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Steps Required to Understand Educational Research - Methodological Approach, the Research Design, the Sample, Data Collection Data Analysis, Ethical Issues, Dissemination and the Audience

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In this essay, my aim is to examine the steps required to understand educational research. These steps consist of the methodological approach, the research design, the sample, data collection data analysis, ethical issues, dissemination and the audience.

What is research? Bassey (1999, p.38), defines it as follows: "research is systematic, critical, and self-critical enquiry which aims to contribute to the advancement of knowledge and wisdom." According to Mouly (1978, quoted in Cohen and Manion 2000, p.40):

research is best conceived as the process of arriving at dependable solutions to problems through the planned and systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of data. It is a most important tool for advancing knowledge, for promoting progress, and for enabling man to relate effectively to his environment, to accomplish his purposes, and to resolve his conflicts.

Before embarking on a research study, the researcher needs to be clear about what the research is for, who it is for, and what claims can be made for it. The researcher must also remember that he or she will come to the research with a particular view of the world, and this will affect the way the data is collected and analysed.

There are important issues that have to be taken into consideration by anyone undertaking or reading a piece of educational research.

The methodological approach

The first issue to be mentioned in this essay is the methodological approach. Cohen and Manion (2000, p.38), provide a useful account of what this involves: "by methods, we mean that range of approaches used in educational research to gather data which are to be used as the basis for inference and interpretation, for explanation and prediction"

The researcher may, for example, adopt a 'positivist' view. This is perhaps best described by Denscombe (2001, p.240):

positivism is an approach to social research which seeks to apply the natural science model of research to investigations of the social world. It is based on the assumption that there are patterns and regularities, causes and consequences in the social world, just as there are in the natural world. These patterns and regularities in the social world are seen as having their own existence - they are real. For positivists, the aim of social research is to discover the patterns and regularities of the social world by using the kind of scientific methods used to such good effect in the natural sciences.

Robson (2002, p. 20), outlines some of the main features of the positivist approach: objective knowledge (facts) can be gained from direct experience or observation, and is the only knowledge available to science; science separates facts from values; science is largely based on quantitative data; all scientific propositions are founded on facts; the purpose of science is to apply universal causal laws; cause is established through demonstrating such empirical regularities or 'constant conjunctions'; explaining an event is simply relating it to a general law; and it is possible to transfer the assumptions and methods of natural science from natural to social science.

Essentially, positivists look for the existence of a constant relationship between events, or, in the language of experimentation, between two variables (Robson 2002, p.21)

Another approach which can be adopted in research is the relativist view. As pointed out by Robson (2002, p.22), "relativism crops us in several guises and contexts. In its extreme form, philosophical relativism maintains that there is no external reality independent of human consciousness; there are only different sets of meanings and classifications which people attach to the world."

Fletcher(1996) and Steinmetz (1998), quoted by Robson (2002, p.25), outline some of the features of relativistic approaches: scientific accounts and theories are not accorded a privileged position; it is not accepted that there are rational criteria for choosing among different theoretical frameworks or explanations; reality is presented through the eyes of participants; the role of language is emphasized; the importance of viewing the meaning of experience and behaviour in context, and its full complexity, is stressed; the research process is viewed as generating working hypotheses rather than immutable empirical facts; the attitude towards theorizing emphasizes the emergence of concepts from data rather than their imposition in terms of a priori theory; and qualitative methodologies are used.

The research design

The second issue to be explored in this essay is the research design: what methods to use and when to use them. What is a research design? According to Trochim (2006, p.1), "research design can be thought of as the structure of research- it is the "glue" that holds all of the elements in a research project together." Design is concerned with turning research questions into projects (Robson, p.79). As Hakim (1987, quoted in Robson, 2002, p.80) explains:

design deals primarily with aims, purposes, intentions and plans within the practical constraints of location, time, money and availability of staff. Is is also very much about style, the architect's own preferences and ideas (whether innovative or solidly traditional) and the stylistic preferences of those who pay for the work and have to live with the finished result. (p.1)

The components for the framework of a research design are purpose(s), theory, research questions, methods and sampling strategy. This raises a number of questions: What is this study trying to achieve? What theory will guide or inform the study? What questions in the research are geared to providing answers? What specific techniques will the researcher use to collect data? Whom will the researcher seek data from? All these aspects must be inter-related and kept in balance. A well-designed framework will provide a high degree of compatibility between purposes, theory, research questions, methods and sampling strategies. (Robson, 2002, p.81)

As Robson (2002, p.81-82) points out, in flexible designs, "there should be a repeated revisiting of all of the aspects as the research takes place. In other words, the detailed framework of the design emerges during the study." In fixed research designs, "you should get all of this right before embarking on the major phase of data collection."

Robson (2002, p.98), adds that there are some general features of fixed designs



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