Morrison 2007: What do we mean by educational research?

This second chapter of Coleman & Briggs’ Research Methods in Educational Leadership & Management is essentially a warning about practitioner researchers crashing in and trampling all over deeply rooted research traditions with their big, clumsy, uneducated feet. I definitely felt it was speaking directly to/about people like me. But it raised some interesting issues. The idea of objectivity being a paradox, for example – ‘objectivity’ in itself being a value-laden position. If *everything* is value-laden and everything is controversial, then – assuming there is a point to do so – is it actually possible to succeed in a ‘curiosity-driven quest’ for a ‘higher understanding of educational phenomena’?

Morrison is right, I haven’t – until now – really taken the time to consider the importance of paradigms. I suspected it was something to do with taking on a particular role in order to get the kind of conclusions that are needed, a bit like Edward de Bono and his hats. I misread the MacKenzie quote (p18) at first. I thought it said ‘research is embedded in a charming vortex of constructive and destructive tensions…’ [wishful thinking…?] I still don’t truly understand epistemology and ontology – I thought I did but now I’m not sure. Is ‘reality’ the same thing as ‘our sense of being’? Maybe I’m assuming ‘reality’ is the same thing as ‘absolute truth’. Or maybe this whole chapter is a cunning ploy by the authors to put off simple, would-be practitioner researchers…

Suspending my confusion for a moment… it makes sense (just) that the range of perceptions about the nature of reality (ontology) will affect how we can know stuff (epistemology), which in turn influences the methods we use to gain knowledge (methodology). And, broadly speaking,  I ‘get’ the idea about paradigms/epistemes/traditions. What I don’t fully understand at the moment is whether researchers tend to/should stick to one belief/assumption system, or chop and change and blend depending on the context or situation. I got a sense from the earlier sections of the chapter that you’re supposed to stick to one, and if you don’t then it means you don’t know yourself properly yet. But the concluding sections – about combining approaches and mixing methods – seem to present a more pragmatic stance where ‘best fits’ and ‘opportunities’ of a range of methods and approaches are valued – with a health warning, because, of course, combination requires a broader skill base and greater resources, and its value is – like everything else – contestable, as different approaches stem from different epistemological positions.

Positivism and Interpretivism – broadly speaking – I feel relatively happy with. I think I have a pretty good understanding of these paradigms – well, as good an understanding as one could have without ever really consciously acting within them, and given – like everything else – their contested nature.

When it comes to the varying approaches to the use of data, however, it’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed. Phenomenology, Ethnomethodology, Symbolic interactionism, Naturalism, Ethogenics… these categories aren’t like colours; distinctive but similar in their scope and their capacity to blend with others. They overlap with others in complex and uncertain ways; unsurprisingly because they have all – presumably – been constructed by different people with different perspectives and agendas. I suspect now,  in Week 1, is not the time for me to try to fully understand these different approaches, or expect to feel comfortable with them.

Morrison 2007 The digested read… (in 140 characters):

Research is probably too hard for practitioner researchers to do properly. I could try to explain it to you or try to put you off. Or both.

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