the survey instruments in relation to the sample group (Neuman, 2005). The survey is useful invalidating the research model, a factor that determines the accuracy and reliability of the findings of the study. The survey is also helpful in assessing the perceptions of the respondents in a study (Ott, Longnecker & Ott, 2001). This makes the exploratory mixed method research a suitable methodology in the study because it allows the combination of both qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection and analysis (Williamson, 2002).

4.2.1.      Analysis of the survey’s data (quantitative method)

            Once the survey is complete, the researcher will analyze data using the SPSS so as to find solutions to the research questions. This will be done through factor analysis and correlation. The factor analysis helps the researcher uncover the possible causes of a phenomenon (Andrew & Halcomb, 2009). In this case, it would be helpful in determining the factors that shape the perceptions of the students and the teaching staff on the academic integrity of online courses. The SPSS allows the researcher to carry out a statistical test of data to determine the level of correlation (O’connor, 2000).  The strength of this correlation determines the extent to which the data is statistically significant (Lorenzo-Seva & Ferrando, 2006).

4.2.2. Research findings

            To have a comprehensive data analysis it is important to compare both the qualitative and quantitative data. The qualitative data collected through interviews is different from the quantitative data collected through surveys but the relationship between the two types of data may be helpful in drawing accurate conclusions on the study (Kitahara, Westfall & Mankelwicz, 2011). Qualitative data is presented in non-numerical form and its analysis is also on non-numerical methods such as coding. The data can be useful in identifying the feelings of the respondents towards online learning (Lanier, 2006). The quantitative data in this case will be helpful in answering the first research question on perceptions for the academic staff and students on the business college about the academic integrity on the online study. The quantitative research on the other hand focuses on data that can be enumerated because it uses close-ended questions (Hayton, Allen & Scarpello, 2004). The data collected from this method is likely to be in numerical figures thus easier to analyze using software such as the SPSS. The quantitative data that will be collected in this case will be helpful in answering the second research question on the factors that influence the perceptions for the academic staff and students on the business college about the academic integrity on the online study.

5.      Validity and reliability

            A test in research is said to be valid if it is able to measure the required variables effectively.  Validity is specific to a given use and interpretation. The major considerations that researchers apply in determining the validity of a test include the construct, content, consequences and the assessment criterion relationship (Finelli et al, 2005). Validity is affected by various factors such as the response, nature of the groups being interviewed, criterion used and the nature of the evaluations done (Shenton, 2004). Reliability on the other hand refers to the extent to which the test results are consistent.  Although reliability is necessary in determining the extent to which research findings can be generalized, it is not a determinant of the validity of the research (Golafshani, 2003). This implies that it is possible to have an invalid but reliable test. However, it is impossible to have a valid test that is unreliable. Due to the nature of the research questions, the test on validity and reliability of the study must be carried out on both qualitative and quantitative aspects.

5.1. Qualitative validity

            The researcher will use the triangulation validity method as it is the most appropriate due to the nature of the study. This will involve using different types of data to test the results and determine the extent of validity. The combination of different sets of data strengthens the extent to which is reliable. The use of triangulation validity has been criticized by some opponents, who argue that it is not possible to reduce the error in test results simply by combining a number of methods or data. Before arriving at the data different methods use varying assumption thus combining the data may yield inaccurate results (Morse, et al, 2008). The proponents of the triangulation validity argue that the method is appropriate as it enhances accuracy of the results by combining the data.  They argue that using a single method or data cannot enable researchers to conclude about a phenomenon accurately. By using multiple methods, it is possible for the researcher to develop a deep understanding of the variables under investigation (Östlund et al, 2008). The validity method will be used to compare the different perceptions of the students and teaching staff on online learning through triangulation of sources. The other method that can be used in triangulation is the analyst triangulation that provides different ways of interpreting data. This can be used in determining the factors that shape the perceptions of the teaching staff and the students on academic integrity of online courses.

5.2.      Qualitative reliability

            To enhance the qualitative reliability, the researcher will have to document all the processes and steps in data collection methods. In this case the researcher will document the process of interviewing, the sample size and the sampling techniques used to determine the size and the interview questions. The researcher must exercise credibility, confirmability, dependability, and transferability. These aspects are very important in positivist research and they determine the extent to which the study is trustworthy. Credibility implies that the research measured the intended variables.  Using research methods that are scientifically proven to work is a way of enhancing credibility. In this case, the use of exploratory mixed approach of methodology can be used to indicate credibility of the study. The use of triangulation is also a means of testing the reliability of the study (Thomas, 2006). The other factor that proves that the study is reliable is the extent to which the researcher is able to apply the literature review in the specific field. Transferability is concerned with the generalization of the study results such that the results can be applied in different situations. In the study, the number of students and teaching staff considered will involve only the students enrolled for the studies in a single semester in only one learning institution. This is a small percentage of the students and teaching staff population in Saudi Arabia. However, the extent to which the research carried out will be reliable to be applicable to a wider population will depend on the degree of transferability (Östlund et al, 2008).  .

            Dependability implies that should the test be carried out using the same respondents and the same methods of collecting data the results should be consistent. It is important for the researcher to fully document the details of data collection methods so that even the future researchers can relate with the study. Confirmability is the other factor that the researcher must show to indicate the reliability of qualitative research. The instruments used in data collection and analysis must be subjective as opposed to objective. However, this is not possible in some instances because the questions used in the interviews and questionnaires may be objective as they are compiled by human beings. It is important for the researcher to document the steps followed in data collection and analysis as well as the concepts that justify the use of various techniques.

5.3.      Quantitative validity

            For quantitative research to be valid, the researcher will be required to apply the concept of internal validity that focuses on the extent to which the study results are free from systematic error. The internal validity obtained through the survey will be determined by the extent to which there exists a relationship between the variables under investigation (Kisamore, Stone & Jawahar, 2007). This implies that in the study, the validity of the survey will be indicated by the relationship between the perceptions of the students and teachings staff and academic integrity of online courses. The extent to which the study results will show a difference between the dependent and the independent variables will determine the validity of the quantitative dat. Although this method is useful in testing the validity of the study results, it is affected by factors such as selection bias, maturation, and change of instruments. These factors may alter the accuracy of the validity leading to erroneous conclusions.

5.4.      Quantitative reliability

            To test the reliability of the survey, the researcher will have to use the internal consistency by applying the Cronbach’s alpha. It is used in measuring the extent to which a set of items or groups are closely related. Even if the results a high value for the Cronbach’s alpha, this is not an indication that the results are not dimensional. The technique cannot be used s a statistical tool as it is a coefficient for the reliability or the consistence of the results.

6.      Sampling strategy

            There are various methods used in the sampling and they are determined by the research design that is adopted (McCabe & Pavela, 2004). In the study, the most appropriate research methodology is a mixture of the qualitative and the quantitative aspects thus dictating the type of sampling strategy to be used. The sampling strategy involves determining the sample size, nature of the sample, access of the sample to the research and the sampling type.

a). Sample size

  1. Phase one: interviews

The sample size is important in determining the extent to which the research findings can be generalized thus it is a crucial element in sampling strategies. The study aims at carrying out qualitative research using a small sample size of 8-10 respondents, both the students and the teaching staff.  Though the sample size may seem to be small, it is sufficient in academic research according to a research carried out by Bunce & Johnson (2006).

  1. Phase two: surveys

Quantitative research focuses more on a larger sample size than the qualitative research. The survey will be carried out on all the students at Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud University second semester and the teaching staff that are working at the same time.

b). Sample

            The sample determines the quality of research as it dictates the suitability of the responses in relation to the area of study. To determine the academic integrity in the online courses in Saudi Arabia, it is important for the sample to be individuals within the learning institutions in the country. The sample will include two groups of people, the teaching staff, and the students who are knowledgeable on the online courses. The whole institution cannot be used as a sample thus the study will only include the individuals enrolled to learn in the second semester of 2016 together with the teachers who are scheduled to teach.

c). Access

            The researcher will have to obtain a permit to administer the survey and interviews to the respondents by the Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud University. To get the permission to interview the students, the researcher will need to contact the dean of student affairs. For the teaching staff, the researcher will be required to obtain a permit from the dean of faculty affairs and employees. Prior to collecting the data, the institution will provide a written permit.

d). Type of sampling

            Both the qualitative and quantitative methods of research will use convenient samples. The interview will use a convenience sample of 8-10 respondents. The sample of the survey will also be a convenient one owing to the fact that it will be based on just one university in the country.

7.      Unit of analysis and sampling

            Unit of analysis is one of the crucial elements in research that provides the researchers with focus when carrying out their activities. It represents the major entity that the researcher will be analyzing (Thomas, 2006). In the case of academic integrity related to online courses in Saudi Arabia, the unit of analysis is the opinion expressed by the students and the teaching staff. The unit of analysis is determined by the interpretation of the data collected. The perceptions of the students and the teaching staff on the academic integrity of the online courses represent the main subject under investigation. The unit of sampling on the other hand is represented by the nature of the respondents that is, the teaching staff, and the students. The unit of analysis and sampling are important in determining the accuracy of the research findings.

8.      Instrument of data collection

            The instruments that will be used in data collection are determined by the methodology that will be adopted. The exploratory mixed method exploratory research will be used in the determining the instruments of data collection. The fact that the method uses a mixture of both qualitative and quantitative research implies the use of data collection instruments suitable for both methods.

  1. Phase one: interviews

Interviewing is a suitable method of collecting qualitative data. The research will use the instrument to obtain data from a minimum of 8 to ten students and teachers from a Saudi Arabian university. The instrument is efficient in data collection in the study as the researcher will be in a position to clarify any unclear responses from the interviewee (Kisamore, Stone & Jawahar, 2007). This would not be possible of the instrument used was questionnaires. The use of interviews in collecting qualitative data is important in enhancing its accuracy due to low probability of bias from the respondents.  The instrument is relatively easy to use and cheap when it comes to data analysis. However, the instrument has various challenges that may reduce the accuracy of the data collected.  The interviewer may influence the reaction of the respondents if they are too objective leading to inaccurate conclusions.

  • Phase two: surveys

Survey will be used as a data collection instrument for the quantitative research. The persons to be surveyed will include all the teachers and students enrolled in semester 2, 2016 in the college of business in Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud University. Surveys are easy to develop and administer and they can be in various forms such as through telephones, online and paper. The mobile and online surveys are very efficient in reducing the cost of research. Through the surveys, the researchers are able to collect a large amount of data thus enhancing the accuracy of the study findings. However, the surveys may temp the respondents to provide answers that are inaccurate as long as they portray the best out of them (McCabe & Pavela, 2004).

9.      Limitations and delimitations of the methodology

            It is not possible to collect data that is fully accurate because of the weaknesses of the data collection instruments and the sample size. The users of the research findings will have to consider the limitations and delimitations of the methodology to determine the extent to which they can rely on the findings.

  1. Limitations of the research methodology

            The use of mixed research exploratory methodology is important in enhancing the validity and reliability of the data but there are limitations that may lead to questioning of the same. The research will use convenience palming in data collection for both the qualitative and quantitative research. According to Chertok & Gilleland (2013), this method of sampling is inaccurate due to the ease with which the data is accessible. The other limitation relates to the use of secondary data. There are few secondary resources that have literature on the academic integrity of online learning in Saudi Arabia and this affects the reliability of the study findings.  The data collected in the quantitative study may not be adequate to explain the complex phenomenon in the study. The researcher may find it difficult to explain the factors that shape the perceptions of the respondents on online courses. The use of a small sample size in the qualitative research may limit the generalization of the results to wider populations. The data collection in qualitative research may consume more time compared to other instruments of research.

  • Delimitations

            These are the factors that define the boundaries of the research thus limiting the generalization of the study findings.  The delimiting factors can be controlled by the researcher to enhance the quality of research done.  They include the research objectives, theoretical frameworks and research questions. The study is likely to be affected by the fact that it uses only one university. The nature of teaching practices and learning environment differs from one institution to the other. It is therefore inaccurate to use the data collected to other institution since they may have a different situation. Individual perceptions depend on various factors such as their level of satisfaction in the school administration that is very different from the scope of the study (Kisamore, Stone & Jawahar, 2007). The researcher can be able to put the condition under control by using various learning institutions from different locations. The research aims to collect data from the college of business in the university but this is also a delimiting factor. There are other colleges that still use the online learning methods whose contribution to the study might bring new insights. The researcher has the ability to control this by including the students and teachers from other colleges apart from business.

10.  Ethical considerations

The fact that the research will involve human beings makes it necessary for the researcher to address the ethical issues that may arise. The research will only take place after the university grants a written research permit to the researcher. The researcher will also explain the objectives of the research to the respondents before the data collection begins. The study will also ensure a high level of professionalism by making sure that the information provided by the respondents remains confidential.

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