The current state of methods for establishing reliability in qualitative chemistry education research articles
The tradition of qualitative research drives much of chemistry education research activity. When performing qualitative studies, researchers must demonstrate the trustworthiness of their analysis so researchers and practitioners consuming their work can understand if and how the presented research claims and conclusions might be transferable to their unique educational settings. There are a number of steps researchers can take to demonstrate the trustworthiness of their work, one of which is demonstrating and reporting evidence of reliability. The purpose of this methodological review is to investigate the methods researchers use to establish and report reliability for chemistry education research articles including a qualitative research component. Drawing from the literature on qualitative research methodology and content analysis, we describe the approaches for establishing the reliability of qualitative data analysis using various measures of inter-rater reliability and processes including negotiated agreement. We used this background literature to guide our review of research articles containing a qualitative component and published in Chemistry Education Research and Practice and the Journal of Chemical Education from the years 2010 through 2019 for whether they report evidence of reliability. We followed this by a more in-depth analysis of how articles from the years 2017 through 2019 discuss reliability. Our analysis indicates that, overall, researchers are presenting evidence of reliability in chemistry education research (CER) articles by reporting reliability measures, describing a process of negotiated agreement, or mentioning reliability and the steps taken to demonstrate it. However, there is a reliance on reporting only percent agreement, which is not considered an acceptable measure of reliability when used on its own. In addition, the descriptions of how reliability was established were not always clear, which may make it difficult for readers to evaluate the veracity of research findings. Our findings indicate that, as a field, CER researchers should be more cognizant of the appropriateness of how we establish reliability for qualitative analysis and should more clearly present the processes by which reliability was established in CER manuscripts.