Nowadays, much attention is paid to good research in the field of education. Multiple debates arise among theorists around the whole world. Some people think that any research has to be assessed from the point of view of its relevance and originality (Mattick, Johnston, & de la Croix, 2018). There is also a thought that the ability to combine methods and research questions can be helpful in reshaping research aims (Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2016). However, all ideas and approaches seem to be not strong enough compared to those introduced by Karl Hostetler. He is the author of the article about good education research as not only a matter of “sound procedures” but also “beneficial aims and results” (Hostetler, 2005, p. 16). This paper focuses on the comparison of Hostetler’s ideas about research and developing generalizations with the objective approach described by Karl Popper and conceptualism offered by Thomas Kuhn.
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Much time and numerous efforts were spent to understand what may count as good education research. First, this question was discussed at a philosophical level. Then, specific epistemological characteristics were defined. Finally, particular research projects were evaluated through observations, experiments, and other actions. Hostetler (2005) tried to take into consideration all possible issues and metrics in order to prove his own position and avoid frames that may determine research. The peculiar feature of his article is the intention not only to give some definitions and explain the concepts but also to figure out what can weaken research and promote unnecessary or unfair judgments.
The first research idea touches upon narrowness. According to Hostetler (2005), good research should have a certain number of subjects that can be used in a survey or an interview. Nevertheless, human well-being and its pursuits may create some limitations, and the task of a researcher is to consider the complexity of subjects and a variety of ethical issues in work with people. The ultimate goal of any researcher is to “serve people’s well-being” following certain “ethical obligations to themselves” (Hostetler, 2005, p. 17). People who are involved in research activities have to clearly understand what they do, what they stand for, and what the meaning of their work is. Still, it is necessary to remember that good intentions do not always guarantee good research outcomes (Hostetler, 2005). Therefore, researchers must think about several alternatives to rely on because of the existing complexities. Even the most experienced researchers cannot be confident in their ability to give correct answers and present enough information. Constant evaluations and consideration of options are the activities in which researchers may be involved.
The investigation by Hostetler was based on several past studies, which proved its appropriateness and credibility. Though the author disagreed with almost all conclusions made by Labaree in 2003, he used them as considerable implications to his personal work and the identifications of the conditions that could be important for good research. The basic idea is that good research occurs when reason is separated from value, and value remains “out of bounds” (Hostetler, 2005, p. 19). Hostetler was not ready to accept such type of separation and made everything possible to explain why it could have a negative impact on researchers, science, and other stakeholders of research. The role of science cannot be ignored in research, and therefore, it seems to be reasonable and interesting to compare the opinions and beliefs of different theorists on research, its main characteristics, and a scientific approach.
The opinions by Kuhn and Popper are used for comparison with Hostetler’s explanation of good research. Popper (1959) is the author of one of the brightest theories of conjectural knowledge in terms of which the research probability and errors can be allowed in subjective and objective interpretations. Kuhn (1970) is a well-known opponent of Popper, who proved that scientific research could be successful only through multiple paradigms and respect for evidence. Both these evaluations can be used to explain the essence of good research. The only requirement that has to be followed is the choice of criteria to determine the mistakes, achievements, and contributions of the three authors. It is necessary to admit that all three chosen theorists did not give one concrete definition of good research. Their attempts are not to create certain frames and make sure other people follow them. The task of this research is to demonstrate what kind of knowledge should be gathered to promote good research. Therefore, the main criteria are the purposes of research and methods.
When a person conducts research, new knowledge has to be developed and constructed within the frames of a certain theory. Popper and Kuhn offered the theories as two strong conceptual frameworks with the help of which it was possible to understand what happened around. Natural sciences cannot be ignored in research, and scientific uncertainty has to be eliminated through the implementation of special theories and knowledge. Compared to Hostetler, who wanted to combine many ideas and approaches in one theory to underline the complexity of research, Popper and Kuhn chose rather limited considerations and proved their necessity.
Kuhn is known for its scientific revolution that determines research. The theorist admitted that education, as a large part of the research, cannot be omitted or neglected. Education has to be rigid and rigorous so that scientists can be sure of the models chosen (Kuhn, 1970). A researcher should be prepared for the work, and the development of a plan of work can hide the gaps in knowledge, if any. This is the main similarity between Hostetler and Kuhn. Both of them believed that the pre-research period had to be properly developed and explained. However, compared to Hostetler, Kuhn (1970) underlined the necessity to acquire knowledge from literature and observe the results achieved in the past. Such an approach can help to gain an idea of what happens at the moment of research and what kind of work should be done. Hostetler (2005), in his turn, relied on observations and personal experience as the main source of information. Human well-being and personal interests play a role in research. Past investigations may perform a supportive but never-leading function. Therefore, rules in research and science are developed to establish the necessary expectations and norms.
Popper’s evaluation of research and science is introduced as a unique controversy over what was done by Hostetler and Kuhn. First of all, Popper (1959) denied the necessity of background information in research. His theory of knowledge was based on the idea of falsifiability and the possibility to apply it to any possible situation. As soon as one theory or approach is offered, there is also a chance to prove that it is wrong. A researcher is able to gather enough information regarding the recent achievements and choose the most appropriate evidence. However, this data should not always be some past experience and knowledge. Recent practices and even some future perspectives can be a part of good research. Demarcation is what connects theoretical systems and singular statements and explains the empirical character of the study (Popper, 1959). In other words, compared to Hostetler, who believed that research is a unique chance for people to define their potential and serve their past, present, and future needs, Popper wanted to underline that research should not be biased or depend on something that happened in the past.
In general, the theorists under analysis proved that good research should aim at discovering new knowledge. They came to the same conclusion and developed strong ideas that the benefits of research include the possibility to contribute to human progress through new knowledge. However, it is the only similarity that may be discovered in this comparison. The authors demonstrated different approaches to conducting research and understanding what background should be possessed and what outcomes should be expected. For example, Popper (1959) believed that researchers could easily achieve positive results in case they do their work in different ways. Though it is sometimes problematic to avoid challenges, researchers have the necessary package of knowledge and experience to achieve their goals. Kuhn (1970) wanted to support researchers and introduced several paradigms with the help of which researchers can unite their attempts and analyze the findings obtained. Though such kind of work requires much time, it is a reasonable price for good research. Still, for Hostetler, it was not enough to take one side. His intention was to unite the best ideas and promote human well-being through research.
The work of Hostetler is based on such concepts as freedom, morale, community, diversity, and knowledge. Because of a variety of opinions and alternatives, people have to be ready to ask questions, make decisions, and respect diversity. Hostetler (2005) says that if a person has questions, he or she should also have some knowledge. At the same time, Hostetler specifies that knowledge is determined by everything people do not know. Therefore, such pun of words should not confuse but inspire new discoveries and new approaches. Popper (1959) says that knowledge can be developed from human problems and the abilities to solve them, meaning that there is no need to ask questions, but it is enough to turn around and find a problem. Kuhn (1970) differs from the mentioned before ideas in the necessity to look at the past experience and find out the truth in the works of other people. In other words, no questions and problems are necessary to promote knowledge, but the analysis of past achievements.
The last issue for comparison is freedom. Both Hostetler and Popper underline the importance of free thoughts and decisions to be developed in research. Kuhn, in his turn, does not want to provide all researchers with freedoms and unlimited opportunities because he believes that history and experience cannot be united with free and open discussions. Therefore, research freedoms may have different forms supporting originality and probability on the one hand (Popper, 1959) and the connection through dependence on the other hand (Kuhn, 1970). Hostetler (2005) introduces freedom as a crucial ethical consideration and academic good that cannot be ignored in research because it shows the achievements of the past and perspectives of the future.
In my opinion, the results of the work by Hostetler, Kuhn, and Popper may be used by an independent researcher to understand what components of good work are. I would like to admit that compared to the skepticism and probability of Popper, Kuhn’s perspective seems to be more optimistic. However, it is far from being a perfect option to rely on. I believe that Hostetler’s approach and explanations of good research can support any researcher because this theorist suggested focusing on human well-being and progress but not on procedures, methods, or goals only. Good research is a complex concept that should not be discussed in terms of specific theories or frameworks. It is an activity with the help of which people can learn the world around, respective evidence and promoting freedoms. Unlike Popper and Kuhn, Hostetler said about the importance of moral education, recognition of diversities, and community benefits as a whole. There is no need to divide into past and present achievements. Good research is the ability to gather as much information as possible.
To conclude, I want to admit that not all professional researchers are ready to introduce good research. However, their attempts and intentions to promote change, investigate new areas and make some contributions deserve recognition and attention. Regarding the material offered and the ideas developed by Kuhn, Popper, and Hostetler, good research is determined by the possibility to introduce clear goals, develop sound methodologies, and demonstrate definite procedures with respect to all humans involved in the process and appropriate ethical judgments about each concept offered.
Eriksson, P., & Kovalaien, A. (2016). Qualitative methods in business research: A practical guide to social research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
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Hostetler, K. (2005). What is “good” education research? Educational Researcher, 34(6), 16-21.
Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions (Vol. 2) (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago.
Mattick, K., Johnston, J., & de la Croix, A. (2018). How to… write a good research question. The Clinical Teacher, 15(2), 104-108.
Popper, K. A. (1959). The logic of scientific discovery. New York, NY: Basic Books.