Sampling Recruitment and Phenomenology Research

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I debated how to recruit participants as I prepared the methodology section of my dissertation. The literature indicated the majority of post-secondary educators do not use open educational resources (OERs), which is the topic of my study. Additionally, I wanted to hear from educators who were not necessarily OER advocates, but educators who quietly use OERs in their teaching practices and not consider themselves champions of a cause. Phenomenological researchers do not offer much guidance on sampling strategies. For example, Creswell (1998) suggested criterion sampling (p.118), but that was a given because of the topic. During my eight months of data collection I used three strategies: random, snowball, and purposive.

The established criteria for my study were university educators in Canada who use OERs in their teaching practices. Next, I selected three universities within a 100 kilometre radius where I would recruit participants. These universities served different needs in higher education. One was is a comprehensive university, offering a large number of undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate degrees. The second institution offers undergraduate and graduate degrees, many of which employ blended or online delivery methods. The third university focuses on undergraduate degrees but does offer some graduate degrees.

After receiving approval from each universities’ research ethics board, I distributed invitations to participate to all departments in each university. This random sampling procedure allow for an equal probability of OER educators from a variety of disciplines to participate in the study (Berg, 1995, p. 178). Unfortunately, the results were less than stellar. Only seven educators completed the interview process after two rounds of invitations.

At the conclusion of each interview, I asked the participant if they knew of other OER educators who might be interested in talking with me about their OER experiences. A few participants said they would pass along my invitation, but using this snowball sampling method did not result in additional interviews.

I was aware of data collection challenges before beginning the study. Additionally, phenomenological research presents validity questions that I expect will be raised during my dissertation defence. This challenge is exemplified in a passage by van Manen (2014):

“A common problem for phenomenological researchers is to be challenged in defending their research in terms of references that do not belong to the methodology of phenomenology. This is especially challenging when external concepts of validation, such as sample size, sampling selection criterion, members’ checking, and empirical generalization are applied to phenomenology. These are concepts that belong to the languages of different qualitative methodologies” (p. 347).

I suspected that seven completed interviews would not be sufficient for my committee, particularly as Creswell suggest that “up to 10” participants are required for a phenomenological study. I set my sights on completing 10 interviews.

I began using purposive sampling after receiving approval from UVic’s research ethics board. I emailed and tweeted several peers teaching in universities in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. I quickly received interest in my study from several university educators and in six weeks I completed four interviews, including one who was recruited through snowball sampling. Not surprisingly, purposive sampling yielded quicker results than random sampling, which I used for five months.

Reflecting on my data collection journey, I’m happy with the route I took even though the process was longer than I expected. Randomized sampling allowed me to hear the lived experiences from educators I would not have otherwise met. Additionally, I gained insights into barriers and affordances to OERs as explicated by professors who teach natural sciences, management, and university preparation courses. Educators who facilitate in these disciplines are outside of my professional connections and their experiences added depth and greater understanding of OERs to my study.


Berg, B. L. (1995). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (2nd ed.). Allyn and Bacon.

Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. Sage.

van Manen, M. (2014). Phenomenology of practice. Routledge.

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