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Article

Comparison in Qualitative Research  

Lesley Bartlett and Frances Vavrus

Comparison is a valuable and widely touted analytical technique in social research, but different disciplines and fields have markedly different notions of comparison. There are at least two important logics for comparison. The first, the logic of juxtaposition, is guided by a neopositivist orientation. It uses a regularity theory of causation; it structures the study by defining cases, variables, and units of analysis a priori; and it decontextualizes knowledge. The second, the logic of tracing, engages a realist theory of causation and examines how processes unfold, influenced by actors and the meanings they make, over time, in different locations, and at different scales. These two logics of comparison lead to distinct methodological techniques. However, with either logic of comparison, three dangers merit attention: decontextualization, commensurability, and ethnocentrism. One promising research heuristic that attends to different logics of comparison while avoiding these dangers is the comparative case study (CCS) approach. CCS entails three axes of comparison. The horizontal axis encourages comparison of how similar policies and practices unfold across sites at roughly the same level or scale, for example across a set of schools or across home, school, religious institution, and community organization. The vertical axis urges comparison across micro-, meso-, and macro-levels or scales. For example, a study of bilingual education in the United States should attend not only to homes, communities, classroom, and school dynamics (the micro-level), but also to meso-level district, state, and federal policies, as well as to factors influencing international mobility at the macro-level. Finally, the transversal axis, which emphasizes change over time, urges scholars to situate historically the processes or relations under consideration.

Article

Observing Schools and Classrooms  

Alison LaGarry

Qualitative observation is an attempt to view and interpret social worlds by immersing oneself in a particular setting. Observation draws on theoretical assumptions associated with the interpretivist paradigm. Thus, researchers who engage in qualitative observations believe that the world cannot be fully known, but must be interpreted. Observation is one way for researchers to seek to understand and interpret situations based on the social and cultural meanings of those involved. In the field of education, observation can be a meaningful tool for understanding the experiences of teachers, students, caregivers, and administrators. Rigorous qualitative research is long-term, and demands in-depth engagement in the field. In general, the research process is cyclical, with the researcher(s) moving through three domains: prior-to-field, in-field, and post- or inter-field. Prior to entering the field, the researcher(s) examine their assumptions about research as well as their own biases, and obtain approval from an Institutional Review Board. This is also the time when researcher(s) make decisions about how data will be collected. Upon entering the field of study, the researcher(s) work to establish rapport with participants, take detailed “jottings,” and record their own feelings or preliminary impressions alongside these quick notes. After leaving an observation, the researcher(s) should expand jottings into extended field notes that include significant detail. This should be completed no later than 48 hours after the observation, to preserve recall. At this point, the researcher may return to the field to collect additional data. Focus should move from observation to analysis when the researcher(s) feel that they have reached theoretical data saturation.

Article

Research Feedback as a Strategy for Educational Transformation  

Begoña Vigo Arrazola

Research feedback is given in very different ways with different intended functions and effects. From a positivist or reconstructed positivist perspective, for instance, feedback is used primarily as a strategy for improving research validity, while from a critical perspective the intention is to induce deeper and sustained levels of participation, critique, and influence toward a purpose, ultimately, of social transformation. From a philosophical foundation this aim allies with the significance of not only understanding contemporary educational empirical reality under neoliberal forms of capitalism but also developing critical consciousness for the transcendence and transformation of this condition. From within a critical education perspective, research feedback therefore sets out to engage schools and their communities, including teachers and parents, as co-researchers and reflective agents capable of understanding and changing education and its social relations, not only being recipients of it as in Freire’s notion of a banking concept of education. Change is encouraged both within the framework of the investigation and with respect to broader social relations.

Article

Collaboration in Educational Ethnography in Latin America  

Diana Milstein, Angeles Clemente, and Alba Lucy Guerrero

There are epistemological, methodological, and textual dimensions of collaborative educational ethnography (CEE) in Latin America that have spread and consolidated over the last twenty-five years. The beginnings of CEE were marked by sociopolitical struggles (social resistance movements and repressive dictatorships) but also were enlightened by thinkers like Fals Borda and Freire, who foresaw social transformation through a theory/action/participation tie. The result was several educational ethnographic studies carried out by groups of researchers working in networks. To a large extent, they aimed to problematize contradictions between official school education and the sociocultural realities of teachers and students. This type of research also aimed to understand and intervene in social change processes, which encouraged the incorporation of teachers as researchers in ethnographic studies. Teachers’ participation in research processes opened debates about fieldwork, but more particularly about relationships between researchers and interlocutors. In short, the history of CEE in Latin America reveals a marked development of collaboration, from being enacted but not made explicit in the written ethnographic report to open, explicit, and declared participation of nonacademic collaborators of all sorts: teachers, children, youngsters, indigenous communities, and so on. The work of these collaborative teams not only differs in ways and degrees of research involvement (co-interpreting, co-investigating, co-authoring, and co-theorizing) but also in what a dialogic and sometimes contested research process entails in terms of knowledge production for counteracting Eurocentric, androcentric, adult-centric prejudices. Teachers’ participation, children/youngsters as active collaborators, and language as a topic of research and as a research tool are three main themes. The stance of the researcher in CEE inevitably connects with his or her interlocutors as situated others—subjects with agency and rights and capable of involving the researcher in a joint process of reflexivity. Moreover, collaborative experiences in educational ethnography create new and feasible possibilities for the development of knowledge not only in education but also in research approaches to ethnography.