As in other fields of education, adult education and literacy faces great pressure to conduct more scientifically based research to identify effective instructional practices to guide teaching and inform policy. Educational research, especially in adult literacy, has been criticized for employing weak methodologies that do not allow for valid and reliable conclusions. To address this issue in the U.S., the Department of Education began an ambitious agenda to improve the quality of research, in part by establishing strict methodology guidelines for educational research that accepts only studies with experimental or quasi-experimental designs.
At the same time, adult educational researchers face increasing demands to be more responsive to the field by designing studies and presenting findings that are more accessible to teachers and other practitioners, who need to know research-based practices that will improve the literacy and language skills of adult learners. To this end, several research to practice initiatives have arisen, including those led by the NRDC in England and NCSALL in the U.S, the major adult literacy research organizations in their respective countries.
Due to the nature of the research process, it has been difficult for researchers and practitioners to communicate. Researchers are expected to stay aloof from practice, to ask pre-specified questions, collect information, analyze test scores, and then write up results in formats specified by the funding source. Typically, outside researchers do not give opinions or offer advice, since such involvement could result in a lack of objectivity. It could also pollute the data because some programs might make changes based on the researchers’ input. Practitioner input into research is generally not welcome or sought only in the initial phases, most often as part of an advisory panel.
It is not surprising then that, for many literacy programs, the news that they have been selected for a national research study, while flattering, is not entirely welcome. Programs are expected to cooperate fully by providing data about their students and answering researcher questions and by offering researchers access to their classrooms and to their students. Programs often do not hear about the results of a study that they have been part of until much later, when data collection and analysis are completed, a process that might take years. When the results are finally published, often the reports do not speak to practitioners. Methods and findings tend to be discussed in dense academic prose; statistical information is written by and for other researchers and thus is not accessible to most lay people. Implications for practice may be entirely missing or not grounded in the realities of the everyday work of literacy practitioners.
The discussion of findings in quantitative and statistical terms, is not only difficult to for non-researchers to understand, but the reduction of teaching and learning to numbers and probability tests feels too removed from reality to many practitioners. Qualitative data, which often speaks more persuasively to teachers, is often devalued as too subjective for research. As a result, false dichotomies have arisen between research and practice, and between qualitative and quantitative research. Rigorous research is quantitative, objective, removed from practice, while qualitative research is weak and subjective.
Combining the Qualitative and Quantitative
The value of, and need for, objective, methodologically sound research is undeniable. Only through sound research designs can we eliminate threats to validity and draw scientifically valid conclusions to inform practice. While we recognize the value of the more traditional research, we also believe a more interactive, reciprocal research and development model that combines evidence from previous research studies with the professional wisdom of those doing literacy work in the field has a critical role to play in conducting research. Indeed, scientific research combined with professional wisdom is the definition of “evidence-based research” put forth by the research branch of the U.S. Department of Education.
In our view, the best research design is a mixed method design that integrates qualitative and quantitative research. This type of design begins with a strong research methodology with quantitative methods that are enhanced with qualitative measures of key processes and outcomes. Qualitative methods, such as interviews and case studies, improve the design by providing data that can give insights into how findings work and how findings can be translated to practice. By itself, a quantitative method can identify what works, but has limited explanatory power: there is little information about how students learned and how instruction worked, for example. With qualitative designs there is rich information about learners and teaching, but the information about what worked is more subjective and cannot be generalized. By combining the two methods, we can obtain a much richer…..
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M. Asrori Ardiansyah, M.Pd
Pendidik di Malang