Home » E-Learning » Using Computer-based Text Analysis to Integrate Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Research on Collaborative Learning (1997) Wegerif and Mercer.

Using Computer-based Text Analysis to Integrate Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Research on Collaborative Learning (1997) Wegerif and Mercer.

Primary Questions

What research questions are being addressed?

The incorporation of computer-based methods into the study of talk offers a way of combining the strengths of quantitative and qualitative methods of discourse analysis while overcoming some of their main weaknesses. (Wegerif and Mercer.  1997. p. 271)

What contribution can computer-based text analysis make to the study of ‘researching talk’ and ‘educational activity’ in classrooms?


Can computer-based text analysis better demonstrate the differences between post-intervention task talk and pre-intervention task talk?

A method for the study of collaborative learning.

  • The study of talk would benefit from use of computers.
  • Talking approaches only previously used on ‘large corpora of written text’ (Wegerif and Mercer.  1997. p. 271)
  • Can the issues regarding the use of qualitative and quantitative techniques be ameliorated through the use of software to analyse texts.

What is the sector and setting? (e.g. school, higher education, training, informal learning)

  • Primary School Classrooms
  • Software that allows the micro and the macro, picking out words or working on a piece of text from the transcript.
  • Intellectually in the heads of those involved in post-doctoral research – there can, I sense, be a disconnect between the subjects (9-10 years and their teachers).

What theories, concepts and key terms are being used? Use of quantitative and qualitative techniques to try to extrapolate meaning from the concrete, complex and absolute.

  • Coding schemes and publicly verifiable criteria to make categorisations. (Wegerif and Mercer.  1997. p. 271)
  • = quantitative
  • Interpretative analysis of transcribed speech = qualitative.
  • Are the techniques valid?
  • The study of shared knowledge over time. Crook (1994)

What methods of data collection and analysis are used? (e.g. the number of participants; the type of technologies; the use of interviews, surveys, observation, etc.)

  • Informed Observation
  • Concordancing software !KwicTex as midway between quantitative and qualitative research and complementary to both.
  • Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices
  • Strengths and weaknesses to current approaches to the study of talk and collaborative activity.
  • Integration of computer-based analysis
  • Coding schemes – quantitative
  • Interpretative analysis – qualitative
  • Discourse analysis of Barnes (1976) and the ‘illusion of proof’ (Edwards & Westgate)
  • ‘Different methodologies can be taken to embody different views of the nature of meaning’. (Snyder, 1995)
  • ‘Qualitative analysis can be effective for generating theories but not so effective for rigorously testing them (Hammersley, 1992).

What did this research find out? Computer analysis of text creates and maintains a connection between the abstract quantitative and qualitative findings.

  • It is a valid and valuable new research tool.

What are the limitations of the methods used?

  • Frankly expressed (Wegerif and Mercer.  1997. p. 273)
  • Critiques of coding approaches
  • Qualitative methods based on close scrutiny of extracts from a lengthy transcript.

Are there any ethical issues associated with the research?

  • Only if data gathered is released or leaked, particularly these days actual video footage of children.
  • Child Protection protocols when working with children.
  • If video footage gathered shows inappropriate behaviour of teachers to students, or students amongst themselves how do the observer/researcher respond?
  • Not an issue in 1997 but what if video footage finds its way onto the internet and so children, the school and teachers are then identifiable and their actions then open to scrutiny?

What are the implications (if any) for practice, policy or further research?

  • Over a decade on the sophistication of text analysis has massively advanced. As the authors intimate, it is now reasonable to video all interactions for later analysis and scrutiny. Great care has to be taken when doing this in this setting – the technique has been used extensively by Yrjo Engestrom forming part of the analysis approach using Cultural Historical Activity Theory. (Engestrom, 1997).

Supplementary Questions

What counts as evidence in this work?

What are the implications (if any) for practice, policy or further research?

Clusters of words categorised using agreed criteria gathered and sorted using computer software so easing and facilitating the research process.

How does the research question relate to the design of the research?

The research question is the design of the research. It is the trial of a new tool or technique.

In what ways is the wider literature used in the paper?

Extensively and systematically woven into the paper to provide background and balance and even trying hard to offer contrasting perspectives so setting out clearly the pros and cons of the methodology and past experiences with these techniques in this kind of setting.

  • Systematic observation. Croll, 1986
  • Fourteen mutually exclusive categories. Teasley 1995
  • Length of utterance, pragmatic functional categories. Kruger, 1993
  • Neo-Piagetian concept of ‘socio-cognitive conflict’ (Doise & Mugny, 1984)
  • Counting the number and type of disagreements in interactions . Joiner (1993)
  • Handling large amounts of data.
  • Critique of coding (Edwards & Mercer, 1987)
  • Ambiguous nature of negotiated meanings (Draper & Anderson, 1991) (Potter & Wetherell)
  • Inventories of utterances (Crook, 1994)
  • Benefits of discourse analysis (Barnes, 1976) and others …

Critiques of qualitative discourse analysis (Edwards & Westgate, 1994)
Qualitative analysis can be effective for generating theories but not so effective for rigorously testing them (Hammersley, 1992).

What views of education and learning underpin the research?

Importance of exploratory talk. The patterns can be found in the massive and the complex. This is ‘big data’ for the 1990 Supplementals – questions I would ask if looking closer at a paper.

Out of curiosity and because you can courtesy of the Web. I will Google search an author to see if they have written a more current paper on a subject – I’d prefer to hear what they have to say, on blogging, in a 2011 paper, than one written in 2005.

What ?

Together the above developing the conept of ‘Thinking Together’


The Open University, followed by University of Exeter and University of Cambridge Education Departments.


Concordancers used in linguistics to explore changes in word meaning and create modern dictionary entries (Graddol et al., 1994)


‘In this way the old dichotomies of process and product, quantitative and qualitative, were at least to some extent transcended. (Wegerif and Mercer.  1997. p. 272)

One-tailed Mann-Whitney test ?

Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices ?

Degrees of concrete to abstract from the event, to a video, to audio, a transcript, or clusters of words.

Given it is ‘Week One’ I gave RefWorks a workout – all of these I had to cut and paste from the PDF as I couldn’t find them in the OU library and haven’t figured out to use the automated Ref with other online libraries. RefWorks seems great for papers – though all I’ve done so far is to collate various subject in folders rather than starting to read then generated bibliographies.


Barnes, D. (1976) From Communication to Curriculum. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Barnes, D. and Todd, F. (1995) Communication and Learning Revisited. New York: Heinemann.

Crook, C. (1994) Computers and the Collaborative Experience of Learning. London and New York: Routledge.

Croll, P. (1986) Systematic Classroom Observation. Lewes, Sussex: The Falmer Press.

Doise, W. and Mugny, G. (1984) The Social Development of Intellect. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Draper, S. and Anderson, A. (1991) The significance of dialogue in learning and observing learning. Computers and Education 17 (1), 93–107.

Edwards, D. and Mercer, N. (1987) Common Knowledge: The Development of Understanding in the Classroom. London: Methuen/Routledge.

Edwards, A. and Westgate, D. (1994) Investigating Classroom Talk. London: Falmer Press.

Engeström, Yrjö From teams to knots: activity theoretical studies of collaboration and learning at work Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. xii, 261 pp. ISBN: 978-0-521-86567-8.

Graddol, D. (in preparation) !KWICTex — a computer-based tool for discourse analysis. Occasional Paper, Centre for Language and Communication, Open University.

Hammersley, M. (1992) What’s Wrong with Ethnography. London: Routledge.

Kruger, A. (1993) Peer collaboration: Conflict, cooperation or both? Social Development 2

Joiner, R. (1993). A dialogue model of the resolution of inter-individual conflicts: Implications for computer-based collaborative learning. Unpublished PhD thesis, The
Open University.

Potter, J. and Wetherell, M. (1994) Discourse Analysis and Social Psychology. London: Sage.

Snyder, I. (1995) Multiple perspectives in literacy research: Integrating the quantitative and qualitative. Language and Education 9 (1).

Teasley, S. (1995) The role of talk in children’s peer collaborations. Developmental Psychology 31 (2), 207–20.


Roussos, M, Johnson, A, Moher, T, Leigh, J, Vasilakis, C, & Barnes, C 1999, ‘Learning and Building Together in an Immersive Virtual World’, Presence: Teleoperators & Virtual Environments, 8, 3, pp. 247-263, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 8 February 2013.


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