Using Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Research in Educational Settings
Charting Causal Relationships in Human Settings
Any time a human population is involved, prediction of casual relationships becomes cloudy and, some say, impossible. Many reasons exist for this; for example,
- researchers in classrooms add a disturbing presence, causing students to act abnormally, consciously or unconsciously;
- subjects try to please the researcher, just because of an apparent interest in them (known as the Hawthorne Effect); or, perhaps
- the teacher as researcher is restricted by bias and time pressures.
But such confounding variables don't stop researchers from trying to identify causal relationships in education. Educators naturally experiment anyway, comparing groups, assessing the attributes of each, and making predictions based on an evaluation of alternatives. They look to research to support their intuitive practices, experimenting whenever they try to decide which instruction method will best encourage student improvement.
Combining Theory, Research, and Practice
The goal of educational research lies in combining theory, research, and practice. Educational researchers attempt to establish models of teaching practice, learning styles, curriculum development, and countless other educational issues. The aim is to "try to improve our understanding of education and to strive to find ways to have understanding contribute to the improvement of practice," one writer asserts (Floden 1996, p. 197).
In quasi-experimentation, researchers try to develop models by involving teachers as researchers, employing observational research techniques. Although results of this kind of research are context-dependent and difficult to generalize, they can act as a starting point for further study. The "educational researcher . . . provides guidelines and interpretive material intended to liberate the teacher's intelligence so that whatever artistry in teaching the teacher can achieve will be employed" (Eisner 1992, p. 8).
Bias and Rigor
Critics contend that the educational researcher is inherently biased, sample selection is arbitrary, and replication is impossible. The key to combating such criticism has to do with rigor. Rigor is established through close, proper attention to randomizing groups, time spent on a study, and questioning techniques. This allows more effective application of standards of quantitative research to qualitative research.
Often, teachers cannot wait to for piles of experimentation data to be analyzed before using the teaching methods (Lauer and Asher 1988). They ultimately must assess whether the results of a study in a distant classroom are applicable in their own classrooms. And they must continuously test the effectiveness of their methods by using experimental and qualitative research simultaneously. In addition to statistics (quantitative), researchers may perform case studies or observational research (qualitative) in conjunction with, or prior to, experimentation.