Classic Grounded Theory to Investigate Evidence-based Course Leadership
Classic Grounded Theory to Investigate
Evidence-based Course Leadership
Approach to research
Nieky van Veggel MSc
• Course leaders are academic staff who operate on the
interface of education management, teaching, research
and pastoral care
• Evidence-based practice requires a practitioner to make
decisions based on the current best available evidence
after careful appraisal of sources
• Literature on course leadership is limited, let alone on
how course leaders do their job. Literature on
courseleadership in small-specialist HEI is non-existent.
van Veggel & Howlett (2018)
How am I doing this?
• Interviewing course leaders in my own institution and two
other similar small specialist UK HEIs
• Face-to-face (own institution), ? telephone (external
Justifying my methodology. Why GT?
• No theory currently exists that could explain phenomena in my field
• GT allows emergence of a theory from data without relying on an existing
theory (Engward, 2013)
• Leadership is a social influence process (Parry, 1998)
• Classic/Glaserian GT aims to discover a basic social process (Levers, 2013)
• Post-positivist paradigm lends itself to researching complex social
phenomena whilst maintaining objectivity and rigour (Kennedy &
• GT is an appropriate methodology for leadership research (Toor &
Ofori, 2008) also for EBP and for education experience research.
• Course leaders are best placed to inform research about course
leaders (Scott & Scott, 2015)
• Rigour and transparency and systematic nature of GT fit with my
personal research and evidence-based practice beliefs
Justifying my stance
• In order to accurately generate theory from
observations, it is important to be as objective
as possible there is an objective truth
• Theory emerges from data through GT process
(Glaser, 1978) and can explain reality. However,
no theory is perfect.
• However, some bias through beliefs and values
is unavoidable. Important to recognise it
reflexivity is essential
Justifying my paradigm
Grounded Theory paradigms
*As argued by Levers (2013)
Does it really matter?
• Maybe, maybe not…
• Glaser says it doesn’t, GT is just a method (Glaser, 1998:35)
• Urquhart (2013:60) agrees and says GT can be used in either
positivist or interpretivist paradigms
• Doctoral requirements say it does.
• GT does not nicely fit in the thesis “box”
• Change the shape of the box, not the content!
• The compromised research proposal (Xie, 2009)
• Not knowing exact details is ok
• No subject specific literature review is ok (Glaser, 1998:72)
• Is the theory really grounded? Trustworthy?
Trustworthiness in GT research
• Dimensions of trustworthiness and how to address them
Triangulation of data, sharing theory for conformation
Clear research description (Brown et al., 2002), using an audit
trail (Bowen, 2009)
Use an audit trial (Morrow, 2005; Bowen, 2009)
Examination of audit trial (Brown et al., 2002)
Rigour in GT
• Techniques for enhancing rigour in Straussian GT have
been proposed (Cooney, 2011)
• Cross-checking emerging concepts against participants’
• Asking experts if the theory ‘fit’ their experiences
• Recording detailed memos outlining all analytical and sampling
• Unsure as to how these apply to classic GT
• Glaser says GT doesn’t need these techniques as rigour is “built-
• Compatible with modern standards for research? Or with
• Urquhart (2013:60, 70) has guidance
This work is part-funded through a Writtle
University College Learning and Development
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