Research Methods and Methodologies for Art Education Edited by Sharon D. La Pierre & Enid Zimmerman Reston, VA: The National Art Education Association, 1997. 245 pages. ISBN: 0-937652-97-0
Reviewed by David Pariser
Concordia University, Montreal
For students eagerly planning their debutante fling in that great ballroom called Academic Research, it is important to know something about the varied dance steps that they will encounter-everything from the measured solemnity of the social science minuet to the Duncanesque mysteries of feminist free-form. It is wise for neophytes to be nimble on their toes, for an awkward dancer risks social disgrace.
The editors have done us all a favor by including certain dances and excluding others. In particular, there is the glaring absence of the unbalanced gyrations of the deconstructionists, critical theorists and other postmodern dervishes. And, as Gilbert and Sullivan have it, "They'll none of them be missed." Especially not in a book of this sort, which must have novice researchers in mind as part of its readership. It is always good educational practice to initiate learners into a field with the most typical and coherent instances of whatever one is studying. When studying mammals it is sensible to save the platypus until last.
The contents of this book will be useful to anyone wishing to do research in art education. With only a few exceptions the prose style of the essays is of good quality. What emerges from a reading is the absence of an over-arching strategy for art education research and the lack of a consensus as to what vital questions the field must address. But this lack of consensus is not a unique feature of research in art education. For example a comparable lack can be observed in the allied field of psychological research into creativity (Pariser, 1993).
I will give the flavor of this collection by touching on a couple of key chapters. For beginning researchers, a logical starting point might be Koroscik and Kowalchuk's very helpful chapter on decoding and critiquing journal articles. The authors give broad outlines of four sorts of scholarly articles and then they offer a methodical analysis of two empirical studies. (Both studies are found in full in an appendix). I used this chapter as a text in a graduate research methods class and most students found it very helpful.
Two comments: The authors analyze research projects with which they are closely connected (the work of Koroscik is referred to in both projectsand she is a co-investigator in one of them). As the world of research in art education is small, it was probably wise rather than simply self-serving for the authors to choose work with which they are associated. Obviously, they stand behind their own research and in dissecting it, they run no risk of offending anyone. The analysis offered is balanced, without being either scathing or lopsidedly laudatory.
A second point: Among the several helpful charts dealing with types of research, the authors present one on p.83 that distinguishes between "descriptive studies" (naturalistic) and "predictive studies"(experimental). The authors identify descriptive studies as those that ask the question "What is?" while predictive studies supposedly ask "What could be?" When members of my class read this we felt that this distinction was not helpful. For surely both experimental and naturalistic studies are concerned with investigating "What is." Both named approaches have, as their goal the creation of an articulated and credible representation of some piece of the world. Thus, the identified goals of these two sorts of research suggest a difference in objectives where none exists. This is not to deny the very real differences between naturalistic and experimental studies-it is just to suggest that both sorts of research do have at least one aim in common; namely the description of "what is." …