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Educational research is important because it is conducted in order to provide trustworthy information regarding educational problems and their solutions. There are many things that need to be considered when looking at what educational research is for example some thought needs to be put into looking at current paradigms, what counts as evidence in educational research, maintaining quality, and the role of peer review in validating new knowledge in educational research.
There are many different approaches to educational research which are shaped by many different research paradigms. Koul (2008) states that "the various research paradigms have different criteria for ontology and epistemology to maintain quality standards. The ontology and epistemology of a research paradigm influence researchers applying the quality standards, methodology and methods" (para. 1).
What is Educational Research:
"Research is a combination of both experience and reasoning and must be regarded as the most successful approach to the discovery of truth" (Borg, 1963, as cited in Cohan, Manion, & Morrison, 2000).
Educational research can be defined as a "purposeful and systematic" enquiry "to solve a problem, illuminate a situation or add to our knowledge" (Mutch, 2005, p. 14) "by the discovery of non-trivial facts and insights" (Howard & Sharp, 1983, as cited in Bell, 2005, p. 2) "in relation to the improvement of education policy and practices, with a commitment to broader dissemination of research findings beyond publication in high status, international, refereed journals'"(Lingard & Gale, 2010, p. 31).
In order to define educational research we must first look at what research is. Research is a combination of both experience and reasoning and must be regarded as the most successful approach to the discovery of truth, particularly as far as the natural sciences are concerned (Borg, 1963, as cited in Cohan, Manion, & Morrison, 2000). Therefore Educational Research can be defined as a "purposeful and systematic enquiry to solve a problem, illuminate a situation or add to our knowledge"(Mutch, 2005, p. 14) "by the discovery of non-trivial facts and insights" (Howard & Sharp, 1983, as cited in Bell, 2005, p. 2) "in relation to the improvement of education policy and practices, with a commitment to broader dissemination of research findings beyond publication in high status, international, refereed journals" (Lingard & Gale, 2010, p. 31).
Anderson and Arsenault (1998) suggest that there are "ten characteristics of educational research that can be grouped into three main categories; 1) the purpose of research, 2) the procedures of research and 3) the role of researcher" (p. 7). They go on to explain that the purpose of research is to solve the problems and develop knowledge, the procedure involves "collecting or generating data with accurate observation, objective interpretation, and verification. It also involves carefully designed procedures and rigorous analysis" (Anderson and Arsenault, 1998, p. 7). Finally the role of researchers is to be patient and careful in every step of the researcher's procedures, and be experts in their area of study, which requires them to use research data to develop solutions and increase knowledge.
What is a Paradigm:
The use of this fashionable word came about from the philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn. The word comes from the Greek work paradeigma which translates literally as 'pattern'. It is used in social science to describe an entire way of looking at the world (Davidson & Tolich, 1999). It can be viewed as a basic set of beliefs held by an individual that represent a worldview which defines "the nature of the "world", the individual's place in it and the range of possible relationships to that world and its parts" (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998, p. 200) A paradigm relates to a particular set of philosophical assumptions about what the world is made of and how it works. One way to consider a paradigm is as a collection of ontological and epistemological assumptions (Davidson & Tolich, 1999).
Inquiry paradigms define for inquirers what it is they are about, and what falls within and outside the limits of legitimate inquiry. (http://prk.dreamwidth.org/60977.html)
Examining paradigms define for inquirers what paradigms are about and what fall within in and outside the limits of that paradigm?
Denzin and Lincon (1998) state that there are three fundamental questions that need to be addressed in order to complete research. These questions are; 1) the epistemological question, 2 )the ontological question, and 3) the methodological question. It is important to note that however one answers a question it effects how they answer the other two.
The Epistemological Question:
Epistemology is "the study of the nature of knowledge." http://www.translationdirectory.com/glossaries/glossary007_e.htm Epistemology raises the questions of how we know what we know, and what is knowledge. http://atheism.about.com/od/philosophybranches/p/Epistemology.htm It encompasses the debate on if knowledge can be obtained through experience (Empiricism) or by the use of reasoning (rationalism).
The epistemological question is asking what the form and nature of reality is and, what can be known about it? Denzin and Lincoln (1998) uses the example of if a 'real' world is assumed, then what can be known about it are "how things really are" or "how things really work" where as other questions like matters of aesthetic or moral significance, fall outside the realm of legitimate scientific inquiry (p. 201).
The Ontological Question:
Ontology is defined as the philosophical study of the nature of being and/or reality.
What is the nature of the relationship between the knower or would be knower and what can be known? Denzin & Lincoln (1998) continue with their example of reality being assumed because one has already answered the epistemological question the posture of the knower must be one of objective detachment or value freedom in order to discover these thing.
What is the nature of the relationship between the knower or would be knower and what can be known? The answer that can be given to this question is constrained by the answer already given to the ontological question; that is, not just any relationship can now be postulated. So if, for example, a "real" reality is assumed, then the posture of the knower must be one of objective detachment or value freedom in order to discover "how things really are" and "how things really work" (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998, pp. 201).
The Methodological Question:
Methodology is defined by the free dictionary as "a body of practices, procedures, and rules used by those who work in a discipline or engage in an inquiry; a set of working methods" http://www.thefreedictionary.com/methodological
Therefore the methodological question surrounds how the inquirer goes about finding out what they believe can be known? Depending on what answers have already been given to the above questions they will constrain the answer to this one, whether the methods are qualitative or quantitative. "The methodological question cannot be reduced to a question of methods; methods must be fitted to a predetermined methodology" (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998, p. 201)
How can the inquirer (would be knower) go about finding out whatever he or she believes can be known? The answer that can be given to this question in constrained by answers already given to the first two questions; that is, not just any methodology is appropriate. For example, a "real" reality pursued by an "objective" inquirer mandates control of possible confounding factors, whether the methods are qualitative (e.g. observational) or quantitative (e.g. analysis of covariance). The methodological question cannot be reduced to a question of methods; methods must be fitted to a predetermined methodology (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998, pp. 201).
What is Positivism:
"Knowledge is based not on unchallengeable, rock-solid foundations, but rather upon human conjectures" (Phillips & Burbules, 2000).
Positivism is an epistemological perception which states that only knowledge which is based on sensory experience and positive verification is authentic knowledge. More simply worded, positivism is the view that all true knowledge is scientific, and that all things are ultimately measureable.
Positivism emerged from the success of the scientific approach in natural sciences such as physics, chemistry, and biology. The impetus for this came from the overwhelming success of science in understanding and solving problems in the natural world.
The ontology of positivism is realism; an apprehend able reality that is assumed to exist, driven by immutable natural laws and mechanisms. Knowledge of the "ways things are" is conventionally summarised in the form of time- and context-free generalizations, some of which take the form of cause-effect laws. Research can, in principle, converge on the "true" state of affairs. The basic posture of the paradigm is argued to be both reductionist and deterministic (Hesse, 1980, cited in Denzin & Lincoln, 1998, p. 204).
The epistemology of positivism is dualist and objectivist; meaning the investigator and the investigated "object" are assumed to be independent entities, and the investigator to be capable of studying the object without influencing it or being influenced by it. When influence in either direction (threats to validity) is recognised, or even suspected, various strategies are followed to reduce or eliminate it. Inquiry takes place as through a one-way mirror. Values biases are prevented from influencing outcomes, so long as the prescribed procedures are rigorously followed. Replicable findings are, in fact, "true" (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998, p. 204).
The methodology of positivism is experimental and manipulative. Questions and/or hypotheses are stated in propositional form and subjected to empirical tests to verify them; possible confounding conditions must be carefully controlled (manipulated) to prevent outcomes from being improperly influenced (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998, p. 204).
Originally conceptualised by Auguste Comte in the early 19th Century (Pickering, 1993), positivism has been greatly criticised, including by positivist themselves. A number of the concerns raised have influenced the epistemological position taken within this research; particularly that knowledge is a social variable, knowing one is the subject of a study, changes in one's behaviour, and the notion of subjectivity and value orientation.
What is Social Construction of Reality/ Post-Positivism:
The Social Construction Reality/ Post-positivism paradigm include the following paradigms: interpretive, critical, feminist, and postmodern paradigm. I think interpretive paradigm is the paradigm that most education research is based on at the University of Waikato.
The social construction of reality assumes that knowledge is subjective and unique therefore researchers undertake "systematic and painstaking analysis of social episodes" (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2007, p. 19). This is a less reductionist approach to research recognizing the importance of context and aiming to represent how participants view their world. Rather than seeking generalisations this paradigm accepts that "reality is multilayered and complex" (Cohen et al, 2007, p. 21) therefore data collected are open to multiple interpretations. This approach is more speculative based on the assumption that theory is emergent therefore the researcher should not be seeking evidence purely to support a predetermined hypothesis.
Post-positivism is a meta-theoretical stance that analyses and adjusts positivism in light of the criticisms which positivism, as a scientific paradigm, has received. Post-positivism offers primary amendments to the positivist paradigm. Firstly, that the absolute separation of the knower and the known is not assumed; and secondly, that a single, shared reality which excludes all others is not assumed to be a true basis for reasoning. It is critical to note that post-positivism is not a rejection of the scientific paradigm, but seeks to amend the criticisms associated with positivism (Phillips & Burbules, 2000; Zammito, 2004).
Post-positivism states that knowledge is based not on unchallengeable, rock-solid foundations, but rather on human conjectures (Phillips & Burbules, 2000; Zammito, 2004). Epistemologically speaking post-positivism works on the position that facts and law deduced through research are probably true (Guba & Lincoln, 2005) in light of evidence provided (Phillips & Burbules, 2000; Zammito, 2004). Post-positivism of this type is common place in social science for conceptual and practical reasons (Phillips & Burbules, 2000; Zammito, 2004).
What are the differences between the two Meta-Paradigms:
Based on the literature, the most fundamental differences between both paradigms are how they search for the truth and define validity and reliability. The positivist paradigm seeks and finds them in a (perceived) value free and objective evidence based world and the constructivists in a subjective, contextual and interpretive world (Silverman 2005, p. 6; and Cohen et al. 2007, p. 26).
Research as creating new knowledge:
Positivism and Post-positivism create knowledge by a process of accretion, with each fact (or probable fact) serving as a kind of building block that, when placed into its proper niche, adds to the growing "edifice of knowledge". When the facts take the form of generalisation or cause-effect linkages, they may be used most efficiently for prediction and control. Generalisations may then be made, with predicable confidence, to a population of settings (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998, p. 212).
What counts as evidence in Educational Research:
What counts as evidence in educational research depends on what is being asked. If one is looking at effectiveness of direct impact then there would be a different type of key evidence compared to if the question was in relation to the nature of a problem, or how some intervention worked or how a naturally occurring process takes place. Basically the kinds of evidence that will count will depend on the nature of the proposition. Anyone that is interested in the 'evidence' needs to remember that the evidence is always connected to what was being asked or the proposition. One cannot take for granted that it is true one needs to still ask: how is the connection made possible? And what values, assumptions and conventions are behind that kind of connection? (Andrews, 2007).
Maintaining quality in Educational Research:
The quality standards related to the post/positivist paradigm are validity and reliability. This is because the focus of this is to discover the 'truth' using empirical investigation. Anderson and Arsenault (1998) write that "validity refers to the extent to which what we measure reflects what we expected to measure [which] has two forms: internal and external" (p. 257). Related to the research, the term internal validity refers to how the findings meet the expected results. While, external validity refers to being able to generalise the findings to other situations and contexts. Therefore, an experiment is valid if the results are appropriate to the manipulated independent variable and if they are able to be generalised to individuals or contexts other than the experiment's setting (Gay & Airasian 2000, p. 371).
Because the focus of this paradigm is to find out the 'truth', reliability is an important indicator for the consistency of the research findings. Anderson and Arsenault (1998) state that "reliability refers to the extent that an instrument will yield the same results each time it is administered" (p. 256) an example of this is, if you were to administer a survey the larger the source of the data you collect the more it will be reliable as the results become more generalised the more it will give the same results the next time you did it.
Furthermore, trustworthiness is a foundational criteria to maintaining quality. Trustworthiness can be broken down into four quality standards these being, credibility using multiple methods and perspectives and member checking, transferability by providing rich data and thick descriptions, dependability by having a detailed audit trail, and conformability can be achieved by giving readers clear track of data and interpretations. (Anderson and Arsenault 1998)
Research shows the benefits of Peer review doesn't only improve the language that authors use and they way their ideas are presented, but also alerts them to statistical and scientific errors in their research, inappropriate methodology, or accuracies in referencing which they can then correct before the publication. (Taylor and Francis Author Services, 2010) An example of this is when one submits his/her work to an international journal for anonymous refereeing by unknown peers, they read they article critically and then suggest for it to be accepted, rejected, or most often revised and improved before it is published. Without this external 'seal of approval' many scientists "would consider any results as preliminary, potentially flawed" (Gannon, 2001).
Educational research with its characteristics is influenced by four major paradigms. Each paradigm has its own epistemology, ontology, and quality standards which influence the researchers to find the truth and see the reality. The important point is that knowing the nature of each paradigm which can help the researchers to conduct their research process. Researchers can conduct the research within and across paradigms which is called multi-paradigmatic research paradigms (Taylor, 2008).
The nature of educational research is analogous with the nature of research itself, which is systematic, reliable and valid to find the "truth", investigates knowledge, and solves problems. Moreover, educational research process involves steps to collect the information in order to investigate problems and knowledge. However, the educational research is more complex because it can use various approaches and strategies to solve problems in educational setting. It also can involve many disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, behaviour, and history. In addition, educational research is important because of contributing knowledge development, practical improvement, and policy information. Therefore, educators can use those research findings to improve their competences and teaching and learning process (Yulirahmawati, 2008).