One of the most challenging tasks that educated adults need to undertake is to look critically at the world and media around us. Much of television and the Internet are full of vast numbers of stories on scientific research telling their audience how each of us should eat or drink, rear our children, what to purchase, what medication you must use, and other ‘needed’ information. Many of the studies cited in these shows or ads are groups of data that have been manipulated to suggest the outcome shown so it is not unusual to find ‘studies’ that directly contradict each other or doctors that play fast and loose with manipulated data to push specific product consumption. This only emphasizes the importance of a critical mindset with an understanding of research methods so that an informed decision about any question can be obtained. This short paper will look at three journal articles published in scientific journals and how different way of collecting and aggregating data were used to produce the outcomes described. This paper will focus only on the research methods used, not on the topics researched, however, I chose these three articles in particular because the subjects of race, gender, and the teaching profession were common to all three. (I am sorry that I could only link to one site with the full article- I originally printed out the articles from a library site that I no longer have access to. I can help point you in the right direction if my listings are unable to help- just let me know in the comments.)
My first article choice was published by the European Journal of Teacher Education and is titled “Race and Sex: Teacher’s Views on Who Gets Ahead in Schools”. Research for this article was completed by using a few similar methods to create three different data sources; a large scale postal survey of approximately 13,000 teachers from randomly selected schools, in-depth case studies of 18 schools chosen for the study based on specified guidelines, and several workshop discussions outside school settings that were conducted with specific interested parties. Using both qualitative and quantitative methods, the research results were able to be used to aggregate data to look for common or consistent themes in the data collected. It used questionnaires to gather answers to specific inquiry, surveys available to desired communities of interest, and unstructured interviews to gain more information on the answers and additional information on periphery connections. These authors used fairly traditional methods in their research, sticking with specific methods of collection that are scientifically recognized and more likely to pull together an accurate conclusion.
The second article chosen was published in 2000 in the journal Gender and Education and is titled “The Other Side of the Gender Gap”. Research for this article was pulled together using first, an intensive study of one selected school, and then branched out to encompass 15 schools that then used surveys/questionnaires completed by year 11 students of both genders. As an addition to this research, both a comparison of pupil and teacher expectations was completed along with analysis of GCSE results, staff interviews, and classroom observations. Using mostly quantitative methods allowed the researchers to gain information that allowed them to make fairly precise comparisons of data throughout the researched group. However, as this study only used one method of data collection, it has the problem of being fairly limited in how the data collected can be used and extrapolated. Also, for very complex subjects, this research method alone usually is not strong enough to accurately explain those issues.
The last article chosen was published in 2007 in the Cambridge Journal of Education and is titled “‘The Bar is Slightly Higher’: the Perception of Racism in Teacher Education”. As this article discusses research conducted as part of a larger study, there are a fewer research methods discussed. The methods used for this portion of the study were mostly interviews; either face to face, by telephone, or in focus group discussions that explored issues that had arisen from the questionnaire survey or issues that were not able to be addresses in the original questionnaire. For the purposes of data collection for this portion of the project, the research method used was unstructured interviews of 29 selected study participants. Some of the strengths of performing unstructured interviews include; participants can answer open ended questions in depth giving researchers a solid foundation of how the interviewee feels about the subject presented, interviewer can ask more questions or ask for clarifications to avoid misunderstandings, and these types of interviews are most flexible, giving researchers a way to change questions or focus if needed due to the answers provided by participants. However, this form of research method in terms of cost, time consumption, and not using enough participants can result in data that is hard to accurately use or provide meaningful results.
A scholar who is studying topics umbrellaed into the subject of education and sociology (or any subject really) needs to recognize the research methods that are used to collect information as well as the strengths and limitations of each one. Only one journal article that I analyzed above used a few methods that consisted of both qualitative and quantitative criteria making that particular study probably the most accurate and actionable of the three. One aspect of study research that I discovered is that searching for subjects by topic or focus will help narrow your search for relevant articles, but may inadvertently feed the researcher many sources using incomplete or inappropriate methods. It can also cause you to leave a prepared list to find ‘something new’ and as your study commences, the researcher may realize they haven’t left the prepared listing at all- I did. It is fairly valuable then to recognize research methods and be able to quickly determine through a brief reading of the abstract what research might be more pertinent to your study as well as how accurate the methods are in use. This felt like a valuable foray into the beginnings of understanding different research methods and their use.
what are your thoughts on how research is performed? What research methods seem the most accurate to you?