1 What is research? (8/22)

Generally, research is systematic inquiry through chosen epistemologies and methodologies. Quantitative methods can include experimental design, which is noted by random assignment (e.g., effectiveness of a drug in a double-blind study), quasi-experimental design, which is noted by previously attributed treatments or groups (e.g. effectiveness of a teaching method across sections of a course, or include observation or description (e.g., number of students who took their instruments home on a given day/cars that stopped at a stop sign and turned right).

Quantitative research can be conducted poorly and include a great deal of bias! Those who chose, or who are forced to enroll in this course due to graduate music education requirements should have a genuine desire to understand a topic, control biases, resist simplistic or convenient explanations, and employ systematic methods consistently. Moreover, it is imperitive to set aside personal beliefs and experiences, suspend disbelief, embrace contradictions, question assumptions, and adopt rational positions guided by data.

Research provides a vehicle for exploring research questions, sharpening your thinking skills and knowledge base, and advancing the profession in consideration of music teacher educators (like yourself), preservice music teachers, in-service music teachers, and students of music at all ages.

1.1 Positivism and Research

Biases are in reference to preconceived notions about how something does or does not work, an opinion you hold about how something should work, and your understanding of how the world operates.

Positivism is an episitomological belief that the knowledge serves only to describe what we observe. However, we, the observer, are entrenched in known and unknown biases. In the view of the positivist, the world is deterministic, and can be modeled and understood in complete objectivity. 

As positivism does not account for our biases, social scientists shifted to a post-positivist view. Post-positivism holds space for our biases through the acknowledgement that scientific reasoning and our acquired sense of the world are not the same. Most importantly, this epistemological view allows for the revision of theory, and holds that the goal of science is to describe reality in the most accurate way possible, understanding that we can never achieve that goal.

With statistics, we utilize rules of probability to determine whether observed differences within or between groups in a sample represents a real difference in a population. These differences are communicated in terms of parameters and statistics. Put simply, a population is any complete collection of objects or individuals. A parameter is a summary number (e.g., mean or median) that describes the population. A sample is a representative group drawn from the population, and a statistic is a summary number that describes a sample. With statistics, we utilize rules of probability to determine whether observed differences within or between groups in a sample represents a real difference in a population. These differences are then communicated in terms of parameters and statistics.

1.2 Russell on Statistical Dispositions

“Two diametrically opposing views seem to have taken root in society in regard to quantitative measures used to examine our world. The first, often unfounded, view is often referred to as”big” data as being one of the more easily constructed and potentially understood basis for an argument or propellant for change. The second, often unfounded, view is an ever-increasing unease with the use of quantitative measures to understand phenomena as being over-simplistic or lacking in any nuance or meaning.” 

Where do you land on this spectrum? What can statistics, as you currently understand the concept, do for music education? 

He continues:

“In the world of music education, which is subject to fears of overly objectifying that which some would contend is purely subjective art and that which happens within a social context, creating greater complexity than is often considered in quantitative research designs, it is imperative to understand that the use of quantitative measures and research methodology is not a means to objectify the artistry in music or ignore the contextual nature of humans music making and learning. It is, rather, a means of organizing how we observe and analyze facets of musicianship and pedagogy in order to improve both.

In essence the ultimate goal of all statistics is to help us begin to think logically and analytically in order to reach informed conclusions based on the best available data. Otherwise we are fated to perpetuate willful ignorance and forced to rely upon dogmatic thinking and practice. Such is the aim of the scientific method as a whole, and more specifically the process by which we formulate and test hypotheses.”