Review of Learning in the Panic Zone: Strategies for Managing Learner Anxiety
It is generally agreed that research can be divided from different perspectives, such as being grouped into empirical and philosophical research according to whether collecting data or not (Allison, 2012). So does “social research”, which features “focusing on people in a social setting” (Robson, 2011, p. 5) and aims at achieving research purposes of “action, change and emancipation” (Robson, 2011, p. 39).
In terms of research paradigms, “social research” can be divided into “quantitative research” and “qualitative research”, usually the former focusing on collecting numerical data and the latter focusing on collecting data of words (Robson, 2011, p. 5). Thus being aware of different theoretical approaches, researchers become reflexive, creative, and capable of reinvention and evolution (Robson, 2011, p. 41). Also according to Robson, the kind of research “refers to applied research projects which are typically small in scale and modest in scope”, is termed as “real world research” (Robson, 2011, p. 3).
It usually solves “problems and issues of direct relevance to people’s lives” (Robson, 2011, p. 4). And the research under review, which applies strategies into real programs (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 420), seems to be this kind of research. In this assignment, I am going to evaluate the article under review from the aspects of strengths and weaknesses and relate the analysis to the broader issues of research. Strengths Firstly, to some extent, this article is formally logical and well-organized by using subheadings and questions like “How do trainers support learners who undertake challenging tasks? (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 427). Realizing the “GAP” (Shon, 2012, p. 3) in the literature that few attention has been paid to the positive effect of stress in real cases (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 420), the researchers formed their research questions, presented their “RAT” (Shon, 2012, p. 3) and then came the research design and research method, “multi-strategy design” (Robson, 2011, p. 6) and “triangulation” (Cohen, 2007, p. 141) respectively. Seen from the perspective of the research design, it is closely related to previous literature and theory and tries to answer research questions by adopting certain research methods.
Finally, with the conclusion indicating that the theoretical strategies are in accordance with the comfort-stretch-panic model in previous literature and recommending further studies (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 435). Secondly, as social research, it is of great value to have a “scientific attitude”: “systematically, skeptically and ethically” (Robson, 2011, p. 15). Specifically, by saying “systematically”, I mean this research is well prepared and arranged by two experienced trainers and consultant, with “over six years’ experience of providing consultancy in training” (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 38) and “more than 30 years’ experience in education and training” (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 420) separately. So they both have a clear understanding of what, how and why they are doing in the research. They made a detailed exposition of literature, including “theoretical solutions to debilitating learner anxiety” (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 421) and “practical measures that a trainer can take to prepare learners for challenging tasks” (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 427) and designed the questionnaires in research utilizing the strategies in the literature.
Such a coherent process of research design is sufficient for the first aspect of “scientific attitude”. And by saying “skeptically”, I mean the researchers have recognized its limitations of using a small sample of 30 potential participants and the absence of trainees’ feedback and thus recommended future work of considering the “individual personal differences and how these impact differential responses to stressful situations” (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 435), thus “subjecting ideas to possible disconfirmation” (Robson, 2011, p. 5). And finally, “ethically” is represented during the questionnaires, which “were sent only to those who indicated availability to help with the research” (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 428). The third part of the advantages focuses on the research method. Combining strategies of survey and interview, it is obvious that this research mainly conducts qualitative research methods. However, it can also be called“triangulation” because of the close connection among literature, survey and interviews.
According to Cohen, “triangulation” may be defined as “the use of two or more methods of data collection in the study of some aspect of human behavior” (Cohen, 2007, p. 141). It is often used to mean “bringing different kinds of evidence to bear on a problem” (Esterberg, 2002, p. 176). Here in the article under review, by saying “triangulation”, the researchers adopted the approach of triangulating literature, survey and interview. According to different kinds of literature, there are many types of triangulation and each has its own characteristics, of which “theoretical triangulation” (Cohen, 2007, p. 42) and “methodology triangulation” (Cohen, 2007, p. 142) are reflected in this research. According to Cohen, the former “draws upon alternative or competing theories in preference to utilizing one viewpoint only” and the other “uses either the same method on different occasions or different methods on the same object of study” (Cohen, 2007, p. 142). Sometimes different theories and results from conducting different methods lead to conflict conclusions, it does not mean the research is wrong, it may indicate the necessity of further study and research in wider field.
So by adopting different types of triangulation, researchers feel more confident about their findings and enhance validity (Cohen, 2007, p. 141). Similar to triangulation, there are also various kinds of validity. The type I will focus on is “concurrent validity” because it is the type enhanced in the article I am evaluating. How does the triangulation ensuring “concurrent validity” (Cohen, 2007, p. 140) is the main concern of this part. “Concurrent validity” is a variation of “criterion-related validity” (Cohen, 2007, p. 40), also called “criterion validity” by Perri and Bellamy, implying “whether the measures are in line with other measures of the same content that are generally accepted as valid in the wider research community” (Perri 6& Bellamy, 2012, p. 92). “To demonstrate this form of validity the data gathered from using one instrument must correlate highly with data gathered from using another instrument” (Cohen, 2007, p. 140). To be specific, in this article under review, the data is collected both from survey and interview with the guidance of a large amount of literature, applying “theoretical triangulation” and “methodology triangulation”, thus the concurrent validity is relatively ensured. As Lancy indicates, “using multiple data sources also allows one to fill in gaps that would occur if we relied on only one source” (Lancy, 1993, p. 20). Last but not the least, the research draws on the advantages of its research designs. According to Robson, social research design can be separated into “fixed design” and “flexible design” (Robson, 2011, p. 5). And the key to distinguish these two designs is whether the procedure and focus of research is fixed or not (Robson, 2011, p. ). However, it should be noticed that there overlaps between them. For example, one specific fixed-designed research could be flexibly influenced by qualitative data. So for those using both qualitative and quantitative data, there come “multi-strategy designs” (Robson, 2011, p. 6). Hereby saying “multi-strategy”, which has a “substantial collection of both qualitative and quantitative data in different phases or aspects of the same project” (Robson, 2011, p. 6), I do not mean that it contradicts the qualitative research method.
It means a research design of combining qualitative and quantitative elements when conducting the qualitative research method. In a narrow sense, the method used in this article should not be called as “multi-strategy” because the qualitative elements account for a larger proportion. However, the researchers take advantage of using both elements. For example, though “there is a tendency for people to over-choose the middle option” (Thomas, 2011, p. 178), the quantitative approach of the “five-point Likert scale” (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 29) does help the researchers from the trouble of getting specific data from the abstract description. And for the analysis, evaluation, and interpretation of data and sample, this paper uses “descriptive statistics (methods used to summarize or describe our observations)” (Rowntree, 2000, p. 19) to summarize the sample of research and indicates that future study is needed for “inferential statistics”, which “is concerned with generalizing from a sample, to make estimates and inferences about a wider population” (Rowntree, 2000, p. 1). By using “opportunistic purposive sampling”, the researchers regarded respondents as representatives of “a diverse group of trainers from across the UK with male and female trainers aged between 26-55 years” (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 428), one might hold the opinion that using “mechanical methods” (Rowntree, 2000, p. 24) of selecting randomly is a safe way to make an unbiased representative sample, however, “it is conceivable that you could use random methods and still end up with a biased sample” (Rowntree, 2000, p. 25).
So considering the rich experience of the researchers, the “opportunistic purposive sampling” is a better choice to avoid the less representativeness of random sampling. Weaknesses, However, there are some reservations. Firstly, when analyzing the effectiveness of different strategies, it seems that the researchers have not thought about the “control variable”. According to David and Sutton, “control variable” means “a variable that influences the relationship between the independent and dependent variables” (David & Sutton, 2011, p. 11). Though it is a term in mathematical notation, I would suggest using it and adopting control groups in each training program. Otherwise, the variables such as the difference of trainees, trainers and training environment among different programs might influence the validity of data. Maybe this limitation is hard for researchers to avoid because of the fact that the training is not conducted by the researchers themselves. The data are indirectly collected as comments/feedbacks from different trainers.
Thus to some extent, it is really hard to make sure the validity of data in this research since there are so many variables. Moreover, even after adopting control groups and comparing data from several groups in one particular training program, the validity of data is easy to be influenced by uncontrollable variables. Taking interviews, for example, uncontrollable variables could be “characteristics of the interviewers”, “interactions of interviewer/respondent characteristics” and privacy concerns of the respondents (Robson, 2011, p. 241).
Although the researchers have tried to do the best by adopting “semi-structured interview” (Thomas, 2011, p. 164), indicating that “11 respondents were interviewed in a ‘guided’ unstructured format in which participants were allowed a considerable degree of latitude to express their opinions within the interview framework” (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 429), they have not excluded the influence of the “framework”. So it is rather difficult for the researchers to ensure the validity of data and to precisely achieve the research purpose.
And another influence about the validity the researchers might not consider well is the representativeness of the sample. Considering that the research mainly focuses on “questionnaire-based surveys” (“Internet surveys” and “interview surveys” specifically) (Robson, 2011, p. 240), which ignores “the characteristics of non-respondents” (Robson, 2011, p. 240), it is doubtable to say that “the sample of respondents is representative” (Robson, 2011, p. 240).
Maybe it is more persuasive to say that “our statistical methodology enables us to collect samples that are likely to be as representative as possible” (Rowntree, 2000, p. 23) rather than “the respondents represented a diverse group of trainers from across the UK with male and female trainers aged between 26-55 years” (Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011, p. 428).
To sum up, this assignment evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the article under review in the framework of different methodologies and methods.
Within the article, by comparing the positive aspects and problematic areas, it is relatively persuasive for the authors to claim their findings. And the contributions they made by putting the theories into practice are highly appreciated since it is real-world research.
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