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Educational Research

Saturday, January 10
Introduction to Educational
Research EDF 689
Locke, Silverman, Spirduso
Gay, K.
Shipps and Firestone
Gephart, M.
Parker, W.
Educational Research
Overview of the morning
– A description of educational research
– Scientific and disciplined inquiry (Schulman)
– Functions of educational research
– Specific approaches
Quantitative designs
Qualitative designs
– Guidelines for determining the appropriateness of an
– Limitations of scientific and disciplined inquiry
Educational Research
Formal definition
– The application of a scientific and disciplined
inquiry approach to the study of educational
– To explain or help understand educational
issues, questions, or problems
Educational Research
Secondary purposes
– Help others understand research results
– Use results to improve teaching and learning
– Raise new topics for study
Educational research as an evolving,
ongoing process
How do we know stuff
How do you know things? Where does
information come from?
Educational Research
Six ways we can know something
– Tradition
– Expert opinion
– Personal experience
– Intuition
– Logic
– Research
Educational Research
– Doing things as they have always been done
– Limitations
Often based on an idealized past
Can be distant from current realities and the complexities
associated with them
Experts or authorities
– Relying on the expertise or authority of others
– Limitations
Experts can be wrong
Experts can disagree among themselves as in a “second
Educational Research
Personal experience
– Relying on one’s knowledge of their prior experiences
– Limitations
How one is affected by an event depends on who one is
One frequently needs to know something that cannot be
learned through experience
– Relying on your “gut” feeling
– Limitations
Difficulty verifying results
Educational Research
Inductive reasoning
– Reasoning from the specific to the general
– Limitations
In order to be certain of a conclusion one must
observe all examples
All examples can be observed only in very limited
situations where there are few members of the
Educational Research
Deductive reasoning
– Reasoning from the general to the specific
– Limitations
You must begin with true premises in order to
arrive at true conclusions
Only organizes what is already known
Educational Research
– Systematically studying problems using a
scientific and disciplined inquiry approach
– Limitations
Difficulty removing errors related to the complexity
of human behavior in varying contexts
Difficulty controlling researcher bias
Educational Research
Research provides the most unbiased and
verifiable understanding
Some decisions require such evidence, others
do not
– Class size and retention policies need to be based on
evidence from research given the importance of such
– Basing these policies on tradition, experts, personal
experience, intuition, or logic subject them to criticism
related to the limitations of each source of knowledge
Educational Research-Activity

What are some questions related to

your professional work, and what
sources of information would you rely
on to reflect on these questions?
Why are some sources of information
appropriate and others not?
Scientific and Disciplined Inquiry
A systematic approach to examining issues and
questions that combines features of inductive
and deductive reasoning with other
characteristics to produce a reliable approach to
– Systematic nature
– Detailed descriptions of procedures
Scientific and Disciplined Inquiry

Four general steps

– Identify a topic; an issue or problem that can be
answered through collection an analysis.
– Collect data; describe and execute procedures
– Analyze data; what did you find
– Report the results and implications; this is what I
found and this is why it matters.
Flexibility of these steps to incorporate a
range of purposes and methods
Inquiry Activity
Brainstorm in your groups problems you
foresee with each of the four general
– Topic selection
– Data collection
– Analysis
– Reporting
Functions of Research

Basic research
– Conducted to develop, test, or refine theory
– Examples related to learning theory
Mastery learning
Gardner’s multiple intelligences
Functions of Research
Applied research
– Conducted to examine the usefulness of theory in
solving practical educational problems
– Examples
Developing seventh grade social studies curriculum around a
problem-solving approach to learning
Examining the effectiveness of a computer-based algebra
program developed around a mastery learning approach
Accommodating varied learning styles when teaching
lessons in modern literature
Functions of Research
Evaluation research
– Conducted to assess the merit or worth of a
specific practice in terms of the values
operating at a specific site
Merit is exemplified by a program accomplishing
what is was supposed to accomplish
Worth is exemplified by the value attached to a
program by those using it
Functions of Research
Evaluation (continued)
– Examples
The computerized algebra program being used in
Williams Middle School has been installed
properly, is being used properly, and student
achievement is increasing as a result of its use
The computerized algebra program being used in
Williams Middle School is perceived to be an
efficient and effective expenditure of district funds
Specific Approaches to Research

Lack of a single, appropriate method to

study education
Family of research methods
– Quantitative
– Qualitative
Specific Approaches

Differentiating characteristics
– Underlying assumptions of the researcher
– Purpose of the research
– Research questions
– Research designs
Specific Approaches

Differentiating characteristics
– Interaction between the researcher and
– Variables
– Data collection and analysis
– Reports
Specific Approaches
Complementary nature of quantitative and
qualitative approaches
– Different purposes of research
– Consideration of the strengths and
weaknesses of different approaches for
specific purposes
Qualitative versus Quantitative Research
Glesne and Peshkin suggest
Quantitative researchers prefer the
Qualitative researchers prefer, or at
least enjoy, the ambiguous
Quantitative Designs
– Describe current conditions
– Investigate relationships
– Study causes and effects
Four major designs
– Descriptive/survey
– Correlational
– Causal comparative
– Experimental
Quantitative Designs
– Purpose – to describe current conditions
– Examples
How many students drop out of school in Louisiana?
What are the attitudes of parents, students, and teachers to
an extended school year?
What kinds of activities typically occur in sixth-grade art
classes, and how frequently does each occur?
What have been the reactions of school administrators to
innovations in teaching physical science?
To what extent are elementary teachers using math
Quantitative Designs
Descriptive/survey (continued)
– Characteristics
Use of large samples
Use of tests, questionnaires, and surveys
Focused on information related to preferences, attitudes,
practices, concerns, or interests
Statistical analysis of numerical data
– Potential problems
Instrument development
Low response rates
Honest responses from subjects
Quantitative Designs
Correlational (what relationship exists?)
– Purpose – to ascertain the extent to which two or
more variables are statistically related
– Examples
What is the relationship between ACT scores and freshmen grades?
Is a teacher’s sense of efficacy related to their effectiveness?
Do significant relationships exist between the types of activities used
in math classrooms and student achievement?
Quantitative Designs
Correlational (continued)
– Characteristics
Measurement with a correlation coefficient
One group of subjects measured on two variables
Use of instruments to measure variables
Focused on the direction and nature of the
Quantitative Designs
Correlational (continued)
– Potential problems
Instrument development
Inferring cause and effect relationships
Quantitative Designs
– Purpose – to explore relationships among variables
that cannot be actively manipulated or controlled by
the researcher
– Examples
What is the effect of part-time employment on the achievement of
high school students?
What characteristics differentiate students who dropout from those
who do not?
What is the effect of attending a “magnet” school on student
Quantitative Designs
Causal comparative (continued)
– Characteristics
Selection of subjects from at least two groups in
which the cause (i.e., the independent variable)
has already occurred
Statistical comparisons of the effect (i.e., the
dependent variable) using at least two groups
– Potential problems
Inferring cause and effect relationships
Quantitative Designs
– Purpose – to establish cause and effect
relationships between variables
– Examples
Examine the effect of teaching with a 1) co-
operative groups strategy or 2) traditional lecture
approach on student’s achievement
Examine the effect of teaching with manipulatives
or a traditional algorithm approach on the test
scores of algebra students
Quantitative Designs
– Stringent procedures for selecting subjects
and assigning them to groups
– Manipulation of the causal variable
– Control of extraneous variables
– Statistical analysis of numerical data
Quantitative Designs

Potential problems
– Inability of researcher to adequately control
extraneous variables
– Use of complicated research designs
– Complex statistical analyses of data
Qualitative Designs
Purpose – provide field focused, interpretative,
detailed descriptions and interpretations of
participants and their settings
Four designs
– Action research
– Historical research
– Ethnography
– Grounded theory
Qualitative Designs
Action research
– Purposes
To provide a solution to an educator’s problem in their own
school or organization
To improve practice or understand issues
– Examples
How can our college move to a performance based model for
undergraduate teacher preparation programs?
How can disciplinary policies be enforced consistently in our
Qualitative Designs
Action research (continued)
– Characteristics
Cyclical nature of data collection and analysis
Four basic steps – identify a problem, collect data, analyze
data, and take action to resolve the problem
Typically the educator “owns” the problem in that they carry
out the research themselves
– Potential problem
Insular nature of the process can affect the rigor of the study
Qualitative Designs
Historical research
– Purpose – to gain insight into past events, issues, of
personalities to better understand the current situation
– Examples
The difficulties being experienced while implementing a
standards based curriculum can be understood more
completely if one recognizes the historical top-down control
of curriculum imposed on teachers by the State Department
of Education
Current parochial school policies can be better understood
with knowledge of the role these schools have played in the
education of students in the community for the last fifty years
Qualitative Designs
Historical research (continued)
– Characteristics
Focus on specific individuals, social issues, events,
or policies
Documents and artifacts are the primary sources
of data
Data is already available and is complied,
presented, and interpreted
Data is examined carefully for authenticity and
Qualitative Designs
Historical research (continued)
– Potential problems
Reliance on secondary sources
Values of researcher can affect interpretation
Qualitative Designs
– Purpose – to obtain an understanding of the shared
beliefs and practices of a particular group or culture
– Examples
What is the nature of the problems a teacher encounters
when he begins using a constructivist approach to instruction
after having taught for ten years using a very traditional
What does “inclusion” mean to a special needs child who is
placed in an inclusionary classroom?
Qualitative Designs
Ethnography (continued)
– Characteristics
The study is conducted in the natural setting for a
lengthy period of time
Emerging research design
Participants are observed in naturally occurring
Researchers develops trust with participants
Cyclical nature of data collection and analysis
Qualitative Designs
Ethnography (continued)
– Characteristics (continued)
Observation and interviews are the dominate data collection
Inductive nature of the data analysis
– Potential problems
Insufficient time spent in the field
Poor data collection efforts or insufficient data collected
Poor data analysis
Researcher bias
Qualitative Designs
Grounded theory
– Purpose – to derive theory from the analysis of
identified patterns, themes, and categories emerging
from data
– Examples
What theories underlie the school change efforts of teachers
in a parochial elementary school?
What underlying theory explains teacher’s changing from
traditional assessment beliefs and practices to alternative,
performance-based assessment beliefs and practices?
Qualitative Designs
Grounded theory (continued)
– Characteristics
Respect for participant’s beliefs and views
Qualitative data collection using analytic strategies
Inductively reasoned synthesis of data through the
use of constant comparison analysis
Conceptual nature of the process
Qualitative Designs

Grounded theory (continued)

– Potential problems
Researcher bias
Poor data collection strategies
Difficulty analyzing data
Guidelines for Choosing A Design

Problems dictate methods

Each design has particular
characteristics that coincide with
different types of problems
Limitations of Scientific and
Disciplined Inquiry Approaches
Four limitations
– Value-based, philosophical, or ethical problems or
questions cannot be solved
– These approaches provide a potentially overly
simplified views of reality
– Methodological concerns
Access to subjects
Data collection strategies
Data analysis
Limitations of research designs
– Legal and ethical responsibilities of the researcher
Don’t try to run from the numbers: you
cannot escape
Don’t be afraid of statistics
Be true to your topic, what do you want to
What Type of Research is Best
“There is no best type of research, there
are only good questions matched with
procedures of inquiry that can yield truthful
answers” Locke
Key Stages
Selecting a topic
Defining a research problem
Relating it to theory and research
Securing a sponsor
Key stages (2)
Formulating specific research questions
Designing the research
– Conceptual framework
– Conceptual map
– Preparing and defending the proposal
Key stage (3)
Review of the literature
Collecting and analyzing data
Drawing conclusions
Writing chapters 4 and 5
Defending your work (if applicable)
Selecting a topic
Transforming an idea into a researchable
Conducting an appropriate review of the
Building an argument
Managing the data
Challenges Continued
Working with your sponsor
Managing and organizing your time and
Dealing with emotional blockages
Getting “lost in the data”
Selecting a topic
Select a topic that is interesting to you and will
sustain your passion over time
Select a topic that has potential for you to make
a contribution to the field. “stand on someone’s
Avoid a topic that is overly ambitious and too
Avoid a topic of which you have an “axe to
Avoid a topic that is too emotionally close to you
Research Design
What is it?
Why is it important?
What are the components? How are they
What do you want to know?
Research Design: What is it?
Deals with aims, purposes, intentions, and
plans within the practical constraints of
resources and location.
Provides a link between the questions the
study is asking, the data to be collected,
and the conclusions to be drawn
Research Design: What is it?
Good research design includes: purposes,
conceptual framework, research questions
and propositions, units of analysis, logic of
linking the data, criteria for interpretation
of data.
Research Design: Components
Conceptual framework
Research Questions
Research methodology
Research Design: what is it?
What questions to study
What data are relevant
What questions not to study
What data to collect
How to analyze the results
Research Design: components
Purposes: personal, practical, and
research based
What to study
Why to study
Advance your career
Is it exploratory, descriptive, explanatory,
or predictive?
Research Design: Components
Defining the purposes:
What are the goals of the study
What issues to discuss
Research Design: Components
Why do you want to do this?
Why will the results be important
Conceptual Framework:
– A formulation of what you think is going on
with the phenomena that you are studying
– Should help you identify realistic and relevant
research questions
– Select appropriate research methods
– Identify threats to validity
Research Design: Validity
The correctness or credibility of your work
How might you be wrong?
What are the threats?
What are possible alternative explanations
to your findings or methods
Identify the threats and how you can
control them, if you can
Research Design: Components
Components are interdependent
– The methods you use must enable you to
provide valid answers to your research
– The research questions need to be framed to
provide answers.
Research Design: Helpful Hints
Keep notes
Keep track of your dreams
Invest extra time at this stage
Always ask yourself questions: why are
you doing this, how might you be wrong?
Generating a Thesis
A good thesis statement will usually
include the following four attributes:
– take on a subject upon which reasonable
people could disagree
– deal with a subject that can be adequately
treated given the nature of the assignment
– express one main idea
– assert your conclusions about a subject
Thesis Statements
Let’s see how to generate a thesis statement for
a social policy paper.
– Brainstorm the topic.
Let’s say that we are focusing upon the problems
posed by drug addiction. You find that you are
interested in the problems of crack babies, babies
born to mothers addicted to crack cocaine.
You start out with a thesis statement like this:
“Crack babies.”
Thesis Statements
This fragment isn’t a thesis statement. Instead, it simply
indicates a general subject. Furthermore, your reader
doesn’t know what you want to say about crack kids.
Narrow the topic
Your readings about the topic, however, have led you to
the conclusion that not only do these babies have a
difficult time surviving premature births and withdrawal
symptoms, but their lives will be even harder as they
grow up because they are likely to be raised in an
environment of poverty and neglect. You think that there
should be programs to help these children.
Thesis Statements
You change your thesis to look like this:
“Programs for crack kids.”
This fragment not only announces your subject, but it
focuses on one main idea: programs. Furthermore, it
raises a subject upon which reasonable people could
disagree, because while most people might agree that
something needs to be done for these children, not
everyone would agree on what should be done or who
should do it. You should note that this fragment is not a
thesis statement because your reader doesn’t know your
conclusions on the topic.
Thesis Statements
Take a position on the topic.
After reflecting on the topic a little while longer, you
decide that what you really want to say about this topic is
that in addition to programs for crack babies, the
government should develop programs to help crack
children cope and compete.
You revise your thesis to look like this:
“More attention should be paid to the environment
crack kids grow up in.”
This statement asserts your position, but the terms more
attention and the environment are vague.
Thesis Statements
Use specific language.
You decide to explain what you mean
about “the environment,” so you write:
“Experts estimate that half of crack babies
will grow up in home environments lacking
rich cognitive and emotional stimulation.”
Thesis Statements
This statement is specific, but it isn’t a thesis. It
merely reports a statistic instead of making an
assertion. Make an assertion based on clearly
stated support.
You finally revise your thesis statement one
more time to look like this:
“Because half of all crack babies are likely to grow
up in homes lacking good cognitive and
emotional stimulation, the federal government
should finance programs to supplement parental
care for crack kids.”
Strong vs. Weak Thesis
1.A strong thesis takes some sort of stand.
– Remember that your thesis needs to show your
conclusions about a subject. For example, if you are
writing a paper for a class on fitness, you might be
asked to choose a popular weight-loss product to
evaluate. Here are two thesis statements:
“There are some negative and positive aspects
to the Banana Herb Tea Supplement.”
Strong vs. Weak Thesis
This is a weak thesis. First, it fails to take
a stand. Second, the phrase “negative and
positive aspects” is vague.
“Because Banana Herb Tea Supplement
promotes rapid weight loss that results in
the loss of muscle and lean body mass, it
poses a potential danger to customers.”
This is a strong thesis because it takes a
Strong vs. Weak Thesis
2. A strong thesis justifies discussion.
Your thesis should indicate the point of the
discussion. If your assignment is to write a paper
on kinship systems, using your own family as an
example, you might come up with either of these
two thesis statements:
“My family is an extended family.”
This is a weak thesis because it states an
observation. Your reader won’t be able to tell the
point of the statement, and will probably stop
Strong vs. Weak Thesis
“While most American families would
view consanguineal marriage as a
threat to the nuclear family structure,
many Iranian families, like my own,
believe that these marriages help
reinforce kinship ties in an extended
Strong vs. Weak Thesis
This is a strong thesis because it shows
how your experience contradicts a widely-
accepted view. A good strategy for
creating a strong thesis is to show that the
topic is controversial. Readers will be
interested in reading the rest of the essay
to see how you support your point.
Strong vs. Weak Thesis
3. A strong thesis expresses one main idea.
Readers need to be able to see that your paper
has one main point. If your thesis expresses
more than one idea, then you might confuse
your readers about the subject of your paper.
For example:
“Companies need to exploit the marketing
potential of the Internet, and web pages can
provide both advertising and customer
Strong vs. Weak Thesis
This is a weak thesis statement because
the reader can’t decide whether the paper
is about marketing on the Internet or web
pages. To revise the thesis, the
relationship between the two ideas needs
to become more clear. One way to revise
the thesis would be to write:
Strong vs. Weak Thesis
“Because the Internet is filled with
tremendous marketing potential,
companies should exploit this potential
by using web pages that offer both
advertising and customer support.”
Strong vs. Weak Thesis
This is a strong thesis because it shows that
the two ideas are related. Hint: a great
many clear and engaging thesis
statements contain words like “because,”
“since,” “so,” “although,” “unless,” and
Strong vs. Weak Thesis
4. A strong thesis statement is specific.
A thesis statement should show exactly
what your paper will be about, and will
help you keep your paper to a
manageable topic. For example, if you
write a paper on hunger, you might say:
Strong vs. Weak Thesis
“World hunger has many causes and
This is a weak thesis statement for two
major reasons. First, “world hunger” can’t
be discussed thoroughly in five or ten
pages. Second, "many causes and
effects" is vague. You should be able to
identify specific causes and effects. A
revised thesis might look like this:
Strong vs. Weak Thesis
“Hunger persists in Appalachia because
jobs are scarce and farming in the
infertile soil is rarely profitable.”
This is a strong thesis because it narrows
the subject to a more specific and
manageable topic and it also identifies the
specific causes for the existence of