Research Methods in Education

By Louis Cohen; Lawrence Manion et al. | Go to book overview

12

Experiments, quasi-experiments and single-case research

Introduction
The issue of causality and, hence, predictability has exercised the minds of researchers considerably (Smith, 1991:177). One response to the problem has been in qualitative research that defines causality in the terms of the participants (Chapter 6). Another response has been in the operation of control, and it finds its apotheosis in the experimental design. If rival causes or explanations can be eliminated from a study then, it is argued, clear causality can be established, the model can explain outcomes. Smith (1991:177) claims the high ground for the experimental approach, arguing that it is the only method that directly concerns itself with causality; this, clearly is contestable, as we show in Chapters 6-9, and 13 of this book. In Chapter 11, we described ex post facto research as experimentation in reverse in that ex post facto studies start with groups that are already different with regard to certain characteristics and then proceed to search, in retrospect, for the factors that brought about those differences. We then went on to cite Kerlinger’s description of the experimental researcher’s approach:

If x, then y; if frustration, then aggression…the researcher uses some method to measure x and then observes y to see if concomitant variation occurs.

(Kerlinger, 1970)

The essential feature of experimental research is that investigators deliberately control and manipulate the conditions which determine the events in which they are interested. At its simplest, an experiment involves making a change in the value of one variable—called the independent variable—and observing the effect of that change on another variable—called the dependent variable. Imagine that we have been transported to a laboratory to investigate the properties of a new wonder-fertilizer that farmers could use on their cereal crops, let us say wheat (Morrison, 1993:44-5). The scientist would take the bag of wheat seed and randomly split it into two equal parts. One part would be grown under normal existing conditions—controlled and measured amounts of soil, warmth, water and light and no other factors. This would be called the control group. The other part would be grown under the same conditions—the same controlled and measured amounts of soil, warmth, water and light as the control group, but, additionally, the new wonder-fertilizer. Then, four months later, the two groups are examined and their growth measured. The control group has grown half a metre and each ear of wheat is in place but the seeds are small. The experimental group, by contrast, has grown half a metre as well but has significantly more seeds on each ear, the seeds are larger, fuller and more robust. The scientist concludes that, because both groups came into contact with nothing other than measured amounts of soil, warmth, water and light, then it could not have been anything else but the new wonder-fertilizer that caused the experimental group to flourish so well. The key factors in the experiment were:
• the random allocation of the whole bag of wheat into two matched groups (the control and the experimental group), involving the

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Research Methods in Education
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Boxes xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Introduction xv
  • Part One - The Context of Educational Research 1
  • 1 - The Nature of Inquiry 3
  • Part Two - Planning Educational Research 47
  • 2 - The Ethics of Educational and Social Research 49
  • 3 - Research Design Issues- Planning Research 73
  • 4 - Sampling 92
  • 5 - Validity and Reliability 105
  • Part Three - Styles of Educational Research 135
  • 6 - Naturalistic and Ethnographic Research 137
  • 7 - Historical Research 158
  • 8 - Surveys, Longitudinal, Cross-Sectional and Trend Studies 169
  • 9 - Case Studies 181
  • 10 - Correlational Research 191
  • 11 - Ex Post Facto Research 205
  • 12 - Experiments, Quasi-Experiments and Single-Case Research 211
  • 13 - Action Research 226
  • Part Four - Strategies for Data Collection and Researching 243
  • 14 - Questionnaires 245
  • 15 - Interviews 267
  • 16 - Accounts 293
  • 17 - Observation 305
  • 18 - Tests 317
  • 19 - Personal Constructs 337
  • 20 - Multi-Dimensional Measurement 349
  • 21 - Role-Playing 370
  • Part Five - Recent Developments in Educational Research 381
  • 22 - Recent Developments 383
  • Notes 396
  • Bibliography 407
  • Index 438
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