Monday, February 22, 2010

Research Methods in Education (6th ed)

Any research text which has reached a sixth edition must be doing something right and this book has been an international best seller for most of its history. The fifth edition published in 2000 demonstrated to readers that the authors were adept at maintaining currency and were not simply prepared to serve up a time honoured menu of superficial coverage of the broad range of possibilities for educational research. This tends to be the dominant model for research methods texts. The 6th edition of this text is even more impressive and goes even further with additional chapters on analysis; an extension to the paradigms debate including an introduction to the emergence of complexity theory (though I feel the paradigms discussion could have been taken a
little further), and an important cross referencing feature which connects the text to a support companion web site.

Structurally the book is well laid out, and a particularly impressive aspect is that it begins with a lengthy discussion of the nature of inquiry which is followed by a detailed discussion of ethics. Given that this text is likely to be used predominantly by post graduate students this is to be applauded. It is easy for research methods texts to get into the so called "nuts and bolts" of research too early without laying the ground of the nature of inquiry and therefore the quest for "knowledge" and the ethics which underpins such an endeavour. It makes the reader think long and hard about the questions related to:

Why do research in the first place? In the first section, a lengthier discussion on the nature of uncertainty and the attraction of post-structuralism would have been welcome, perhaps as a precursor to the section on feminist research, and connected to the discussion on complexity theory. I am not especially supportive of post-structuralist thought but it has become a significant feature in the educational research landscape.

An important feature of the book for me is its non-partisan tone. It seeks not to extol the virtues of one approach over another, rather the authors talk about the purpose of research and the importance of fit between the research questions being asked, the data needed to answer the questions and the methods required to gather such data. This is important as it is easy for research students to lapse into discourses which seek to marginalize certain types of research often for uninformed reasons. At the same time, the authors do not simply accept that research, whatever its nature, is unproblematic and in Part One the authors highlight the more important criticisms of the major paradigms.

The Australian Educational Researcher,Volume 36, Number 2,August 2009 •The obligatory sections on validity and reliability and sampling are present and a lengthy section which details, with considerable precision, the various "styles" (their term) of educational research. This is followed by strategies for data collection and this section is full of practical examples and mini scenarios which are particularly helpful. Readers can get advice from how to construct a questionnaire, to what statistical test to use, to interviewing techniques. I believe there are two shortcomings in this section that are worth noting. First, the section on personal construct theory would benefit from a lengthier discussion on how the repertory grid can be used as a tool to generate narrative. The grid is widely recognized as a "conversational tool" and there is plenty of published educational research that has used the repertory grid in this way. Secondly, the section on discourse analysis is scant at best with only limited attention (by implication through a reference to Habermas) given to critical discourse analysis with no mention of the major writers in this area. Perhaps we can look forward to this addition in the seventh edition.

The final section on data analysis is also short in one or two areas and this connects with my comment about post-structuralism earlier. For instance, there is no mention of how alternative data which could be gathered as part of a case study would be analyzed. An example would be the use of visual images such as pictures, photographs or video evidence. Additionally, how pictures drawn by participants (such as school children) as a form of representation could be analyzed to understand children’s school experiences is also unexplored. In fact, in the section on qualitative data, it is not apparent that material other than spoken (and transcribed) text can be construed as data. However, there is plenty of published material in education research journals that has made use of such data. Again, perhaps this may be part of the next evolution of this book.

I would not want to end this review on a negative note and really my comments above simply confirm that educational research is an ever-widening field with increasing legitimacy for diverse methods and forms of data. To their credit, the authors of this book have shown, as they have with previous editions, that research needs to be thought through carefully, that there are accepted methods for particular purposes, and that educational research continues to expand in scope, method and choice of topics. To cover every nuance of educational research would require a book three times the size of this one. This is not the authors’ intention. Rather, they want to see a researcher being well grounded in the discourses surrounding the nature of inquiry and to have a good grasp of how this articulates with the methods of inquiry. To this end, the book is
exemplary and should be on the reading list of all post graduate students and it would not be out of place on a research academic’s bookshelf.

Louis Cohen, Lawrence Manion and Keith Morrison, Routledge Publishers(part of the Taylor & Francis group), Oxford, UK, 2007, 638 pages,IBSN 978-0-415-36878-0, AUD80.00 (paperback)

Tony Rossi
The University of Queensland

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