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Editorial: Educational research as kaleidoscope: Valuing diversity

One of the interesting features of a journal such as this, with its openness to any aspects of educational research, is the range of topics and styles of research that it covers. Of course, such variety is an endemic feature of educational research. Educational issues intersect with almost all other aspects of human endeavour, both substantively and methodologically. This makes educational research more a kaleidoscope than a mosaic, a fabulous changing array of different perspectives rather than a static assembly of variegated 'findings'. It also makes educational research evocative and provocative, encouraging us to think beyond our everyday perceptions and perspectives, illuminating new issues and possibilities, encouraging further speculation and enquiry. In other words, educational research is a process, a never-ending journey of exploration and enlightenment. This issue of the journal illustrates this kaleidoscopic aspect of educational research through the range of issues raised and perspectives revealed.

Varghese asks the question: Where does research fit in Education Queensland? As Director General of Education Queensland, he is well-placed to suggest an answer. It is an especially interesting question in view of the way in which state departments of education excised their research branches over a decade ago and moved to contract research instead, in so far as they saw any need for research at all. The article suggests three levels of research: the macro or societal level; the meso or structural level; and the micro or operational level. The macro is concerned with broad issues dealing with trends and futures, the meso with large focussed research studies (whether in-house or contract), and the micro with individual researchers' (and teachers') projects in particular classrooms and schools. Education Queensland is seen as playing a key role in all three levels, whether as agent, sponsor or broker. The article concludes with a tantalising invitation for researchers to develop new research partnerships with schools in order to the develop schools as true 'learning organisations' where research assists in self-evaluation, self-reflection and self-actualisation.

Brooker, Macpherson and Aspland, in their article Enriching the outcomes of action research: Connecting the local and the global through a hermeneutic spiral, connect with the idea of research partnerships in another way. They broach the important issue of how to transcend the particular case in educational research. In their research they have explored ways of extending their findings beyond local descriptions and interpretations. This extension is necessary if research is to be of general significance, yet it is often left to happenstance. Here, the researchers seek to intertwine the action research spiral with a hermeneutic spiral of meaning-making through the use of critical friend networks. In other words, their research becomes a basis for ongoing conversations on the relevance of the findings for other educational settings - in this instance focussed on curriculum leadership in schools. In other words, the research becomes a form of emancipatory action research (Carr & Kemmis, 1993) in which they widen the circle of those involved in the generation of 'professional wisdom'. In this respect, they are keen to influence educational practice not just report on it.

A special issue in generalising from the particular to the general is, as Stake (1995) says, to respect the particular within the general. That is, local difference should not be seen as 'measurement error' that disturbs the general pattern of regularity. Rather, local and individual differences - for example, of context or motivation - need to be respected. Brooker et al. have a way of doing this that allows an ever expanding community of re-interpretation, understanding, elaboration and 'sophistication' (Stake, 1995) of their research outcomes or 'assertions' (Erikson, 1986). The combination of an action research spiral and a hermeneutic meaning-making spiral appears essential for transforming localised educational research (at the micro level) into more widespread debate and action (at the meso and macro levels). It also allows the validity of the inductive theorising to be tested.1

Sim is also concerned with action research in her article Transforming the subject: A case study of subject matter preparation in teacher education but from a somewhat different perspective. She reports the implementation of a course directed at integration of pedagogical and discipline knowledge in a preservice teacher education program. The aim was for the students to critically evaluate their frames of reference about what it means both to learn and to teach the subject (History). The agency for this was a transformative learning approach involving active experience, communicative learning and reflection. The intention was not to 'reproduce the teacher' but to create 'thinking professionals'. In this, the approach was at least partially successful, particularly in its reflexivity, since it prompted both students and lecturer to re-examine their presuppositions about the learning of history and the learning of the teaching of history. Various follow-up projects are planned to extend the dialogue. All of this is consistent with the view of Carr and Kemmis (1993) that true action research must be participatory.

The article invites further conversations on transformative approaches to developing professional knowledge and practice. In this case, the exploration of wider implications - moving beyond the local to the general in teacher education - is facilitated more by the theoretical frameworks for integrative practice and transformative learning than by any use of critical friend networks to validate and generalise the findings. What is promoted is an idea rather than a program. This is evidenced especially in the suggestion for similar studies in other teaching disciplines and other professions. However, the intended follow-up projects with novice teachers provide a more important arena for exploration of the issues raised and their implications for professional practice - both a form of research partnership with schools and also a form of critical friend networking.

In some ways, Liyanage and Birch, in their article English for general academic purposes: Catering to discipline-specific needs, are also concerned with case study, albeit of two contrasting programs in a quasi-experimental design. That is, they compare the outcomes and effects of two contrasting programs on specific (case) groups of students. The programs were two prototypical approaches to teaching English for academic purposes to foreign students from non-English speaking backgrounds in an Australian university. The experimental program, focussing on discipline-specific needs, was more successful than the traditional comparison program on a number of measures of success. The article provides an analysis of the reasons for this success and some of the problems faced by such programs. A prima facie argument is built for the advantages of targeting discipline-specific needs. While, strictly, 'one swallow doesn't make a summer', the authors rightly suggest that there is sufficient justification here for further research along these lines.

With Baker's article, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and reading achievement, the research kaleidoscope makes an abrupt adjustment to reveal a quite different array of images and ideas. Here, the focus is on what is known medically and educationally about the condition of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - experienced by about three per cent the population - and how students affected by this disorder can be assisted more effectively in learning to read. It is common for reading disability to accompany ADHD. The core characteristics of ADHD - hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention - are thought to interfere with the metacognitive executive function in reading. Baker describes a planned multimodal intervention involving cognitive training, strategy training and medication, also taking account of contextual factors and individual needs.

Although the article does not extend to proposing a research design for this intervention, given the dispersed nature of the problem it would seem likely that the intervention will involve a limited number of case studies of individual students. It this is so, then the research will need to address the case study issues raised in the previous articles, especially the issues of generalisation beyond the particular case(s) and translation into professional understanding and action. In terms of methodological rather than substantive issues, then, the focus looks familiar - though, of course, any kaleidoscopic image is never repeated exactly, so we expect some differences of emphasis and detail.

Jackson reports an enquiry into Youth and the popular music business. Here, the kaleidoscopic image changes substantially. From a range of national and international literature, Jackson draws out ten issues of concern in the interaction of youth and music, particularly in relation to popular music as an industry. These issues have important implications for social and educational policy and practice - at the macro level. They address young people's access to and engagement with popular music, its effect on their health and attitudes (both positively and negatively), copyright infringement, employment prospects in the industry, peer group pressures, younger children's involvement, music as entertainment, and marketing practices and ethics. Jackson concludes that positive features of popular music, such as its encouragement of creativity and social commentary, should be engaged more deliberately and that schools should assist students more in developing critical awareness of both positive and negative aspects of the music business. This requires everyone to take popular music more seriously both as an industry and as a social movement. The article concludes with a list of important questions needing further research. Research approaches are not specified but could well involve a mix of macro, meso and micro level designs, that is, ranging from the large-scale theorising to focussed interventions to personalised case studies.

The articles by Baker and Jackson were contributed as part of the set of forum papers on contemporary children's issues constituting the previous issue of this journal (Vol. 16, No. 2). For several reasons they were held over to this issue but could be read also in conjunction with the articles in the previous issue. Taken together, these two issues reveal even more of the kaleidoscope of topics and approaches in educational research. Nevertheless, they reveal only some of the diversity. The totality is even more varied. One of the strengths of this journal that it is receptive to that totality. Editorial policy is to publish articles that are well-written, coherent and interesting, whatever the substantive focus or methodological approach. Such variety expands our vision, enriches our understanding, provokes our imagination and encourages new perspectives. In this sense, educational research can be seen as a tool for assisting us in thinking about educational issues. A journal such as this helps in disseminating that thinking, and dissemination (or 'diffusion') is an important component in the impact of educational research on practice (DETYA, 2000).

Graham Maxwell


  1. See principle 4 of Reason and Rowan, 1981, p 247 - the validity of research is much enhanced by the systematic use of feedback loops, and by going round the research cycle several times.


Carr, W. & Kemmis, S. (1993). Action research in education. In M. Hammersley (Ed.), Controversies in classroom research (2nd ed.) (pp. 235-245). Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Department of Education and Youth Affairs (DETYA). The impact of educational research. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. [verified 18 Oct 2004] http://www.dest.gov.au/archive/highered/respubs/impact/default.htm

Erikson, F. (1986). Qualitative methods in research on teaching. In M. Whittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (pp. 119-161). New York: Macmillan.

Reason, P. & Rowan, J. (1981) (reprinted 1993). Issues of validity in new paradigm research. In P. Reason & J. Rowan (Eds), Human inquiry: A sourcebook of new paradigm research (pp. 239-250). Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.

Stake, R.E. (1995). The art of case study research Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.

Please cite as: Maxwell, G. (2001). Educational research as kaleidoscope: Valuing diversity. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 17(1), 3-8. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer17/editorial17-1.html

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Created 17 Oct 2004. Last revision: 1 Dec 2004.
URL: http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer17/editorial17-1.html