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This assignment will; outline three sorts of research evidence that could inform educational practice, will discuss the main differences between these types of evidence and comment on any significant similarities between them. The assignment will further be drawing on my knowledge of a particular area of educational practice and assess how one type of evidence has informed or might inform my practice.
“Educational Research Evidence can take shape in a number of different languages: numerical (generally quantitative data), verbal or visual (generally qualitative data). The terms ‘quantitative' and ‘qualitative' are deliberately parenthesized: all too often, these terms are reified and erected as if they were methods when they are merely means of analysis that are broadly verbal or numerical. At worst, these two types of analysis of data are established as two sides in a ‘paradigm war'” Andrews R (2007) p4
It is important at this stage to briefly outline the background to this question. A research paradigm is a school of thought, a way of thinking about what ‘truth' is and how one should search for it. We must understand the ‘paradigmatic perspective' behind each of the main types of educational research. Michael Bassey, writing in Research Intelligence number 36 in 1990 states that;
‘A Research paradigm is a network of coherent ideas, assumptions, concepts, values and practices about the nature of the world and of the functions of research and those who participate in it, adhered to by a group of researchers, which conditions the patterns of their thinking and underpins their research actions.' Bassey M (1990)
There are four main paradigms in educational research which concern us within the confines of this assignment. These four paradigms or methodological philosophies are; Positivism, Interpretivism, Critical Enquiry and Constructionism.
Egon Guba (1990) p18 in his work ‘The Paradigm dialogue' suggests that any such paradigm can be categorized by the way in which its followers answer three basic questions. These are as follows. What is the nature of reality (ontological)? What is the relationship between the inquirer and the knowledge they seek (epistemological)? How should the inquirer find that knowledge (methodological)?
An in depth explanation of these four philosophies is not in the remit of this work but a brief outline is called for.
‘' Positivist researchers seek systematically, critically and self-critically, to describe and explain phenomena which they take to be ‘out there in reality' and which therefore they can study without disturbing. One positivist researcher will have the same perceptions of phenomena as another” Bassey M (1990)
The positivist researcher takes as their model that of the natural sciences in that knowledge is something that exists and therefore can be observed and measured. This is a realist approach which rejects reliance on faith, relying instead on knowledge derived from rational inquiry alone, from an objective reality. Those who would call themselves ‘positivists' tend to rely on more factual, data-based, numerical research evidence, gathered using surveys, closed questioning, large samples and statistical analysis to discover the ‘truth'. These results from quantitative research should be affirmable by repeating the same research methods in the same way.
In contrast, the interpretivist school of research uses qualitative research methodologies, interviews, observations, visual data analysis and reactive questioning, emphasizing the phenomenological perspective of whose behaviors' are being researched. In the interpretivist paradigm the researcher is always part of the reality they are attempting to understand and not outside it. Nathaniel Gage suggests that “Interpretive researchers regard individuals as able to construct their own social reality, rather than having reality always as the determiner of the individual's perceptions.” Gage N (1989)
‘Critical Enquiry' as a research paradigm insists that any such research must be designed to reflect a contextual world view and should in fact further the understanding of that perspective and can therefore be only be judged by that criteria. Research from this viewpoint must not be ‘value neutral' but must be concerned with ethical and political issues and those researchers should be aware of their own social role within the process and that the research they undertake should be seen within a socio-historical context.
The fourth research paradigm to be considered is ‘Constructionism'. This paradigm was inspired by the work of Piaget and Vygotsky and his development of the theory of a ‘Zone of proximal development' or ZPD. This is based on the idea that we are constantly adding to or re-evaluating our understanding of the world and our place within it. This is a reflective practice where in an educational setting, teachers are assisting their students to construct knowledge, to solve problems and share their findings. The student becomes involved in their own learning with the teacher acting as a guide, providing the tools with which to do this. In schools today a comparable initiative would be ‘L2L' (learning to learn).
Within these four major research paradigms there are a wide variety of interpretations and developing stand points. Over the years a blurring of ideologies has taken place with a modern view that using mixed methods from different viewpoints may produce a more complete if complex result in acquiring the truth.
The three main types of educational research evidence commonly in use today can be broadly categorized as Qualitative Research, Quantitative Research and Action Research. We will concentrate on the first two of these, but perhaps we can take a well known definition to explain the third type.
‘Action Research is simply a form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices, and the situations in which the practices are carried out. Carr and Kemmis (1986) p162.
Let's look first at quantitative research. Quantitative research is seen as being deductive in that it tests theories, it is objective and takes as its model that of the Natural Sciences. Quantitative research is usually identified with a ‘positivist' background in that it seeks to acquire facts, figures and statistics using questionnaires, large-scale surveys, frequency counts and RCTs (Randomized Control Tests). Where such research uses surveys and questionnaires, the questions are likely to be closed in nature: yes or no, strongly disagree, disagree, don't know, agree, strongly agree, for example. Using this type of data allows codification at the point of collection speeding up the processing of results.
In quantitative research the researcher is ‘outside' the situation, observing, trying to find easily quantifiable data in order to proof a hypothesis which they have already formulated. Some of the benefits of quantitative research are that it can improve validity by recording fine differences and can produce precise estimates of relationship; it also improves reliability by using consistent research devices to produce repeatable analysis and results.
Qualitative research by contrast does not necessarily require a hypothesis before research begins, it is process based. Where quantitative research is deductive, qualitative research is inductive. As opposed to observing from outside the situation and neither participating in or influencing that which is studied, the qualitative researcher learns most by participating in and being fully immersed in it.
Techniques used in qualitative research include using in-depth interviews and focus groups to explore attitudes, behaviours and experiences. Smaller numbers of people are involved in such research and that research tends to be conducted over a longer timescale. Unstructured interviews allow the interviewer to gain more insight into the understanding or viewpoint of the subject, their reasons for taking part in the study, their understanding of the reasoning behind the research. The unstructured nature of the interview can allow the interviewer to probe more deeply into the nature of subject responses, to be led as well as to lead, by the developing relationship with the interviewee. These interviews can be captured using audio or video technology which can therefore be transcribed at a later time. The interviewer may also use field notes made in response to questions during the interview. These data collection techniques can be used individually or together to create as total picture of the event as possible. This method not only allows the interviewer to return again and again to the interview but also allows other to use the research data and either to verify or to dispute the conclusions obtained.
The history of educational research has tended to create stereotypes and polarize attitudes but like the activity we try to study there are many shades on the imaginary scale between paradigmatic perspectives and it is the result that is the most important factor in research not necessarily the viewpoint or ‘camp' of the researcher. Therefore any or all data collection techniques are valuable and should be employed in not only searching for but essentially obtaining the best possible conclusion or ‘truth'.
This multi-method or ‘mixed method' research would appear to be the best route, one which allows ‘triangulation' in order to get an accurate fix on the knowledge one wants to obtain.
It has been own experience over many years teaching that this ‘mixed method' approach has worked well for me. I have never really looked at any reflective research that I have undertaken from a paradigmatic perspective only from the perspective of wanting to help my students achieve their best performance, either individually or as a group, and therefore I have used any and all data collection techniques available to me at the time.
The main research that I have attempted has been in the capacity of a Physical Education teacher. Part of my role has been to teach, train and coach various extra-curricular teams for local, district, county, regional and national competition. The sport I would mention here is Basketball.
In this field of endeavour it is very easy to say, “You played well” or conversely, “You played well below you're standard”. What do these phrases mean to a young athlete and how do you back up your statement with proof.
As a coach one could keep a note of your observations during the game or practice on a pad or voice recorder to be reviewed later or try to track the success or failure of individual or team techniques or strategies by hand as they happen, in and of the moment, perhaps amended by an emotional response. It has been far more successful for me to train young players on the way up, in younger teams or on the fringes of the team with limited playing time, to gather data during the games, giving them a deeper understanding of the game itself and allowing them to play a very valuable role within the whole programme.
Quantitative analysis of raw data was gathered during a systematic review of school team basketball games. The research data was gathered in a number of ways. Raw numerical data to be used in a quantitative analysis of individual and team performance throughout the playing season was obtained by observation and recording using volunteer members of junior teams, whom I had trained, to record individual player actions within the game. The recorded player actions within the game were; shots taken, shots scored, shot position, fouls, steals, losses, assists (a pass leading to an unopposed successful shot by a team mate), offensive and defensive rebounds and minutes played. These statistics were recorded for both teams in order not only to assess and analyze our own performance, but also to identify the strengths and weaknesses within our opponent's game. The instrument used to collect the raw data was a pre-printed sheet on which the player's number or the appropriate time was recorded.
Wherever possible I have always tried to visually record games in order to give the players a better understanding of their own individual and team performance. This particular type of qualitative data is used to engage with the players on a team basis. The team would watch edited highlights of their games together and by reviewing aspects of theirs and their opponents play establish areas for immediate and for long term development. These review sessions took the form of game playback with each player having a copy of their own, their teammates and their opponent's statistics. The players were encouraged, by question and answer, to indentify both theirs and their colleagues' strengths and weaknesses which helped in their motivation to develop aspects of their play in later training sessions. An important part of this process was the development of an atmosphere of trust in each other, a freedom to be constructively critical and for the development of mutual support in both success and defeat.
The purely quantitative data collected was used in a qualitative way and vice versa, the subjects were involved in both the collection and analysis of information about their own performance and the whole process helped them to develop a better understanding of the activity they were analysing and in their own personal development.
This area of research into any if not all high level sports performance is a rapidly developing field with new technologies coming on stream and being made available to coaches and analysts. One only has to watch any international event on television to see tables of data, possession pie charts, animated reruns of possible offensive and defensive strategies, and to see assistant coaches pouring over computer screens in order to give feedback to head coaches or managers. However, it is not the collection of this data that is important but how it is interpreted by those for whom it is collected that is real goal.
Andrews, R. (2008) 'What Counts as Evidence in Education?', Teacher Training Resource Bank http://www.ttrb.ac.uk, article ID: 14608
Bassey M (1995) Educational Research and Evidence Based Practice. Sage
Carr and Kemmis (1986) Becoming critical: Knowing through action research. Falmer Press
Guba Egon G (1990) The Paradigm Dialog Sage
Gage N (1989) Educational Research and Evidence Based Practice. Sage