Aspects/ Features of Educational Research

In addition to the features of education that influence research, there are also aspects of education research as a field that help clarify the nature of scientific inquiry in education. A perspective of education research as an enterprise points to some of the infrastructure supports that sustain it. Three of these education research characteristics are noteworthy in this regard: its multidisciplinary nature, ethical considerations, and its reliance on relationships with education practitioners.
1.       Multiple Disciplinary Perspectives
 The variability and complexity of education are the grist for the academic’s disciplinary mill. Multiple scientific disciplines study education and contribute knowledge about it. Economists study the incentive structures of schooling to understand the relationship between interventions designed to change behavior and educational outcomes. Developmental psychologists and subject-matter specialists study fundamental processes of cognition, language, and socialization. Physicists, chemists, and biologists study science curriculum, teaching, and assessment. Organizational sociologists study systems that are organized to meet education goals. Cultural anthropologists study the character and form of social interactions that characterize students’ formal and informal educational experiences. Political scientists study the implementation of large-scale institutional change, like charter schools. The presence of many disciplinary perspectives in education research has at least three implications.
 First, since several disciplinary perspectives focus on different parts of the system, there are many legitimate research frameworks and methods (Howe and Eisenhart, 1990). But because many disciplines are focusing on different parts of the system, contradictory conclusions may be offered, adding fuel to the debates about both the specific topic and the value of education research. The challenge for the diverse field of education is to integrate theories and empirical findings across domains and methods. Researchers from a range of disciplines working together, therefore, can be particularly valuable.
              Second implication is that advances in education research depend in no small part on advances in related disciplines and fields. Work in the traditional scientific disciplines, as well as in such applied fields as public health may be necessary as infrastructure support for scientific studies in education.         
           Finally, this proliferation of frameworks, coupled with the sheer scope of the myriad fields that contribute to understanding in education, make the development of professional training for education researchers. The breadth and depth of topical areas as well as multiple epistemological and methodological frameworks are nearly impossible to cover adequately in a single degree program. Conceptualizing how to structure the continuum of professional development for education researchers is similarly challenging, especially since there is little agreement about what scholars in education need to know and be able to do. These unresolved questions have contributed to the uneven preparation of education researchers.
2.      Ethical Considerations
 In modern education research, researchers often engage in fieldwork in schools, and with parents, students, and teachers. Ethical issues involving the protection of human participants in research—especially children— have real consequences for the types of designs, data collection, and consequently, results that can be generated from education research. The need to ensure ethical research conduct may weaken the strength of the research designs that can be used. Ethical issues also have implications for data collection. Parents may refuse to allow their children to participate in a study because of privacy concerns. Such events can complicate data collection, compromise sampling procedures, and thwart opportunities to generalize. Research ethics requires investigators to design their studies to anticipate these occurrences and to understand and describe their effects on the results of the study.
3.      Relationships

As in other applied fields—such as agriculture, health risk reduction, crime, justice, and welfare—education research relies critically on relationships between researchers and those engaged in professional practice: teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, university deans, school board members, and a host of others. The education research enterprise could not function without these relationships, and its health is correlated strongly with the extent to which these practitioners are willing to participate in or otherwise support research.