Evidence…the new four letter word?

The current globo-political climate (in the West anyway) calls for evidence for what seems like everything. We need evidence for climate change, evidence for  new medical treatment, evidence of the best ways to raise children, evidence of the best ways to teach, evidence which proves that what you are doing works and even evidence to find a person guilty!

Evidence in of itself is not bad. Do I want to take a medicine that is not proven to be safe? Not particularly (although there may be times when it is necessary). Do I want to remove the requirement of evidence from the justice system or the education system? Absolutely not. Evidence has its place in many facets of life. I become frustrated when I feel required to find evidence for evidence’s sake or when there is no obvious point to it, now or in the envisioned future.

Denzin (2009, p.142) puts it quite well:

 “And evidence is nevermorally or ethically neutral. But, paraphrasing Morse, who quotes Larner (2004: 20), the politics and political economy of evidence is not a question of evidence or no evidence. It is rather a question of who has the power to control the definition of evidence, who defines the kinds of materials that count as evidence, who determines what methods best produce the best forms of evidence, whose criteria and standards are used to evaluate quality evidence?

It is amazing how much comes back to power – how much frustration powerlessness (perceived or real) causes.

Denzin’s article is written in the context of the qualitative v quantitative paradigm debate. Continue reading

John Hattie and the controversial meta-analysis synthesis

Mention John Hattie’s name and a variety of responses will come, ranging from disgust, dismissal and anger through to acceptance, interest and resounding praise for the man and his work. These strong reactions (and having more time) have led to me visiting his research myself.  Continue reading

Plane Ramble

And with the last day of the block course today, the time has come for me to address assignments. Don’t panic (as I’m sure you were – great empathy…perhaps a little over the top – unless you are yourself facing assignments in which case still don’t panic, but not at all over the top).

To be honest I won’t tag this with anything because it is just a ramble I am writing on the plane as I travel home. I got a tad homesick but it was good for me. I love being home. It is awesome. My house is there. My bed is there and my dog is there. Home is a bit like a giant, expensive child’s security blanket. Things just aren’t quite the same without it. 

In saying that I am rather glad I chose to do things this way. It has been great for reestablishing my confidence, and a great opportunity to meet new people. I was way out of my comfort zone, but I think I am more confident for it. I have at least one potential option for housing later this year when I head back up. Bonus. That is a bit of an aside, but the experience reaffirmed to me that a world indeed exists outside of my comfort zone, and that it is a world I can move into.

I am not the same as I was the last time I went to uni and I am glad I worked in between. The normal where I went was different to the normal where I live, yet still had many similarities (not the least of which that I was in the same country and English was still the primary language used).

As I approach my assignments I face myself questioning where I am headed with this. I had planned to do self directed study, but find myself wondering if this should not be altered, with some changed papers so I could do a thesis. I feel like I have a grasp on research, and that all the things I had considered so terrifying about original research just really aren’t as bad as I thought they were. At the same time I find myself questioning why I am actually wanting to make the change. Is it simply a matter of pride creeping in, or is it more pragmatic? Would I really want to do a second research masters to enter the PHD world as my current course seems to shut that notion down or is it better to suck it up now? One of the reasons for my original plan was that I was not intending to go further in a formal academic sense. Another was I have a broad interest in topics and didn’t want to spend too long on any one topic. 

I have no fast answers. I have prayed for guidance and think I know the direction I should go in. Further prayer and thought is required outside of the influence of that sphere.

My flight is descending now so I shall sign off…not so much because of the descent, but more because I think this post is long enough and I have run out of things to say.

Quantitative Analysis

As promised (or perhaps forewarned), today’s focus was on quantitative analysis and taken by Dr Mira Peter. She faced teaching in a. Computer suite that had high ceilings and bare walls – it reminded me of my teaching space! Regardless of the environmental challenges, I learned a great deal that I had found challenging when I read it. I won’t type up all seven pages of notes (just wanted to throw that out there), but here are the key ideas I took away. 

  • There are four common quantitative data gathering methods – observer action, interviews, questionnaires and databases. 
  • A sample (which should be representative of the wider population in order for generalisation to occur) which is not representative is called BIASED

Some aspects were a throwback to high school statistics (thank goodness I had that foundation), and other aspects were new. Key terms included

  • Variable (something that changes)
  • Statistic (collected from the data
  • Parameter (statistics when talked about in terms of the population as a whole – inferred population)

There are two main types of variables: Independent (which is manipulated by the researcher) and dependent variable (DV) which is the OBSERVED OUTCOME (data of the independent variable being manipulated. Extraneous variables are also important, consisting of those variables which may affect the outcome e.g. Age of participants, experiment, the researcher or environmental factors. Extraneous variables need to be controlled for as much as is possible.

Data

There are three kinds of data (at least – these were the three that were discussed in terms of today’s session): Nominal (yes/no type answers), ordinal (choose from one to five on a scale type answers) and continuous/scale data (think timing an athlete, measuring height etc).

We also learned how to work out a standard deviation (and then how to do it on excel), and about confidence intervals. Effect sizes were also discussed and how to work these out. And the different numbers – what they mean. 

Alright… a better sentence about that….

There’s this thing called Cohen’s standard which is used by statisticians and data analysers. If (after various calculations are made the effect size is…

  • 0.2 to 0.4 the effect size is small – real but hard to detect. 
  • 0.5 to 0.7 the effect size is medium – it can be seen and noticed
  • 0.8 or above the effect size is large and very very obvious.

If the effect size is one, in education, this means that more than one year’s growth has been achieved.
Signing off!

Pulling it together

I am really really surprised but I think this is beginning to make sense….hold fire. For those who don’t know I am studying a research methodologies paper. I have had several challenges on the way through, including finding my way around campus. But the exciting thing is I think I’m getting it…that I am beginning to see how the different elements of research pull together. I am beginning to understand how qualitative data can be interpreted without turning it all to numbers. I am beginning to make links to teacher inquiry and ways I could better do that.

I have started this too late in the day…again. But my summary from today’s learning is below

  • An instrument in research is what you use to gather the data e.g. Survey
  • I now have a list of articles useful for designing questionnaires and interviews
  • Document analysis (gathering data from secondary sources and analysing it) can be used as research. In the context of grounded theory it can be used for a research project. 
  • I might be able to do research in a formal academic setting after all!

Paradigms and Ethics

These are just learning summaries from my course. I will add more at a later date, trying to pull all the ideas together.
Two rather large, complex issues…what do I break them down into?

A paradigm stitches together a worldview (ontology) and way of knowing (epistemology). There are three main paradigms – quantitative

-mixed methods

-qualitative 

These three have variations along the ways including things like critical theory etc. There are strong arguments for each and they each inform your methodologies (although your methodologies should inform your epistemology – a bit like the chicken and the egg paradox).
Ethics

This is a much more challenging subject (now that I have created a rather imperfect box for paradigms to be framed in). Ethics in research are ultimately there to protect the participant. Although we exist in a world where those who recognise a universal right and wrong, good and bad are fewer and these concepts have been replaced by better and worse.

Somehow there are still right and wrong things to do in research, as well as good and bad and better and worse. Confusing? I think so.  I ultimately view ethics as a moral assertion, a way to protect people involved in experiments and the integrity of systematic research. Whatever descriptive words are used, ethics are a set of standards in research (and most professions) which are expected to be adhered to. 

Within sociological research, there are a few main ethical principles to abide by – 

-protection from harm

-the right to withdraw

-deception

-informed consent
The issue of power is also inherent within these. Some ethical issues seem obvious – should I permantly injure somebody to see how they react because I am curious in one particular moment in time? No (at least I hope that would be your answer).
However many of these principles become very sticky very quickly. What is defined as harm? If someone knows they have the right. To withdraw, do they feel that they actually can or do they feel pressured to remain in a given situation? If this is the case, how can this be mitigated? Someone has been given the information and has signed it, giving consent – Does this mean they are actually informed and actually consenting of their own choice, or is it a case of pressures they feel to enter into something they don’t really. Understand? Deceit sounds nasty but are there times when it is necessary or justifiable? These issues and many more come up very quickly in research. In researching a situation one is involved in such as education, how many more issues immediately arise (particularly around the issue of power). 

I will potentially blog more about this at a later date . Tomorrow brings promise of research methods and methodology so I will leave this post here until those questions are satisfied.

Case Studies

I am very excited because the week is drawing to an end (okay it is just beginning but it is the last week) and I can go home. This shouldn’t be so exciting, but it is. I’m not as homesick as I was last week though – maybe another couple of weeks here would actually see me right. The course content is challenging but interesting and I am finally beginning to feel more comfortable as my environment becomes more familiar. But I digress..At any rate…today’s topic is (or rather was) case studies. 

A fantastic lady named Carol came and shared how she had used case studies to find out about the lives of older intellectually disabled people. 
AA case study is an intensive study of a single group, incident or community. It has key factors, requiring an in depth examination of an incident or case and is a systematic way of looking at and dealing with information. It is all about having a story to tell. 
We are told that much of our initial work will be based on case studies although I suspect that they will not be the same as the ones that Carol spoke about, or often, even the same kind of case study as she did. This makes sense to me. I still have some confusions about case studies and need to read more about them. In some ways they seem very straight forwards and in others they are absolutely not at all. I suspect part of my confusion comes from a lack of understanding about how qualitative data is analysed. We are covering that in the next couple of days and I look forward to it. 

A return to university…full time

Last year much of my time was taken up with a combination of university studies (part time) and full time work which included the introduction of play based learning into our junior school programme, an reintroduction to the importance of communication with parents (particularly when implementing change) & acting on these communications and discussions, and the completion of tukutuku panels for our school. 

This year I have been fortunate enough to gain a scholarship enabling me to study full time and still have my job at the end of it! I embarked on these studies a few days ago in summer school. It has been a challenge. I am a long way from home and  from much of the comforting familiarity of home. On the other hand, I am in the same country, speak the same language, am doing some challenging work with some awesome people and did enough work ahead of time to keep my head above water. 

The academic work is challenging (more on the work in another post), but my biggest struggle has been finding my identity within this context. Who I am, how I respond to others, habits…all these things have become so obvious as I have been faced with moving into a world where I do not know everybody. The roles I have taken on in my day to day practice back home are magnified. While my core identity has not changed, how I interact has. Rather than being the loud, rambling one who plays the fool to put others at ease, I find myself sitting back and watching. I become frustrated because the power structures and dynamics of those I interact with are not clear to me – I cannot see a role that I need to slide into. Yet I do not think that that is expected here (and perhaps it is not back home either). 

As I continue to reflect on power structures and my existence within this society I find myself wondering why. At times I feel my faith completely marginalised by the nature of discussion and what is considered true and valid in today’s institutions. Yet this is not deliberate, nor is the course of research methodologies delving into this – Christianity came up during a colonisation discussion;  A discussion on truth and what is fact came up with ‘science is right’ as a passing comment. Nobody said anything when I positioned myself as a Pakeha, small town practising Christian in one discussion. Within this learning environment everyone is accepted, as is their right to be who they are, so it certainly not a slight on any of the others. So indeed, is this questioning not just the nature of the world that we all live in? I thought it would be over since I’ve been through it as a teenager! Aren’t we meant to outgrow that?

This discomfort and level of challenge is a great opportunity for me simply because I have to learn, I have to move well outside my comfort zone and I have to experience what it must be like (in part) to not simply live as one of the dominant groups (even though I really am a part of that group in general). If this is what it is like to be marginalised for a few moments at a time by well meaning people having an honest and hearty discussion, what must it be like to exist outside of the dominant groups – as a minority in which this is a daily occurrence?

For me this year is not just about academics, but about growth and n opportunity to face some of my greatest challenges – interacting with people in an unfamiliar context and having to question the core of my being. Some of this is a necessity, other aspects just an outcome of the nature of university which seeks to get you to see through different eyes as you learn. 

I had intended to detail this learning in this post, but it would appear that I had concepts that needed exploring. I look forward to returning in another post to detail some of this learning which has implications for teaching inquiry.

I wil leave you with two questions from class the other day…

What is truth? What is fact?

 Research Methodologies 

What is research?

  • A line of inquiry involving exploring, explaining, challenging and proving 
  • Gathering data and analysing it
  • Sharing results
  • An attempt to answer a question which is published

Ultimately though, research is about growing knowledge through a systematic line of inquiry.
What are Research Paradigms?
These beautiful creations stitch together your ontology and epistemology and inform your research. A paradigm is a perspective about research held by a community of researchers.  The three major players in Western research at present are underpinned by a positivist, critical theory and interpretivist paradigm. Kaupapa Maaori theory exists in this spectrum as well and is carving a niche amidst these dominant paradigms and epistemologies. I mention it separately not to other it, but to acknowledge it’s relevance and equal sitting in my mind.

The Implications?

Be aware of the paradigms. Let your research question drive your methodologies but be aware of your epistemology and paradigm. 

Location of self within research remains important.