Key Issues for Education Researchers


Diana Burton & Steve Bartlett

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  • Education Studies: Key Issues

    In the last fifteen years or so Education Studies has developed rapidly as a distinctive subject in its own right. Beginning initially at undergraduate level, this expansion is now also taking place at masters level and is characterised by an increasingly analytical approach to the study of education. As education studies programmes have developed there has emerged a number of discrete study areas that require indepth texts to support student learning.

    ‘Introduction to Education Studies: Second Edition’ is the core text in this series and gives students an important grounding in the study of education. It provides an overview of the subject and introduces the reader to fundamental theories and debates in the field. The series, ‘Key Issues in Education Studies,’ has evolved from this core text and, using the same critical approach, each volume outlines a significant area of study within the education studies field. All of the books have been written by experts in their area and provide the detail and depth required by students as they progress further in the subject.

    Taken as a whole, this series provides a comprehensive set of texts for the student of education. Whilst of particular value to students of Education Studies, the series will also be instructive for those studying related areas such as Childhood Studies and Special Needs, as well as being of interest to students on initial teacher training courses and practitioners working in education.

    We hope that this series provides you, the reader, with plentiful opportunities to explore further this exciting and significant area of study and we wish you well in your endeavours.

    SteveBartlett and DianaBurton


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    Introduction: The Purpose and Structure of This Text

    Who is This Book For?

    We have written this book for those setting out on their early research experiences. It is specifically aimed at students of Education Studies and related subjects, those returning to the study of education as part of their professional development, and also students embarking on research at Masters level. Readers of our other research text, Practitioner Research for Teachers (Burton and Bartlett, 2005), will recognise many of the topics and ideas presented in this new book built upon within a broader frame of reference for students of education in addition to practising professionals. As such, it includes practical examples of research approaches from a wider range of educational settings. Readers of our core text, Introduction to Education Studies (Bartlett and Burton, 2007) will see the ideas addressed in the research chapter of that book developed and exemplified in far greater detail to provide a text which effectively shows you how to design, develop, conduct, evaluate and write up your research.

    Studying in higher education requires the student to be able to critically appraise and use current research within their field. In order to do this effectively a good knowledge and understanding of the research process is required. Also, at some point in most undergraduate programmes and in all masters courses it will be expected that students should conduct research themselves in their relevant subject area.

    This research can be on a variety of scales and take on many different forms. On many occasions you will have to collect evidence as part of your learning. The amount required will vary greatly depending on the purpose for which it is intended. Thus you may be expected to find out the opinions of other students on a particular issue, visit a site of education or training to gather some basic data on the services offered, or trawl government websites as part of an analysis of national policy. These are very different types of evidence collected in a variety of ways and they will be used differently within each module or programme of study. Many undergraduate students, for example, will have to collect evidence from a range of sources as part of a work-based learning module. Masters students will often have to conduct professional evaluations of different aspects of their work. In both instances, students need to employ their skills of collecting and analysing data in an appropriate manner.

    It is important to understand the strengths and limitations of the data that you are using. These will determine how you are able to use the information to support or counter different arguments. As you progress through your programmes you will also, inevitably, become involved in conducting larger pieces of research when you have to complete undergraduate and Masters dissertations.

    What Does This Book Do?

    In this book we aim to introduce you to the the nature of research and how it can be conducted. Hopefully this will enable you to be able to critique existing research in a constructive way and also begin to develop your own data collection and analytical skills. We use a wide range of practical examples of research conducted by undergraduate and postgraduate researchers throughout. For example, there are small pieces of research conducted by students as part of undergraduate modules; research and evaluation carried out by professionals as part of their practice; research conducted for Masters and PhD theses; and also some projects conducted by university researchers. The purpose of such a wide range of examples is to broaden your horizons about the scope and levels of research projects. We have recommended reading to encourage you to develop your knowledge and understanding further and student activities to help you develop the skills needed to conduct research.

    We begin by looking at what the term ‘research’ means and why we need to do it. In this section we not only hope to dispel some of the fear and mystique surrounding this term but also to show that while we can all conduct research, the purpose must always be to do it in the most relevant way and to the highest quality that we possibly can. Chapter 1 goes on to look at some of the recent movements in the field of education research and also some of their critiques. In Chapter 2 we then consider the different positions that can be taken on research and the paradigms within which research positions are framed. The positioning of researchers is very significant, as will be made clear, as this influences the areas they will consider important enough to investigate and the types of research they will value over others. At this point we examine ethical positions within the research process in Chapter 3. Alongside the positioning of the researcher, his or her ethical values will significantly influence the whole research process. In Chapter 4 we look at the research process and how to get started on your research project. This chapter will enable you to begin to plan the whole process.

    Before you begin your own data collection it is important that you consider what has already been done and written in your chosen area. This is vital in terms of developing a deeper understanding of the focus of your research. It will also enable you to place your own contribution in the existing field. Chapter 5 explains how to carry out and write a literature review. We then go on in Chapter 6 to look at case study research as this is a common approach used by researchers in education, particularly when conducting small-scale research. We also consider the possibility of experiments, a strategy borrowed and adapted from the natural sciences.

    The following chapters (7 to 10) look at a range of methods that may be used to collect data in your research project. Within these chapters we discuss questionnaires, interviews, observation, diaries, logs and biographies, and the use of existing data in the form of written and visual material. In the final chapter we discuss the writing up of your research project and offer structured guidance. This is a very important, though often neglected, part of the research process and can be particularly significant when the research is part of an academic programme and thus will be submitted as a project or thesis.

    By the time you reach the end of the book and have completed the student activities set you will have already embarked on your career as a researcher. A career that we hope will be long and exciting.

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