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What is a good sample in qualitative research? It is NOT about size or generalizability.

The answer lies in how clearly you articulate the criteria for selecting data sources; (b) your ability to purposefully select cases; and (c) the extent to which those cases are “information-rich… for in-depth study” (Patton, 2015, p. 264) with respect to the purpose of the study.

As you prepare for this week’s Discussion, consider turning your attention to the variety of purposeful sampling strategies you may consider in developing your research plan. Also consider that qualitative researchers seek a threshold or cut-off point for when to stop collecting data. There is no magic number (although there are guidelines). Rather, saturation occurs as an interface between the researcher and the data and (b) between data collection and data analysis to determine when enough is enough.

For this Discussion, you will critique a sampling strategy used in a research article.

To prepare for this Discussion:

  • Review the Guest, Bunce, and Johnson article; the Yob and Brewer article; and the Learning Resources related to sampling and saturation for this week.


Prepare a critique of the sampling strategy used by Yob and Brewer (n.d.). (ATTACHED BELOW) Include the following your critique:

  • The purpose of the study
  • Research questions
  • Site selection
  • The type of purposeful sampling strategy the researchers applied. 
  • An alternative sampling strategy that the researchers could have considered. Explain your choice in terms of how the strategy is consistent with their research purpose and criteria for selecting cases.
  • Provide a data saturation definition and evaluate the work of the researchers in this article regarding their efforts to achieve data saturation. Note what the researchers could have done differently to convince you that the relevant and important themes emerged.

Be sure to support your main post and response post with reference to the week’s Learning Resources and other scholarly evidence in APA style.


Working Toward the Common Good:

An Online University’s Perspectives on Social Change


Many institutions of higher education in the United States and indeed around the world

are reaching out to their neighborhoods as a member of the community to contribute to the

common good through research, service, and educational opportunities. In this descriptive study,

the understandings and practices around this kind of activity by one university with a mission of

creating positive social change is explored. While current literature indicates that researchers are

examining campus-community engagements, very little research has been done on community

engagement when the institution works primarily online and the communities involved are

geographically dispersed and dependent on individual choices and preferences. The goal of the

study was to discover how members of one such online university currently understand and

practice the mission to provide a baseline of understandings for curriculum planning and

mentoring student research projects and service activities. Through a series of interviews

conducted with faculty members, students, and alumni, several themes were identified. These

results give rise to several implications for the university in developing its community outreach,

along with some suggestions for further research. The discussion of findings for this university

might have applicability to other institutions of higher education, both online and traditional,

with a similar commitment to the community.

Background to the Study

With the advances in online education and the significant numbers of institutions that

have campuses in multiple locations, the ease with which colleges and universities can

demonstrate mission fulfillment is more challenged. The reach of the university is broader in

such programs and mission efficacy relies on more than confirmed relationships with

constituency groups that are often local to the institution. For online education providers in

particular, the strength of mission fulfillment must rely upon intentional promotion within


curricular structures, student services, and philosophical expectations that allow university

members to carry out the institution’s mission in their own communities. Finding references that

speak to mission fulfillment in online and geographically dispersed programs is made

particularly difficult given the limited number of writings that deal with this topic. In fact, a

review of the literature for mission and online learning finds a greater focus on how the decision

to deliver online instruction can become part of the institution’s mission, not upon how the

existing mission can be assured through online delivery (Checkoway, 2001; Johnson, et al.,

2014; Levy, 2003). The complexity of understanding what is meant by “positive social change”,

the mission for the university in this study, adds to the difficulty of using traditional images of

“community” within mission fulfillment.

Defining and Describing Social Change

The term “social change” has been defined and analyzed across the academic disciplines,

reflecting the particular perspective of that discipline and its research agenda. In one study, a

proposal for social change in schools (Jean-Marie, Normore, & Brooks, 2009), the authors

reported that their literature review was aided by such identifiers and organizers as equity,

diversity, social justice, liberatory education, race, gender, ethics, urban school, global

education, critical pedagogy, oppression, social change, social development, and social order,

among others. From the review of the literature around these key terms, Jean-Marie, Normore,

and Brooks see social change as bringing about a “new social order” in which marginalized

peoples would have the same educational and social opportunities as those more privileged.

As the list of identifiers above suggests, the concepts of social justice and equity have

been significant in discussions of social change in education, psychology, and social and cultural

studies (see also Curry-Stevens, 2007; Drury & Reicher, 2009; Moely, Furco, & Reed, 2008; and


Peterson, 2009). The writing and advocacy of Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich, civil rights leaders, and

feminists during the last half of the 20th century influenced these understandings and helped

shape the particular emphases of social change in recent decades.

Hoff and Hickling-Hudson (2011) sought descriptors of social change that would be

appropriate for education and noted that Farley, writing in 1990, offered an understanding of

social change as “alterations in behaviour patterns, social relationships, institutions, and social

structure over time” (Hoff & Hickling-Hudson, 2011, 189). However, Hoff and Hickling-Hudson

found this inadequate from an educational point of view because of its value-neutral stance. They

preferred a definition that would give social change a “connotation of social progress or social

development beneficial to society” (189). For this reason, they chose the definition proposed by

Aloni in 2002, which places social change as challenging “trends of discrimination, exploitation,

oppression, and subjugation displayed by groups who regard themselves as favored and, thus,

take privileges for themselves and deprive other groups of the right to a dignified life” (Hoff &

Hickling-Hudson, 2011, 189). In other words, the change in social change is defined here in

positive and value-laden terms that relate more particularly to the agents of social change than to

others they might want to change. They were careful to add that this cannot be cast in universal

or absolute terms, but it is dependent on particular contexts and circumstances (see also Itay,

2008, writing in political science).

and Miller (2006), working in continuing education and innovation studies, respectively,

identified influences on the meaning of social change arising from new political and social

realities. For instance, during the economic recession of the late 1970s and early 1980s,

education was seen to be increasingly determined by the needs and forces of the market and less

by concerns for equity and social justice, a conclusion suggested also by Atkinson (2010) in


adult education and Feldman (2001) in economic history. However, we witness today a

movement again toward social justice and equity issues (Ryan & Ruddy, 2015), brought about in

part by Occupy activism (e.g., Cortez, 2013), current political debates, experience in campus

outreach programs (e.g., Patterson, Cronley, West, & Lantz, 2014), social media (e.g., Taha,

Hastings, & Minei, 2015), and exposure to other cultures in a globalized world (e.g., Bossaller,

Frasher, Norris, Marks, & Trott, 2015).

Armstrong and Miller also noted that increasing global and international contact has led

to revisions in the meaning of social purpose narrowly defined in Western terms and contexts

and the “grand narrative” of modernism being replaced by less absolute and dogmatic post-

modern discourses, an idea echoed also in adult education by Holst (2007). As a consequence,

projects with a social change purpose are considered to be more effective when local community

partners participate in determining needs and shaping the outcomes collaboratively (Bahng,

2015; Lees, 2007; Lewis, 2004; Nichols, Gaetz, & Phipps, 2015; Silverman & Xiaoming, 2015).

Brennan (2008) added that the social context in which higher education operates today

calls for universities to be responsive in a number of ways to their constituent societies. One of

these responses, playing “a role in constructing the ‘just and stable’ society”, returns the social

change mission to the goals of equity, which he suggested includes equitable access to the

credentials needed to participate as equals in the new societal realities and guarantees of

autonomy and freedom. Furman and Gruenewald (2004), working in educational administration,

described yet another new influence on understandings of social change: ecological concerns.

Their argument was that “environmental crises are inseparable from social crises” (48), primarily

because they usually have to do with the misuse of racial and economic power.


Overall, it is apparent that social change and social purpose have been focused primarily

on equity issues, although their working definitions, both implicit and explicit, reflect a spectrum

of meanings ranging from simple activism around race, gender, and poverty, for instance, to

more nuanced understandings of the impact of technology developments, diversity,

globalization, as well as the ecological environment. More recently, this focus has received

renewed attention as the gap between rich and poor is seen to be widening and the middle class

to be diminishing (Gillis & McLellan, 2013; Goldberg, 2012; Guy, 2012).

It is important to keep in mind that “social change” can be either an action or a result,

product or process, noun or verb. While educators need a clear end-in-view for their work with

students, processural understandings of social change may serve them better in planning for the

kinds of learning experiences that will bring about the desired results. The central concept of

“conscientization” in Freire’s writings on social change speaks as much to process as product

(Hickling-Hudson, 2014) and using the concept of “transformation” rather than “results” in

reporting on social change projects (e.g., Sewell, 2005; Silverman & Xiaoming, 2015) further

supports this.

One of the most frequently made distinctions in social change is that between charity and

helping on the one hand and change and justice on the other. In many cases, the distinction is

assumed (e.g., Moely, Furco, & Reed, 2008); in other cases, it is elaborated. In simplest terms,

charity work sets out to help someone; change efforts aim to modify social arrangements toward

equity (Mitchell, 2008). In cultural and social studies, charity has been identified as

“transactional” service; change and social justice as “transformational” (Peterson, 2009, 541,

545). From a social work perspective, charity seeks to discover the immediate elements of a

particular individual’s needs and deal with them; change investigates the wider picture of all


those with similar needs and how the whole group might be helped by systemic change (Allen-

Meares, 2008). In effect, charity addresses the symptoms of a social injustice; change seeks to

remove the root causes (Allen-Meares, Mitchell, 2008, Peterson, 2009). The former participants

can usually see immediate results for their efforts; the latter work for the long term and may

actually never see final results, or at least they will discover that results are usually not

immediately apparent (Mitchell, 2008). At its worst, charity may be patronizing, perpetuating

rather than overcoming the differential in power—the “us versus them” dichotomy—which may

have brought about the need in the first place. At its best, change may not only amend the

situation of the needy but also strengthen authentic relationships among all those involved as it

redistributes and shares power more equally between those who are privileged and those who are

not. In the reciprocity between the needy and change agents, each benefits although in different

ways (Peterson, 2009).

Writing within the context of human services, Netting, O’Connor, & Fauri (2007) picked

up on many of the distinctions between charity and change but put them in an entirely different

light. They replaced charity with focused or peripheral change; that is, advocacy for individuals

providing “relatively short-term interventions designed to gain access to, utilization of, or

improve the existing service delivery system” (60). These interventions are critical in

operationalizing an organization’s mission in that they focus on implementing and achieving the

intent of particular policies and processes. They are usually manifested as case advocacy—

working for “individual clients whose rights have been violated and/or whose access to benefits

have been denied” (p. 63). Netting, O’Connor, and Fauri also substituted “change” with

“transformation” described as “long-term, structural interventions designed to change the status

quo at broad community, state, regional, or even national level” (60). These kinds of


interventions may involve “social movement organizations, campaigns for social justice . . . and

coalitions with system reform goals” (60). They may threaten the status quo and are usually

manifested as cause advocacy—working in “an arena, locus of change, or target,” which may be

“an organization . . . legislation, law, and/or community or other large system” (63).

While the literature in general clearly weighs in on the side of change over charity, some

writers have raised points in favor of taking a more holistic view of social change that includes

both charity and change. Netting, O’Connor, and Fauri (2007), for instance, proposed that

because both case advocacy and cause advocacy fall within the professional roles of human

services providers, both must be planned for and their success evaluated. One argument in favor

of a more holistic view is that charity may be needed as a necessary first step to improve

immediate and pressing conditions. Change can then subsequently address the policies and social

institutions that need reform and/or revitalization (Hoff & Hickling-Hudson, 2011). This

argument takes on merit when one considers that change may take time whereas charity may

bring some immediate relief. In a similar vein, charity may also be considered an important first

step to build trust between social change activists and those for whom they work, which, once

established, can be a basis on which to take later steps collectively toward political change

(Peterson, 2009).

Over two decades ago, Boyer claimed, “At no time in our history has the need been

greater for connecting the work of the academy to the social and environmental challenges

beyond the campus (1990, xii).” Duderstadt, a decade later, noting some of the pitfalls to an

institution of higher learning that arise from the expectation that it will “address social needs and

concerns”, nevertheless declares that “it is clear that public service must continue to be an

important responsibility of the American university” (2000, 2003, 146). For the purpose of this


study, when individuals associated with colleges and universities find ways to serve their local

communities and contribute to the common good, their efforts are identified as contributing to

positive social change.

Research Method

The goal of this study was to explore and analyze the current state of understanding and

practice around social change at one online university with geographically dispersed students and

faculty. We selected a qualitative research design for this study in an effort to get at the

understandings of faculty members, students, and alumni in their experience of social change

processes and how they make meaning out of those experiences (see Creswell, 2003). The site

selected for the project is a comprehensive, regionally accredited, for-profit institution originally

founded in 1970 as a distance learning institution. It currently enrolls approximately 60,000

students. The institution is an appropriate site for this research in that creating positive social

change was the university’s mission from its founding. The mission statement is prominently

displayed in university publications, shared widely with new faculty members and students, and

frequently discussed in online forums and other venues.

Although the researchers considered both focus and group interviews as data collection

methods, we ultimately decided that individual interviews would provide the richest information

and would also permit comparisons among interview groups. Informed by both the literature

review and the goal for the study, the researchers prepared an interview guide, utilizing cross

referencing between the goals for the research and the interview questions. (The interview

questions are provided in Appendix A.) A research team, consisting of six faculty members,

completed inter-rater reliability training and piloted the interview guide. The study was approved

by the university’s Institutional Review Board and appropriate measures were taken to preserve


confidentiality of responses with interviewers signing confidentiality agreements and the

substitution of pseudonyms for real names in any reporting of the study. A small gift card ($50

for Amazon.com) was sent to participants in appreciation for their time and willingness to be


Working in pairs, the researchers interviewed three groups of participants selected via

purposeful, referral sampling from the institution’s faculty, students, and alumni. Interviewees

were identified by their colleagues, teachers, or mentors as active participants in social change

activities and possessing an ability and willingness to articulate their understandings in a

considered way. Eight current students, ten faculty members, and 12 graduates including five

very recent graduates made up the pool of interviewees.

Interviews were conducted via telephone and transcribed verbatim using digital

recordings. For each pair of researchers, there was a lead interviewer and an observer who

debriefed after each interview. The observer also kept interview notes and verified interview

transcripts; member checks were also used to confirm the accuracy of the transcripts. Two

analyses of the responses were undertaken, concurrently but independently, to provide different

perspectives for comparison. The analysis began with the interview transcripts, looking for

recurring ideas and common themes. The initial and open coding identified key participant

responses, followed by a second coding that labeled the nature of the emerging theme. Following

the second coding, the researcher developed working definitions for each theme. The interviews

were coded a third and final time, during which the working definitions provided a framework

for confirming the code, and illustrative quotes were noted.

Coded Analysis


Significant Common Themes

When interviewees were asked to define social change and provide examples from their

own experiences, their answers and the responses to follow-up probes yielded richly nuanced and

diverse concepts, spanning a wide spectrum of ideas, reflecting the broad sweep of the

university’s official definition. Themes emerged about the focus on others, the charitable nature

of social change, the way small actions in social change could expand from one or a few to

many, and about the central role of education in changing perspectives and bringing about social


Focus on the “Other”

Most participants gave definitions of social change that were “other”-focused; that is,

social change was seen as an important goal in order to improve some aspect of life for other

people, but not necessarily for themselves. Others might need to benefit from social change, but

the participants in this study did not typically include themselves in the change population. For

instance, Brian, a faculty member, stated that social change “is anything and everything an

individual does to improve the life or lives of others.” In some cases, those “others” had unmet

personal needs: their quality of life was seen as insufficient or their wellbeing was somehow in


Few participants first thought of social systems or community-at-large initiatives as they

discussed social change, but they often added the larger community in an expansion of their

definition. In some cases, this seemed to be added almost as an after-thought. Ray, an

undergraduate faculty member, defined social change “as a group of people who are getting

involved, who are giving of themselves, whether it be in terms of time or money or effort or all

of the above, to make an impact on both individual people’s lives and society as a whole”. Other


respondents took in the larger community immediately. Arsi, for instance, an alumna whose

work focused on the intergenerational transfer of learning, spoke of that expansion to the wider

community in these terms: “[S]ocial change has a lot to do with making a contribution to society

that will not only improve individuals’ lives but will collectively improve the environments in

which they live, and that can expand beyond just personal agendas.” Only a few respondents

spoke specifically of social change within the boundaries of democracy and related political

principles, but the possible expansive nature of social change was a clear theme: “Social

change,” stated faculty member Christine, “is tinkering with the world.”

Helping and Altering

Consistent with the focus on “the other” and with a framework that centers on individual

needs, most participants used language associated with helping to describe the actions that

support social change. Typical definitions included words such as “contribute”, “serve”, “give”,

or “provide”, reinforcing the idea that social change is something that participants initiated for

another individual or set of individuals with specific needs. Pam, an alumna who works in

mental health, spoke of “project(s) that will kind of better the populations that they’re serving,”

while Brian spoke of disadvantaged people and the need to “give them the dignity” of a job.

Marg, another alumna, took up the idea of service: “You have something that you see you can

start off with service projects or volunteering and charity work and all of that,” but she extended

this to include a larger context: “I recognize(d) the social injustices taking place everywhere, in

many communities . . .” And Diane, an MBA alumna, stated that “social change is about helping

every individual achieve their potential so that they can reach down and help the next one up.”

In addition to using language that anchored social change within the concept of helping,

many interviewees described their own social change actions in terms of the desired effect on


others. They used terms such as “(re)build”, “develop”, “empower”, “improve”, and “modify” to

describe the outcomes of their work for social change. Tom, a faculty member with philosophical

groundings in the quality movement, strives to encourage people to build on the positive. “Social

change is making something better” and encouraging that movement forward.

The Ripple Effect

The vast majority of respondents noted that a single person can be responsible for social

change: only two of the 30 respondents indicated that a “critical mass” (Eileen’s term, further

arbitrarily defined as 30% of a population by Diane) was necessary to effect significant social

change. However, most participants acknowledged that social change can begin with a single

individual but his or her efforts require expansion. Many participants used the term “ripple” to

note the movement from the single person to a group of people, and then to a larger impact. Kim,

a student who came to the university precisely because of the social change mission, is a teacher.

She instructs her own students that “whatever they do should be important to them and make

some kind of ripple.” Alumnus Charlie called it a “gravitational wave,” as in physics, that

ultimately impacts the farthest reaches of the universe.

For the most part, social change was seen in terms of making progress. Paige noted the

idea of “paying it forward” and other interviewees used the concept of moving forward in a

positive way as part of their social change definition. Over half the interviewees thought that

both accentuating the positive and removing the negative were involved in social change, but

nearly as many indicated that a focus on the positive was crucial for social change. Only one

respondent indicated that the single goal of social change was to remove a negative. The notion

of social change by an individual, often for the benefit of another individual, was prevalent.

Changing Perspectives and the Role of Education


Participants in each interview group identified education as an important feature of how

they understand and approach social change. Alice, an alumna who had a successful military

career and now focuses her efforts on teaching, put it this way: “Social change to me is being

able to, I guess, implement or work hand-in-hand with students to help them further their

education so that we help our community become a better community. It’s making sure that

education is the priority as well as being concerned about the community and the economic

status of the community and the children in the schools.”

Moreover, each group had representatives who spoke of “transformations” in perspective

as a key feature of social change. Brenda, an alumna who studied aging women, linked social

change to changing perspectives: “Social change is taking the norms, the mindset, the

expectations, the assumptions of a society and beginning to shift them, hopefully in a positive

way.” Wendy, an alumna who has started her own school, acknowledged that her hope and her

goal “is that kind of the change that the school is in our community–that it goes beyond just the

children and the families here, but actually that we start this new conversation of what education

can be.” Margaret, a faculty member in human services, spoke of beginning social change at a

“very grassroots level, where you can shape a person’s values, or maybe their attitude, maybe

their beliefs . . . which in turn, basically diffuses out to other aspects of society.”

Secondary Themes

Reliance on Context

The task of articulating a definition of social change was not simple for most participants.

In terms of elaborating on social change definitions and examples, some participants noted the

importance of context. Becky, a doctoral student in Public Policy and Administration, focused on

context: “Let’s see. Well, that depends on the project. It can be an individual that’s changed


something in their life or it could be a process that’s changed or it could be a policy. That’s hard

without knowing an example.”

Social Change and Benefit to the Initiator

“Who is social change for?” As respondents considered the beneficiaries of social

change, some admitted that social change action promotes benefit for the change initiator.

Paige noted that the first thing that changes in social change is often the self: “Well, I hope first,

before anything, we’re changing our lives, who we are, what we believe, and what we think. You

have to do that first before you can actually make a difference in the community.” Charlie, an

alumnus who has founded a business to promote cross-cultural communications, spoke similarly

of the need to build the “self” in order to effect social change: “And by doing that