Understanding research and being able to critically read research reports in education would seem to be an important skill for teachers to acquire, and many initial teacher a course in miracles programs, in countries such as Australia, require students to study a research method subject. In the case of pre-service teachers, there are important questions for a lecturer to consider. What should be the content and focus of an introductory course in research methods for pre-service education students? What are the priorities? Where to start? The starting point is important because, for many of these pre-service teachers, this may be the only study they will ever undertake in the area of education research. A pre-service teacher who is provided with a sound foundation in research methods is more likely to be a productive user of education research as an education practitioner.
In the limited time available for an introductory course in research methods, decisions have to be made regarding what to teach and what to leave out; what topics are considered to be more important than others and why. The field of education research is complex and, for students, the area can be overwhelming. In the experience of the authors, who have taught research methods at both under-graduate and post-graduate level over many years, students consistently describe their confusion and frustration at the sheer scope of the area and, in some cases, this acts as a disincentive.
Perhaps a useful starting point would be to focus upon the type of research that is most prevalent in education, on the assumption that students would be more likely to come across examples in the journals they read. If students are cognizant with the methods used in the research that they most frequently encounter then surely confidence would be increased. As journals are readily accessible for students, an investigation of relevant education journals would be a useful source in order to determine if certain types of research are published more frequently than others.
An investigation of this nature may reveal a profile of education research that could have implications for education researchers as well as assisting teachers and pre-service teachers. This article describes the authors’ endeavor to profile selected education research journals and the unexpected surprises encountered along the way; in particular, difficulties in the development of a suitable ‘mapping tool’. There may be implications for education researchers as well as teachers of research.
The Nature of Educational Research
Educational research is undertaken by a range of stakeholders including government departments and non-government organisations, but the majority of educational research, as with most disciplines, is undertaken by academics in universities. Educational research covers a broad range of topics such as curriculum and pedagogy, education systems (encompassing early childhood, primary, secondary education) and various specialist studies, including areas such as assessment, leadership, technology and gender.
Research needs of stakeholders vary. Education departments use research to inform teaching and curriculum practice, devise professional learning activities, target resources and improve system requirements. Non-government organisations may use research to develop teaching resources or provide information to improve services to a range of clients. Research that underpins the teaching and learning process is of particular importance to inform teacher practice. Universities usually require students to engage with the education research literature, whereby students undertake a unit in research methods or read educational research. With the growth of pre-service teacher education courses offered at the Master degree level in countries such as Australia, the requirement for research skills has escalated.
Research in education encompasses many different naturalistic, interpretative, hypothesis generating models as well as hypothesis testing models. A rich resource of text books is available for those studying the theory and practice of educational research: Burke & Christensen (2012), Punch (2009), O’Toole & Beckett (2013), Wiersma and Jurs (2009) and Yin (2012), to name a few. Due to the nature of research in an educational setting the majority of research utilises a hypothesis generation approach with a predominance of verbal qualitative data gathering.