Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Research

Advantages and Disadvantages of Experimental Research: Discussion

In educational research, experimentation is a way to gain insight into methods of instruction. Although teaching is context specific, results can provide a starting point for further study. Often, a teacher/researcher will have a "gut" feeling about an issue which can be explored through experimentation and looking at causal relationships. Through research intuition can shape practice.

A preconception exists that information obtained through scientific method is free of human inconsistencies. But, since scientific method is a matter of human construction, it is subject to human error. The researcher's Personal bias may intrude upon the experiment, as well. For example, certain preconceptions may dictate the course of the research and affect the behavior of the subjects. The issue may be compounded when, although many researchers are aware of the affect that their personal bias exerts on their own research, they are pressured to produce research that is accepted in their field of study as "legitimate" experimental research.

The researcher does bring bias to experimentation, but bias does not limit an ability to be reflective. An ethical researcher thinks critically about results and reports those results after careful reflection. Concerns over bias can be leveled against any research method.

Often, the sample may not be representative of a population, because the researcher does not have an opportunity to ensure a representative sample. For example, subjects could be limited to one location, limited in number, studied under constrained conditions and for too short a time.

Despite such inconsistencies in educational research, the researcher has control over the variables, increasing the possibility of more precisely determining individual effects of each variable. Also, determining interaction between variables is more possible.

Even so, artificial results may result. It can be argued that variables are manipulated so the experiment measures what researchers want to examine; therefore, the results are merely contrived products and have no bearing in material reality. Artificial results are difficult to apply in practical situations, making generalizing from the results of a controlled study questionable. Experimental research essentially first decontextualizes a single question from a "real world" scenario, studies it under controlled conditions, and then tries to recontextualize the results back on the "real world" scenario. Results may be difficult to replicate.

Perhaps, groups in an experiment may not be comparable. Quasi-experimentation in educational research is widespread because not only are many researchers also teachers, but many subjects are also students. With the classroom as laboratory, it is difficult to implement randomizing or matching strategies. Often, students self-select into certain sections of a course on the basis of their own agendas and scheduling needs. Thus when, as often happens, one class is treated and the other used for a control, the groups may not actually be comparable. As one might imagine, people who register for a class which meets three times a week at eleven o'clock in the morning (young, no full-time job, night people) differ significantly from those who register for one on Monday evenings from seven to ten p.m. (older, full-time job, possibly more highly motivated). Each situation presents different variables and your group might be completely different from that in the study. Long-term studies are expensive and hard to reproduce. And although often the same hypotheses are tested by different researchers, various factors complicate attempts to compare or synthesize them. It is nearly impossible to be as rigorous as the natural sciences model dictates.

Even when randomization of students is possible, problems arise. First, depending on the class size and the number of classes, the sample may be too small for the extraneous variables to cancel out. Second, the study population is not strictly a sample, because the population of students registered for a given class at a particular university is obviously not representative of the population of all students at large. For example, students at a suburban private liberal-arts college are typically young, white, and upper-middle class. In contrast, students at an urban community college tend to be older, poorer, and members of a racial minority. The differences can be construed as confounding variables: the first group may have fewer demands on its time, have less self-discipline, and benefit from superior secondary education. The second may have more demands, including a job and/or children, have more self-discipline, but an inferior secondary education. Selecting a population of subjects which is representative of the average of all post-secondary students is also a flawed solution, because the outcome of a treatment involving this group is not necessarily transferable to either the students at a community college or the students at the private college, nor are they universally generalizable.

When a human population is involved, experimental research becomes concerned if behavior can be predicted or studied with validity. Human response can be difficult to measure. Human behavior is dependent on individual responses. Rationalizing behavior through experimentation does not account for the process of thought, making outcomes of that process fallible (Eisenberg, 1996).

Nevertheless, we perform experiments daily anyway. When we brush our teeth every morning, we are experimenting to see if this behavior will result in fewer cavities. We are relying on previous experimentation and we are transferring the experimentation to our daily lives.

Moreover, experimentation can be combined with other research methods to ensure rigor. Other qualitative methods such as case study, ethnography, observational research and interviews can function as preconditions for experimentation or conducted simultaneously to add validity to a study.

We have few alternatives to experimentation. Mere anecdotal research, for example is unscientific, unreplicatable, and easily manipulated. Should we rely on Ed walking into a faculty meeting and telling the story of Sally? Sally screamed, "I love writing!" ten times before she wrote her essay and produced a quality paper. Therefore, all the other faculty members should hear this anecdote and know that all other students should employ this similar technique.

On final disadvantage: frequently, political pressure drives experimentation and forces unreliable results. Specific funding and support may drive the outcomes of experimentation and cause the results to be skewed. The reader of these results may not be aware of these biases and should approach experimentation with a critical eye.

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Introduction