Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Guiding Principles for Scientific Research

The National Research Council offers a set of six guiding principles for scientific research (1), and it bears reiterating them as an aid to those of you considering conducting educational research here at Palmer College.

Principle 1: Post significant questions that can be investigated empirically. That is, develop a question in which your observations guide your conclusions. This is actually quite hard to do; developing a research question is difficult, and often when a well-meaning faculty member discusses his or her idea for a project, and I ask them what the research question is, they get a bit confused. They think the question is what it is they wish to find out- “what my students’ perceptions of “X” are,” for example. Well, that is a question, just not the question, which is much more detailed. What we wish to do is expand on scientific knowledge from prior theory and research.

Principle 2: Link research to relevant theory. Theories are conceptual frameworks that guide research studies. They help provide the reason for a research design and provide context for interpreting findings.

Principle 3: Use methods that permit direct investigation of the question. That is, your research methods should be appropriate for the research question. You will need to provide a detailed description of your research method- and this can lead to some confusion. It is not enough to say, I am conducing a survey. Is it paper based, or is it online? If it is online, how do you recruit participants, and how to gain their consent? How to you collect data, and import to a program where you can analyze that data? A lot of thought has to go into this question. You need to consider the reliability and validity of your measurement instruments, and the proper statistical methods as well.

Principle 4: Provide a coherent and explicit chain of reasoning. Your conclusions are usually going to be based upon inferential reasoning. That is, you are making logical judgments based on the results you obtain, in the context in which you obtained them. You will also need to rule out rival explanations and other threats to the validity of your findings.

Principle 5: Replicate and generalize across studies. You need to provide sufficient detail in your methods so that an interested researcher could replicate what you did, and potentially obtain the same results you did. We need to examine whether your results can be found in other populations and contexts as well, in terms of generalizability.

Principle 6: Disclose research to encourage professional scrutiny and critique. Publish or present your work at conferences or in journals. Share your findings so that we all learn from what you did, and we all can find means to use your data in our specific settings. This is how science grows.

A few good rules here, but worth remembering.

I am pleased to note that this is the 100th entry into this blog- I hope you continue to find it useful and I look forward to posting many more entries.

1. National Research Council. Scientific research in education. Washington, DC, National Academy Press, 2002

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