Reflections on Different Research Approaches
My learning experiences, as well as working with different research approaches, has enriched my perspective on conducting educational research. However, I realised that It is important to understand different theoretical perspectives. When I was a student teacher I only knew the terms qualitative research and quantitative research but without understanding the term research paradigm or understanding different approaches to doing educational research. According to Willis (2007), the terms qualitative and quantitative are two ways of conducting research in the social science but are not clearly understood, thus the term “research paradigm” is really powerful.
In understanding ‘qualitative research’, I portray eight moments of qualitative research from Denzin and Lincoln (2008) which integrates different theoretical perspectives to help me understand different stages of conducting educational research. As a beginning researcher in qualitative research, I was overwhelmed with the philosophy and various bizarre terms describing research. I was thinking that it might be because of a language barrier, but when I reflected on it I realised the real challenge was moving from quantitative research, which holds to objective truth and objectivity, into the multiple truths and subjectivity of qualitative research. But, I couldn’t ignore the power of objective truth in my mind which influenced me to become confused and insecure in conducting educational research. When I conducted the different approaches of educational research, I became more aware of the distinctive power of each paradigm.
Denzin and Lincoln (2008) divided the history of qualitative research into eight phases:
- Traditional phase (early 1900s) focuses on objective research,
- Modernist phase (1970s) still embraces quantitative studies,
- Blurred genres (1970-1986) moves into qualitative studies with more interpretive work,
- Crisis of representation (mid 1980s) involves reflective writing and validity questioning,
- Postmodern period of experimental ethnographic writing (mid 1990s) comprises new ways of composing ethnography which are more activist-oriented research
- Post-experimental inquiry (1995-2000) involves varied representations in writing such as autobiographical, visual, and poetic
- Methodologically contested present (2000-2004) involves debate within qualitative research on political contestation with conservatives in terms of what is ‘valid’ research.
- The future (2005-now) involves confronting the “methodological backlash” associated with “Bush science” and evidence-based social movement.
Meanwhile Taylor and Wallace (2007) divided the eight phases into (1) the immediate future, which emphasises social justice, and (2) the fractured future which involves political praxis, new ethics, aesthetics and theologies for a globalized world. When I reflected on this history I realised how educational research in my country is situated mostly in the modernist phase. Some educational researchers in my country are moving forward into blurred genres. The research journey in my doctoral thesis has helped me to open my mind to different ways of conducting research, and therefore at this stage I challenged myself to go in-depth into eight moments of qualitative research, not only to develop my professional practice but also develop my professional practice in educational research.
Furthermore, mixed methods is one of the contemporary research approaches that strongly influences educational research. Many people believe that mixed methods research design has been considered as the middle way in the war between quantitative and qualitative research approaches. According to Brewer and Hunter (as cited in Cresswell, 2005, p. 510), “a mixed methods research design is a procedure for collecting, analysing, and mixing both quantitative and qualitative data in a single study to understand a research problem”. There could be different facets of educational research that are shaped by the post/positivism paradigm, including this mixed methods approach. According to Denzin (2010, p. 420), “the mixed methods discourse has been shaped by a community of post-positivist scholars who have moved back and forth between quantitative and qualitative research frameworks”. Denzin (2010) points out several interesting issues in mixed method approaches: paradigm wars, dialogue, and dilemmas in combining qualitative and quantitative which clearly has differences. I came to realize that combining qualitative and quantitative ways are not necessarily solved in satisfying ways.
In addition, the positivism paradigm which has influenced the natural and social sciences during the twentieth century (Kincheloe & Tobin, 2009) has also strongly influenced educational research in my country. For example, when conducting action research, it still influenced by the power of measurable and objective truth. For example, improving students’ achievement by using constructivism, and then they seek to justify the improvement in students’ achievement by scoring and triangulating quantitative and qualitative data. When I reflect deeply and look at the nature of mixed methods research design, I realise the power of objective truth and generalisation in this approach. In here, mixed methods is considered as the more powerful research approach as many people believe that combining quantitative and qualitative data and finding the one truth provides an integral picture of the data. However, within different approaches in educational research I have come to understand distinctive the characteristics of each approach. Holding only to a single approach would not help to transform myself and others. I realise that I need to use dialectical thinking to campaign for transformative educational research.