In this study, Davies, Lewis, Anderson, and Bernstein (2015) examine the issue of fostering intercultural competency in graduate students studying school psychology. The authors observe that while school psychologists have the opportunity to work with students and families from diverse backgrounds and cultures; this can be both interesting and enriching, but it can also be difficult, especially when practitioners have not received preparation in intercultural counseling. The purpose of their study was to examine the short-term study abroad program of a university to determine its influence on the intercultural competency of school psychology graduate students. To do this, the authors employed a mixed methods approach which featured pre- and post-intercultural development assessments of two groups – one group that participated in the program and one group who underwent the same course but in the United States. The quantitative aspects of the study were derived from the use of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI); the qualitative aspects were derived from the My Cultural Awareness Profile (myCAP).
On the surface, a mixed methods approach seems appropriate. The IDI offered the researchers an objective tool for judging the intercultural competence of the students. The myCAP tool provided the researchers with a subjective tool for assessing the personal experiences and reflections of the students on their own level of competence. Since competence is a phenomenon featuring both objective elements and subjective elements, a mixed methods approach allows researchers to gain perspective from multiple angles on the phenomenon (Ponterotto, 2013; Roberts & Povee, 2014). On the one hand, this makes sense, and some practitioners assert that the mixed methods approach is the most valid approach with regard to psychological inquiry (Roberts & Povee, 2014). As Ponterotto (2013) observes, mixed methods approaches have a certain flexibility which “can result in a more holistic and accurate understanding of the phenomenon under study” (p. 47). Since Davies et al. (2015) wanted to “gain information on the intercultural development of the group as a whole, as well as the development of individual studies” (p. 379), the mixed methods approach seems like the right method to obtain all the information the researchers hoped to gather.
On the other hand, one must bear in mind that every research method, including mixed methods, has limitations or weaknesses. Roberts and Povee (2014) observe that sometimes “the qualitative component of mixed methods research was too often secondary to the quantitative components.” This seems like the case in the Davies et al. (2015) study; the researchers actually admit that the use of the myCAP data was “to provide participants with the opportunity to reflect” on their cultural awareness and “was not used to suggest evidence of true intercultural development” (p. 381). Since the authors assert that their approach is a mixed methods approach, one would assume that the results from BOTH measures would be used to assess the students’ intercultural awareness. Yet within the study itself the researchers actually admit that they were not using the results from ONE of the measures to assess the phenomenon itself. The perspectives of the students are in fact quite interesting and a component of competence, but it seems that the inclusion of the data is in fact secondary to the findings of the IDI and perhaps only included to permit the researchers to call their study a mixed methods study.
While I support the use of mixed methods approaches, my analysis of this article makes me appreciate their limitations. But it has also underlined the benefits of such an approach.