Quantitative educational research

When considering qualitative and/or quantitative methods I find that I may reflect the prevalent view reflected in the education research literature that encourages interpretivist approaches. This may be partly based in my introduction to new (to me at any rate) ideas of insider/outsider research, subjectivity, constructions and reconstructions,  suggested as acknowledging limitations in the positivist paradigms of scientific experimentation (my erstwhile lack of any affinity with any subject that required the wearing of a lab coat may also be important). When reading Bryman (2006) and Gorard, Rushforth and Taylor (2004) I am not particular disposed to alter my views.

As a Professor of Organisational and Social Research in the School of Management at Leicester, Bryman has authored a range of papers on the subject of quantitative/qualitative research, often with a leadership or organisational focus. His linking of ‘evaluation research’ and ‘applied research’ (pp.98) further underlines his focus. He identifies a lack of rationale (or at least a mismatch with practice), ‘lack of attention to research question’ (pp.110) and other inconsistencies, notwithstanding the part serendipity might play, as being prevalent limitations of disorganised mixed methods. Throughout he is concerned that a pre-planned approach is important with careful delineation of the boundaries of qualitative and quantitative instruments, methods, analysis and above all justification are in place a priori rather than more emergent approaches. In concluding he nails his colours to the mast with an open plea refuting the assumption that qualitative research lacks the potential for gaining insights.

Gorard, Rushforth and Taylor looked at the evidence to support more quantitative methods in their 2004 paper. Gorard is now Professor of Education and Well-being at Durham and has focused on evaluation, often advising Government committees on policy. Rushforth is exploring the quality and effectiveness of private tuition and Taylor is in the Education Policy Analysis Research Group at Cardiff. In their paper many participants bemoan the lack of qualitative research without being specific and where quantitative research has been undertaken, for example in ‘implementing central Government analysis’ (pp.382) the lack of experienced researchers has been a problem.  ‘The issue of causality, being able to test propositions’ (pp.379) cuts across quantitative and qualitative methods but suggests a deterministic driver to see what works and measure success. At the same time it is suggested that researchers may reject such a ‘methodological identity’ (pp.383). Which takes me back to the start.

Bryman, A. (2006) Integrating quantitative and qualitative research: how is it done? Qualitative Research, 6 (1) pp.97-113.
Gorard, S., Rushforth, K. and Taylor, C. (2004) Is there a shortage of quantitative work in education research? Oxford Review of Education, 30 (3) pp.371-395.

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