Tag Archives: interpretivism

In pursuit of that one particular paradigm…

14 Oct

In today’s world, research is the tool we use in our quest for the truth. Its potential to provide us with new knowledge, one that can change how we understand others, and ourselves, is greatly increased when we, as researchers, are willing to be self-reflective and open toward the research process and the different ways of knowing.

After much reflection and many readings, I have come to the stance that to conduct good research in the social sciences, and especially in education, one cannot deny that both interpretivist and positivist paradigms have their place in our quest of knowledge and both have their limitations.

When conducting research, one’s paradigm, worldview, or belief system provides the framework that underpins how the research will be conducted, and how the data will be analyzed and interpreted. Both positivists and interpretivists are concerned with understanding the world, and enhancing their knowledge of it. While positivists believe that researcher and research are separate, and an objective reality exists outside and independently of those ‘creating’ it, interpretivists claim the opposite, declaring research and researcher as inseparable, and knowledge of the world as the result of our interaction and interpretation of it.

research-in-progressEducational research is complex because it not only involves human behavior and social interaction, but it also includes looking at various teaching approaches and learning strategies in educational settings. Educational research attempts to uncover solutions to practical problems in education and to do so has to include many disciplines in its analysis and study. Anthropology, sociology, psychology, and history all contribute to developing our knowledge of teaching and learning. If we really want to improve the relation between research, policy, and practice in education, we need an approach in which not only is the cognitive (quantitative) is researched but also the affective (qualitative) aspect of teaching and learning is taken into account.

As an educator, a researcher, and a student, I am not ready to choose one model over another. From where I stand today, I want to be able to draw upon multiple paradigms, use different methodologies, apply different tools, do whatever is needed, to encourage dialogue, and foster collaboration and exploration in the world of learning and teaching.

Paradigm Proclaimed

30 Aug

As an educator, I am interested in understanding, interpreting, and exploring the many complex and rich relationships between teaching and learning. Research will be the tool that will help me gain insights and contribute to the field, and research is always guided by a set of beliefs – or a paradigm – whether acknowledged or not by the researcher. A researcher’s paradigm, in other words, is then determined by the way he or she defines reality (ontology), how he/she knows something (epistemology) and how he/she goes about finding answers (methodology).

My paradigm, or belief system, will then steer my thought patterns and serve as a framework, shaping the observations I make, the facts I discover, and the conclusions I draw. It is for this reason that before I publicly declare my paradigm, I want to share my understanding of the different social research paradigms using the analogy of a shepherd and his flock.

positivistsA positivist shepherd stands atop a hill. Before him, a little distance off, are some sheep. He stands for a long time – without ever attempting to take one step closer – and observes the sheep as they flock around unaware of his presence. He records his observations and in so doing declares that which is universal about sheep behavior. Along comes a post positivist shepherd. He supplements the quantitative observations made by his predecessor┬áby conducting a structured interview of a random sample of sheep to determine their reasons for flocking as they do. He weighs, measures, and diligently records his findings.

An interpretivist shepherd arrives on the scene. He walks into the flock and establishes rapport with the sheep, tinterpretivistshen goes on to graze with them in an attempt to understand and describe their experience. The interpretivist shepherd is thrilled as his findings emerge through dialogue and interviews with the sheep.

A little bit off to the side, a critical theorist shepherd feels a strong urge to empower the sheep to organize themselves as a lobby group to protest againstcritical theorist the Agriculture Department. He advocates on their behalf pointing out the many benefits they provide to human beings, namely meat, skins, milk, and wool. He enables them to see the pollution in the grass where they live and feed, to find its source, and to identify the harmful effect that it places on them.

These shepherd stories depict the way research would be conducted based on one’s paradigm. Being one who believes that the best research method is the one that helps to uncover injustice and empower individuals, I would have to say that my paradigm falls in the realm of critical theory, because for me it is and has always been about how I can change a situation and improve someone’s experience.