Conference Theme:

Contested Qualities of Educational Research

The theme of ECER2007 centres on the quality of educational research. Moreover, it stresses the "contested qualities" of educational research. What is the relevance of current educational research? How does research guide educational practice? What is the state-of-the-art as to evidence-based educational practices? How does educational research guide educational policies? What are the sound principles to adopt sound educational research methodologies?

A more structured analysis of the conference theme points at different dimensions that can be distinguished in terms of the concept of “quality” of educational research. We discuss a number of these dimensions.

An underlying dimension refers to the nature of the theory that drives our current research. Will research results feed back to theoretical frameworks that help us to develop a better understanding of the complex nature of educational phenomena? Is there a clear relationship between the actual research design, the instruments and procedure, and the initial theory put forward? In addition, we can question whether our research dares to contrast or compare alternative theoretical explanations for the same research topics. In view of the theoretical dimension in educational research, this also calls for a stronger focus on meta-analyses of available research evidence.

A strong quality related dimension is grounded in the methodological approaches being adopted. Although the traditional distinction between qualitative and quantitative approaches is no longer the central issue in the debate, there are still questions as to the best triangulation approaches. As to the quantitative techniques, there is the demand for the adoption of more complex research designs that respect the complex, multivariate, and multi-level nature of the relationship between the research variables. When it comes to the qualitative methodologies, discussions focus on methodological rigour, alternative conceptions of reliability and validity, replication, and issues related to the quality of reporting this type of research. Linked to the theoretical dimension is the focus on the adoption of design-based research methodologies. The concept “design” also alludes to a next issue about design-oriented studies. What is called good quality research when the focus is on designing a new learning environment, an intervention, an instructional strategy…? Related to this quality-dimension, we can question feasible approaches to develop the research competencies of educational researchers.

A third dimension stresses the nature and origin of the research objectives. The theoretical dimension is not at stake in this context, but rather the relationship between the research results and future implementation of the research findings. Educational research is often questioned as to its relevance for guiding practice. This is not merely an opposition between applied and fundamental research. Linked to this issue is for example the question about the involvement of practitioners and research subjects in the design, set up and implementation of a research study. Practitioner-based research, teachers-as-researchers, school-based research, participatory approaches … are attempts to promote the relevance of educational research. Ownership of the research objects is a clear issue in this context.

A fourth dimension reiterates the former one but does not only centre on the impact of research at the microlevel, but rather at the meso- and macrolevel. This introduces the relevance of research to direct educational policies. This relationship is fragile and can result in questionable lip-service approaches. There is the question about research autonomy and ownership of the research results. Should results be made public even if these results do not support current policies? Is it acceptable that research agendas are driven by policies? An instantiation of this debate is currently found in the clearinghouse approach of evidence-based educational method, and this is linked to the No Child Left Behind Act in the United States of America.

A fifth dimension is related to the innovative nature of our research. Current publication policies, among others, seem to force researchers to focus on established research topics, to adopt established methodologies, to refer to established authors … The educational community is becoming perceptive of the risks resulting from this approach. Alternative theories, models, research designs … tend to be marginalized in publications.

A last dimension that can be put forward in this exploration of the conference theme centres on the quality of research output. What are the publication standards of journals, books, and reports? Given the strong pressure on publishing in ISI-indexed peer-reviewed journals, a large body of relevant educational research is not recognized as quality publications by research boards, funding agencies, governments … How can the educational research community counter the negative effects of single-sided publication policies?

It is hoped that EERA’s European Education(al Research) Quality Index (EEQI) project will contribute to answers on these questions. The initiative, which involves a consortium of EERA, European universities, computer centres and publishers, aims to build a repository for European educational research documents, including possible citation linking, open access papers, the development of a multi-lingual thesaurus and other means of quality assurance, will be presented at the ECER 2007 conference.

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