E-journal of All India Association for Educational Research (EJAIAER)

 

    VOL.20                            Nos:  3 & 4                 September & December, 2008

 

EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH AND ENSURING QUALITY STANDARDS

                       

Rekha B Koul

INTRODUCTION

Educational research plays an important role in exploring problems associated with education and as a consequence it improves Teaching and Learning. According to Gay and Airasian (2000), educational research is conducted to provide trustworthy information regarding educational problems and their solutions. There are many approaches to educational research shaped by different research paradigms. 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.

 

Guba and Lincoln (1989) note that quality standards such as research and policy analysis are essential for judging the quality of disciplined inquiry. Research standards also help researchers in monitoring the process of research construction (Guba & Lincoln 1989). Furthermore, criteria for quality standards for each paradigm are different as they are influenced by the nature of each research paradigm. Therefore, it is important for researchers to understand the nature of each research paradigm and its accompanying quality standards. This article discusses the nature of educational research, the influence of research paradigms on educational research and quality standards.

 

The Nature and Characteristics of Educational Research

The nature of educational research is analogous with the nature of research itself, which is expected to be systematic, reliable and valid to investigate knowledge and solve problems (Wiersma 1991). However, different from scientific research, educational research is more complex because it not only involves human behaviour and social interaction, but it can also use various approaches and strategies to solve problems in educational settings. Educational research initiates from practical problems in education and returns to solve those problems. It can also incorporate various disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, behaviour, and history (Anderson & Arsenault 1998). Educational research is important because it contributes to knowledge development, practical improvement, policy information, and students’ research skills development (Creswell 2005). Therefore, educators are able to use those research findings to improve their competences in the teaching and learning process.

 

The characteristics of educational research are part of its nature. According to Anderson (1998, p.7), there are ten characteristics of educational research which can be grouped into three main categories; the purpose of research, the procedures of research, and the role of researcher. The purposes of research are to solve the problems, investigate knowledge, and establish principles in educational phenomena. In short, this category focuses on solving problems and developing knowledge. The procedure of educational research involves collecting or generating data with accurate observation, objective interpretation, and verification. It also involves “carefully designed procedures and rigorous analysis.” Finally, the role of researchers is to be experts in their field of study, using research data to develop solutions and increase knowledge. It is also essential for researchers to be patient and careful to use every step of research’s procedures to achieve the purpose of research.

 

Research Paradigms

There are four main research paradigms in educational research:  post-positivism; interpretivism; criticalism; postmodernism. Each of these research paradigms has its own epistemological and ontological characteristics to maintain quality standards. According to Bryman (2001), epistemology refers to the ways knowledge is acquired. In other words, epistemology concerns what we can know and how we can know the reality of the research subject (Willis 2007). Ontological assumptions refer to the nature of the world and the human being in social contexts (Bryman 2001; Willis 2007) These involve the inclusion of assumptions of seeing the world as the outside of individual.

 

Post/positivism Paradigm

The post/positivist paradigm contains two main themes; controlling the research condition such as human behaviour and investigating those trough scientific methods (Douglas 1973 as cited in Cohen, Manion & Morrison 2000). Because it is controlled, the post/positivist paradigm tends to generalise findings with one truth. As it is very structured and clear, it is easy to be objective in this paradigm. However, an inherent weakness of the paradigm is that it cannot investigate all phenomena in education particularly regarding motivation, values and “intentions and feelings” (Anderson & Arsenault 1998, p.5). The post/positivist paradigm seeks to find the truth within controlled conditions that are scientifically observable. Even so, it is problematic to find the “one truth” in some specific social context such as education. For example, students’ achievement is not strictly limited in influence by one specific factor. It is difficult to isolate people and control the results in natural phenomena. Epistemological research in the post/positivist paradigm is how the social world can be investigated as natural science. Hypotheses have to be tested by empirical approaches. In post/positivism, the objective results through scientific method ontology which emphasises that social phenomena are independent from other factors. In addition, data analysis uses logical reasoning (a thinking process) and provides explanations with certain generalisations. These generalisations have however, become a challenge in educational research. Due to the sheer complexity of educational phenomena, any generalissation is often difficult to construct.

                       

Interpretivism Paradigm

Interpretivist paradigms study individuals with their many characteristics, different human behaviours, opinions, and attitudes (Cohen, Manion & Morrison 2001). The interpretive paradigm helps the researcher acquire knowledge by investigating the phenomena of the world and human in many ways. Therefore, its advantage is in finding a meaningful observation of objects. It gives opportunities to seek understanding and make sense of others’ perspectives which are shaped by the philosophy of social constructions (Taylor 2008). Through this paradigm, we can gain a fuller understanding of meanings, reasons, and insight human action (Bryman 2001). It must be noted however that this subjectivity leads to results that are relatively complex to analyse and interpret objectively. Nevertheless, it is generally acknowledged that it is more difficult to be objective in human research than in scientific settings. Therefore, subjectivity is an integral aspect of such research. Through the interpretive paradigm, a researcher can observe a situation with different approaches to solving problems. A multiple number of possible solutions and interpretations also emanate. Consequently, the function of epistemology in an interpretive paradigm is to acquire knowledge by investigating the phenomena in many ways, as the social context is different from natural science. The interpretive paradigm emphasises that the world in social phenomena has different meanings. A single factor influences the change in social context. As a result, different researches can reach different conclusions for the same observation.

 

Criticalism/Critical Theory Paradigm

Critical theory paradigm is “explicitly prescriptive and post/positivist, entailing a view of what behaviour in a social democracy should entail” (Fay 2000 as cited in Cohen, Manion & Morrison 2001, p. 28). The critical paradigm promotes the notion of social justice in order to create the world which is “fairer, more equitable, more inclusive and more harmonious” (Taylor, 2008). In addition, according to Kincheloe and McLaren (2002), critical theory is concerned with the power and justice of several issues in society such as economy, race, gender and education. It considers the power of social politics and ideology which influence educational research. This paradigm relates to “political agenda and that the task of the researchers is not to be dispassionate, disinterested, and objective” (Morisson 1995 as cited in Cohen, Manion & Morrison 2001, p. 28) which involves self-criticisms and consciousness of “oneself as a product of power-driven sociohistorical process” (Kincheloe & McLauren  2002, p.100).  Therefore, it considers the power of social politics and ideology, which influence educational research.In critical theory, finding the issues is important and subjective. Its main objective is to improve existing situations which can be achieved through action research. The action can be continually changed to improve the quality of existing educational practices. This action shall then change and solve the problems. Therefore, the solutions are constructed by the reality. The predominant weakness of this paradigm is the difficulty surfaced when trying to conclude many interpretations. It also requires observational skills regarding the changes impacting subsequent actions.

 

In critical theory, practical issues can construct knowledge. The theory tends to change certain conditions through criticising practical, political and social issues. Therefore, the results are often subjective. The critical theory paradigm tends to see the world as something that has to change. It criticises social phenomena and changes them based on the interrogations of the phenomena involving both social and individual interactions.

 

Postmodernism Paradigm

The paradigm of postmodernism focuses on seeking subject understanding through textual “reconstruction, without trapping on the certainty of objectivity” (Polkinghorne, 1992). Moreover, according to Taylor (2008), “postmodernism elicits both fear and favour via its basic principle: be suspicious of all grand narratives (including that of postmodernism, respond its critics, not without irony)”. Research under the postmodern paradigm focuses on the importance of self reflections, envisioning, and lived experiences through impressionistic writing which stimulates researchers to express their emotionality in an engaging manner. According to Denzin and Lincoln (2000), the postmodern paradigm allows individuals to include their personal responsibility, emotionality, ethics of care, multivoiced texts, and dialogues to know something without claiming to know everything. Therefore, the postmodern paradigm will be powerful in facilitating research that is reflective, voicing and multi-perspective thinking.

 

Quality Standards

Quality standards represent the nature of each paradigm with respect to judging the quality of research. It is different on holding the existence of the truth and the role of researchers. For example, in post/positivism, it represents the world with observed truth and objectivity through systematical procedures. On the other hand, interpretivism describes the meaning of the world with different facets of truth which involves the subjectivity of the researchers.  However, within its nature, each paradigm is unique, having its limitations and advantages.

 

Post/positivism

Since the focus of the post/positivist paradigm is to discover the ‘truth’ through empirical investigation, the quality standards under this paradigm are validity and reliability. Anderson and Arsenault (1998, p.257) 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. Therefore, “an experiment is valid if results obtained are due only to the manipulated independent variable and if they are generalizable to individuals or contexts beyond the experimental setting” (Gay & Airasian 2000, p. 371).  Related to the research, internal validity refers to what extent the findings meet expected results. Meanwhile, external validity refers to the ability of findings to be generalised to other situations and contexts. In order to fulfill these standards, objectivity is important to minimise researcher bias. The analysis of validity is conducted through statistical analysis. “Reliability refers to the extent that an instrument will yield the same results each time it is administered”(Anderson and Arsenault 1998, p.256). Under this paradigm, reliability is an important indicator for the consistency of research findings which can then be replicated. Through statistical analysis, reliability can be estimated by internal consistency based on the correlation among the variables by using Cronbach’s alpha reliability coefficient (Brown, 2007; Newby & Fisher, 1997). The size of the data source is directly linked to quality standards. The larger the source of the data, the greater the reliability of the results (Babbie 1990). According to Guba and  Lincoln (1989, p.235), “objectivity responds to the positivist demand for neutrality and requires a demonstration that a given inquiry is free of bias, values, and/or prejudice”. Therefore, each step of research, especially methods which are applied in this research paradigm, should minimise researcher bias. During the research process, data is triangulated to reach one conclusion from different methods and data sources. The triangulation is “an attempt to secure in depth understanding of the phenomenon in question..[ensuring that]…the objectivity can never be captured” (Denzin & Lincoln 2000, p.5). Therefore, every step of the research process should achieve this objectivity.

 

Interpretivism

The interpretivist paradigm seeks the understanding and meaning of people and situations which involve the subjectivity of the researchers. Therefore, the quality standards in this research paradigm are trustworthiness and authenticity.

 

Trustworthiness

Trustworthiness is the foundational criteria because it is a deliberated parallel to the positivist criteria that are internal validity, external validity, reliability, and objectivity (Guba & Lincoln 1989). The trustworthiness criteria comprise four quality standards: the credibility (via member checking), transferability (via thick description), dependability (via outside reviewer), and conformability (conformability data audit).

 

Credibility

Credibility is parallel to internal validity. In credibility, the idea of similarities between constructed realities of respondents and the reconstructions attributed to them are measured (Guba & Lincoln 1989, p. 237). In interpretive research, different methods are applied to assess the credibility of the findings. According to Merriam (1989) (as cited in Howitt 2007), multiple methods and perspectives, and member checking are applied for improving credibility.

 

Transferability

Guba and Lincoln (1989) describe transferability as a term that refers to the generalisation of research findings which can be applicable in different contexts. In this quality standard, the readers may attempt to find similarity between the researcher’s personal experiences and their own. This is illustrated in a parallel drawn by Ellis and Bochner (2000, p.744): “generalization is constantly tested by readers as they determine if it speaks to them about their experiences or about the lives of other they know”. It is synonymous to external validity and demonstrates a tendency to employ the findings for general purposes (Bryman 2008). Researchers can provide rich data and thick descriptions to achieve the transferability standard.

 

Dependability

The standard which parallels reliability in a post/positivism paradigm is dependability which concerns the stability of data over time (Guba & Lincoln 1989). In interpretive research, data should be trackable and results should be consistent. Therefore, a detailed audit trail should be given (Guba & Lincoln, 1989; Howitt 2007).

 

Conformability

Conformability is the standard which parallel to objectivity criteria in post/positivist paradigm. The process of assuring data, interpretation and outcomes are rooted from the contexts and persons (Guba & Lincoln, 1989). According to Howitt (2007), conformability can be established by giving the readers clear track of data and interpretations. The subjectivity of researcher is evaluated in the interpretive research.

 

Authenticity

Authenticity criterion is about relationships between others and researcher. Educative authenticity helps researchers to understand their role as educators as well as others who influence their professional practices. This criterion exposes the conversation between researchers and participants, and the situations and emotional compassion that arise during the study (Ellis & Bochner 2000). Various viewpoints for measuring authenticity criteria as mention by Bryman (2008) are: ontological authenticity which helps members to understand their social milieu. Educative authenticity helps members to appreciate others’ perspectives. Catalytic authenticity applies to provoke members to engage in action for circumstances change. Lastly, it is tactical authenticity which empowers members to take necessary steps for engaging in action. Natural personal and social setting will help to establish the authenticity.

 

Criticalism

Criticalism provides the opportunity to think critically and change the situations, especially issues in society; such as political, social, economic, education, etc. In the context of educational research, this paradigm puts emphasis on criticizing the problems and makes the changes. Therefore, the quality standard in this paradigm focuses on critical reflectivity, empowerment, and envisioning.

 

Praxis

According to Taylor and Wallace (1996, p.1) “Praxis concerns the way in which the researcher attempts to stimulate the reader to take deliberate action towards changing practice.” The reflection on researchers’ practices, not as merely a self-evaluation, can be a learning process for the readers. According to Bain, Ballantyne, Mills, and Lester (2002, p.10), “reflection is an intrinsically good and desirable aspect of professional development.” This paradigm employs writing as the process of inquiry for exploring individuals’ own voices (Richardson, 2000). Therefore, it also can help researchers to understand and affect themselves emotionally and intellectually within their pedagogical practices.

 

Pedagogical Thoughtfulness

Pedagogical Thoughtfulness is a quality of research writing that engages the reader (and also the writer) in thinking about educational issues, especially teaching and learning (Ellis & Bochner 2000; Howitt 2008). Through writing readers may be able to reflect on their own teaching practice and share with researchers working ins the same context. Researchers may also reflect on their own pedagogical practices.

 

Critical Reflexivity

Researchers’ subjectivity could lead to overestimating their judgment on the phenomenon through the process of inquiry. The critical reflexivity helps the readers’ to judge researchers’ subjectivity, awareness and self exposure (Richardson 2000). According to Johnson (as cited in Afonso 2007),“reflexivity involves self awareness and ‘critical self reflection’ by the researcher on his or her potential biase and predispositions as these may affect the research process and conclusions” (p. 47).  As a result, this criterion is powerful for envisioning the future and for empowering notion of educational process, not only to criticise, but also to act for the better future world.

 

Re-envisioning

Re-envisioning is important paradigm, as the nature of the criticalism is creating the changes. Imaginative thinking and envisioning can help to solve problems in life and think critically. According to Robertson & Gerber (2001), it is important for constructing the positive image of the future which could affect the future of society. Therefore, the envisioning is one of quality standards in the criticalist paradigm

 

Postmodernism

Postmodernism employs the art based research to empower and engage the readers. Through its impressionistic writing, it is “intuitive and subjective” which involve personal voice and emotions (LeCompte & Preissle, 1993, p.354). It includes a process of self-monitoring, and disciplined subjectivity, that exposes all phases of the research activity to continual questioning and re-evaluation (Burns, 1996). According to Ellis and Bochner (2000), the idea of validity in the narrative research related to the researchers’ work to engage the readers that the researcher experiences are lifelike and believable and help the readers to communicate with others different perspective and their personal experiences. Therefore, the quality standards in this paradigm is related to representation and engagement.Taylor & Wallace (1996, p.1) state that, “representation concerns the challenge of representing others without reducing them to objects of researcher’s gaze”. This standard will judge representing of others voices during the inquiry process. Therefore, in this quality standard, how the researchers represent the reality and other voices become important. The other concept which is important for representation criteria is crystallisation. The crystallization recognizes the different views of interpretations. According to Denzin and Lincoln (2000), within crystallisation process, the researchers could present the same tale in many different perspectives. The idea of crystallization not only gives the space to recognise the different views, but also contributes the powerful interpretation for the research. According to Richardson (2000, p. 934), within the postmodernism paradigm, “we do not triangulate; we crystallize. We recognise that there are a far more than “three sides” from which to approach the world”. Therefore, this paradigm emphasizes the plurality of the truth. Polyvocality employs different genres on writing to create meaning and emotion. It is because there are alternative options to deliver information and feeling between researcher and readers’ consciousness (Richardson, 2000). Thus, readers can gain emotional appreciation from the writing. The verisimilitude is the standard to judge either the idea or writing is similar with the reality and truth.  According to Ellis and Bochner (2000), verisimilitude is presentation feeling of truthlikeness upon the reader who reads the narrative inquiry writing. Therefore, through this standard, researchers need to represent their writing in an engaging manner. Although the writing can be fictitious, the important point is truthlikeness.

 

Criteria of Writing/Literary Criteria (Orientation, Strength, Richness, and Depth)

Impressionistic writing becomes the way to represent the data in this paradigm. According to Richardson (2000), writing as a method of inquiry helps researchers to find out how the world, we, and others are constructing within our perspectives. Moreover, narrative inquiry engages the readers with the orientated, strong, rich, and deep textual representation. In addition, oriented text means, “the text should be oriented to answering the question of how the researcher as educator stands in relation to life” (Taylor, Gilmer & Tobin 2002, p.31). This can be represented through involving value and teaching experiences in relation to the pedagogical context into research. In educational research,  writing should represent “strong pedagogical perspective” (Taylor, Gilmer & Tobin, 2002, p.32) to interpret the phenomenon. The varied and meaningful description of phenomenon should be applied to create the rich text. Finally, the rich text should shape the writing to encourage the readers to think reflectively within their pedagogical experiences.

 

CONCLUSION

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. Quality standards represent the nature of each research paradigm which can be parallel. Researchers can conduct the research within and across paradigms which is called multi-paradigmatic research paradigms (Taylor, 2008)

 

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