Problems and Solutions
The study did not depart from the original objectives or planned activities. Training the research team to use a qualitative approach in an area where only a rudimentary road map existed was time consuming but critical to the results. Any researcher attempting a qualitative study should be prepared to spend many hours in collaborative training and review as work progresses.
A personnel problem occurred during the first year because one of the researchers proved to be too directive in her observations and interactions with children. Her behavior interfered with the study's purpose. Further training, individual consultation, regular and frequent staff meetings, and other methods of correction were attempted but ineffectual. After the first year's data audit, this person was removed from the research team and a new individual joined the study. Although hiring and training a replacement required an unexpected expenditure of time, the problem was solved.
Fourth Dimension presented unexpected technical problems that resulted in a system crash and delay in entering field notes. Adding RAM memory to the machine solved the problem. The program also took far longer for staff to learn to use than expected and required continual technical support from the manufacturer.
The research staff expected to handle massive amounts of data, but at times during the study, the staff members felt overwhelmed by the amount of data they were collecting, analyzing, and attempting to summarize. Copious data is both a problem and a blessing in qualitative studies. During the second year research audit, the auditor and research staff determined that redundancy had been reached in observing and videotaping children's behaviors centered around the ITLC. Behaviors were being observed over and over again or not observed at all. Trends or categories not observed across all classrooms included 'describes characters,' 'retells a story,' and 'dictates stories.' Children could retell parts of stories and could dictate parts of stories; however, for categorization purposes, a story was defined as having a beginning, middle and end. Children could retell or dictate an entire story when prompted, but this behavior was one that did not occur naturally within a classroom.
The situation was discussed during the audit. At that time, the researchers and auditor decided that it was highly likely that no new information could be gathered from observations of children within the classroom. To support this decision, the following plan was implemented. Staff would continue to visit classrooms one to two times a month to determine whether new behaviors occurred. If new behaviors were observed during the visits, the behaviors would be discussed in a weekly staff meeting and the researchers would decide whether they should continue classroom observations at closer intervals. However, after 2 years of classroom observations, no new behaviors were observed. The research staff maintained contact with teachers via phone, mail, and interesting incident reports. Additional information gathered included pre-post tests, questionnaires, surveys, and interviews gathered from children, teachers, school staff, and families. These data were entered into Fourth Dimension and continued to support the data gathered during observations by staff.
The technical problems related to videotaping in classrooms without a professional camera crew include the unwelcome intrusion of ambient noise and positioning the camera to see and hear children when they speak. Including the computer screen at the same time as the child's face (and voice) is on camera is difficult. Cameras break. Dual cameras are intrusive as is a camera crew. Since the software is audible, our attention focused on the child and his or her response together with accurate notes about which software was being used in a video segment. Software became so familiar to the research staff that they recognized the programs by their sounds.