Gregor Sutherland and Miki Nishimura
The Learning School project now has at its disposal a number of tools which have been tried, tested, modified and re-tried for the purpose of gathering the rich and informative data upon which the findings of its research are founded. Broadly speaking, the kit contains two types of tool: those which are more often used to find out how much or to what extent something happens, and those which are used to try to understand how something happens. More technically, these two types of instrument can be thought of as quantitative and qualitative respectfully. The Learning School students, coming fresh to research, were not on familiar terms with the great dilemmas of educational research, with the ontological and epistemological questions which academics worry over, but that is not to say that successive groups ignored such issues. Lots of time went into discussions of the appropriateness of certain tools for different purposes, gathering information about certain events or phenomena, and what the nature of those might be in the first place.
This chapter serves as an overview of the tool kit. Each Learning School project has a rummage around in the bag at the start of the year, pulls out a few interesting things, to wonder how they might be useful and consider how they could be modified to help in their own research. Sometimes the rummage is a stimulus for creating a new tool which is then a hybrid of a couple of others. Great fun can be had hauling out old questionnaires, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, or even criticising them for their want of insightful interrogatory questions or their simple lack of visual appeal or user friendliness. While it might be really enjoyable and exciting to plan for the incorporation of, for example, sophisticated video footage of classes and online questionnaires into a piece of research, groups have all the time to bear in mind the fitness for purpose of tools, and the practical implications that the use of certain tools can present.
Learning School groups, just like professional researchers rarely get it right first time. Inevitably, there is a process of reflecting on the tools it has created after their initial use. Sometimes questionnaires are modified or even scrapped, or new observation schedules are drawn up to consider and record data previously not thought of as important to the research. Drastic changes are