Categories of Research in Education

Photo: Balance, by BCth

Photo: Balance, by BCth

Humans characterize things as a way of gaining a better understanding. Research methodologies are no different. However, as Lawrence Sipe and Susan Constable (1996) point out in their article summarizing research paradigms, we need to beware the oversimplification that characterizations can bring – not so easy when what we naturally like to do as humans is categorize things, especially as we are coming to grips with them. We can’t stop characterizing altogether, but Sipe and Constable rightly point out that categorizations may imply a dichotomy (either THIS way or THAT way) or assume a univocality (neat word, eh?) – that there is only one way to look at a concept. The consequence in research, and anything else in life for that matter, is that unique characteristics get lost.

Sipe and Constable are specifically referring to the categorization of research as either “qualitative” or “quantitative” – but of course, one might use both these strategies to triangulate data, or a more reflective research method that doesn’t really fit into either of these categories. Then we run into the problem that these categorizations mean something slightly (or perhaps drastically!) different depending on the field you’re in. So here we see an example of where categorizations, especially long standing ones, fail us.

One aspect of the article that made me stop was Sipe and Constable’s (1996) point that characterization of a research methodology does NOT imply the use of a particular method. Surely some methods would lend themselves to be used by those utilizing certain research methodologies. For example, a clinical interview method might be used by someone prescribing to a qualitative methodology. However, one would not say uniformly that using one research methodology (i.e.: qualitative) means that the researcher is necessarily using a particular method (i.e.: interview). This makes perfect sense, but is not something I had thought of before reading this article. Quite a few of our guest presenters in my Research Methodology in Education course use multiple methods, each of which supports the use of the other!

Another place that made me stop was the characterization of the relationship between researcher and researched given by Sipe and Constable (1996). I have read enough educational research to know about clinical interviews and the various ways this is done to understand students and teachers and others in the educational research process. However, the characteristics given in the article highlight the importance for me in deciding whether or not the research subject should be informed about the research process or not, and to what extent the researcher her/himself lets themselves be analyzed as part of the research process. While some could argue that research data is confounded if the researcher becomes part of the research, there are other schools of thought – A/R/Tography and Currère as examples – where the subject matter is enhanced by the exploration and questioning of the researcher’s worldview (deconstructivist – see article). If we truly respect reflective practice in our teachers, then surely why not reflective practice in our educational research? I can see, of course, the difficulty this may cause for those in the context of copyright laws and BREB ethics approval applications that demonstrate the serious, disciplined side to research. However, I can see now the arguments that could be given for different forms of educational research and how heated the debate could become!