September 01, 2015

Current thoughts about Educational Research

Having just completed the first year of the Ph.D. I have had a fair amount of time to think about what Educational Research is really all about and what Educational research actually means. You can read through a dozen (and more!) textbooks on the subject and you’ll be greeted with an assortment of definitions and goals of Educational Research. Read through the vast empirical literature and you’ll find a vast quantity of different areas of teaching and learning explored using a variety of different methods and methodologies, all led by the intentions, aspirations, desires, and even agendas of the researchers.

To define Educational Research after the first year of the Ph.D. is not quite easy and any attempts on my part will obviously be driven by my own interests and research passions, but in any case currently I view Educational Research as a set of Psychological, Sociological, Anthropological, and Philosophical methods and theories that are used to explore the relationship between Learners, their Psyche, and the applications and approaches that they use for their learning with the aim of better understanding learning processes within a variety of learning environments. At primary and secondary school, and probably also at College level, this can be expanded to include the teacher or tutor and their teaching or tutoring processes.

The more I explore Educational Research the more expansive the field is realised and that it’s a continuously growing field of research and practice; however, I must keep focus of my own research interests and therefore explore Educational Research within the context of my own areas of interests. Even then, I’m only just scratching the surface here as not only are there many methods and approaches to Educational Research, but near enough limitless debates and discussions about using these methods and approaches to explore constructs of a particular research area, and more contributions to these discussions and debates can occur as well as ways in which methods and approaches can be used for different purposes.

In what way should Educational Research be performed? There shall never be a general agreement or consensus as to the most ideal way that Educational Research should be carried out because near enough every researcher carries a set of assumptions regarding the way that knowledge of reality can be or should be obtained, which impacts on their preferred research orientation therefore it really depends on their Ontological and Epistemological assumptions of reality. For me personally, I do not view Educational Research as a Scientific endeavour; I view it as a Social Scientific endeavour, because I believe that to investigate all aspects of Education using a Scientific method would be too restrictive and would give too narrow a focus when analysing data and dealing with the research subjects in general. Quantitative data and methods dominate Scientific research, but I do not believe that it should dominate Educational Research because teaching and learning and the ways to make this more effective cannot be expressed in just quantitative data alone: there is a need for qualitative approaches and data as well. Some people perceive Science and the Scientific Methods as the be all in answering everything and whilst I respect that, I don’t agree with the view that it can answer everything and this is something that I will be expressing more in my thesis.

Like I said, I’m only just scratching the surface here and so far along my Ph.D. journey. I have chosen my methods, general approach, and methodology and shall be developing arguments that support their selection and use within my research. Will my methodology and methods change? Not likely: I’m settled on these now; I always have been, but needed to read more to understand the constructs that needs to be explored and these I am also beginning to settle upon.

With that, and because there are so many definitions and approaches to Educational Research, the best advice I can give any person doing a Ph.D. in Education is to really explore the methodological literature and select the method or methods that best answer the questions that you have formed from the problems that you have identified.

There is no right or wrong answer: just know what you are going to do, what methods you are going to use, and develop arguments that support your selection.

Happy research!

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