Abraham P. DeLeon
What is anarchist theory and practice? What does it mean when anarchists engage with qualitative research? Anarchism has a long-standing history within radical political action that has been enacted at particular historical times and spaces. The Spanish Civil War, Paris 1968, and the so-called Battle of Seattle in 1999 saw the potential of anarchism as both a mode of critique and way(s) in which to think about direct political action. However, little has been done within the critical qualitative research project to engage with the ideas and critiques that anarchism offers researchers to think about and inform their own work.
Resisting hierarchies and their arrangements, challenging domination and relationships of power, rethinking praxis and direct action in qualitative research, and envisioning a utopian social and political imagination have been just a few of the political and epistemological projects that anarchists have undertaken that have direct implications for qualitative researchers. In thinking about future potentials, it has become imperative that critical qualitative researchers engage with anarchist theory and its critiques to better inform its own assumptions when thinking about the roles that qualitative research plays in resisting and altering oppressive social, political, and economic conditions.
Lesley Bartlett and Frances Vavrus
Case studies in the field of education often eschew comparison. However, when scholars forego comparison, they are missing an important opportunity to bolster case studies’ theoretical generalizability. Scholars must examine how disparate epistemologies lead to distinct kinds of qualitative research and different notions of comparison. Expanded notions of comparison include not only the usual logic of contrast or juxtaposition but also a logic of tracing, in order to embrace approaches to comparison that are coherent with critical, constructivist, and interpretive qualitative traditions. Finally, comparative case study researchers consider three axes of comparison: the vertical, which pays attention across levels or scales, from the local through the regional, state, federal, and global; the horizontal, which examines how similar phenomena or policies unfold in distinct locations that are socially produced; and the transversal, which compares over time.
Robert J. Sternberg
High-stakes assessment is playing an increasingly important role in higher education at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels. Such assessments are sometimes used for group purposes—to assess how well a university is doing in educating its students—and other times for purposes of evaluating individuals.
High-stakes assessment at the undergraduate level generally involves assessments of learning and reasoning at the end of the college experience. Sometimes, pretests are also given to compare cognitive skills before and after the college experience. There are several different approaches to measuring learning and performance outcomes: (a) standardized instruments and inventories; (b) indirect methods that focus on students’ perceptions of learning and engagement; (c) authentic performance-based methods, such as portfolios; and (d) locally designed tests and inventories. Each of these methods of assessment has different advantages as well as disadvantages. For example, standardized tests are normed, and thus it is possible to compare the performance of students at, say, one university to those at another. But standardized tests also measure outcomes that some scholars feel are less meaningful than the outcomes measured by other kinds of assessments. Indirect measures, such as of student engagement, look at students’ level of engagement with college but tell less about cognitive gains than some other kinds of measures. Performance-based measures such as portfolios have the advantage of measuring outcomes presumably relevant to each individual student; they are harder to score than some other kinds of measures, however, and they do not lend themselves readily to comparisons across colleges and universities. Homemade tests produced by individual institutions can be tailored to the goals of those institutions but generally lack the standardization and generality of some other kinds of measures.
Assessments of graduate and postgraduate students are of a different ilk. Generally, graduate, postgraduate, and hiring institutions are looking for presumed research and teaching competence. Publication records as well as letters of recommendation serve as primary bases for evaluating students going onto the job market. It is possible to entertain more sophisticated measures than just counting publications, such as various measures based on citations in the scholarly literature.
Koji Matsunobu and Liora Bresler
From rites of passage to closer community bonding, the practice, enjoyment, exchange, and transmission of music—regardless of the setting—is an integral element of the history of human civilization. While the field of music education research has long focused on school music and institutional teaching, it is increasingly reaching out to the wider community, in the process involving people at different life stages who are operating in a variety of societal contexts. Consequently, research in music education explores a broad spectrum of musical engagements (including composition and improvisation, in addition to singing, playing, and listening) and a wide-ranging repertoire (including jazz, popular music, folk, and world music), together with diverse pedagogies both inspired by and borrowed from these genres. This process reveals how these forms of musical transmission can, on the one hand, create new meanings and experiences at individual levels, and, on the other, shape collective identity formation through the facilitation of cultural sustainability and transformation. By means of quantitative, qualitative, historical, and philosophical methods, and typically drawing on the fields of—among others—psychology, sociology, and anthropology, music education researchers have addressed social, cultural, pedagogical, and ethical issues of music teaching and learning.
Karen A. Erickson and David A. Koppenhaver
Qualitative research methods, in many forms, have been used to deepen understandings in the field of severe disabilities for decades. Using methods such as individual case studies, grounded theory, phenomenology, content analysis, life history, and ethnography, qualitative research has served to explain bounded systems, generate theory, study the lived experiences of individuals, investigate historical and contemporary texts and contexts, share first-person narratives, and investigate cultural and social systems that involve students with severe disabilities. Indicators of quality in qualitative methods and means of establishing credibility have been explicated and are widely applied in the field. To varying degrees, qualitative methods have allowed researchers to represent the voices of students with severe disabilities and engage them actively in the research process, which is important given that a mantra among persons with severe disabilities and their advocates is nothing about us without us.
Regardless of the methods, accurately representing the voices of students with severe disabilities and including them as active participants in research is not always easy to accomplish given the nature of their cognitive and communication profiles. Many students with severe disabilities do not communicate symbolically through speech, sign language, or graphic symbols. Others have limited means of communication and are dependent on familiar communication partners to co-construct meaning with them. Some approaches to qualitative research, such as post-critical ethnography, provide a potential path toward representing the voice of a broader range of students with severe disabilities because these methods lead researchers to interrogate assumptions in the field while examining their own positions, perceptions, and beliefs relative to the subject of the investigation. While these methods offer opportunity with respect to their ability to fairly represent and involve students with severe disabilities, they challenge previously accepted indicators of quality and means of establishing credibility in qualitative research. As qualitative research methods are applied in understanding students with severe disabilities in the future, these challenges will have to be addressed.
Arts-based research encompasses a range of research approaches and strategies that utilize one or more of the arts in investigation. Such approaches have evolved from understandings that life and experiences of the world are multifaceted, and that art offers ways of knowing the world that involve sensory perceptions and emotion as well as intellectual responses. Researchers have used arts for various stages of research. It may be to collect or create data, to interpret or analyze it, to present their findings, or some combination of these. Sometimes arts-based research is used to investigate art making or teaching in or through the arts. Sometimes it is used to explore issues in the wider social sciences. The field is a constantly evolving one, and researchers have evolved diverse ways of using the communicative and interpretative tools that processes with the arts allow. These include ways to initially bypass the need for verbal expression, to explore problems in physically embodied as well as discursive ways, to capture and express ambiguities, liminalities, and complexities, to collaborate in the refining of ideas, to transform audience perceptions, and to create surprise and engage audiences emotionally as well as critically. A common feature within the wide range of approaches is that they involve aesthetic responses.
The richness of the opportunities created by the use of arts in conducting and/or reporting research brings accompanying challenges. Among these are the political as well as the epistemological expectations placed on research, the need for audiences of research, and perhaps participants in research, to evolve ways of critically assessing the affect of as well as the information in presentations, the need to develop relevant and useful strategies for peer review of the research as well as the art, and the need to evolve ethical awareness that is consistent with the intentions and power of the arts.
In the context of offenders who have learning difficulties, autism, and/or social, emotional, and mental health problems, their families, and professionals who work with them, caring and ethical research processes can be explored via fieldnotes. Conducting life story interviews and recording fieldnotes within qualitative criminological, education, and sociological research have long since been used to document and analyze communities and institutions and the private and public spheres. They richly tell us about specific research contexts, or everyday lives and relationships, that interview transcripts alone perhaps overlook. It is in the process of recording and reflecting upon research relationships that we can see and understand care-full research. But caring and ethical research works in an interdependent and relational way. Therefore, the participant and the researcher are at times vulnerable, and recognition of this is critical in considering meaningful and healthy research practices. However, the acknowledgment of the fact that particular types of research can be messy, chaotic, and emotional is necessary in understanding caring research.
Marginalized populations are by definition composed of people who have fewer possibilities and options in their lives than those studying them. This fact has to be reflected before, during, and after the research itself. There are many facets of this basic assumption. One of them is, how are marginalized perceived by the researcher? Are they helpless victims, or people who are able to tell their own stories? Another relevant detail is the personality of the researcher. When the researcher comes from outside the marginalized group, the key question is, which methodology can be best applied to give a voice to those who are marginalized? On the other hand, when the researcher is a member of the group being studied, the key question is how to achieve the distance necessary for analysis. There could be many more such relevant facets, but the quality of the final research product is partially determined by any number of decisions that are made during the planning of the research and the conducting of the research.
All of these decisions have methodological consequences. There are a wide range of qualitative research approaches, such as participatory research, autoethnographic research, narrative and biographical research, or traditional qualitative research based on interviews with representatives of marginalized groups. In the early 21st century, there has been a shift away from a top-down, outsider perspective that sees the marginalized as helpless victims and toward more participatory research designs that promote and give a space to the marginalized voice.
The common denominator of all these decisions is whose voice is being heard—does it belong to the marginalized group or to the outside world? Is it possible to overcome the boundaries between these two worlds? And what role does methodology play in this story?
Interviews are frequently used in ethnographic research, but it is argued that they pose particular difficulties in interpretation. While ethnographers are interested in understanding how people construct and interpret cultures in their natural settings, interviews are based on rules that counteract most normal interactions. Thus interviews in ethnography can only be interpreted within the context of that wider ethnography and the data generated has to be tested against other data generated by different means and data generated in other interviews.
Although some ethnographers avoid the use of interviews, others use a range of different forms of interviews. It is argued that Basil Bernstein’s concepts of classification and framing can be used to clarify the range of forms and to highlight the potential relationships between the form of interview and class, gender, and ethnicity.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are part of a third wave of school reform in the United States. With accompanying tests, these standards combine calls for increased academic rigor, beginning in the 1980s, with more recent efforts to hold schools, teachers, and students accountable for learning outcomes in publicly funded schools. Origins of CCSS can be traced to the 1996 National Education Summit where the National Governors Association (NGA), philanthropic foundations, and business leaders founded Achieve to broker rigorous high school graduation requirements. In 2009, Achieve became the project manager for the construction of CCSS. In 2010, implementation began with incentives from the Obama administration and funding from the Gates Foundation.
Advocates choose among a variety of rationales: faltering American economic competitiveness, wide variability among state standards and educational outcomes, highly mobile student populations, and/or a growing income achievement gap. Critics cite federal intrusion in states’ rights, a lack of an evidentiary base, an autocratic process of CCSS production, and/or a mis-framing of problems facing public schools. With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, federal advocacy of CCSS ended officially.