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H809 – Reading Wegerif and Mercer (1997) A2.3

February 11, 2011

This activity is about research methods – mainly quantitative and qualitative research. Within the epistemological context there is an ongoing debate what research methods brings out objective, measurable data that is reliable and valid. There seems an ongoing debate between natural sciences who think that quantitative methods are the ‘gold standard’ (I already heard about that in my second year of studying K221 Perspectives on Complementary and Alternative Medicine), contrary to social sciences or education that numbers alone don’t show the whole picture.

The course material argues that we need to understand the distinctions made between quantitative and qualitative research to understand the epistemological context of the paper. Wikipedia provides the following definition about epistemology

Epistemology (from Greek epistēmē, “knowledge, science” + “logos”) or theory of knowledge is the branch of  philosophy  concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. It addresses the questions:

  • What is knowledge?
  • How is knowledge acquired?
  • How do we know what we know?

Like mention before there are two opposing sides who favour one research method above the other. However, some researchers like the two authors of the paper, Wegerif and Mercer (1997) argue that the strenghts of the various methods could be combined, limiting thus the weaknesses that each method has, resulting thus in more effective research.

Ok, let’s start with a brief comparison of quantitative and qualitative research methods, although this already relates to Activity 2.4 where we are asked to make a list of the strength and weaknesses that Wegerif and Mercer identify for the research methods discussed in the paper and we suppose tho think of any further strengths and weaknesses.

Pro quantitative research methods

  • systematic study of events that can be observed with the physical senses, and their further investigation by means of measurement and experiment
  • verification of hypotheses, numerical measurement, test of statistical significance and experiments
  • evidence-based research – randomised control trials are seen as the gold standard
  • robust empirical evidence
  • large-scale, publicly-verifiable criteria and statistical tests
  • Positivism refers to a set of epistemological perspectives and philosophies of science which hold that the scientific method is the best approach to uncovering the processes by which both physical and human events occur. Though the positivist approach has been a ‘recurrent theme in the history of western thought from the Ancient Greeks to the present day’ the concept was developed in the early 19th century by the philosopher and founding sociologist, Auguste Comet (Wikipedia, 2011)

Contra quantitative research methods

  • to crude and artifical to generate useful insight in the study of human perception and interactions (Guba and Lincoln, 1989)
  • not context sensitive

Pro qualitative research methods

  • context sensitive
  • provide deeper insight into human behaviour

Contra qualitative research methods

  • small-scale and overly dependent on subjective interpretation (e.g. Torgerson and Torgerson, 2001)
  • ambiguous in meaning

References

Torgerson, C.J. and Torgerson, D.J. (2001) ‘The need for randomised controlled trials in educational research’, British Journal of Educational Studies, vol. 49, no. 3, pp. 316–28.

Wegerif, R. and Mercer, N. (1997) ‘Using computer-based text analysis to integrate qualitative and quantitative methods in research on collaborative learning’, Language and Education, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 271–86.

Wikipedia (2011) Epistemology. Available online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology (accessed 11.02.2011).

Wikipedia (2011) Positivism. Available online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positivism (accessed 11.02.2011).

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