OK. I need help. My recently completed Masters emphasized “quality” traditional research. Clearly defined research questions, carefully planned processes with reliable measuring instruments and thoroughly analyzed data. Setting out to prove a hypothesis that helps the researcher to better understand some specific idea. Then, action research starts coming at me from a number of different angles and I start to get the feeling from some folks that there is no place for traditional research in education (or other social science environments). There is all this rhetoric around traditional research being quantitative, action research is qualitative; traditional uses control groups, action research doesn’t; traditional research is about generalizable conclusions, action research is about specific localized situations.
Why does research have to be so black and white? Since when is all traditional research quantitative? Social research of any kind, traditional or requires both qualitative and quantitative data. How much of each is entirely dependent on what is being studied. The action research material that I’m reading seems to indicate that action research is exclusively qualitative in nature. All research uses control groups because all research is measuring something in comparison to something else, even if that something else is the very same thing being studied but at a different time. Action research claims not to need them. If you are not generalizing your conclusions, what good are they? At the very least, you need to have some conclusion that says that teaching intervention X works with students in my community at my grade in my course or you can’t use them. Otherwise, all you have is observations of what occurred in this one very specific instance.
I may seem like I’m beating up on the action research camp, and I don’t mean to be. I like their focus on documentation and formalizing the kinds of observations and adjustments that I make in my teaching on a daily basis. It just seems that all the reading that I’m doing on action research is strongly anti-traditional research and I’m having a hard time finding the middle ground. Or, perhaps, I’m finding the middle ground and am realizing that nobody else is there: they’ve all dug in to their trenches on either side of me. I’m increasingly involved in action research projects in my job and I need to get my head around exactly what the thinking is. If there is anyone out there also holed up behind a rock in no-man’s-land, please tell me what you know and what your experiences are. Have you reconciled the two camps? Have you compromised your research ideals to meet the demands of one camp or the other? Or, do you continue to live behind the rock waiting for the shooting to stop?