Bridging discourse in educational research: A focus on stability and change

Year: 2017

Author: Esther, Chan Man Ching

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Education appears to be a highly contested research area. Terms such as "polarisation", "fragmentation", and "silos" are often found in the literature to describe the current status of the research discourse. This paper reports on a study that aimed to connect the diverse perspectives and research traditions in education through interviews with senior researchers in multiple countries. The study applied the dialectic approach (Overton, 2003) in philosophical investigation using the relational concepts of stability and change to stimulate and understand different views of learning and teaching and to explore the potential application of these different understandings of stability and change in classroom practices.

A snowball sampling method with a maximum variation strategy was employed in this study beginning with a few personal contacts of the author and asking them to suggest suitable informants for the study. Individual interviews with ten researchers were conducted. Each interview was around 30 to 60 minutes and semi-structured, generally beginning with some background questions about the interviewee, how learning is defined and studied in their work, and how the interviewee might interpret the issue of stability and change in his or her work.

Applying the dialectic approach, the analysis focused on three aspects of the interviewees' responses in relation to the notions of stability and change: 1) the diversity in the perspectives presented, 2) the tension between the perspectives, and 3) the relational connection between the perspectives. The study found that the notions of stability and change appear to serve as a useful means to draw out as well as to contrast and connect different education research perspectives. Differentiating the nuanced meaning between stability and change in different contexts (e.g., educational measurement and developmental theory) provides insights into the concepts that are particular to an area of research. A contrast between the accounts of the different researchers highlights a dependency between the concepts of structure and variability, and how "stability" can be found at various levels of practice though defined or manifested differently.

Rather than aiming for consensus among the researchers, the study "celebrates" (Bruner, 1997, p. 63) divergence in different perspectives by creating a dialogical space to discuss the tensions between stability and change in education. The study findings could help to address the incoherence and fragmentation in education discourse and explore ways in which different educational theories and methodologies can complement each other in classroom practice.