EDEV_507 Week 1_3

Thanks for your thought provoking response. I’d like to reply by arguing that the distinction between providing answers and generating more questions is a false dichotomy and by adding a (rather lengthy) note about a base standard of what counts as good educational research. First, though, I’d like to ask if you have a word/ post limit? In the six modules to date, the policies of the tutors have been remarkably different.

The notion of the dialectic is important in understanding the relevance of research findings. From the synthesis of two competing ideas, each replete with assertions and contradictions, inspiring some and infuriating others, comes a third idea that connects the dots and satisfies initially. Yet eventually, that solution will be challenged and a fourth idea will rise. From the ashes of this new debate, a fifth will emerge. And so on. The complexity that arises from the multiplicity of potential views virtually ensures that no research ‘answer’ can ever be complete. Instead, that answer will either contain direct limitations (as in the current convention of adding a ‘limitations’ section in a research paper), or those limitations will be discovered by a later researcher. Either way, the idea that a paper may be the end point or may be the start is a false dichotomy. A dialectic is a recognition that nothing is ‘answered’ in knowledge generation: the historicity in setting down an ‘answer’ to be followed by refinement (or rejection) of that answer.

However, I’d like to respond to Nolan (2014) whose paper stands as a good example of how modern education studies attempts to place itself inside the academic project by subverting centuries-old notions of scientific enquiry.

Moses and Knutsen’s (2012) contention that the medical model of scientific double-blind randomised trials is seen as the pinnacle of scientific research, however improbable and impossible that model is for research into emergent elements that are the focus of social science. Durkheim’s notion of ‘social fact’ (Ritzer, 2011) reminds the social science researcher that the level of inquiry open does not fit neatly within much of the hard science modelling of the empirical world. Bhaskar’s (2008) critical realism allows research into social facts while rooting that empirical level within the broader traditions of post-positivism and begin the intricate questions that inevitably follow when constructivist questions underpin research. This rooting helps maintain social science’s position as an authentic mode of enquiry without needing to open it up to the severe criticisms of hard postmodernism. Whereas Satre’s existentialism may be one accurate epistemology of the social world, its product is often more literary than scientific. Educational researchers need to make a serious choice of whether to pursue the ungeneralisabilty of personal approaches and risk losing the ‘scientific’ label, or to ground (no pun intended) their research in more falsifiable methods.

Theory-generation-or-theory-confirmation as a dichotomist paradigm may be losing out to research-as-literature. While this may produce thicker descriptions and deeper individual truths, one has to question that role in the project of social science. Theory is generally defined as a mid- or high-level statement of truth that is observable at the individual (or atomistic, or whichever lower level chosen). If research papers only report on the individual, two things must happen. The first is that the relationship between the paper and theory is limited or absent, and the second—which follows—is that the role of ‘scientific’ papers themselves in the project of understanding the human condition is radically altered. If these points are taken to their extreme, an argument may be made that actual fiction may be as valid as epistemologies than research papers themselves.

I will state this next assertion baldly and honestly because I (we all in this room, probably including Jose) are social science researchers and have an overt interest in the status of research in our field. Research that deviates too far from the established norms (and this is becoming the trend in much educational research) and legitimises opinion pieces as research (in the guise of untestable anti-empiric literature) educational researchers risk becoming marginalised and taken seriously only within that narrow field. Slavin will be right.

At the heart (not heART) of the matter is the compounding of complexity and linearity. Arguably, this is the scientific project: the unravelling of complexity into linear—hence comprehendible—strands. Unquestionably, social life is complex (Myrdal, 1973). So was the physical life four hundred years ago (of course, it still is). Yet physical scientists began unravelling some strands of inquiry, at first haltingly and full of error. After many paradigm shifts, the status of the hard science methodologies is at the top of the academic hierarchy. Perhaps unfortunately for social science, Kant then Heidegger came after the tough years of physical science research had established a small but significant body of knowledge and method (Moses & Knutsen, 2012). Some social scientists seem to want to bypass the hard work necessary to build a solid knowledge base and skip many stages and present unempirical, ungeneralisable, untestable ‘knowledge’ as a form of truth. Ironically, their philosophical justification is in complexity: because we cannot know—there are too many possibilities—we can present highly idiosyncratic frameworks that cannot be tested as if they represent a summation of knowledge.

Tellingly, psychology does not do this. Social psychology does not do this. Increasingly, economics does not do this. Sociology is mixed, but on the whole, it does not do this. Educational research, (and here I indicate my bias) unfortunately, is rife with this.

Jim

Bhaskar, R. (2008). A realist theory of science. London and New York: Routledge. http://doi.org/10.2307/2184170

Moses, J. W., & Knutsen, T. L. (2012). Ways of knowing: Competing methodologies in social and political research (2nd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Myrdal, G. (1973). How Scientific Are the Social Sciences? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, (January), 31–37.

Nolan, K. (2014). The heART of educational enquiry: Deconstructing the boundaries between research, knowing and representation. In A. D. Reid, E. P. Hart & M. A. Peters (Eds). A companion to research in education (pp. 517-531). Dordrecht Heidelberg/New York/London: Springer.

Ritzer, G. (2011). Sociological Theory. Sociological Theory(8th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.

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About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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