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In this paper I believe that "the researcher you are is the person you are" in contemporary research today is for the preference of the research model proposed as the 'third research paradigm' of mixed method research and propose pragmatism as the philosophical partner. The mixed method is recognised as the third major research approach along with qualitative and quantitative research and in my opinion, is the natural complement to traditional qualitative and quantitative research (Johnson, Onwuegbuzie & Turner, 2008). As such, many (or most) mixed methods writers have argued that some form of pragmatism is the most useful philosophy to support mixed methods research (Scott, 2007).
The contentious issue surrounding the infamous qualitative-quantitative debate was for the most part about method but also raised the issue of what philosophical paradigms or what sets of assumptions about the social world and our knowledge of it are appropriate for the social sciences (Green, Krieder & Mayer (2006). Hence, it is well documented the debates surrounding research paradigms having a long history with the struggle for primacy of one paradigm over others (Cameron, 2009). Nevertheless, I believe this becomes irrelevant as each paradigm is an alternate offering its own merits, unique strengths and limitations. My view is that the choice of a particular epistemological base leads to a preference for a particular method on the grounds of its greater appropriateness based on the fact that the differences between two methodologies was derived from a tendency for some researchers to previously engage in the qualitative versus quantitative paradigm debate, treated epistemology and method as being synonymous (Bryman, 1984; Howe, 1992 cited by Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, n.d.).
I would argue that philosophical beliefs are useful theoretical tools but they should not drive practice decisions. I contend it is more appropriate in the present that researchers and research methodologists need to be asking when each research approach is most helpful and when and how they should be mixed or combined in their research studies. If epistemological and methodological pluralism is promoted in educational research so that researchers are informed about epistemological and methodological possibilities, and ultimately, so that we are to conduct more effective research (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, n.d.). Without claiming that a reconciliation between quantitative and qualitative approaches does not require a resolution at the epistemological and ontological levels, I think that the use of both types of methods and strategies in combination can provide more certainty about the aptness and validity of the research account (Scott, 2007).
It is not necessary for mixed methods research to replace either of these approaches and history shows that certain methodologies tended to be associated with one particular research tradition, Dzurec and Abraham (1993, p. 75) suggest that "the objectives, scope, and nature of inquiry are consistent across methods and across paradigms" (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, n.d.). All research is based on assumptions about how the world is perceived and how we can best come to understand it. I suggest that nobody really knows how we can best understand the world and philosophers have been arguing about that very question for half a century now (Mackenzie & Knipe, 2006). Nevertheless, I see the 'third paradigm' as distinct from the positivist perspective of quantitative research, on the one hand, and the constructivist perspective of qualitative research on the other and believe that the two epistemological orientations of quantitative and qualitative can co-exist to underlay mixed-methods research.
The principle of positivism that adheres to the use of the natural science model of research investigating social issues, has been criticised for assuming social life is made up of objective facts that value free researchers can use statistical methods to measure. Whereby, the interpretivist/constructivist paradigm is based on the philosophical principle of idealism which maintains the world view that what we see around us is the creation of the mind and we can only experience the world through our personal perceptions which are coloured by our preconceptions and beliefs. The perspective is criticised for producing findings which lack reliability, validity, representativeness and generalisation owing to its inherent subjectivity (Pole, 2007). The pragmatic paradigm is not committed to any one belief of philosophy or reality but focus on the 'what' and 'how' of the research problem (Mackenzie & Knipe, 2006).
I understand that approaches taken to defining "qualitative" and "quantitative" have long been associated with different paradigmatic approaches to research - different assumptions about the nature of knowledge (ontology) and the means of generating it (epistemology) (Scott, 2007). The idea that one's paradigmatic view of the world might be related to the way one went about researching the world was prompted by Kuhn (1963), while Guba and Lincoln's work on naturalistic inquiry (e.g. Lincoln & Guba, 1985) contributed significantly to the "paradigm wars" of the '80s. During this period, many researchers held the belief that there were strong associations between paradigm, methodology and methods to be philosophically incompatible, making their combination logically impossible.
What is clear from the various discussions about these two methodologies is that they are being explained at an epistemological level and an attempt is then made to establish a link between it and a technical level, i.e. the practice of social research. The epistemological nature of the discussion is occasionally referred to the term 'paradigm' to denote the two traditions. In so far as paradigms are meant to be impossible to measure, then it is even clearer that two differing epistemological bases are being developed. In the context of this kind of discussion the question of techniques of investigation is no longer whether method A is 'better' than method B, but is method A the appropriate technique in terms of a particular set of epistemological premises.
By proposing a 'pragmatic philosophy' I believe that in order to answer complex research questions, a researcher must make use of all the tools and methods at their disposal (Nudzor, 2009). If we think of quantitative and qualitative as a continuum rather than contradicting each other we can resolve these arguments relating to knowledge (Scott, 2007). By representing educational research in exclusive terms of qualitative and quantitative, we also limit our ability to explore the third paradigm evident in mixed-methods.
For instance, when we consider the interpretation of qualitative research data is more dependent on the researcher's background and, skills, biases and knowledge than on conclusions drawn from quantitative research, that are derived directly from the numerical analysis of the data. It is critical that the reader of qualitative research have access to the descriptive information on which the researcher's interpretations are based. Only in this manner can the reader fully comprehend how the researcher reached her or his conclusions and interpretations and agree or disagree with them.
As Somekh (2008) says the need for bureaucrats to justify spending on education has lead to increasing demands for 'hard data' generated by pseudo-positivist methods that purport to establish cause and effect between educational practice and improved test scores. I cannot think of a better example to criticize this approach in educational research than the results of My School website that is based on qualitative data and developed to give parents a snapshot of every school and its community; the numbers of students and teachers; student attendance rates; and the results of national tests in reading, writing and maths for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 and how these results compare to some other schools across Australia. While My School will hopefully improve there is an ongoing issue about its validity when we consider most of the school-level factors can't be reduced to numbers and therefore can't be included in any improved index such as gender balance and possibly academic selectivity.
In its current stage there are too many invalid comparisons and it raises many ethical questions about the launch of the site when it is quite clearly built around insufficient data with no affordances for the reader to gain qualitative explanations.
The research technique must fit the problem at hand. Why, then, all this talk of divergent philosophical bases of the two methodologies? I suspect they are quite redundant to the question of the suitability of one technique as against another in terms of solving a research problem. If a research problem is one which directly emanates from a particular epistemological position then the question of the appropriateness of a research technique is significant, for the technique must properly reflect the epistemological framework in which the research is embedded.
My context of teaching is adults in a vocational educational environment at a mostly post-secondary level. Vocational education is teaching skills and knowledge for work and provided through the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system. My domain is information technology and in particular, software applications. Over the past few years I have keenly studied web 2.0 technologies (wikis, blogs and social networking) in an educational context. Briefly, web 2.0 is read-write web with the ability for users to interact and generate content whereas web 1.0 as a set of static and read only web pages used before the advent of web 2.0. We are now faced with the introduction of web 3.0 technology about semantic web (or the meaning of data) where information and data is defined, making it possible for the web to "understand" and satisfy the requests of people and machines to use the web.
Legitimate knowledge in my context of learning for adults in vocational education is about teaching skills for work in the field of information technology. The use of new technologies in education would appear to offer a powerful alternative to traditional formal learning and what is normally characterised as the transmission mode of teaching (Derry, 2007) and it is particularly interesting to note that the development of new technologies into education, the design of learning has become paramount with the emergence of the 'learning sciences' in recent years is a significant attempt to draw together a disparate research field (Sawyer, 2006 cited by Derry ,2007). In many ways this development has arisen as a result of the intensive introduction of new technologies into education. The the attempt to enhance learning via the use of technologies, the design of learning has become paramount, in turn demanding detailed attention to claims made and their presuppositions as well as to the possibility of generalising results.
I am influenced by research that teachers can use for the potential of educational technology to enhance learning that can only be realised if it is based on a secure foundation of robust understanding of learning, teaching and knowledge (Derry, 2007).
Education that goes beyond the simple acquisition of information and certain capacities to follow rules or procedures and involves the development of the capacity of judgement, the capacity not merely to respond passively to events but the ability to actively make decisions appropriate to a variety of contexts.
In learning the practical field of information technology in the vocational education learning environment, it is particularly important for my students to have a relevance to their working life, previous experience and the need to know the reason for learning something i.e. put into real world context. I believe this underpins my philosophical preference in view of the history of research and that the paradigms of research methods is entering a new era that it appears that the momentum for mixed-method research is progressing in recent times (Moon & Moon, 2004) and that research in education is now heading towards a new research programme with some degree of consensus (Niaz, 2008).
It is assumed that no model can ever hope to capture all relevant information, and even if such a complete model would exist, it would be too complicated to use in any practical way. Therefore we must accept the parallel existence of different models, even though they may seem contradictory. The model which is to be chosen depends on the problems that are to be solved.
One of the aspects as I reflect over the past 20 years of teaching is how I have continually had to grow, adapt and apply the latest technological changes and therein lies my research interest; the use of new technologies in education and where this has situated me is the requirement to embrace change and continually learn and progress. One of the key issues I have examined over the past few years is the barriers to achieving the educational potential of information and communication technology (ICT) in education. In my view, teachers' deeply held traditional beliefs and their perceptions that ICT's contribution to teaching and learning may be different to their pedagogical beliefs and this is the most significant barrier to achieving the educational potential for ICT in education (Griffin, 2006).
Without drifting too far from the main thrust of my paper and examining in detail the barriers to ICT being integrated into education, I am inclined to propose action research as a model to develop my area of interest as a novice researcher in generating research knowledge in the form of a Community of Practice whereby participatory action research signifies an epistemology that underpins the belief that knowledge is embedded in social relationships and is most influent when produced collaboratively through action. I believe this stance compliments my philosophical belief of a pragmatist to identify the nature of truth with the principle of action. Put simply, truth does not exist in some abstract realm of thought independent of social relationship or actions; instead, truth is a function of an active process of engagement with the world and verification (Duemer & Zebide, 2009). We don't discover truth by sitting alone in a room and thinking about it. Human beings seek belief, not doubt, and that search takes place when we do scientific research or even just going about our daily business, engaging objects and other people.
Action research gained prominence in the 1930s, in education the movement has had as its goal the involvement of both research specialist and classroom teacher in the study and application of research to educational problems in a particular classroom setting (Best & Kahn, 2006). Action research is focussed on immediate application, not on the development of theory or on generalisation of applications. It has its emphasis on a problem here and now and a local setting. Its purposes to improve learner practice and at the same time try to improve those who try to improve the practice.
Put simply, action research is "learning by doing" whereby a group of people identify a problem, do something to resolve it, see how successful their efforts were, and if not satisfied, try again. Action research resonates with my research interest area because as a classroom teacher I don't have the time or technical background to engage in the more formal aspects of research activity. Although many observers have disparaged action research as nothing more than good management, it does apply pragmatic thinking and methods to real-life problems and represents great improvement over teacher's subjective judgements and decisions based on limited personal experience.
It has been argued that action research evolved from a sense of dissatisfaction with more traditional 'scientific' research approaches, and that any reduction in academic rigour was compensated for through the more problem centred 'real world' approaches inherent to action research (Lancaster, 2005 cited by Urwin & Burgess, 2007). Action research is unique in that it attempts to expand knowledge whilst at the same time causing some type of (usually organisational) change. One of the differences in action research from other research methods is that the research is concerned with actually making changes in the environment being studied. Often the researcher is actually immersed in that environment. This obviously means that there needs to be close collaboration between the researcher and those within the environment being researched (Baskerville and Myers 2004; Oosthuizen 2002; Templeton, Lee and Snyder 2006).
Why this resonates with my context is that action research develops practical knowing through participatory, democratic processes in the pursuit of worthwhile human purposes, drawing on many ways of knowing in an emergent, development fashion (Reason, 2010). Action research in the form of a community of practice resonates with my viewpoint on pragmatism as a philosophical concept that includes those who claim that an ideology or proposition is true if it works satisfactorily, that the meaning of a proposition is to be found in the practical consequences of accepting it, and that unpractical ideas are to be rejected and therefore pragmatism is that the truth of an idea needed to be tested to prove its validity.
Community of Practice
The term 'Community of Practice' was created by Jean Lave and Etienne Wagner (1991) (Benzie, Mavers, Somekh & Cisneros-Cohernour, 2008) and can be described as groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. This is demonstrated by working collaboratively with co-workers and working together. I believe a community of practice underpins the concept of action research whereby learners sharing their experience, identify common issues and contribute to shared understanding. As Somekh (2008) says a key problem in educational research relates to how policies for action might emerge from experiment instead of theory and even more critical how these might transform practice. Action research by teachers is recognised as a powerful strategy for bring about improvements in teaching and learning and professional development (Elliott, 1991 cited by Somekh, 2008). This has been acknowledge and extended by policy-makers to include the larger notion of 'user involvement' of stakeholders in the implementation of research and where possible - with its design.
Educational research is often seen as educational in its processes as well as its effective. For example, researchers who acknowledge the educative nature of carrying out research are likely to adopt more participatory methods and may place less emphasis on seeking objective data and more on feeding back preliminary findings to enable practioners to learn from research knowledge as it is generated.
I believe that educators and researchers continually need to examine what they are doing, compare their practices with different methods used by others in similar settings for the successful integration of educational technology. By conducting action research to determine if a procedure is working for you or whether you need to try something new. Researchers have been increasingly addressing the complex issue of learning within a technologically diverse and complex social environment (Best & Kahn, 2006) .
Bisman & Hardcastle (1999)
The two major paradigms are useful to social work practicum for effective day to day practice. All available tools that contribute to our professional knowledge building and skills development must be incorporated into anon-dichotomous approach to practice. We approach our model of research skills as part and parcel of practioner's development of their individual knowledge and skills as practioners' without regard for paradigmatic ideological boundaries.
(Duemer & Zebidi, 2009).
Our typical understanding of perception involves a period of reflection following an interaction in which we consciously process new information with past experiences and knowledge in order to make new meaning. Pragmatism emphasises adapting and assimilating new knowledge. Pragmatic researchers use theory as a way in which to help better understand the world. In the pragmatic paradigm, social science researchers are not committed to only one research method or approach to solve a given problem; they are rather concerned with applying the most appropriate approach or even a mixture of methods that would better address the problem in a real world situation and this is important in my context of vocational education.
Pragmatism provides investigators with a philosophical framework that embraces the integration of all methods (qualitative, quantitative, deductive and inductive logic, objective and subjective point of view) in order to come to a more comprehensive understanding of the research problem and eventually obtain credible results.
Pragmatism tests the validity of all concepts by their practical results. If it works, it's right, and if it works it's true.
I believe the time has come for mixed methods research and as Johnson & Onwuegbuzie (n.d.) say that mixed methods research should, instead (at this time) use a method and philosophy that attempts to fit together the insights provided by qualitative and quantitative research into a workable solution. Growth in the mixed methods (i.e. pragmatist) movement has the potential to reduce some of the problems associated with singular methods. More importantly, researchers who conduct mixed methods research are more likely to select methods and approaches with respect to their underlying research questions, rather than with regard to some preconceived biases about which research paradigm should have domination.
Onwuegbuzie & Leech (2005)
Epistemology (theory of knowledge) does not dictate which specific data collection and data analytical methods should be used by researchers.
If all students learn to utilise and to appreciate both qualitative and quantitative research, students will develop into what we term as pragmatic researchers.