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Article

Jennifer Bethune and Jen Gilbert

School ethnography is a qualitative research method through which the researcher immerses herself in the life of the school, usually for an extended period, and through observation, interviews, and analyses of artifacts and documents explores questions about life in school. The school ethnographer gathers data in the form of fieldnotes, interviews, images of school life, and texts that are part of the school and continually analyses all of this data in order to discover or produce meaning from the patterns that emerge: the routines that shape school life, for instance, and the disturbances that upend these patterns. Finally, the researcher creates a written product. The school ethnography, as a product of research, often emulates the research process by immersing the reader in the life of the school and by making transparent the challenges and delights of the research. By drawing on social theories that seek to understand systems of domination and oppression, school ethnographies can expose how inequalities circulate through the everyday life of schools, affecting students’ and teachers’ experiences and shaping policy and curriculum. Many school ethnographies highlight the positionality of the researcher as not-quite insider and not-quite outsider as a way to foreground the ways that power relations shape research in schools, influencing all stages of the research process, including the selection of a site, the researcher’s behavior in the field, the kinds of data that are recorded as fieldnotes, the approach to analysis, and the writerly decisions that shape the final product. Through this recursive and reflexive approach to research, school ethnographers lay the groundwork for social change that is grounded in a comprehensive, detailed, and complex portrait of life in the school.

Article

Wendy Luttrell

Reflexivity can be regarded as part of a continuous research practice. Qualitative researchers work within and across social differences (e.g., cultural, class, race, gender, generation) and this requires them to navigate different layers of self-awareness—from unconscious to semiconscious to fully conscious. Because researchers can be aware on one level but not on others, reflexivity is facilitated by using an eclectic and expansive toolkit for examining the role of the researcher, researcher-researched relationships, power, privilege, emotions, positionalities, and different ways of seeing. Over the past fifty years, there has been a progression of reflexive practice as well as disciplinary debates about how much self-awareness and transparency are enough and how much is too much. The shift can be traced from the early practitioners of ethnography who did not reflect on their positions, power or feelings (or at least make these reflections public), to those who acknowledged that their emotions could be both revealing and distorting, to those who interrogated their multiple positionalities (mostly in terms of the blinders of Western/race/class/gender/generation), to those calling for the mixing and blurring of different genres of representation as important tools of reflexivity. Reflexivity is not a solitary process limited to critical self-awareness, but derives from a collective ethos and humanizes rather than objectifies research relationships and the knowledge that is created.

Article

Michael Domínguez

Emerging in the learning sciences field in the early 1990s, qualitative design-based research (DBR) is a relatively new methodological approach to social science and education research. As its name implies, DBR is focused on the design of educational innovations, and the testing of these innovations in the complex and interconnected venue of naturalistic settings. As such, DBR is an explicitly interventionist approach to conducting research, situating the researcher as a part of the complex ecology in which learning and educational innovation takes place. With this in mind, DBR is distinct from more traditional methodologies, including laboratory experiments, ethnographic research, and large-scale implementation. Rather, the goal of DBR is not to prove the merits of any particular intervention, or to reflect passively on a context in which learning occurs, but to examine the practical application of theories of learning themselves in specific, situated contexts. By designing purposeful, naturalistic, and sustainable educational ecologies, researchers can test, extend, or modify their theories and innovations based on their pragmatic viability. This process offers the prospect of generating theory-developing, contextualized knowledge claims that can complement the claims produced by other forms of research. Because of this interventionist, naturalistic stance, DBR has also been the subject of ongoing debate concerning the rigor of its methodology. In many ways, these debates obscure the varied ways DBR has been practiced, the varied types of questions being asked, and the theoretical breadth of researchers who practice DBR. With this in mind, DBR research may involve a diverse range of methods as researchers from a variety of intellectual traditions within the learning sciences and education research design pragmatic innovations based on their theories of learning, and document these complex ecologies using the methodologies and tools most applicable to their questions, focuses, and academic communities. DBR has gained increasing interest in recent years. While it remains a popular methodology for developmental and cognitive learning scientists seeking to explore theory in naturalistic settings, it has also grown in importance to cultural psychology and cultural studies researchers as a methodological approach that aligns in important ways with the participatory commitments of liberatory research. As such, internal tension within the DBR field has also emerged. Yet, though approaches vary, and have distinct genealogies and commitments, DBR might be seen as the broad methodological genre in which Change Laboratory, design-based implementation research (DBIR), social design-based experiments (SDBE), participatory design research (PDR), and research-practice partnerships might be categorized. These critically oriented iterations of DBR have important implications for educational research and educational innovation in historically marginalized settings and the Global South.

Article

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?

Article

Case study researchers have traditionally focused on micro-level analysis of a “bounded” case, yet this approach has come under methodological scrutiny in a world where phenomena are rarely isolated from globalization’s expansive reach. Social science and policy-oriented research in particular are nearly always subject to local and global histories as well as socio-cultural, political, and economic trends. Furthermore, the experience of individuals, organizations, and institutions are often tangled in interconnected webs of influence, such that a case study that does not trace these underlying relationships is likely to be analyzing only the tip of a phenomenological iceberg. Hence critical scholars call for the need to repurpose traditional case study research methods to embrace shifting contextual factors that surround a research project at multiple levels. Comparative case study methods answer this call by making socio-cultural and political analysis an explicit part of the research process. They expand the researcher’s methodological lens by advancing the analysis of processes across three axes: the horizontal (through distinct research sites), the vertical (through scales; e.g., local vs national) and the transversal (over time; e.g., historically). The methodology is particularly useful for social science research and policy studies, where complex interactions between actors and institutions are tied to socio-cultural, political, and economic contexts. Teacher education research is an area where comparative case studies can potentially contribute to policy formulation. Using the example of case study research on teacher education in India, the comparative case study methodology is shown to be an effective research tool. Through insights into the socio-cultural and political context surrounding pedagogical reform, case study research can generate corrective measures to improve policy effectiveness.

Article

Real groups constitute themselves as representatives of social structures, that is, of communicative processes in which it is possible to identify patterns and a certain model of communication. This model is not random or incipient, rather it documents collective experiences as well as the social characteristics of these groups, their representations of class, social environment, and generational belonging. In the context of qualitative research methods in the fields of social sciences and education, group discussions gained prominence mainly from research conducted with children and young people. As a research method, they constitute an important tool in the reconstruction of milieux and collective orientations that guide the actions of the subjects in the spaces in which they live. This article begins with some considerations about group interviews, highlighting the Anglo-Saxon model of focus groups, the Spanish tradition of group discussions from the School of Qualitative Critics in Madrid, and group discussions conceived in the 1950s at the Frankfurt School in Germany. Next, the theoretical-methodological basis of group discussions and the documentary method developed in Germany in the 1980s by Ralf Bohnsack are presented. Both procedures are anchored mainly in Karl Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge, but also in Pierre Bourdieu’s ethnography and sociology of culture. Finally, from the results of three research projects in education carried out in Mexico, Chile, and Brazil, the potential of this research and approach to data analysis is assessed. Based on the principle of abduction, the documentary method inspires the creation of analytical instruments rooted in praxis and that can delineate educational experiences in different contexts.

Article

Making appropriate methodological and analytic decisions in educational research requires a thorough grounding in the literature and a thorough understanding of the chosen methodology. Detailed preplanning is important for all method types and includes an understanding of the assumptions, limitations, and delimitations of the study. For quantitative research, researchers should be cautious with data analysis decisions that give preference to statistically significant results, noting that quantitative research can proceed with intents other than confirmatory hypothesis testing. Decisions and procedures that are used to search for low p values, rather than answer the driving research question, are especially problematic. Presentation of quantitative results should include components that clarify and account for analytic choices, that report all relevant statistical results, and that provide sufficient information to replicate the study. Consideration should also be given to joining recent initiatives for more transparency in research with the use of preregistered studies and open data repositories. For qualitative research, researchers should be thoughtful about choosing a specific method for their project that appropriately matches the method’s framework and analytic procedures with the research aim and anticipated sample. Qualitative researchers should also strive for transparency in their method description by allowing for a view of the analytic process that drove the data collection and iterative dives into the data. Presentation of qualitative results requires a balance between providing a compelling narrative that establishes the trustworthiness of results with the judicious use of participant voices. Mixed methods research also requires appropriate integration of different data types.

Article

George W. Noblit

Meta-ethnography is a very popular method for the synthesis of qualitative research. It was designed for the field of education but has been exceedingly popular in the health sciences. In education, slow growth has given way to almost furious development. Meta-ethnography is a method for synthesizing qualitative studies. Studies are identified as related to a phenomenon of interest and these are reviewed and read repeatedly, leading to both a reduction in the number of relevant studies and further specification of the phenomenon of interest. The synthesis is a translation of the complete interpretive storylines of each study into the others. There are three types of translation: reciprocal (the storylines are commensurate and reinforce each other), refutational (the storylines critique each other), and line of argument. Each study contributes something distinct to a new storyline that characterizes all the studies taken together. Effecting these translations remains a challenge for most who conduct meta-ethnographies. The work in the 21st century in education has established meta-ethnography as an interpretive and critical endeavor, moving well beyond the original proposal.

Article

Qualitative analysis—the analysis of textual, visual, or audio data—covers a spectrum from confirmation to exploration. Qualitative studies can be directed by a conceptual framework, suggesting, in part, a deductive thrust, or driven more by the data itself, suggesting an inductive process. Generic or basic qualitative research refers to an approach in which researchers are simply interested in solving a problem, effecting a change, or identifying relevant themes rather than attempting to position their work in a particular epistemological or ontological paradigm. Other qualitative traditions include grounded theory, narrative analysis, and phenomenology. Grounded theory encompasses several approaches, including objectivist and constructivist traditions, and commonly invites researchers to theorize a process and perhaps identify its contexts and consequences. Narrative analysis is an approach that treats stories not only as representations of events but as narrative events in themselves. Researchers using this approach analyze the form and content of narrative data and examine how these elements serve the storyteller and the story. Other elements often considered include plot, genre, character, values, resolutions, and motifs. Phenomenology is an approach designed to “open up” a phenomenon and make sense of its invariant structure, its identifiable essence across all narrative accounts. In this approach, the focus is on the lived experiences of those deeply familiar with the phenomenon and how they experience the phenomenon as they are going through it, before it is categorized and conceptualized. Each tradition has its own investigative emphasis and particular tools for analysis—specific approaches to coding, memo writing, and final products, such as diagrams, matrices, and condensed reports.

Article

Petra Munro Hendry

Within contemporary, conventional, interpretive, qualitative paradigms, narrative and curriculum theorizing have traditionally been understood as primary constructs through which educational researchers seek to explain, represent, and conduct inquiry about education. This article traces shifting understandings of Western constructs of narrative and curriculum theorizing from a modernist perspective, in which they were conceived primarily as methods central to the representation of knowledge, to postmodernist perspectives in which they are conceptualized not as epistemological constructs, but as ethical/ontological systems of becoming through/in relationships. Historically, the emergence of “curriculum” and “narrative” (as phenomena) within a modernist, technocratic paradigm, rooted in an epistemological worldview, were constructed as “technologies” whose purpose was to represent knowledge. Current critiques of narrative and curriculum theorizing from the perspective of postmodern, poststructural, feminist, and new materialist perspectives illuminate understandings of these constructs as ethical-ontological-epistemological phenomena. From this perspective, narrative and curriculum theorizing have shifted from being understood as grounded in epistemology in order to provide “better” understanding/knowledge of experience, and alternatively are understood as ethical obligations to “be” in a web of relationships/intra-actions.

Article

There has been a proliferation of studies examining attitudes toward the inclusion of students with special educational needs (SEN) in regular education settings. Most studies to date have focused on examining the attitudes regular teachers hold toward inclusion on the assumption that their acceptance of the policy of inclusion is likely to affect their commitment to implementing it. Other researchers have directed their attention to the attitudes held by typically developing children toward their peers with SEN and, to a lesser extent, to the attitudes of parents toward the inclusion of students with SEN in their children’s classroom. Teachers have been found to generally hold positive attitudes toward the notion of inclusion, which are largely affected by the severity of the child’s disability, the level of in-service training received, the degree of prior teaching experience with students with SEN, and other environment-related factors. Typically developing students have been found to hold neutral attitudes toward their peers with SEN. Age, prior experience of studying in inclusive settings, and parental influence seem to influence their attitudes. Studies on parents’ attitudes have revealed neutral-to-positive attitudes toward the general notion of inclusion. Several factors were found to influence parental attitudes, such as their socio-economic status and education level along with their child’s type of disability. Most attitudinal research to date has described static situations through the employment of single methodological research designs. Consequently, there is a need for mixed-method studies that employ coherent and, wherever possible, longitudinal research designs.

Article

Susan D. Martin, Vicki McQuitty, and Denise N. Morgan

Complexity theory offers possibilities for thinking about the challenges and opportunities inherent in teaching, teacher learning, and many other networked systems in teacher education. Complexity theory is a theory of learning systems that provides a framework for those interested in examining how systems develop and change. It is transdisciplinary in nature, drawing on insights from diverse fields across both the hard and social sciences, and when applied to education may provide a complex rather than simplistic view of teaching and learning. Further, complexity theory has the potential to offer a powerful alternative to linear and reductionist conceptualizations, with implications for methodology of teacher education research as well as its analysis and design. This small but growing body of work has influenced teacher education in two ways. First, scholars have argued for complexity theory’s usefulness as a framework to understand and describe how teacher education functions as a complex system. The second category of work, smaller than the first, uses complexity theory to frame and analyze empirical studies. Much of the emerging body of research conducted from a complexity theory perspective is descriptive and largely confirms what has been theorized. Empirical work has confirmed that a variety of systems, at different levels, influence teacher learning and pedagogical decisions. Gaps in our knowledge still exist, however, as theorists and researchers continue to struggle with how complexity theory can best serve teacher education for the benefit of teachers and students.

Article

Ana Luiza Bustamante Smolka, Ana Lucia Horta Nogueira, Débora Dainez, and Adriana Lia Friszman de Laplane

Vygotsky’s approach to human development is profoundly intertwined with his methodological inquiry. This inquiry is related to his persistent quest for framing and understanding the problem of consciousness. His untiring search for a plausible explanation of the material basis of specifically human psychological functions pervades his theoretical, practical, and empirical work in the fields of psychology and education. Throughout this search, sociogenesis and semiotic mediation, at first investigative hypotheses, become explanatory principles. Excerpts from his seminal texts allow us to follow the elaboration of epistemological assumptions that anchor his process of theorization and evidence the interrelationships between object of study, explanatory principle, and unit of analysis in studies of cultural development. One of his major concerns had to do with the ways of teaching and the ways of studying teaching relations, as well as the results or effects of such relations. To talk about Vygotsky’s theoretical elaborations is, hence, to talk about method—of inquiring, of studying, of teaching. From the beginning through to the end of his theoretical endeavor, we find a deep concern about what it means to be human, what are the means to be human. Repercussions and contributions of Vygotsky’s approach to research in education, as well as their ethical and political implications, must be highlighted. His way of conceiving method escapes from rigidity, not from rigor, pointing to an instigating flexibility which approximates his efforts to the efforts of many contemporary authors in different fields.

Article

This article provides a reflection on “qualitative” research methodology and their study within the university and other educational levels and invites dialogue between paradigms and currents of thought that are identified with teaching and the methods of producing empirical information. From a critical perspective, together with the positivism of the social sciences, it argues that the node of this teaching is the process of constructing the object of study, a process that confirms the centrality of the researcher. In accordance with a theoretical-methodological focus that distinguishes the specificity of the object of the social sciences in its linguistic construction, and considering the capacity for agency of the temporarily situated actors, the researcher (also a social agent), in addition to taking on the scope and historicity of the concepts used to problematize the relationships being investigated, needs to analyze the reflexivity of his/her language, which is inscribed in the assumptions that guide his/her inquiry. In this way, research training embodies a pedagogical problematic, whereby addressing the aforementioned centrality of the construction of the object goes hand in hand with the pedagogical problematization of everyday speech. Research-in-action training constitutes the future researcher as a critical intellectual, in search of a reliable (or true) knowledge that will incorporate him/her into the scientific framework.