I had an interesting conversation a few days ago with an educational researcher who I deeply respect; someone who has been in the field for several decades. He said something that I’ve heard periodically that makes me feel very nervous. Before I share what it is he said, I’d first like to mention that I’ve spent nearly three years learning how to be a qualitative researcher. Interpretive and poststructural approaches to research are very appealing to me because they give license to develop a deep understanding of a situation and make connections to the broader world in a way that places inequity at the center of research. I think this is critical approach is essential in education research because the systems we have in place have not created equitable educational opportunities. Deeply diving into the classrooms, learner experiences, and a given teacher’s work is informative in a way that broad surveys and generalizable findings cannot be.
I’m particularly interested in knowing adult English language learners’ experiences with resettlement and how their education and adjustment to a new society is complicated by digital technologies. I’ve read countless times that providing access to computers and the internet (& knowledge about how to use it) can help smooth transitions and even lift people out of poverty – hardly any of these studies actually deal with the stories of the people they are meant to describe. In my future research, I’d like to start with the learners, to better understand their experiences adjusting and what role expectations for use of digital technologies plays. I would hope that my research would benefit practitioners and policy makers by adding color to the understanding created by more generalizable research.
I do fear that I’m putting myself in a box by not becoming a strong quantitative, positivist researcher. Which gets me back to the conversation I began to describe at the beginning of this post. I’ve recently become very interested in Design Based Research; I’m excited about the potential it has to focus critical aspects of the qualitative research that I want to do. In DBR one solves a local problem through iterative design and testing of a solution created by the researcher and a community impacted by the issue. While working out a fix, a theory emerges. The person I was speaking to suggested that this would not ever be a methodology much appreciated by the academy given the strong preference for evaluative research that is tightly positivistic. I heard the same thing at a meeting in DC about a month ago.
What to do? I want to do research that has an impact on policy, but I have a difference of opinion about the shape that research should take.