Prevalent models of research advocate technical methods supposed to guarantee ‘truth’, and ensure that all draw the same conclusions from a set of data. They suggest the discovery of a single ‘effective’ way to develop learning and skills through isolating categories and variables. In practice, when researching issues of considerable complexity, that required individual experiences to be located in much wider social and economic structures, we found that standard coding techniques fragmented highly personal stories, distorted key issues, and over-simplified complex processes. These failings parallel the weaknesses of managerialist approaches to FE, and the way in which current policy constructs the processes of teaching and learning.
Our experiences of research challenge the notion that there is one ‘right’ way to do research or to analyse data. Our concern with regard to the development of an ‘R&D Toolkit’ for practitioners within the learning and skills sector (cf. Norman, 2001) is that such a kit needs to incorporate a range of alternative tools that can facilitate making sense of different kinds of data. Anyone who has ever tried to tighten a slot-headed screw with a Phillips screwdriver will surely agree. The enhancement of research capacity should also include the ability to recognise the need for the appropriate item from a well-stocked toolkit according to the task in hand, as well as to recognise (and make informed judgements about) the tools that others have used in their research. That in turn means acquiring some of the more tricky and time-consuming philosophical tools which have underpinned the divergence of holism from more mechanistic approaches to understanding. If colleges should champion ‘a spirit of enquiry, an experimental culture and support for diversity’ (Norman, 2001: 25), this experimentalism and diversity has to apply also to the research methods that are made available to practitioners within the learning and skills community, and that are welcomed and promoted by the research community itself in both FE and HE (Hodkinson, 2001).
The TLCFE project sets out to investigate the complexities of teaching and learning processes for those that work and learn in FE colleges, given their social backgrounds, cultural communities and life experiences. It brings into account factors such as the pay and working conditions of lecturers, funding régimes and policy shifts, professional practice and identity; as well as student support arrangements (including financial support), life transitions often associated with participation in FE, and multiple and fragmented learner identities. In short, it represents an holistic approach to understanding learning cultures in FE and how they may be transformatory or transformed. This holistic understanding of the subject of the TLCFE project seems to demand a correspondingly holistic methodology for making sense of the data it generates. Such an approach may prove supportive of professionals in the community of FE practice, who wish to enter the community of educational research practice, and serve to draw the two communities together. Our belief is that holistic research is at the very least likely to be more accessible for practitioners, to resonate with their experiences, and so to have relevance for the sector as a whole. Moreover, we hope that it will also provide the kind of evidence that practitioners will be able to relate to, and find useful in their own professional reconstructions of FE.
This paper is based upon work within the Transforming Learning Cultures in Further Education Project (TLC), L139 25 1025, which is in turn a part of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP). We are grateful for the financial support of ESRC, and the contributions of the project team to the writing of this paper. In particular we would like to thank Martin Bloomer and Phil Hodkinson for their encouragement to produce the paper, and David James and Tony Scaife for their helpful comments on an earlier draft.
Helen Colley, Lifelong Learning Institute, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT
Tel: 0113 233 3598 e-mail: email@example.com
Kim Diment, Faculty of Education, University of the West of England, Bristol BS16 1QY
Tel: 0117 344 4278 e-mail: Kim.Diment@uwe.ac.uk
Ainley, P. and Bailey, B. (1996) The Business of Learning: Staff and Student Experiences of Further Education in the 1990s, London: Cassell.
Avis, J. (1996) The enemy within: quality and managerialism in education, in J. Avis, M.Bloomer, G.Esland, D.Gleeson, and P.Hodkinson, Knowledge and Nationhood: Education, Politics and Work, London: Cassell.
Bailey, R. ( 2001) Overcoming veriphobia - learning to love truth again, British Journal of Educational Studies 49 (2) 159-172.
Bates, I., Hodkinson, P., Unwin, L. and Young, M. (1997) Towards a new research agenda for post-compulsory education, Research in Post-Compulsory Education 2 (3) 313-317.
Bloomer, M. and James, D. (2001) Educational research in educational practice, paper presented at South West of England Learning and Skills Research Network Conference, Totness, 3 July.
Brotherton, B. (1998) Developing a culture and infrastructure to support research related activity in Further Education institutions, Research in Post-Compulsory Education 3 (3) 311-328.
Bryman, A. and Burgess, R.G. (1994a) Developments in qualitative data analysis: an introduction, in A.Bryman and R.G. Burgess (Eds) Analyzing Qualitative Data, London: Routledge.
Bryman, A. and Burgess, R.G. (1994b) Reflections on qualitative data analysis, in A.Bryman and R.G. Burgess (Eds) Analyzing Qualitative Data, London: Routledge.
Cambridge: Polity Press.
Colley, H. (2001a) Unravelling Myths of Mentor: Power Dynamics of Mentoring Relationships with ‘Disaffected’ Young People, unpublished PhD thesis, the Manchester Metropolitan University.
Colley, H. (2001b) Understanding experiences of engagement mentoring for ‘disaffected’ young people and their student mentors: problems of data analysis in qualitative research, paper presented at British Education Research Association Annual Conference, University of Leeds, 15 September.
Davey, A. (2001) The research culture at Cambridge Regional College: an update, College Research 4 (3) 29.
Denzin, N. (1988) Qualitative analysis for social scientists, Contemporary Sociology 17 (3) 430-432.
Dey, I. (1993) Qualitative Data Analysis, London: Routledge.
Ford, G. (1999) Youthstart Mentoring Action Project: Project Evaluation and Report Part II, Stourbridge: Institute of Careers Guidance.
Glaser, B. (1978) Theoretical Sensitivity: Advances in the Methodology of Grounded Theory, Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press.
Glaser, B. (1992) Emergence versus Forcing: Basics of Grounded Theory Analysis, Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press.
Glaser, B. and Strauss, A. (1967) The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research, Chicago: Aldine.
Gleeson, D. (1996) Post-compulsory education in a post-industrial and post-modern age, in J. Avis, M.Bloomer, G.Esland, D.Gleeson, and P.Hodkinson, Knowledge and Nationhood: Education, Politics and Work, London: Cassell.
Haig, B. (1995) Grounded Theory as Scientific Method, Philosophy of Education 1995, 281-290
Heron, J. (1996) Co-operative inquiry : research into the human condition, London: Sage.
Hodkinson, P. (2001) The contested field of educational research: hegemony, policing and dissent, paper given at British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Leeds, 14 September.
Huberman, A.M. and Miles, M.B. (1998) Data management and analysis methods, in N.K.Denzin and Y.S.Lincoln (Eds) Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials, Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Kinach, B. (1995) Grounded theory as scientific method: Haig-inspired reflections on education research methodology, Philosophy of Education 1995, 291-294.
Kuhn, T.S. (1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Layder, D. (1993) New Strategies in Social Research: An Introduction and Guide,
Le Guin, U.K. (1981) It was a dark and stormy night; or, why are we huddling about the campfire? in W.Mitchell (Ed) On Narrative, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Martin, C. (1997) The Holistic Educators: Education for the 21st Century, Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.
Mason, J. (1996) Qualitative Researching, London: Sage.
May, T. (1997) Social Research: Issues, Methods, Processes, Buckingham: Open University Press.
Moustakas, C. (1990) Heuristic Research: Design, Methodology, and Applications, Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Nelson, V. (1993) On Writers’ Block: A New Approach to Creativity, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Pandit, N. (1996) The creation of theory: a recent application of the grounded theory method, The Qualitative Report 2(4) http://www.nova.edussss/QR/QR2-4/pandit.html
Phillips, D.C. (1976) Holistic Thought in Social Science, London: Macmillan Press.
Polkinghorne, D.E. (1995) Narrative configuration in qualitative analysis, in J.Hatch and R.Wisniewski (Eds) Life History and Narrative, London: Falmer.
Reason, P. and Rowan, J. (Eds) (1981) Human Inquiry: A Sourcebook of New Paradigm Research,Chichester: Wiley.
Ritchie, J. and Spencer, L. (1994) Qualitative data analysis for applied policy research, in A.Bryman and R.G. Burgess (Eds) Analyzing Qualitative Data, London: Routledge.
Salmon, P. (1992) Achieving a PhD: Ten Students’ Experience, Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham.
Scaife, A., Colley, H. and Davies, J. (2001) Setting up collaborative partnership research in FE: when the ‘Big One’ meets ‘a world of rabbit warrens’, paper presented at the Learning and Skills Research Network Annual Conference, Cambridge, 5-7 December.
Seale, C. (1999) The Quality of Qualitative Data, London: Sage.
Shain, F. and Gleeson, D. (1999) Under new management: changing conceptions of teacher professionalism and policy in the further education sector, Journal of Education Policy 14 (4) 445-462.
Silverman, D. (1993) Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for Analysing Talk, Text and Interaction,London: Sage.
Strathern, M. (1997) ‘Improving ratings’: audit in the British University system, European Review 5 (3) 305-321.
Strauss, A. (1987) Qualitative Analysis for Social Scientists, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (1998a) Grounded theory methodology: an overview, in N.K.Denzin and Y.S.Lincoln (Eds) Strategies of Qualitative Enquiry, Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (Eds) (1997) Grounded Theory in Practice, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (1998b) Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Thomas, G. and James, D. (2001) Personal Correspondence.
Webb, P., Ring, C. and Kenwright, H. (2001) Secondments to the LSDA: a pilot scheme for college-based researchers, College Research 4 (3) 22-24.