Tag Archives: science

1. A series of comments on research in science education

This is the start of a couple of submissions where I reflect on research in science education. One will be a comparison of qualitative versus quantitative. One will be reflections on mixed-method, the good the bad and the ugly. Others to follow…? We will see where we will end up.

This is also one part of a methods course where I will be using this comments later to write and argue for a scientific method in a research design. In this sense this is a portfolio.


First I will be looking on my old notes from when I started a course on discourse analysis as a part of my studies towards educational specialist. The title in Swedish will be licentiate degree and it is done in two years in terms of length, it comes after a masters. Here we go..

Roth and McGinn (1997) wrote about different methods in science education. On discourse analysis they wrote (in brief): The content of talk, social format, local, situational, the use of language, how phrases form depending on context. Analysis of talk, contradictions especially interesting. An analysis scheme on the talk. Variation in meaning is the signal rather than to see thought and mind (that is secondary). What you mean varies, descriptions of the same thing varies. What ”regular” research see as noise, discourse analysis find interesting. ”Regular” research (other methods…) tend to disregard contradictions and different meanings of the same thing. One example: researchers have found differences in what science teachers say about their teaching and what they really do in their teaching.

WOLFF-MICHAEL ROTH and MICHELLE K. McGINN (1997) Science in Schools and Everywhere Else: What Science Educators Should Know about Science and Technology Studies. Studies in Science Education, 29 (1997) 1-44.

The books I have read is James Paul Gees An Introduction to Discourse Analysis Intro and Method (third edition, 2011) also his How to do Discourse Analysis A toolkit from 2011.

Gee has a linguistic approach, there are other approaches to Discourse analysis which I will be looking into later. A phrase Gee uses is language as saying, doing and being. Examples of this is language as something you say, it has a meaning and we do something by saying stuff. Gee gives the example of opening a meeting, you would (probably) do that in a welcoming way. Also, we use language as beings, we can speak as experts or every-day people. We have an identity when we speak. If we use a different identity in a (sort of…) wrong way comedy is made. Here is one example of the scientific discourse applied on real-life (as opposed to…?):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-JhqMVHT8c  Comedy is made where the science discourse meets the real-life situations in an absurd way. I believe Monty Python was very good at this, see for instance their contributions on spreading Greek philosophy:  http://www.openculture.com/2011/11/monty_pythons_flying_philosophy.html

Two different approaches to discourse analysis – which I do not use – is descriptive and critical discourse analysis. Descriptive discourse analysis tries to understand how language works and next to understand it. Critical discourse analysis tries to both how language works and to understand it but in the next step to apply it in some sense to the world with the aim of changing something to the better. The intervention can be in political issues or social problems. There are grades in hell, this is somewhat simplified. Gee views all discourse analysis as critical, in some sense, language is political and part of social good. One can view this as we all have a cultural bagage, we are all socialised into society in some sense. If we relate this to science: there are ways to avoid this to affect research. For instance by, very carefully, describe how and what you have done in your research. Gee writes that all methods come with theories, here discourse analysis is the study of language in use. Gee writes that, even, in ”hard” science there are no set of rules to follow step by step to get guaranteed results. Gee means that research adopts and adapts specific tools of inquiry and strategies for implementation. These tools reside in a community of practice formed by others in the field of research. Different contexts affect their implementation, the problem analysed or issue researched. Further, Gee writes that his book (Introduction to discourse analysis) has no set of tools with  rigid definitions, they are more meant to be a set of thinking devices. Gee also writes that discourse analysis must have a point. He means that is should illuminate and gain evidence for our theory of the domain, to help us explain how and why language works in the way is does. Also to contribute to understanding  and intervention to important issues and problems in some areas that interest and motivates us as global citizens.

A summary goes something like this: discourse analysis according to Gee is both descriptive and critical. Do what you want and use my tools of inquiry as it fits your research area. More on his tools of inquiry to follow.



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