Visualizing Innovation: Examining the Affordances and Challenges of Visual Approaches in Mixed Methods Research

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Paper presented during a panel session at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting.

Introduction: As mixed methods research aims to explore complex phenomenon from different perspectives, the pairing of visual methods in mixed methods studies has great potential for promoting this agenda through innovative means. As a result, the integration of visual methods in mixed methods studies is becoming increasingly more popular among researchers. In general, visual methods have been used to capture cognitive processes that are not necessarily observable, communicate experiences that are difficult to put into words, and promote deeper self-awareness in participants. Although there is great potential for mixed methods approaches to visual methods, a lack of historical and theoretical grounding, limited training in visual methods, varying definitions of visual methods, and ethical concerns for participants are all challenges of this approach.

Objectives: The objective of our paper is to examine the challenges and affordances of integrating visual methods in mixed methods research through the examination of three case exemplars.

Methods: After establishing a frame for how to conceptualize visual methods, we analyze three exemplar cases that utilize different visual approaches to identify how such methods provided unique and important contributions to each study. We further examine how visual methods have been integrated into previous mixed methods studies, detail the challenges and affordances of these studies, and identify how to integrate these innovative approaches in future studies. Thus, this is a methodologically and theoretically oriented study. Results: We identify several key considerations for researchers interested in implementing visual methods in their own mixed methods studies. These considerations include: (a) distinguishing between visual methods in mixed methods studies and mixed methods approaches to visual methods; (b) identifying four classifications for the ways in which visual methods have been and can be used in mixed methods studies; (c) outlining the general use of visual methods within the pre-existing literature; and (d) arguing for training and courses in visual methods to address ethical concerns.

Scholarly Significance: We assert that the inclusion of visual methods with verbal, textual, and numeric data expands the scope of traditional approaches to reach more diverse populations, encourages further analysis on other data, and better addresses complex issues. Employing methods such as portraiture, symbolic drawing, and photoelicitation not only offer innovation in mixed methods research but also alternative approaches to understanding the human experience. Most importantly, with both the challenges and affordances in mind, visual methods used as data, analysis procedures, and/or reporting mechanisms have much to offer mixed methods researchers.


American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting


New York City, NY