What is Educational Research?

Posted on 27th April, 2023, under Research

Have you ever wondered how educators decide to teach the way they teach and why they use the practices they adopt in the classroom to support learning and development? There are many ways to answer this question; your answer will be influenced by your knowledge of the educational system and your values, beliefs and hopes of how your children will experience their time in school. One way I address this question is to propose that educators teach and used practices that have worked (helped children learn) and evolved as new ways to teach are introduced and tested (educational research) to fit the diverse learning needs of today’s society.

In many countries, educational studies begin with ethical consent; the idea is then developed drawing from theory (Quality literature of previous scholars) and practice (knowledge in context) before a practice (research idea) is tested in the classroom. Testing an educational idea in the classroom is complex and needs a rigorous document to ensure no harm (ethics), and this process is usually critically evaluated in consultation with many stakeholders before it becomes part of a school curriculum. For example, Aistear, the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework in the Republic of Ireland for children from birth to six was published in 2009 by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) (currently under review); the framework was developed in consultation with researchers, educators, families and policymakers. Therefore, to achieve quality education, in addition to the policymakers who publish a school’s curriculum, the generation of teaching and learning practices should include the perspectives of the people who use the service.

Why is research necessary?

We live in an ever-changing, fast-growing society where technology and arts merge, creating innovative and exciting ways of seeing the world. In addition, expectations of older students as they head toward employment opportunities are increasing, which can result in our young learners being overloaded with stress and worry concerning their future. Now consider this, if we teach and learn without challenging students to explore new and creative ways of learning, then our progressive society will likely evolve as it has done over time, but could our students lag behind, become frustrated with high expectations and even give up trying?

I cannot answer this for a variety of reasons. For example, I have observed some children grow and flourish while others with the same learning experiences struggle (I choose not to draw assumptions). However, I do believe that through research, we can collaboratively explore educational practices with learners to find ways that make learning meaningful and could help create new possibilities providing young children with the skills they will need to limit their chances of feeling stress and worry in their future. This statement may seem idealistic, however, is it a worthwhile research question? I suggest it is. Moreover, I believe early childhood education is where we need to focus on quality teaching and learning to maximise children’s care and well-being for their future.

What do we do with research?

As a researcher, you are required to disseminate your research. This is academic terminology that infers you should tell as many interested people as possible about your work to get it noticed. This is a valuable part of research because it allows others to analyse your work and provide constructive feedback. Through feedback and collaborative discussion, decisions are made concerning implementing the research in the classroom, re-designing it to improve the research, or deciding if it is unsuitable for the context in which it was intended. While it is not a great feeling to work on a piece of research only to learn it is not reaching its desired outcomes, starting over is more valuable than trying to fit a round object into a square hole. For me, some essential questions include; will this research support children and their educators to learn and develop in the classroom? Does it contribute to their current way of learning? Is it appropriate for the age and developmental level of the learners? If the answer to any of these questions is no, I will seek support and consider starting over; if the answer is maybe, I will continue with the research; if the answer is yes, this can be the most challenging!

You may ask why is a good research study a challenge, let me explain! Good research leads to a further research question: What can a researcher do to move the study from a research report into real-world practice to support children in the classroom? I will answer this question in the coming months as I aim to take my current research from the page and position it in the classroom with the creative minds of preschool children.

AERA (American Educational Research Association)

Picture: AERA (American Educational Research Association) Chicago April 14th, 2023

Catherine (Kitty) O'Reilly
Catherine (Kitty) O'Reilly Collage

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