Researching education

Liam Gearon

Philosophy of educational research

Philosophy of educational research

Five Questions

Question 1: What is research?

Suggested Working Definition

Research defined as ‘any systematic, critical and self-critical enquiry which aims to contribute to the advancement of knowledge’. (Stenhouse, 1975)

Focus for Discussion/ Activity

Obtain a copy of the current or recent British Journal of Religious Education and suggest some ways in which one or more articles fits the Stenhouse definition of research:

Suggested Reading
  • Stenhouse, L. (1975) An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development. London: Heinemann.

Question 2: What is philosophy?

Suggested Working Definition

Philosophy is an ancient, historically developmental and culturally diverse quest for knowledge and understanding of the world in which human beings find themselves.

Philosophy, like educational research, can sometimes be seen as ethereal and ‘otherworldly’ and even irrelevant. The clearest modern demonstration of whether philosophy is concerned with ‘real’ problems or ‘simply’ problems of language is concerned, in my view, in a subtle and popular account of the meeting of two Viennese philosophers in Cambridge in 1946 (see Wittgenstein's Poker)

Suggested Reading
  • Edmunds, D. and Eidenow, J. (2001) Wittgenstein’s Poker. London: Faber and Faber.
  • Edmunds, D. and Eidenow, J. (2004) Rousseau’s Dog: Two Great Thinkers in the Age of Enlightenment. London: Faber and Faber.
  • Popper, K. (1959) The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Popper, K. (1972) Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. London: Routledge.
  • Popper, K. Unended Quest. London: Routledge.
  • Wittgenstein, L. (1922) Tractactus Logico Philosophicus trans. C. K. Ogden, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; rev. Trans. D. Pears and B. McGuiness, London: Routledge, 1962.
  • Wittgenstein, L. (1953) Philosophical Investigations, ed. E. Anscombe and G. H. Von Wright, Oxford: Blackwell.

Question 3: What is educational research?

Suggested Working Definition

Educational research is an activity engaged with the examination of questions and problems – of theory, policy and practice – of relevance to educational systems in cultural, economic, political, psychological, religious or spiritual, social contexts.

Educational research is dominated by a social scientific research paradigm but is influenced by (manifestly diverse bodies of) philosophical theory which challenges the presuppositions of this social scientific research paradigm, especially in regard to knowledge and the application of knowledge in cultural, economic, political, psychological, religious or spiritual, social contexts.

Suggested Reading
  • Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2007), 6th ed. Research Methods in Education. London: Routledge Falmer.
  • Robson, C. (2002) Real World Research. Oxford: Blackwell.

Question 4: What is philosophy of educational research?

Suggested Working Definition

Philosophy of educational research is the critical examination of key concepts and questions underpinning the nature and method of investigation of education and its contexts – these contexts might be cultural, economic, political, psychological, religious or spiritual, social.

Critical examination will always need to include accepted definition of what is meant by cultural, economic, political, psychological, religious or spiritual, social.

Focus for Discussion/ Activity

What is the key context to which your work is relevant?

Suggested Reading
  • Pring, R (2000) ‘The “False Dualism” of Educational Research’, Journal of Philosophy of Education.
  • Robson, C. (2002), Real World Research. Oxford: Blackwell.

Question 5: Why philosophy of educational research?

Suggested Working Definition

Since educational research is an activity engaged with the examination of questions and problems – of theory, policy and practice – of relevance to educational systems in cultural, economic, political, psychological, religious or spiritual, social contexts – these matters are things which human beings value and therefore their acquisition or denial are matters over which human being struggle amongst themselves.

Focus for Discussion/ Activity

What might a philosophical framework be useful?

Why might it be seen as irrelevant or superfluous?

Suggested Reading
  • Pring, R. (2004) Philosophy of Educational Research. London: Continuum.
Focus for Discussion/ Activity
  • Are there any immediately apparent philosophical questions in your area of interest?
  • Are all the questions self-evident?
  • How do you know what the questions are?
  • Why are some questions more important than others?
  • Should be just adhere to the immediate priorities of current-day policy?
The Philosophy and Practice of Educational Research: Method, methodology, knowledge

The Philosophy and Practice of Educational Research: Method, methodology, knowledge

  • Methodology is the conceptual framework wherein we seek to frame and attain knowledge of our field of research
  • Method is the application (through tools of research – interviews, survey, philosophical reflection) whereby we seek to add to knowledge in our field of research.
  • We return constantly to the question of epistemology: What do we know?
  • Research is also presenting an understanding of the parameters in which we define such knowledge, as much as about the knowledge we are presenting.
  • One of the key issues in research is being able to define a focused research question, identifying the area of knowledge to which one wishes to add, and identifying the methods and methodology appropriate to the development of this new knowledge.
Focus for Discussion/ Activity

Can you begin to define a ‘research question’ which might focus your interest, attention and expertise?

What might be the main epistemological issues (questions about knowledge) arising from this?

Societies for Philosophy of Educational Research

[And follow relevant links – see especially the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy of Education.

For more general philosophical reference, see the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, plato.stanford.edu

Suggested Reading
  • BERA (2004) Revised Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research. Nottingham: British Educational Research Association.
  • BERA (2004) Good Practice in Educational Research Writing. Nottingham: British Educational Research Association.
  • Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2007), 6th ed. Research Methods in Education. London: Routledge Falmer.
  • Pring, R (2000) ‘The “False Dualism” of Educational Research’, Journal of Philosophy of Education, 34: 2, 247-260.
  • Pring, R. (2004) Philosophy of Education Research. London and New York: Continuum.
  • Robson, C. (2003) Real World Research: A Resource for Social Scientists and Practitioner-Researchers, second edition. Oxford: Blackwell.
Four Criticisms of Educational Research (Pring, 2004)
  • Research doesn’t provide governments with the information governments require for decision making on policy
  • Research doesn’t help professional practice
  • Research is too often fragmented
  • Research is often tendentious or politically motivated
Suggested solutions
  • Develop cumulative body of knowledge (and especially evidence-based knowledge and particularly through systematic research reviews)
  • Evidence of this happening through EPPI and BERA reviews of research
  • Develop increased involvement of professionals like teachers in the research process
  • Again, evidence of this happening through EPPI and BERA reviews of research
Research Education - A Lightly Annotated List of Further Reading

Research Education - A Lightly Annotated List of Further Reading

Core Reading

  • Robson, C. (2003) Real World Research: A Resource for Social Scientists and Practitioner-Researchers, 2nd ed., Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2007) Research Methods in Education, 6th ed., London and New York: Routledge.

Debates are common over the uses and even usefulness of educational research, including debates about what knowledge might consist of in this discipline, and whether educational research is a discipline in its own right Pring provides a useful overview:

  • Pring, R. (2004) Philosophy of Education Research, 2nd ed., London and New York: Continuum.

  • Pring, R (2000) ‘The “False Dualism” of Educational Research’, Journal of Philosophy of Education, 34: 2, 247-260.

See also:

  • Oancea, A. ‘Criticisms of educational research: Key topics and levels of analysis’ (2005) British Educational Research Journal, 31: 2, 157-184.

There are a wide range of sources that examine these philosophical questions:

  • Aldrich, R. (2006) Lessons from History of Education: The Selected Works of Richard Aldrich. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Banks, J. (2006) Race, Culture and Education: The Selected Works of James A. Banks. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Bridges, D. (2003) - Fiction Written under Oath?: Essays in Philosophy and Educational Research, London: Kluwer Academic.
  • Bruner, J. S. (2006) In Search of Pedagogy: The Selected Works of Jerome S. Bruner. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2007) Research Methods in Education, 6th ed., London and New York: Routledge.
  • Clough, P. (2002) Narratives and Fictions in Educational Research. Buckingham: Open University.
  • Denzin, N.K. and Lincoln Y.S. (eds.) (2005) _The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research _(3rd edition). London: Sage.
  • Goodson, I. (2005) Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics. The Selected Works of Professor I.F. Goodson. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
  • Lincoln, Y.S. and Guba, E.G. (1985) Naturalistic Inquiry. London: Sage.
  • MacLure, M. (2003) Discourse in Educational and Social Research. Maidenhead: Open University.
  • O’Leary, Z. Researching Real World Problems: A Guide to Methods of Inquiry. London: Sage.
  • Robinson-Pant, A. (2005) Cross-Cultural Perspectives in Educational Research. Maidenhead: Open University.
  • Robson, C. (2003) Real World Research: A Resource for Social Scientists and Practitioner-Researchers, 2nd ed., Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Thomas, G. (2007) Education and Theory: Strangers in Paradigms. Maidenhead: Open University.
  • Thomas. G. and Pring. R. (eds.) (2004) Evidence-Based Practice in Education. Maidenhead: Open University.

There are a number of works which look at educational research specifically in relation to policy and pedagogy, and wider ‘communities of practice’.

  • Hammersley, M. (2002) Educational Research, Policymaking and Practice, London: Paul Chapman.
  • Hammersley, M. (2003) The Politics of Social Research. London: Sage.
  • Hughes, J., Jewson, N. and Unwin, L. (eds.) (2007) Communities of Practice: critical perspectives. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Schon, D. (1995) The Reflective Practitioner: how professionals think in action. Aldershot: Ashgate.
  • Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Common in educational research too are texts which, combined with philosophically informed debate, focus upon the practicalities of doing research

  • Bassey, M. (1999) Case Study Research in Educational Settings. Buckingham: Open University.
  • Berg, B.L. (2001) Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences, 4th ed., Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Davies, B. Gannon, Susanne (eds.) (2006) Doing Collective Biography. Maidenhead: Open University.
  • Dunne, M. Pryor, J. and Yates, P. (2005) Becoming a Researcher. Maidenhead: Open University.
  • Goodson, I.F. and Sikes, P. (2001) Life History Research in Educational Settings: Learning from Lives. Buckingham: Open University.
  • Gorard, S. and Taylor C. (2004) Combining Methods in Educational and Social Research. Maidenhead: Open University.
  • Hughes, C. (ed.) (2003) Disseminating Qualitative Research in Educational Settings: A Critical Introduction. Buckingham: Open University.
  • Knight, P. (2003) Small-scale Research: Pragmatic Inquiry in Social Science and the Caring Professions. London: Thousand Oaks.
  • McNamee, M. and Bridges, D. (eds.) (2002) Ethics and Educational Research, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • McNiff, J. Lomax, P., White, J. (2003) You and Your Action Research Project, 2nd ed. London: Routledge.
  • Pole, C.J. and Morrison, M. (2003) Ethnography for Education. Buckingham: Open University.
  • Robson, C. (2003) Real World Research: A Resource for Social Scientists and Practitioner-Researchers, 2nd ed., Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Schostak, J.F. (2002) Understanding, Designing and Conducting Qualitative Research in Education: Framing the Project. Maidenhead: Open University.
  • Somekh, B. (2006) Action Research: Methodology for Change and Development. Maidenhead: Open University.
  • Yates, L. (2004) What Does Good Education Research Look Like? Situating a Field and its Practices. Maidenhead: Open University.

Some key international, generic educational research journals

British Educational Research Journal
Journal of Curriculum Studies
Cambridge Journal of Education
Oxford Review of Education
Journal of Philosophy of Education