MEd 3 – The role of the Literature Review and of Theory

I have always seen the literature review as the most exciting part of any research project. For me, it’s about discovering what is out there, bringing it together and building on it. The later is the most interesting part – you get to take things forward and bring in your own comments, critiques, questions and links on what is already out there. I have once again enjoyed reading Creswell (2003) and Newby (2011) this week. I think this post is highly reflective as it is based on the literature reviews I conducted for assignments, my dissertation and earlier research proposals. I have then focused my reflections from this weeks readings.

Literature use

Bringing focus and taking things forward
I think literature is valuable in helping to focus a project. Unless you are trying to back up or disprove something, why waste your energy doing something that has been done before? I like how Dr John Classen (2009) puts it in the youtube video shared in the pathway:

 You have to know where you are before you can go forward

I think that sums up the point of productive research. If you are not brining ‘something new to the table’ or at least a unique context or situation – then what is the point? The only way you can make sure this is by having a thorough background to the field you are researching and some understanding of how and why you are taking it forward.

Understanding the background and ‘how you got here’
I find a strong understanding of the literary background to what you are researching is important. It helps you understand the ‘current situation’. This could be literal history, context, events leading to the subject/event or even history of thought on a concept. Understanding what has happened before can help avoid potential pitfalls.

Developing your own ideas
On undertaking a literature review I relish coming across viewpoints, approaches, conclusions, methods, discussions and ideas that I disagree with. It has always helped me to not only develop my own ideas, but to cement my understanding. It is an excellent way to discover new ideas and angles. There have been times that a series of new journal articles have contributed so substantially to my understanding that I have changed my viewpoint and understanding on a topic.

Justify your decisions and research method
A literature review is an excellent way to help justify what you are doing. Among other things, a thorough review can demonstrate why you are brining two concepts or schools of thought together, can show how you are bridging a gap in understanding with your project or can simply apply previous thought to your own context. If there is substantial thought in one area it can demonstrate academic consensus which is useful if you are taking things on to the next step. For example, I have often found it is a good way of reviewing methods previous researchers have used and justifying my approach though showing what has/has not worked before.

Literature misuse

I think Newby’s comments on research misuse are interesting.

Ignorance: Ignorance involves leaving out or being unaware of relevant work. Sometimes (perhaps often) this is unintentionally and on reflection I have fallen into this category before. For my undergraduate dissertation I remember teasing out what I believed to be all the core papers and areas of thought. It was only three years later that I found another key development. In my defence this was due to the lack of subscription to relevant journals at my institution so I was unable to get access to those papers. This is a shame that paper would have helped corroborate some of my findings. In other situations though, you can imagine how this could really destroy someone’s foundation or conclusion.

Misunderstanding: Misunderstanding is just what it sounds like – not fully understanding something… I think it is most important to be aware of this potential when looking at papers, arguments and thoughts outside your disciplinary background, field or context. I have experienced this when I looked at some physics and chemistry behind decomposition as part of my undergraduate which was outside of my social research background. I found it important to look into further research and check my understanding t if I ever leave my field.

Selective referencing and misrepresentation: In one word – unethical. Selective referencing involves purposefully omitting some references.  This could be papers that disagree/dispute the author’s position. I find it particularly abhorrent as it is so against the academic ethos. We should be free to agree or disagree. Throughout a lot of topics there is a lot of controversy and disagreement. It is this that makes topics so rich and interesting! Misrepresentation involves twisting and misusing previous work to imply different findings, outcomes or process. It is incredibly unprofessional. I do however think Newby does not fully consider thow it can be linked to misunderstanding.

MEd 2 – Qualitative and Quantitative Research and Research Worldview

In the past I have always favoured a mixed method approach. This isn’t so much because of my personal worldview, but the context I was researching in. Quantitative research gave me those numbers, percentages and graphs that resonated with the management team. I get the feeling I’m not the only person who has experienced this. Why do senior managers love hard figure so much? All this is assuming  a statistically significant sample of course. Then comes in qualitative. The little stories that tell you a lot. Those little glimpses into something that add up to a hint at the bigger picture. I’ve always preferred that approach I think as I’ve liked connecting with people as a researcher. I always feel I learn more.

This week I focused on studying Research Methods for Education (Newby, 2012) and an older edition of Research Design (Creswell, 2003). After James’ post on Google +, I event revisited Kirkpatrick as I had adapted some work based on that model for our service level evaluation. There were some important things I wanted to move towards with this – moving away from mere evaluation to look at outputs and impact. This naturally required a new focus on the later stages which required fitting it all into a bigger framework.

What distinguishes a qualitative study from a quantitative study?

Quantitative Qualitative
1 Tests/verifies explanations or theories to produce a measurable truth. Other researchers should be able to replicate results. Uses closed ended approaches/questions to measure and quantify. Collects meanings to explore the different views people subscribe to. Uses open-ended questions and approaches.
2 Produces a single quantifiable truth* Produces meaning(s) from the individualised reality perceived by people – there is no single truth*.“People subscribe to different views and believe valid but different truths*” (Newby, 2010: pp45)
3 The researcher is objective and neutral. Unbiased and rigorous approaches are used The researcher is not unbiased and can be committed or based within the community being studies.  Interpretation of results can be

I have labelled my top characteristics above. I felt the need to draw out some further differences and some similarities:


4 Is valid where approach is rigorous and accepted
5 *Produces ‘constructed’ knowledge and truths. There is no such thing as an indisputable truth. Any ‘truth’ may later be disproved. (See discussion on Henry’s blog)
6 Data takes the form of numbers Data can take any form
7 Positivist Constructivist

I am still wary of my choice in a table to draw out the differences between qualitative and quantitative. I think I wanted to do this as I could link rows to show similarities too. Although it is an obvious one, I still feel the need to justify qualitative approaches. I sadly still come across individuals who dislike things they cannot put a ruler against to produce a nice statistic.

I am still aware I am missing my third blog post that was due this week. Sadly I am still playing catch up with the course. This week had a HUGE amount of required reading which I have simply not got through due to unforeseen circumstances this morning. I did particularly enjoy reading Newby’s first chapter. I found the ‘warnings’ amusing and truthful. Newby labels research in educational contexts as highly political which I think we can all relate to . I think this is especially apparent within HE as there are institutional politics ontop. I think Newby presents a worst case scenario in suggesting that research can “make you enemies”. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but I think it raises useful points about considering how to approach a topic that may dispute orthodoxy or identify a different approach/path/strategy to the one agreed.


Creswell, J. W. (2003) Research Design, Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Method Approaches

Newby, P. (2010) Research Methods for Education

MEd 1 – Initial Thoughts

Now that I have resumed my MEd eLearning course at the University of Hull, it seemed the perfect opportunity to make use of this (otherwise) dead site. I’m very pleased to be resuming my studies on the course and look forward to meeting some new people over the next few weeks. The start date of the course took me by surprise a little, so I intend to play catch up this week. I aim to make my first three blog posts before the week is out. Hopefully life/work will permit this goal, but perhaps writing it down will help.

This first post considers the following three areas

  1. What you feel you need to know about research …
  2. Notes on some research that has influenced your own professional work or your learning
  3. Activities within your workplace which you consider to be research and what and who they influence

As this was task is to consider ‘initial reflections’, I have first answered the questions before engaging with the literature.

What you feel you need to know about research …
So far research has been an important part of my studies and career. As part of my undergraduate I needed to write a dissertation based on a unique area of research. For this I interviewed 22 people using standard qualitative methodology. This was helpful in getting my first job and as part of that role I wrote many research and campaign papers using both qualitative and quantitative methodology.

For better or worse, I have am working on research and evaluation in my current role. Hopefully this module will support me in developing my research skills.

Notes on some research that has influenced your own professional work or your learning
Similar to Justine, I think informal research plays an important and influential role in my careers. Part of my role is to observe our volunteers, providing them coaching advice to develop their skills. I think continued professional development (CPD) is a form of self-research and reflection that forms an important part of my career. I think these elements are very influential.

Activities within your workplace which you consider to be research and what and who they influence
Considering a purely formal role, research influences a lot of what our service does. Research into peer assisted learning has helped us back and develop the PASS scheme at the University of Hull. Its ongoing evaluation helps us make our system better and prove it is working. Our Team continually evaluates all of our activities. It helps us to ensure we are doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time. Where areas for improvement are identified – it helps us get it right the next time. This is vital for any service.