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[ Contents Vol 16, 2000 ] [ QJER Home ]

Editorial: Discourse level and focus in educational research

This issue includes articles that represent different levels of discourse about educational issues. Here, these levels of discourse cover international/national issues in provision of educational resources and access, the identification and measurement of university environments, the functioning of collaborative groups, and psychological modelling of individual student learning. However, all of these articles are also ultimately concerned with learning, even though at different levels of remove from the learner: providing opportunities for learning; the ethos and institutional environment of learning; learning in groups (whether as students or researchers); and psychological variables affecting individual application to learning. This ultimate focus on learning would seem to be the definitive characteristic of research that is educational in its focus. Education is fundamentally concerned with learning.

As would be expected, all of these articles build on and contribute to theoretical frameworks for the issues they address, cast these theoretical frameworks against empirical evidence, and offer new understandings of the aspects of education with which they deal. Consequences for educational policy or practice are also explored, together with possible directions for future research. So, despite the differences in their level and scope and their different characterisations of educational issues, there is a commonality of concern and a similarity of 'deep structure'. It can also be said that they are all directed at extending our individual understandings and affecting educational policy and practice through changes in individual consciousness.

Power, Globalisation and Education in the Twenty-first Century, offers an analysis of social and educational issues of global significance, at the level of national policy and social consciousness. His theme is the contribution of education to learning to live together in a globalised, multicultural world. He paints on a large canvas, exploring the meanings and implications of issues such as globalisation, inequality, cultural diversity and new information and communication technologies. He highlights the increasing contradiction between the trend towards globalisation of the education 'market' and the continuing inequities of 'access' both between and within countries. He points to evidence that educational outcomes are directly related to the capacity (of individuals, groups and countries) to gain access to high-quality educational programs. Access implies not just the availability of more and better educational resources but also more and better social support systems: '... the reality [is] that it is simply impossible to improve access to education and the quality of education in poor countries without extra resources, and that within countries extra resources must be found to improve the functioning of schools, families and communities, particularly those located in disadvantaged areas' (p. 17). An extension of this latter imperative is the role of education, along with other social agencies, in creating social cohesion within multicultural diversity. Power argues the urgency of establishing systematic and sustained public policies at community, national and international levels to support this role. He also suggests an agenda of needed research on effective educational and social policies and practices. This agenda could form the basis for new directions in educational research.

Dorman, Validiation and use of a short form of the University-Level Environment Questionnaire (ULEQ), reports a research study within the psychometric tradition, in this case involving measurement of perceptions of institutional environment. In addition to exploring the validity and reliability of the short-form ULEQ, the article reports clear (and probably expected) differences in characteristics among different types of Australian universities. This study provides an exemplification of the care with which the development of such measures should be approached and their potential value in identifying similarities and differences across institutions, perhaps as part of quality assurance processes. The seven scales of this questionnaire assess important institutional characteristics: academic freedom; concern for research and scholarship; empowerment; affiliation; mission consensus; and work pressure. These scales were derived from a long tradition of research on institutional functioning and are justified by their relevance to high quality student learning and also by their intrinsic desirability as features of the university ethos. The continued existence of clear differences in institutional environment among universities raises important questions about the evolving shape of university education in Australia, questions that need to be addressed at all levels of influence over their development - students, academics, administrators and politicians.

Moriarty, Hallinan, Danaher and Danaher, All I know is what I learned from my colleagues: reflections on research from Australian Traveller education, explore issues concerning the conduct of collaborative research. They provide a self-conscious and reflective account of their own collaborative research efforts. As their collaborative research program has been extraordinarily productive, this account provides valuable insight on 'how they did it'. The focus of their research is what may seem initially to be a rather specialised field - the education of the children of itinerant show and circus workers. However, it quickly becomes apparent that this research has broader implications and a widening applicability. Their account can be characterised as a case study of research collaboration. As in all good case studies, the analysis extends well beyond a simple recounting of case details - though these provide the necessary 'grounding' for the discussion - to encompass an exploration of more general issues, in this case, the relevance and applicability of theories of collaborative endeavour and co-operative communities. Their analysis therefore provides much of interest and value to all educational and social science researchers as the scope and complexity of many research issues push us towards more engagement in collaborative research teams. They are careful to emphasise that their experience is not a blueprint for collaborative research although several general conclusions and implications can be drawn. This is a necessary caveat for any case study. However, the five illustrated principles of effective cooperative communities - positive interdependence, individual accountability, interpersonal and small-group skills, promotion of one another's success and group processing - appear to have general relevance and power. Some useful counsel is also offered on maintaining a balanced approach to practical issues confronting collaborative research teams.

Ng and Bahr, Knowledge structures and motivation to learn: reciprocal effects, offer a detailed analysis of the ways in which knowledge and motivation interact in the process of learning. Their research is within the tradition of psychological modeling of learner behaviour. They draw on published research, including their own, to build a model that is then tested against the research evidence. Their model extends existing research to theorise a more complex relationship between domain specific knowledge and domain specific motivation involving a developing reciprocity between them. In doing so, they also explore the significance of deep structural similarity between knowledge domains, their illustration being mathematics and music, and argue that the relationships between knowledge and motivation may be mediated through such deep structure linkages. Their most important contribution is a typology of learner types characterised by the mix of knowledge state (poor-rich) and motivation goal (performance-mastery; weak-strong). It is proposed that the eight resulting types of learners require different pedagogical approaches for effective learning. Thus, there are implications here for both researchers and teachers to explore the validity and applicability of the model in particular settings.

The articles in this issue continue the tradition established in previous issues of high quality contributions to the educational research literature. The editorial aim is to raise the profile of the journal to that of a national and international journal. This can only be achieved if articles continue to be submitted for consideration. Although the articles in this issue are substantial, smaller contributions will be considered. The only requirements are educational relevance, theory relatedness (generalisation beyond the particular), intellectual rigour, internal coherence and clear writing. There are no minimum or maximum length requirements and no limitations on the research paradigm adopted. Further advice to contributors is provided at the back of this issue.

Graham Maxwell

Please cite as: Maxwell, G. (2000). Discourse level and focus in educational research. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 16(1), 3-6. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer16/editorial16-1.html

[ Contents Vol 16, 2000 ] [ QJER Home ]
Created 19 Dec 2004. Last revision: 19 Dec 2004.
URL: http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer16/editorial16-1.html