via Schoenfeld and Burkhardt: Improving Educational Research

Since one of the questions that came up at Friday’s R&D workshop was how various disciplines outside of education could draw upon existing educational research, I thought I would offer up this interesting essay by Hugh Burkhardt and Alan Schoenfeld.  These writers present a number of different models of how educational research might be translated into practice, before settling on their own recommended “engineering” approach.

The CTE needs to be agnostic at this point about these models, though I think we are very conscious of the need for teaching faculty to draw upon at least the findings and “best practices” found in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.  Nonetheless, these authors do provide a useful overview of the three main traditions of educational research: humanities, science, and engineering.  Here are brief excerpted definitions of each:

The humanities approach to research is the oldest tradition in
education.It may be described as “original investigations undertaken
in order to gain knowledge and understandings; scholarship;
the invention and generation of ideas . .. where these lead
to new or substantially improved insights”(Higher Education
Research Funding Council, 1999, p. 4). There is no requirement
that the assertions made be tested empirically. The test of quality
is critical appraisal concerning plausibility, internal consistency
and fit to prevailing wisdom. The key product of this
approach is critical commentary (5)

The science approach to research is also focused on the development
of better insight; of improved knowledge and understanding of  “how the world works,” through the analysis of
phenomena; and the building of models that explain them. However,
this approach imposes in addition a further essential requirement-
that assertions be subjected to empirical testing.
The key outcomes are again assertions-but now with both arguments in support and responses to key questions that are built
on empirical evidence.The common products are research journal
papers, books, and conference talks. Such research provides
insights, identifies problems and suggests possibilities. However,
it does not itself generate practical solutions, even on a small
scale; for that, it needs to be linked to the engineering approach.

The engineering approach to research is directly concerned
with practical impact-understanding how the world works and
helping it “to work better” by designing and systematically developing
high-quality solutions to practical problems. It builds
on insights from other research, insofar as they are available, but
goes beyond them. It can be described as “the use of existing
knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products, and processes,
including design and construction”(Higher Education Research
Funding Council, 1999, p. 4). It combines imaginative design
and empirical testing of the products and processes during development and in evaluation. Key products are tools and/or
processes that work well for their intended uses and users, with
evidence-based evaluation.

After hearing our discussions at Friday’s workshop, I think that the CTE could support faculty in each of these traditions, which to my mind include both those who simply need to draw upon existing scholarship of teaching and learning to improve their own teaching, and those who are helping to produce such research and scholarship for others, including those on those campus, to draw upon.




2 Comments on “via Schoenfeld and Burkhardt: Improving Educational Research”

  1. Cathy says:

    I agree that there is space for all of these discplinary frames to have important presence in the discussion and implementation of SOTL. From an educational research perspective, the scientific approach has been dominant for more than a decade, although the pragmatism of the context is never out of sight.

  2. Dave Mazella says:

    From my point of view, the CTE can help those doing the empirical research, but it also has to worry about how to translate those results into improved practice among those doing other kinds of research. This is where the testing, generalization, but also wider communication and implementation of results could come into play.

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