Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Search for Meaning in Educational Research This is a good article by Deborah Court of Bar-Ilan University in Israel. Deborah Court researches educational cultures in Israel and abroad. She teaches qualitative research methods and curriculum evaluation at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

From the article:


This article explores different senses of the concept of meaning in educational research, presenting ‘meaning’ as personal (the researcher’s quest for meaning through research), contextual (meaning in relation to linguistics and culture) and shared (through communication), offering illustrative examples from the literature and from her own work.

Why Do We Perform Educational Research?

When I was finishing my undergraduate degree in anthropology thirty years ago, the professor of our cultural anthropology course gave us a provocative assignment for our final paper. We were supposed to ask, and attempt to answer, one of the great, unanswered questions in cultural anthropology. Flirting with youthful cynicism on the one hand, and beginning a genuine search for meaning on the other, I entitled my paper, “One of the great, unanswered questions in cultural anthropology: Why are we doing this?” The details of my answer are long forgotten in the dustbin of essay history, but the gist of it was an attempt to find human significance in the description and analysis of cultures. Looking back, I blush at the naive presumption that I could answer such a question, but the question itself, “why are we doing this?” has recurred, sometimes at a hum and sometimes at a roar, for most of my professional life.

Why, collectively, do we perform educational research? At first glance the answers seem clear. We want to learn about effective programs and teaching methods to help students learn. We want to discover relationships between variables in educational settings to plan interventions. We want to understand cultural contexts of schools to create schools that embody justice and reduce prejudice and inequality.

From the individual researcher’s perspective we investigate topics about which we are curious or passionate; as well, we do research because it is an integral part of the academic role and a central factor in academic promotion. We may sometimes be paid or co-opted to do research in a setting that we did not choose out of personal-professional interest, but I think examination of most researchers’ work over years or decades will offer substantial revelation of what is important to those people. A researcher’s voyage may be long, the seas calm or stormy, the tides of circumstance insistent, but the journey is driven at least in part by the winds of ontological longing. Individually and collectively, we do educational research as part of a quest for meaning.

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