I’m rapidly realising that research with young people is more fraught with problems than I originally surmised. Ironically, the very area of my research should have highlighted this possibility, in that young people will go to often extraordinary lengths to safe-guard their self esteem and provide an answer that they believe the researcher will judge at ‘right’. Unfortunately, as researchers, we are rarely interested in the right answer – usually because there isn’t one.
As a result, it can become difficult for us to confirm that any answer provided by young people is honestly given as opposed to an attempt to ‘get it right’. Furthermore, understanding the reasoning behind their answer could actually provide a more accurate indication of factors such as self-esteem and resilience than the very measure itself. This calls into question the reliability of measuring, say, academic resilience using psychometric methods such as scales.
What if we could make these questions more objective and still use the answers as a means to providing subjective measures?
One area I have decided to explore is the use of scenarios (or vignettes). The basic premise is fairly simple: Rather than presenting participants with questionnaires that prompt a subjective response using a likert-type scale like this:
…the questions are presented once the participant has read a fictional vignette.
Frank is studying A-level maths and his teacher has just given him the results of his latest test. Frank’s target grade is B but the grade he has achieved for the test is a D.
On a scale of 1 to 10, decide how this bad result would have affected Frank’s confidence in maths (where 1 is ‘a great deal’ and 10 is ‘not much at all’).
Vignette methodology is widely used in the social sciences, including sociology and education. Vignettes provide a way for the participant to distance himself or herself from the question by ensuring that on the surface the questions aren’t necessarily about them. The assumption from the researchers point of view, however, is that the participant will provide an answer that is more in keeping with their views but limits the desire to safe-guard self-esteem.