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Reflections on the nature, purposes and uses of educational research

Presenter:Professor Robert Tierney, University of British Columbia

Discussion chair: Professor Peter Freebody

Time: 4:30-6:30pm, 10 December 2009 (refreshments at 4:30pm for 5:00pm start)

Venue: 351, Education Building (A35), The University of Sydney


To conclude the Methodology Colloquia series, the audience is invited to join a discussion on the nature, purposes and uses of educational and social research. In this last session, Professor Robert Tierney will discuss the draft of Accord on the Nature of Education Research under development for the Association of Canadian Deans of Education. To exemplify key aspects, he will draw from his research on literacy education and will discuss some implications for practice and policy. The presentation will be followed by a discussion with the presenters of the colloquia series and the audience.

RSVP required: or phone 9351 2616


Updated 1 August 2009

Venue: 351, Education Building, A35

Time: All colloquia are held from 4:30pm to 6:30pm on the last Thursday of the month (refreshments at 4:30pm for 5:00pm start)





5 Mar 09

Opening plenary

John Ainley, ACER

Raewyn Connell

26 Mar 09

Action research

Jude Irwin & Susan Groundwater Smith


30 Apr 09

Design based research

Peter Reimann

Richard Walker


Guest seminar: Arts-informed inquiry

Ardra Cole & Gary Knowles, University of Toronto

Robyn Ewing

28 May 09

Historical analysis

Tim Allender

Ruth Phillips

30 Jul 09 

Mid-plenary: Digital knowledge and educational research

Lina Markauskaite

Panel discussion

20 Aug

Guest seminar: Quantitative-substantive synergies in social science

Herb Marsh, Oxford University


27 Aug 09

Comparative analysis

Anthony Welch

Nigel Bagnall

24 Sep 09

Policy analysis

Sue Goodwin

Phillip Jones

29 Oct 09 

Quantitative methods and modeling

Andrew Martin

Paul Ginns

26 Nov 09

Critical ethnography and post-structural narrative approaches

Debra Hayes

 Ken Johnston

03 Dec 09

Closing plenary



Linking Research and Practice in Education and Social Work: Some Implications for Methods of Inquiry

Presenter: Dr John Ainley, Deputy CEO (Research) of the Australian Council for Educational Research and Research Director of its National and International Surveys Program.

Respondent: Professor Raewyn Connell, University Chair in the University of Sydney.

Time: 4:30-6:30pm, 5 March 2009 (refreshments at 4:30pm for 5:00pm start)

Venue: 351, Education Building (A35), The University of Sydney

Abstract of the presentation, by John Ainley

The phrases “evidence-based policy” and “evidence-based practice” have widespread currency. The best interpretations of these terms are that both the fruits of systematic inquiry will be used as the basis for action and the tools of systematic inquiry will be applied in local contexts to evaluate policy and practice. This presentation starts from a perspective in which social inquiry is characterised in terms of the source of problems to be investigated (in practice or in scholarship) and the destination of findings of those investigations (for practice or for scholarship). It then considers the extent to which differences in the sources of problems and the intended destination of findings have implications for the way research questions are formulated (including links to theory), the methods used in investigations (including sampling designs) and the reporting of findings (including questions of effect size and significance). The presentation discusses examples from a number of studies in education to illustrate choices that are made in investigations.


Approaching Research and Research Approaches in Education and Social Work

by Faculty of Education and Social Work, The University of Sydney

The Faculty of Education and Social Work invites you to participate in a colloquia series on contemporary research approaches and inter-disciplinarity across the education and social work domains.


The disciplines informing Education and Social Work face unique challenges in defining the nature and purposes of research. Both areas have applied research approaches from many, often apparently incommensurable, disciplines of inquiry — psychology, sociology, policy studies, anthropology, history, linguistics, and so on. The increasing complexity of applied research contexts and heightened expectations concerning the role of research in practice and policy formation have led some commentators to advocate for problem-based, outcomes-oriented, cross-disciplinary research, arguing that mixed approaches are better adapted to the study of practical ill-structured problems. Further, collaboration across disciplines of inquiry is considered an important feature of contemporary and future research agenda. Amid these collections of specialist interests, research designs and analyses must maintain scholarly integrity, robustness and trustworthiness.

This raises a number of questions, including:

  • How are research approaches governed or affected by demands on the researcher to produce certain kinds of knowledge?
  • What is the optimal level of commensurability of techniques, data and findings from different paradigms around shared applied problems?
  • What level of sophistication can mixed-method applied approaches achieve without losing integrity and legitimacy?
  • What is the ethical context attendant to different methodologies and their assumptions?
  • How can the Faculty’s research effort be more than the sum of these parts?
  • Finally, how can we provide research students with the knowledge and experience needed to understand, judge and integrate methods and techniques from multiple disciplines of inquiry?


One of the main colloquia aims is to foster greater awareness of why certain methodologies are favoured in certain research contexts and to provide opportunities for Faculty to gain a greater appreciation of challenges and opportunities for “mixed” or “blended” approaches. One of the main objectives of the colloquia discussions is to tap into the opportunities for collaboration among social science researchers representing different schools of inquiry. Thus, the presentations and responses shouldn’t be solely descriptive of techniques and outputs, rather raise the fundamental questions and facilitate an open and constructive discussion around the critical conceptual, methodological and practical issues.