Choosing the better research approach: quantitative or qualitative

At first glance, choosing a research approach seems like a daunting task. Differentiating the word ‘quantitative’ from its seemingly identical counterpart ‘qualitative’ is another challenge.

Though distinctively differed by merely two letters, quantitative sets itself apart from qualitative. In the context of research, a quantitative approach has a world of its own—a complex world that typically defined by numerical data.

Creswell (2010) dedicates chapters of his book to explore and differentiate quantitative and qualitative approaches.  The conception of the research questions up to the collection and analysis of data forms this intensive process.

In fully understanding quantitative research, one has to weed out its differences with qualitative research as shown in the tables below:

differentiating research approach

Research approach and educational  leadership

In the process of planning a study focusing on educational leadership, choosing the most suitable approach is like deciding to choose between two different paths. At times and despite these tables of differentiation, it is still confusing to decide on an appropriate research approach.

Is there a way by which we can determine the appropriateness of a particular approach in relation to the intended purpose of the researcher?

Is quantitative approach better than qualitative, or vice versa?

In addition, methodology relies on the intention of the researcher whether to explore or examine variables or explain a particular phenomenon.

This kind of logic leads to another question: Can we qualify variables or quantify a phenomenon? For a novice researcher relying on readings and lectures, the methodology must go according to the ‘academic judgment’ of the researcher.  One must then justify the appropriateness of the approach on the purpose and focus of the study to arrive at conclusive and impactful findings.

 More thoughts on quantitative research

Creswell’s (2010) idea of quantitative research highlights the notion of variables and instruments as the core ideas of this approach. From a linguistic point of view,  quantitative research refers to a more technical process.  For example, this involves numerical-statistical data gathered through an experiment, quasi-experiment, or a survey.

On the other hand, one needs to be skeptical n analyzing data in quantitative research.

Perhaps, this somehow goes against the essence of a quantitative research.  It presents information in the form of numbers.  In addition, this approach seems to be absolute and backed up by the laws of statistics.

 Should educational researchers use quantitative approach for my research?

Although numbers serve as a definitive and objective tool for logic, educational researchers may opt to go for a quantitative methodology.

Certainly, it would have been more helpful if references in Educational Research present a matrix.  This table should show pros and cons of quantitative and qualitative approaches.

In addition, it should indicate how this could be applied to a particular research topic. Through this matrix, one could easily answer questions like: ‘Is quantitative research more efficient/effective than qualitative?’

To initially address this gap, here are some videos on YouTube that clearly delineates quantitative and qualitative research:

Qualitative vs Quantitative Video

Overview of Quantitative Research

Overview of Qualitative Research

Although seemingly identical, quantitative and qualitative are two distinct approaches in research.

In the early stages of the process, it is important for a novice researcher to determine a research approach. This is in order to employ methods that best address the purpose of the study.

Metaphorically, this is one of the first crossroads a researcher has to face in this journey.

 

Reference:

Creswell, J. W. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (pp. 58-77, 103). Boston: Pearson.

Crazy classroom ideas worth tinkering in the 21st century

The 21st-century opens up the pandora’s box to crazy classroom ideas.  Despite the fact that the education system still revolves around traditionalist ideals, some out-of-this-world thoughts could be worth trying.

Around the world, teachers are constantly searching for ways to innovate in order to keep the students engaged.  Although a lot of these cool and creative practices have been circulating on the internet, there are still some that haven’t got through the mainstream.

Generally, the craziest ideas that have turned around schools are those that have something to do with the existing technology.  Education has continuously been embracing technology and all its promises.

Nowadays, there is always an app or a software for any classroom activity.  For example, Kahoot makes educational games more creative and competitive.  Edmodo allows connectivity and productivity.  Whereas, Padlet makes collaborative discussions more interesting and surprising due to anonymity.

However, crazy classroom ideas are not just all about maximizing technology.   Craziness could be something beyond extraordinary, non-traditional, or even provocative.

Crazy classroom of games

What if we dedicate 80% of classroom time to playing games?

Some pedagogical traditionalists would say that there needs to be a balance between student talk time and teacher talk time. On the other hand, progressivists may argue for longer student talk time.

By following this progressivist thinking, why not replace the talk time with game time?

Games help develop multiple learning skills depending on its focus and approach. A clear example of this is how PE teachers help students learn a particular sport.  They spend more time in the gym than in the classroom to learn to play basketball.  Thus, they acquire the skills by playing the sport most of the time.

Can we apply this in other classes? Yes, of course.

For an instance, students may play with word games or board games like Scrabble or Taboo, which takes at least 30 minutes, to improve vocabulary.  Classroom competitive math quiz games can replace the usual classroom drills.

However, traditionalists will always say ‘nay’ to this idea, for they are still in the mindset of having more teacher talk time as an effective way fo teaching.

The power of choice

Most of the time, or even all the time, teachers decide what to teach.  If not the teachers, the principals or districts do so.

Who are the ones learning? Is it the teachers or students? Then, why not let the students decide what they want to learn?

Certainly, in a natural world, human beings thrive when they live according to their free will.  Likewise, if schools help the students in developing capabilities to exercise their free will, things might change.

Progressivist countries like Finland have already started giving the kids more liberty by converting strict study time to play time.  In addition, some private schools in the US and Germany try a new concept of allowing students to choose their subjects.

On the contrary, the world is still under the mercy of exams. Standardized exams chain students and systems.

Instead of allowing the freedom of choice, school systems teach what board exams want.

Naturally, human beings do well when doing things according to their choice.  We enjoy the food we like to eat.  Teachers perform well in their field of expertise. Students study for their favorite subject.

Why can’t students study what they want?

Don’t teach at all!

Here’s the craziest idea of them all. Just don’t teach.

The iPad can make kids hooked for ages. YouTube has all the lectures. Google knows more than even the best teacher you have.

Students do not need teachers.  They need life coaches.

With all these, teachers should step up and do more than regurgitating what students can find online.  Moreover, teachers should stop acting like iPads and harbor technology as a go-to when it comes to taming students.

Teachers must strive to be LIFE COACHES.  As a life coach, an English teacher won’t just talk about Shakespeare, but about the value of love.  A maths teacher will never scare any student in Algebra with all the big numbers but use arithmetics in earning money selling lemonade.

As a final thought, these crazy classroom ideas still don’t go beyond the boundaries of insanity.  We don’t expect the teachers to teach naked or students to go berserk.  Sometimes, we just need craziness to change an old system.

Receiving feedback to improve teaching and learning

Receiving feedback from students is one of the most effective and genuine ways for teachers to improve their practices.

As teachers, it should always be a personal mantra to never settle for what’s good but to continuously improve one’s craft.  In doing so, setting up an effective and efficient evaluation system could pave the way to improve teaching and learning.

receiving feedback from students

Receiving feedback from students

Students’ feedback serves as a valuable tool.   Due to the fact that they are the ones who are at the receiving end, students experience the full process of teaching and learning in every single session.

Thus, it’s always about looking at feedback constructively and filtering comments from students to maximize the best learning practices suitable for the students.

For an instance, if students feel that a writing activity gets tedious, a teacher may modify a writing reflection task.  In effect, instead of writing a 500-word essay individually, they just may write it collaboratively or in just 350 words.

Of course, good feedback is worth keeping and improving. Knowing what the students prefer would enable teachers to develop plans in such a way that it could hit the students’ interests and preferences.

Likewise, by knowing what they don’t like, teachers could modify the activity next time and compromise with them so that they could still develop certain skills without straining them that much.

Feedback instruments for students

Student evaluation may come in oral or written. Teachers may gather information from written reflection and some oral or casual comments from students.

For example,  value-guided reflection writing may be one form of acquiring feedback. In this exercise, students get to write a short, standard essay of at least 150 words to express what they learned and how to improve their learning experience.

In addition to reflection activities,  teachers could ask students to do the following:

  1. Think Logs. These are just short reflections and points for reflection students should write in a notebook.
  2. Exit Posts. On a board near the door, teachers may ask students to post whatever they think about the session before they leave the room. A simple code scheme like smileys or ticks could determine how they liked the class. If a student puts a sad face, the teacher may have to ask the student how to help him/her.
  3. Mind map/interactive reflections. Reflections may come in different forms like mind maps, video, PowerPoint, blogs, audio recording or even a sketch.

Other than that, teachers could also conduct formal self-evaluations and interviews to gauge student feedback. Students may fill in an evaluation sheet at the end of a particular unit. Perhaps, teachers could have a more holistic perspective on the students’ learning and perspectives from this exercise.

Data presentation skills: A researcher’s guide

In every research, data presentation plays the most inevitably crucial role in representing the outcome of the study. It is the result, finding and evidence to substantiate every study.

It is not enough for our data to just sit in our hard drives.  These valuable information needs to be shared and communicated in the best way possible.

Why do we have to do data presentation well?

Visual tools are the first “thing” for the readers and reviewers, who are often busy to read. In effect, when it comes to the needs of a reader to just briefly scan through a research paper (due to time constraint), tables, figures, charts, and diagrams are the best visual aids to let the reader know what the research is about.

Imagine the hassle of reading a heap of words and numbers where you can just neatly organize them into a table?

Hence, a well-presented data also speaks for the researcher himself. It can depict the proficiency of the researcher in utilizing appropriate visual tools.

This creates great impressions on readers and to lure the readers to read more on the content.

In addition, visual aids can indirectly enhance the memory of readers. Thus, the art of presenting data is of utmost importance to be mastered.

The visual aids must be self-explanatory.

It has to be understandable so as to inform the readers about something important about the study. To know the validity of the table, we need to evaluate whether this table/figure stand on its own.

The purpose of putting up a table or any figure should be significant. Avoid putting up a pie chart just to show the distribution of male and female respondent. By the way, a pie chart is a NO-NO in research papers. Hence, save it for gossip magazines.

Apart from that, not all readers can understand abbreviations. If a reader has to look for the list of abbreviations or read the text to understand an abbreviation, the quality of the research paper can be doubted. Therefore, the full-form of abbreviations should be written on a line below a table or figure for the reader’s easy reference.

The title of each table and figure must be descriptive enough to tell what the data is representing.

In data presentation, the title for each table and figure has to be informative and descriptive. The title should be clear and specific. Do not let your readers guess what the tables and figures are trying to show.

For example: “Mean reaction times and percentage of errors by facial condition and sex of participants”

The placement of titles is also something one should be particular of. For tables, the title should be above the table. This is to ease the readers to read the title as they are reading the title bar on top of the table. Meanwhile, for figures, the title should be below the graph or chart. This is for the readers to easily read the title as they are scanning the axis bar.

Present the data in an organized pattern.

One definitely cannot simply present the data as he wished. Take the bar chart below as an example:

data presentation bar chart

(Retrieved from: http://abacus.bates.edu/~ganderso/biology/resources/writing/HTWtablefigs.html)

Thus, the items on the x-axis should be arranged in a pattern. It can be according to alphabetical order or according to the trend (increase or decrease in number).

[Note: no dot after “Figure 1”]

Meanwhile, for tables, it should be simple with only 3 (or more if the table is too big, but try to minimize the number of lines) horizontal lines. There could be alternating shadings for rows if the table is too big. Always line up the decimal points in one straight line.

 

clear table

(Example of a clear table)

Relate the text to the tables and figures

Before a wordy title, always insert a label or number for that particular table or figure for referencing.

For example: “Table 2 Mean reaction times and percentage of errors by facial condition and sex of participants”

There is not necessary to put a full stop (.) or colon (:) after “Table 2”.

After that, make sure the table or figure serve their purpose. Always remember to relate the text or analysis of result to the table or figure shown. Tag the table or figure using their respective labels as such:

Table 2 shows that…

……… (Table 2).

Avoid repeating data.

While presenting the data in text form, avoid writing down all values from the table in word form as it is redundant. Try using one sentence to summarize the findings from the table.

Most importantly, great data presentation skills can depict how professional a researcher is. The tips above are not all, but something people do not usually notice or put emphasis on.

Take a small step to change, and great impact on your research skills will follow!

The problem of an outdated education system: A commentary

When you dispose of rubbish improperly, they just pile up until they form a mountain of rubbish.   This is the problem of an outdated education system.

It might be the 21st century, but schools still have that Victorian Era vibe in them.

Through the years, the intention of improving systems of education around the world has always been there.  However, the big problem lies in how these improvements become part of our reality.

Education as a natural privilege beyond rights

Idealists will always harp on the innate nature of education as a privilege for all and the responsibility of those who can provide.  Education must always be for all.

Most noteworthy of all, everyone has the right to proper education.  To learn the tricks of life is what education ought to be. Therefore, here lies the biggest problem of education.

The denaturalization of education

Denaturalization is the process of taking away the natural aspects of a phenomenon by encasing it in a box of mechanical standards. To illustrate this, as soon as a mother or father teaches a baby to talk or walk, that’s the first sign of education.

In effect, as the baby grows up, parents pass on the social responsibility of sending their child to school.

By this time, parents detach themselves from teaching their child.  They entrust them to the system that institutionalizes education. Hence, the primary essence of education gets lost.

Institutionalizing the education system

To add more insult to injury, bigger systems use education to function under their wings.  When schools start serving an institution (i.e. government, religion, private companies), it takes away the learning power of a student.  Thus, this converts the student into a mere mechanical product shaped in the nature of an institution the school serves.

An individual’s capabilities are sacrificed and replaced by a collective knowledge and standardized abilities.  It would have been helpful if these lead to genuine life-skills development.  On the contrary, the progress leads to satisfying institutionalized standards like tests and certifications.

On a final note, education itself becomes a problem as it defeats its primary nature and purpose.  Schools must educate children for them to learn what they need and what they want.  It is not for the school or any institution to purely decide on what individuals need and want.

Learning and the learners are the main thrust of education and NOT the self-serving intentions of institutions.

Therefore, it’s time to clean up this mess and go back to the basics.

Turning the tales of turnaround schools to reality

The case of turnaround schools is like a fairy tale of schools.  However, in this Cinderella story, the miracle happens in the reality of schools all over the world.

Transforming a school from low to high performing is not an impossible feat. It is an undertaking of sheer will power and impressive organizational skills.

the case of turnaround schools

The case of low-performing schools

Describing the performance of a school requires certain standards. Obviously, these standards are set by certain boards.  On the other hand, these could be as simple as logical discretion.

To be more objective, student achievement usually quantifies a school’s performance.  Based on grades attained by students, these could be from internal or external examination.  Any school can simply claim high performance according to internally assessed work.  However, through standardized exams, schools get to establish themselves as high-performing schools due to impressive results.

For example, schools from Shanghai and Singapore have established themselves as top schools based on PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results in reading, maths, and science.

In the United States, proficiency tests enable assessors to determine the performance of a school and even a district.

Aside from grades, school performance based on student achievement also includes graduation rates and the ability of the students to go to colleges or universities.

On top of these quantitative factors, the quality of infrastructure and instructional practices come into play.

Logically, low performing schools usually score below the acceptable standards in all or most of these factors.

The case of turnaround schools

The study of Klugman et al. (2015) on turnaround schools in Illinois brings this ugly duckling tale into reality.  In 2013, the University of Chicago conducted a statewide survey involving school stakeholders.  The data from this research lead to findings on turning low to high performing schools.

learning in turnaround schools

Firstly, socio-economically disadvantaged communities and rural schools lack the support system they need.  In effect, these schools are at risk of lower student outcomes.

Now, what should be done to these schools?

Due to this inadequacy, providing the essential support system could provide a chance for these schools to transform.  More importantly, the following essential support factors should be considered:

  1. Effective leadership
  2. Collaborative teachers
  3. Involved families
  4. Supportive environment
  5. Ambitious instruction

If schools could look into these factors, then change may take place.  Perhaps, a strong support system could lead to better student outcomes.  Therefore, school leaders and district supervisors must meet these essential supports to improve the system.

Finally, current studies on school improvement and leadership establish the correlation between the two.  Hence, school transformation would require supportive leadership that fosters strong, effective instructional principles and practices.

References

Klugman, J., Gordon, M. F., Sebring, P. B., & Sporte, S. E. (2015). A first look at the 5Essentials in Illinois schools. RESEARCH SUMMARY.