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Research Interviewing

The Interview is one of the many useful methods in gathering qualitative data in educational research. In this post I will be looking at interview types, developing interview questions and exploring issues to consider in carrying out an interview for educational research.

Interviews can be used on their own or to support other methods of research, such as observation (Maxwell, 2013). When used with other methods of research, interviews are often quoted as offering triangulation to validate the other method(s). However, it is interesting to read the Greene (2007) argues against using triangulation, as it is overemphasised in generating any validity. Instead, Greene suggests the research views the interview and the other research method(s) as different viewpoints of the same data.

There are a number of different interview types (Turner, 2010):

  1. Informal Conversational Interview
  2. General Interviews
  3. Standardised Open-Ended Interviews

In an Informal Conversational Interview the interviewer relies on the interaction with the participant to generate spontaneous questions. This allows the interview to be flexible and explore different issues as they arise. However, it does mean the data is unreliable and inconsistent across interviews.

The General interview has prepared questions that are used to guide the interview and to cover the relevant topics, making it more structured than the Informal Conversational Interview. This has the benefit of a more consistent coverage of the topic across interviews and supports the interviewer through the process. However, spontaneity is lost and therefore some useful insights may be missed from the research.

The Standardised Open-Ended Interview has a specific set of questions that are discussed in every interview conducted. This does differ from a questionnaire, as all of the questions are designed to illicit open-ended responses to gather detailed information. Interviewing in this way does generate consistency across interviews and ensures all of the key aspects of the research are discussed. However, as the data collected is discursive it is difficult to code to look for themes and patterns.

When designing any questions for an interview it is good practice to ask a fact question before an open question, to help contextualise the data and put the participant at ease (Boyce and Neale, 2006). The interview questions should focus on specific events (Maxwell, 2013) and not make any assumptions of the participant’s values, thoughts and feelings (Turner, 2010).

Weiss (1994) suggests that interview questions should be presented by the interviewer in past tense, as this recalls specific memory of events. For example, what happened when you used that…? Rather than present tense, which can create a more generalised response. For example, what happens when you use…? The questions should also allow the interviewer to supplement with more probing questions (Boyce and Neale, 2006). For Example, would you give me an example of that? Or, could you explain that further?

There needs to be a consideration of who is going to carry out the interview. Interviewing is a skill and it is possible to hire professional interviewers. However, this does cost money and may not be practical for small-scale educational research. The researcher acting as the interviewer would avoid any costs, but their interest in the study may bias the data gathered.

Along with the moral dilemma of bias, there are also ethical considerations in conducting interviews. These range from the question ‘who has the power in the interview relationship?’, being honest about the where the data will be stored and presented, and the vulnerability of the interviewer. Ebbut (1981) highlights that it may not be the interviewer that has the power, as one would expect, but the interviewee. The interviewer needs the interviewee more than the other way around, and could avoid difficult questions. There is also the possibility that employment position of the interviewer could make them vulnerable if they are interviewing participants with a more senior role.

Hoinville and Jowell (1977) outline the following as suggested guidelines in conducting an interview:

  • Arrange a time
  • Relax the interviewee and reduce wariness
  • Discuss the research and audience
  • Only continue if you have been accepted as an interviewer
  • Avoid long catch-all questions
  • Avoid leading questions
  • Use any silence effectively, let the participant think and then talk

It is always good practice to pilot the interview with a participant who is not part of the research study. A pilot interview will enable questions to be refined and an examination of potential data to be carried out, to see if there are any gaps (Turner, 2010).


Boyce, C. and Neale, P. (2006). Conducting in-depth interviews: a guide for conducting in-depth interviews for education input. Watertown, MA: Pathfinder International.

Ebbut, D. (1981). Girl’s science, boy’s science revisited. In A. Kelly (ed) The Missing Half. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Greene, J. (2007). Mixed Methods in Social Inquiry. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Hoinville, G. and Jowell, R. (1977). Survey research practice. London: Heinemann.

Maxwell, J.A. (2013). Qualitative research design: an interactive approach (3rd Ed) London: SAGE

Powney, J. and Watts, M. (1987). Interviewing in Educational Research. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

Turner III, D.W. (2010). Qualitative interviewing: A practical guide. Qualitative Report, 15(3) 754-760

Weiss, R.S. (1994). Learning from strangers: the art and method of qualitative interviewing. New York: Free Press

What is a literature review?

A literature review explores the research that surrounds a particular topic, in a critical manner. By reviewing the research that has gone before, the author can identify the current position of work within the subject field. If the review is part of a dissertation, the author should also be able to use the literature review to identify gaps in the previous research (Wellington et al, 2005).

Boote and Beile (2005) discuss literature reviews that were part of larger dissertations and argued that these needed to be thorough and comprehensive and the review should be the foundation of the study. Golde (2007) supports this by stating that a comprehensive literature review helps position the current study in the subject field, helping locate it within the current literature, build and argument and make a case for the subject of the research.

Boote and Beile argue that even though the literature in the field of education is complex and disorganised in comparison to other fields, it is the review of the literature that is at the heart of the study and not the actual data. They stated that a good literature review is proof of the researcher’s knowledge of the topic area and that their data only adds a small, albeit new, understanding.

However, Maxwell (2006) identifies the need for a distinction between a literature review for research and those literature reviews of research. He argues that literature reviews for a dissertation need to be relevant and selective and not as comprehensive as suggested by Boole and Biele. Maxwell’s literature reviews are more of drifting sand dune, with room for dynamic movement, than the solid foundations recommended by Boole and Beile.

I agree with Golde, Boote and Beile that there does need to be a rigorous exploration of the key texts in the subject to locate the research and identify new knowledge. However, it is important to acknowledge the complexities of education research and the importance critically reading relevant literature for the research and being selective about what is included. Maxwell focuses on two questions that the researcher should ask when carrying out the literature review; why is this piece of literature being included in the study and would failing to discuss this literature create a gap in the research writing?

Wellington et al (2005) describe a number of different models a researcher could use for the literature review to help them structure the writing for the reader. The Zooming model takes the reader through a wide view of the literature on a particular topic, before zooming into a medium and narrow view. The Intersection model looks at different aspects of the topic and identifies where these overlap. The Patchwork model pieces the review together like a jigsaw with topics that have many connecting sides with each other. Whichever model is chosen, Wellington et al state it should be seen as a story with a weaving plotline.

Boote, D. and Beile, P. (2005) Scholars Before Researchers: on the centrality of dissertation literature reviews in research preparation. Educational Researcher, 34(6) 3-15.

Golde, C. (2007). Signature Pedagogies in Doctoral Education: are they adaptable for the preparation of education. Educational Research, 36(6) 344-351

Maxwell, J. A. (2006). Literature Review of, and for, educational research: a commentary on Boole and Beile’s “Scholars Before Researchers”. Educational Research, 35(9) 28-31

Wellington, J., Bathmaker, A., Hunt, C., McCulloch, G. and Sikes, P. (2005). Succeeding with your doctorate. London: SAGE

Gamification Research Project continues

I have been reading around the subject of e-safety and how this relates to safeguarding students. There are a number of websites and journal articles on how schools and colleges can deal with e-safety issues. These include:

Bennet, T. (2011) Cyberbullying – some practical advice for teachers [online] TES

Stop Cyberbullying (n.d.) Prevention of Cyberbullying [online]

I have also examined a number of different gamification and Serious Game platforms to host the e-safety game. There are a number of platforms that focus on motivating students and staff and rearding the completion of tasks. However, none seem to be as flexible as my initial thoughts on using an SMS system. This would mean I would need to build the game mechanics myself. Another system that I will look into is Articulate Storyline. This software supports the development of interative digital resources, and these can be run on a variety of different mobile devices.

Read more

Gamification of Safeguarding teaching in Teacher Education

I have been given the go ahead to carry out a research project on Gamification.

You can follow the fill story on my project page:  


2002 (Wikipedia, online) and has come to mean the use of gaming mechanics in everyday tasks (Erenli, 2013). The concept is to use the ‘fun’ and ‘addictive’ quality of games, in particular computer games, to create a more immersive learning environment that users find of value and enjoy participating in. Gamification has been applied in a number of scenarios, including organisational staff development, marketing and user-interaction via the Internet. An example of Gamification is (who encourage users to gain points and rewards for leaving and sharing reviews).

Gamification in education aims to enhance the learning experience through embedding game mechanics into courses and modules, encouraging students to play the games without being obviously aware that learning is taking place. The ideal would be a game in which there is the required depth of learning and students enjoyed repeatedly returning to play.

Many examples of Gamification use solitary learning in the game to develop skills and knowledge. However, I am keen to explore the expansion of game mechanics to include a social learning element. Taking into consideration Dewey’s theory of social learning, the students will gain a much richer experience in shared learning. As the focus of the game development in this research is pastoral care, sharing ideas and supporting each other as professionals will be key elements.

There is little recorded use of Gamification in Initial Teacher Training courses, and I believe there is a lot of scope to include this concept in a number of modules. This research would focus on the teaching of pastoral care and the understanding of safeguarding of young and vulnerable learners. I hypothesis that it can be difficult for trainee teachers to fully engage with pastoral and safeguarding procedures until they exposed to specific scenarios; participating in gamification of this topic will allow trainees to engage through interactive simulation and then be able to recall the correct procedures more accurately, with confidence.

This concept could be expanded to include other modules such as Learning Theory, Curriculum Design and Subject Specialist Pedagogy. It could also be expanded to curriculum in other departments.

The research will be taking place in the Teacher Education Department and will be in conjunction with Learning Services and FE/HE Computing.

The participants in the research will be students on teacher education course from across the sector and will include a wide range of previous educational experiences and academic levels. The students on the Post-Graduate Diploma in Education and Certificate in Education and Training have a spikey profile of previous academic achievement. All these students will have work experience whilst on their course and this allows this research to have the scope of studying if the use of Gamification in education is viable in their particular sector.

Jan 2015

Disucuss this work with Safeguarding team at college we highlighted a number of topics to explore to support trainee teachers.

  • Bullying
  • Sexual Explotation
  • Prevent
  • e-Safety

We agreed that with it’s complexities and conotations that e-Safety would be a good topic to tackle.