“Objectivity” in educational research

Earlier today I had a productive meeting with one of my supervisors where, in addition to updating her on my progress, we discussed my reluctance to get “too involved” in my research projects. This is something I’ve touched on before and will probably continue returning to it during the course of my research.

I come from a quantitative background where many believe that the RCT is the gold standard of research, and where the focus on objectivity and distance is meant to reduce or avoid researcher bias. My supervisor, on the other hand, has a good understanding of participatory action research (PAR), in which researcher interaction is not only acceptable, it’s essential. While PAR is the methodological approach I’m tending towards, I still don’t really have my head wrapped around it (note: I’m not trying to compare RCTs and PAR, or to say anything substantial about  either one).

I keep wondering “how much” engagement is appropriate before I start to influence people, and I keep having to be reminded that it’s not the “correct amount” of interaction that I need to worry about, but the objectives I’m trying to achieve that should be my guiding light. I can (should?) influence the interactions with my colleagues and students, as long as I’m documenting not only the interaction, but my own progression and reflection. To be honest, this is new ground for me and it’s not a process I’m entirely comfortable with. It seems very…messy.

By Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.