The importance of philosophy in the process of research cannot be overestimated since it refers to the basic beliefs about the properties of reality, knowledge and the studied phenomenon. Being among the elements helping researchers to understand the world, ontology refers to “the form and nature of reality” and what can be learned about it based on these things (Punch & Oancea, 2014, p. 17). Another element related to the research paradigm, epistemology, is referred to as “the study of knowledge” and deals with the definitions of knowledge, the way it emerges and its types (Thomas, 2017, p. 123). Both ontological and epistemological questions are to be answered prior to approaching the research topic.
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Commonly used ontological positions include objectivism, according to which reality is objective and exists independently from the human mind, and subjectivism or constructionism, which views reality as something defined by people’s conceptions and experiences (Thomas, 2017). Also, it is possible to approach the nature of reality from pragmatic or dialectic positions, balancing between the previously mentioned views on reality.
These positions’ weaknesses stem from limitations related to facts and interpretations, whereas the strengths involve accuracy (objectivism) and complexity (subjectivism). As for the key epistemological positions, modern researchers distinguish between positivism, which refers to the importance of objective laws or nomothetic knowledge and interpretivism, stressing the individuality and non-universality of knowledge (Buckler & Walliman, 2016). The former allows collecting large data samples and analysing data comparatively, but does not possess flexibility. Interpretivism is helpful in understanding the complexity of relationships even though it gives little opportunity to formulate clear and firm conclusions.
The chosen research topic relates both to primary school teachers’ subjective experiences and the objective nature of children’s academic results. Due to that, the pragmatic approach to ontology and epistemology can be regarded as a preferable option. It means that the key ontological stance adopted in the study is the relevance of both objective and subjective approaches to the ultimate goal – the successful promotion of cooperative learning in primary education (Wardlow & Harm, 2015).
Speaking about epistemological stances, this study regards the nature of knowledge in a pragmatic way. The combination of positivist and interpretivist approaches to knowledge will help to define and comparatively analyse the key trends related to the real-life applications of cooperative learning. At the same time, it will allow comprehending the complexity of teacher-reported barriers to the successful implementation of the strategy.
Research Design and Data Collection Methods
In an attempt to unite the strong points of the subjective and objective approaches to knowledge and the world, the study makes use of two viewpoints typically associated with quantitative and qualitative methodologies. The relevance of measurable data such as the length of teachers’ experience with primary students and cooperative learning, the size of groups and similar factors to the ability to improve student performance is taken into account.
The success of cooperative learning in primary education is also defined by the state of knowledge about teachers’ subjective perceptions of this approach to instruction in the classroom. Both types of data deserve attention and thorough analysis to understand the actual uses of cooperative learning in China. Importantly, studying qualitative and quantitative data will allow proposing strategies to improve students’ and teachers’ experiences with interdependence and cooperation, which will contribute to the creation of a positive environment. Based on these assumptions, the study uses a mixed method approach, uniting the strong points of quantitative and qualitative designs.
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The given study focuses on three research questions that refer to the frequency of use of cooperative learning in two schools in Xuzhou, the way that it is used and teachers’ perceptions of this approach to instruction and related obstacles. The method of data collection related to all three questions is the computer questionnaire divided into two parts. The first block of questions is inextricably connected to the first research question and aimed at collecting quantitative data about the implementation of cooperative learning, its frequency and the time of use. As for the second block, it is designed to answer the second and the third research questions dealing with school teachers’ subjective experiences and personal opinions.
The decision to use a questionnaire with both multiple choice and open-ended questions as the key data collection method is justified by its key advantages. Concerning the benefits, this data gathering tool can be used in many cases since the presence of the researcher is not required and it helps to consider the flexibility of responses (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2017). More than that, compared to interviews, questionnaires make it easier to work with large populations, thus shortening the period of data collection, and this fact is relevant to the case due to the sample size (66 people). As for the weaknesses, the use of such tools involves certain interpretation issues and respondents’ honesty cannot be guaranteed.
The data collection tool consists of ten multiple choice and ten open-ended questions related to collaborative learning. The first version of the questionnaire was developed using Microsoft Word, and after some corrections, the questions were transferred to Survey Monkey to facilitate the respondents’ access to it. To conduct a pilot testing, this questionnaire was filled in by 9% of the participants. Their feedback was analysed, and some questions were extended or formulated differently to avoid misunderstanding. As for the details of data collection, all teachers who had signed the informed consent form were sent e-mails with instructions and the link to the questionnaire. The last response was received five days after the start of data gathering, and the return rate was 100%.
Buckler, S., & Walliman, N. (2016). Your dissertation in education (2nd ed.). London, UK: Sage Publications Ltd.
Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2017). Research methods in education (8th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Punch, K. F., & Oancea, A. (2014). Introduction to research methods in education (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
Thomas, G. (2017). How to do your research project: A guide for students (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
Wardlow, L., & Harm, E. (2015). Using appropriate digital tools to overcome barriers to collaborative learning in classrooms. Educational Technology, 55(3), 32-35.