In this section I elaborate on the nature of qualitative and quantitive research and why I was in need of a qualitative approach. As I illustrated in the Scope section, the design of the case study is related but at the same time limited to the selection of the participants. Here I will discuss the choice of grounded theory.

1. Qualitative vs. quantitative

In general, quantitative research refers to research that investigates quantity and ‘measurement’, about ‘numbers’. How, ‘how much’ and ‘how often’ do teachers use Twitter in the context of their professional practice. Although that how question sometimes rose during the interviews and group session, it is mainly the why question that is subject of this study.

Qualitative research is “linked to in-depth exploratory studies where quality response exist.” (Biggam, 2015 p. 86). This case-study make sense of the why teachers are using Twitter in funcion of their professional growth. According to Denzin and Lincoln (1994, p.2 in Biggam 2015) qualitative research studies “things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meaning people bring to them.”

Examples of qualitative research methods are historical research, experimental research, survey-based research, case study, action research, grounded theory and etnographic research. (Bell, 2014)

In the section ‘Methods used’ I exemplify the chosen qualitative method, namely the case study. I explain shortly why other methods are not appropriate.

  • Historical research: the phenomenon social media - and Twitter in particular - has only recently emerged as possible channel for professional development of teachers. Too little data related to past occurrences can be evaluated.
  • Experimental research: investigating causal relationships by controlled testing and manipulation of the unit (teachers) is quite impossible due to time restrictions and unclear variables . For effective experimental research, the researcher should manipulate variables and measure changes to other variables.
  • Action research: action research either solves an immediate problem or focuses on a progressive process of problem-solving. There was no time to determine a shared problem with the teachers in my research, nor was there common-ground for shared social action due to the different contexts of the teachers involved. It must be said, though, that in case of a particular group of teachers within the same context (school, curriculum), action research could be an appropriate inquiry process for practice related problem-solving amongst teachers.
  • Etnography studies people in their natural environment, it is a study of cultures (Davies, 2008; Biggam, 2015). Although this case study is not entirely ethnographic, some aspects have an ethnographic position. This case study aims to uncover a particular language of teachers on social media.
    Also, I do not participate in their unit, I am not personally and face-to-face involved with the teachers in the unit. And I am not committed in the long term to their professional practice. Therefore I conclude that my research is a case study with etnographical accents, but not entirely etnographic.

2. Grounded theory


The first time I came across grounded theory was through the domain of sociology. In particular by reading the work of American sociologist Brené Brown (2013) on shame and vulnerability. During 2013 a colleague referred to her TED talk as being his all-time favourite. Since I was both personally and professionally interested in authenticity and vulnerability, this TED talk quickly became my favourite as well. In my role as teacher trainer I developed a specific interest in authenticity and vulnerability.

I was triggered by Brown’s epilogue on her research methodology, mainly because it is about collecting stories of people. Grounded theory doesn’t approach the problem from the idea 'I know how this theory works, and I have to find proof for that. I have to link data to my theory'. For this case-study on Twitter and CPD, I really had no idea what the underlying theory was that matched the perceived values of Twitter and CPD. So I decided to gather stories of teachers that use Twitter and to investigate these stories to build a theory based on their shared elements. But what is grounded theory exactly?

Grounded theory

Grounded theory was developed in 1967 by American sociologists Glaser and Strauss. In their study “Awareness of Dying” they experimented with an investigative research method with no predetermined hypothesis. By continually comparing data the (new) theory emerges they believed that the theory thus obtained is truly grounded in the data. Hence the terminology ‘grounded theory’. (Glaser & Strauss 1967)

According to Evans (2013) grounded theory is a method for inductively generating theory. Evans summarises Glaser’s definition of grounded theory as “a general methodology of analysis linked with data collection that uses a systematically applied set of methods to generate an inductive theory about a substantive area” (Glaser, 1992 p. 16)

Evans (2013, p. 37) continues his review on grounded theory by referring to a “diacritical juncture on the aims, principles and procedures associated with the implementation of the method”. This juncture between the two authors Glaser and Strauss resulted in two emerging paths: the Straussian grounded theory (QDA - qualitative data analysis) and the CGT (Classical Grounded Theory, Glaser 1978). Various researchers and scholars have continued on the work of Glaser, Strauss & Corbin, eventually leading to four different grounded theory models (Fernandez, 2012 in Evans, 2013), namely CGT, Straussian grounded theory, the constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2002; 2014) and the feminist grounded theory (Wuest, 1995 in Evans, 2013).

Guest (2011) synthesises fundamental characteristics of the grounded theory methodology which “set it apart from other qualitative approaches and are common across the different flavours:

  • simultaneous data collection and analysis;
  • the constant comparative method used at every stage of analysis;
  • ongoing theory development;
  • constructing codes and categories from data rather than from preconceived hypotheses;
  • memoing to refine and elaborate categories and their relationships;
  • theoretical sampling for theory development and not for representativeness;
  • delaying the use of the literature until analysis is well under way.”

Summary of constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2002, 2014; Dunne, 2011; Guest, 2011; Evans, 2013) in relation to CGT.

  • The belief that concepts are co-constructed is key, in contrast to CGT where concepts are discovered.
  • The constructivist approach starts with specific questions on a substantive area whereas CGT has no preconceived questions prior to the study.
  • The position of the literature review: the question is not if a literature review is appropriate (it is), but the question is when literature is used to act as a form of data, and when the literature should be conducted.
  • “Knowledge, truth, reality and theory are considered contingent and based on human perception and experience.” (Howell, 2013 p. 16 in Evans, 2013).
  • Constructivist grounded theory uses three types of coding: open, focused and theoretical. In CGT two types of coding exist: substantive and theoretical. While the definition of theoretical coding may seem similar, in constructivist grounded theory the theoretical coding is the merging of concepts into groups, whereas in CGT the the theoretical coding is part of the selection and integration of the emerging theory.

> Suggested: But what exactly was my research strategy? Read about it in the section 'Methods used'.