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Blog post Part of series: BERA Early Career Researcher Network Symposium Series 2023

‘The power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already’: A researcher’s reflections on methodological changes and decision-making in educational research

Muna Albuloushi, Freelance researcher and academic writer

Reflective practice in educational research has a vital role when it comes to decision-making and methodological change. It depends on the researcher’s ethical practice; educational researchers – including myself – have great ‘commitment to producing research with integrity that [is] emancipatory for ourselves and our participants’ (Reed, 2023). My research explored changes that master’s TESOL students go through when undertaking programmes in the UK. Specifically, change of their knowledge, beliefs and identity. I call it cognitive (Borg, 2003, 2009, 2015) as opposed to the affective domain (Slimani-Rolls & Kiely, 2019).

Over a period of 13 months, rich data were collected to form a thick description of one participant’s journey, Marine. My ethical research identity has evolved through reflexive and reflective practices during my research journey, and this blog post addresses issues that arose during my PhD studies that led to modifying the research design and the presentation of the participants’ narratives. Unexpected withdrawal of participants led to this methodological modification; from multiple case studies of four participants to a focused case study of Marine and three complementary cases or supportive data (Madden, 2017). My aim in writing this blog is to spotlight the importance of reflexivity practice of PhD students in relation to making rational methodological decisions.

‘Reflective practice in educational research has a vital role when it comes to decision-making and methodological change.’

The first unexpected issue I encountered was the outbreak of Covid-19 in March 2020 amid the data collection stage. This interruption inevitably resulted in change of my study routine and research practice. Like other PhD students, that had a negative impact on my wellbeing, and it elevated my work stress (BERA, 2022; Pyhälto et al., 2023). Hence, it was pivotal to maintain a ‘euphoric’ state of mind, along with honest reflexivity, that a number of practical aspects had to be taken into consideration in order to ensure the smooth process of data collection. For instance, having a flexible plan of the research procedures and the mindset to facilitate the change from face-to-face interview to online.

The other issue that had a major impact on the change of research design was related to unresponsive participants – most likely related to the impact that Covid-19 imposed on the students’ wellbeing (Taylor et al., 2020), but also perhaps due to the intensity of the MA TESOL programme. This is where such a programme may act as a stressor to the participants (Talbot & Mercer, 2018). As a result, only Marine had completed the full cycle of data collection: three interviews, 21 reflective journals, and a recorded classroom observation.

There was an obvious imbalance in the representation of the participants’ narratives. This is when a dilemma about changing the research design to a single case study arose. I decided to modify the research design from a multiple case study – where I wanted to voice the participants’ narratives in my research, to a single, focused case study that was detailed and specific (Tight, 2017) and three small-scale cases to complement the findings of the study (Layder, 2013). This methodological change had to be implemented in respect of the participants’ choice of withdrawal from the study and in appreciation to Marine’s story, who was dedicated to finish the data cycle.

Decision-making is difficult because one needs to build decisions based on perceptions, experiences and knowledge (Wood, 1984); but going through this process during the outbreak of Covid-19 while keeping ethical research practice of gathering data was particularly challenging. The constant interplay between reflexivity and learning more about the participants’ experiences drove forward my skills to making methodological decisions that respect the participants’ wellbeing as well as my own.


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