Sunday, 22 November 2015

Education Research and Educational Research

Linking back to last week’s post where I was thinking about the process of researching and having attended the Scottish Education Research Association (SERA) conference in Aberdeen this week, I and now grappling over questions relating to research and teacher research.
A useful distinction in starting to think about research is between research which is generated through ‘insider’ researchers (practitioners researching their own work) and ‘outsider’ researchers (which are researchers carrying out research in a place beyond their employment situation), these definitions coined by Cochran-Smyth & Lytle (1993). However, Foreman-Peck & Winch drawing on Elliott’s work use a distinction between ‘education research’ and ‘educational research’, with ‘education research’ being research “on or about education” (p32) and ‘educational research’ being carried out by practitioners in their own setting.

Drawing on Chapter 3, ‘What is Education Research Anyway?’ of Foreman-Peck & Winch’s book ‘Using Educational Research to Inform Practice’ I have outline below the differences they describe between education research and educational research;

Education Research
Educational Research
Uses scientific (technical or theoretical) terms
Is common sense theorising, characterised by a critical stance toward problematic situations

Has law-like generalisations

Supports a better understanding of the situation and their likely consequences

The explicit intention is improving practice or policy by those engaged in the practice

The explicit intentions is to improve practice within their own setting

The purpose is to contribute to a disciplinary body of knowledge and education and educational topics

The purpose is bases on a ‘felt dissatisfaction in current state’

There is no immediate or explicit practice or policy improvement intention (no particular interest in the pedagogical implications of the research)

Is conducted to solve problems or become better informed about practical problems

May inform policy decisions, but this is not necessarily the prime motivation for the research

Is distinctively practical in orientation, reflection and reflexive and bound by ethical norms

These differences can be explained by the ‘stance’ of the researcher. The education researchers are contributing to the discourse about education but is not directly involved in the pedagogical implementation of theory or findings, whereas, educational researchers are interested in solving problems or becoming better informed about their practice. However, this does not mean that practitioners who engage in educational research are “merely concerned with efficiency” (p33) by making things better but are more likely conducting a ‘professional noticing’ or ‘intervention’ that is underpinned by theory to improve outcomes for young people.

Educational researchers also have a different view from education researchers in terms of values. Since educational researchers are part of the system that is being researched then “they need to be aware of their own values and pre-suppositions” (p33) and thus they are “inevitably concerned with ethical or normative concepts” (p33) which is not always the case with education research. Since any intervention will require young people to be the subjects of the research all educational research must be both “morally and educationally defensible” (p33).

Since teaching and thus educational research are situational and these settings are “complex and unpredictable” (p40), to have ‘street credibility’, the research must be conducted in a systematic and critical way. To become more than ‘common sense theorising’ educational research, which “is characterised by a critical stance towards problematic situations” (p35), must be underpinned by theory. This is where education research can support educational research to help practitioners to “reframe problems” (p37) and “to fulfil its promise of building an educator’s professional and pedagogical judgements in a credible way” (p37). For research to be more than ‘common sense theorising’ there must also be reference to the current discourse about the topic the practitioner has made ‘problematic’. Using literature in educational research can support practitioners to produce ‘quality data’, which can then be analysed and interpreted, and lead to changes in practice that have positive outcomes for young people.

In discussing the dichotomy of education research and educational research I have polarised the situation which may in practice be more fluid. However these two distinct terms are supporting my understanding of the term ‘research’ and have moved my thinking on in how to discuss engaging with research with teachers. Teaching Scotland’s Future (2010) uses Cochran-Smith &Lytle’s (2009) argument that “if we are to achieve the aspiration of teachers being leaders of educational improvement, they need to develop expertise in using research, inquiry and reflection as part of their daily skill set”. At this point in time, I would argue that this is still an aspiration, although there are pockets of good and excellent research practice across schools in Scotland. I believe we still have a long way to go for the teaching professional as a whole to have developed the approach of ‘enquiry as stance’.


Cochran-Smyth, M. & Lytle, S. L. (1993) Inside Outside: Teacher Research and Knowledge. New York and London: Teacher College Press

Cochran-Smyth, M. & Lytle, S. L. (2009) Inquiry as a Stance: Practitioner Research for the Next Generation Teacher College Press, New York

Donaldson, G. (2010) Teaching Scotland’s future
Last accessed online 22/11/15

Elliott, J. (1987) ‘Classroom research: Science or Common Sense?’ in R. McALeese and D. Hamilton (eds) Understanding Classroom life (pp12-15). York: NFER

Foreman-Peck, L. & Winch, C (2010) Using educational research to inform practice – A Practical Guide to Practitioner Research in Universities and Colleges. Routledge

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