What does it mean to be an education researcher as we approach the 2020s? Following the launch of The BERA/ SAGE Handbook of Educational Research we’ve spoken to two of the editors, Dominic Wyse and Neil Selwyn, to find out more about how the discipline is developing, as well as what new opportunities within the industry, such as big data research, hold for this field of research. Wyse is a professor of early childhood and primary education at University College London, Institute of Education; Selwyn is a professor in the Faculty of Education at Monash University.
How has education as a research practice developed since its inception?
Dominic Wyse: Education research engages more than ever with the full range of methodologies. Growth in experimental trials, mature understanding of the range of methodologies, increased sophistication with mixed methods approaches are just three examples of the greater engagement.
Over the past 30 years, education research has provided robust answers to pressing questions such as what kinds of teaching approaches are most effective. However, education research also has a high level of diversity including its multi-disciplinary perspectives which are seen as essential as we seek further answers to the most pressing questions in society.
In the text you describe the need to engage with shifts outside traditional methodologies and cite big data as an example. What opportunities does big data offer education researchers?
Dominic Wyse: Education researchers have a long track record of working with large data sets, for example cohort studies. The extremely large data sets that technological developments have brought provide new means to address research questions. Such data sets also provoke reflection on how other kinds of educational research might be combined with these, and how critiques of some assumptions around the use of such data might be developed.
Neil Selwyn: As is the case throughout all of the social sciences, there is a clear need to develop our capabilities and skills in the area of large-scale quantitative analyses. Yet one of the most exciting elements of big data research is that it is inherently interdisciplinary and collaborative. So big data offers a great opportunity for education researchers to establish collaborations with computational disciplines. That said, these are approaches that we need to adopt and adapt in an appropriately ‘educational’ manner. So big data research doesn’t mean that we all need to become data scientists. Perhaps the main role of education researchers is to bring our theoretical knowledge of learning, teaching and educational contexts to bear on these complex data analyses.
How do you think developments in research will affect the course of the discipline over the next 10 years?
Neil Selwyn: Speaking from an academic point of view, education research is increasingly something that will be done with other people from other disciplines. So the next 10 years will see a rise in genuine collaborations and interdisciplinary approaches with researchers working out of emerging fields such as neuroscience, computational and data sciences, design subjects and so on. Yet it is important to recognize that education research is also something that will increasingly be done outside of universities – with projects and analyses being conducted by think-tanks, commercial organizations, charities and industry. This will mean a shift in the types of questions being asked and the forms of ‘evidence’ being sought. Throughout all of this, then, is a need to retain an integrity and rigor to ‘education research’ … which we hope is where universities and bodies such as BERA can come to the fore!