I've been thinking about the idea that the researcher is not a neutral party and
brings his or her assumptions, values, hopes, and interests to the situation.
Being open-ended and as neutral as possible with verbal language and even body
language and reactions will help capture more of the participants' ideas and
experiences and less of the researcher's hopes and interests (Ellis, . This also speaks
to the need for the researcher to enter into the project with as few
pre-conceive notions of the outcomes as possible.
I think that a well-researched literature review can help the researcher
approach the project more neutrally than if they did not do research in
advance. For example, I am interested in edtech and in particular 1:1 devices
in the classroom. I am fond of saying "it's 2012 and working adults use
electronic devices frequently, as well as the kids when they're not sitting in
class. How can we not be using personal devices in the classroom?"
It is clear that in approaching this research project, I have a particular agenda
on the topic. However, a colleague in one of my other classes posted a NY Times
article about a school district in Arizona that is very edtech heavy, and yet
has not seen an increase in test scores as a result. The article generalizes
that schools across the country are cutting budgets and laying off teachers,
and yet adding much more technology to their classrooms. Oftentimes, this
technology is not actually making a difference (Richtel, 2011). The article
shifted my perspective on edtech by reminding me that simply because devices
are ubiquitous and people enjoy them, they don't inherently improve the
classroom and the research needs to be approached neutrally--it's possible that
research would reveal few measurable improvements.
This type of research study also raises the issue of quantitative versus
qualitative research, particularly because much of the large-scale quantitative
research in education utilizes test scores. Test scores don't measure
children's experience of the classroom, but qualitative research could do so.
Creswell (2005) also discusses postpositivism, the concept that “we cannot
be ‘positive’ about our blaims of knowledge when studying the behavior and
action of humans” (p. 7). She refers to Phillips and Burbules (2000) as being more recent writers to discuss postpositivism and explains that this is a traditional approach to research, having been discussed by "19th-century writers, such as Comte, Mill, Durkheim, Newton, and Locke (Smith, 1983)" (Creswell, 2005, p.7).
If I were going to actually embark on the research project I'm interested in, I might read the Phillips & Burbules (2000) book prior to beginning my research.
Creswell, J. (2005). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches, 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Ellis, J. (2006). Researching children's experience hermeneutically and
holistically. The Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 52(3),
Phillips, D.C., & Burbules, N.C. (2000). Postpositivism and educational research. Lanham, NY: Rowman &
Richtel, M. (2011, September 3). In the classroom of future, stagnant
scores. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com