This* paper suggests that geoscience education struggles with quantitative vs. qualitative research methods:
Geoscience education and geocognition researchers are an interesting group. As geoscientists, we work in the world of natural processes, and we speak a language that quantifies and categorizes our observations in an orderly fashion. As education researchers, however, we enter a different world. Here, we often find ourselves confronted with problems and data that are difficult to measure, that resist experimentation, and that are quite often impossible to quantify. “Reality” may become fuzzy, multiplying from our expected single, objective version to something iterative and subjective. In these situations, we realize that our trusted tools of observation, experiment, and objectivity fail us, so we turn to the tools of qualitative inquiry to provide the insight that we seek. But here we hit some interesting, and often frustrating, hurdles.
First of all, it is an unfortunate fact that many of us have little or no formal training in qualitative research methods. Usually working in isolation, we enter an entirely new literature base; we engage with unfamiliar and, at times, uncomfortable ways of thinking and practicing. Each application of a new method or approach is, in a sense, a private re-invention of the wheel. The inevitable outcome of this private labor is that we tend to work in isolation—we are an archipelago, laboriously discussing in our publications the theory behind qualitative convention and justifying standard processes (“…is well established in the social and behavioral sciences…”). Having negotiated this challenging (but eminently rewarding!) process, we then find that our geoscientist peers are often highly skeptical of our methods, results, and interpretations. Sometimes skepticism becomes criticism without critique. The following comments, or variants of them, will be familiar to many geoscience education researchers:
• It’s all subjective!
• That’s not an interpretation! That’s just what you wanted to say!
• Those aren’t data! Those are anecdotes!
• You need to run some statistics on this before it’s considered valid!
• There is no way you could replicate that!
• Show me the numbers!
And perhaps the most bothersome of all:
• This is just a bunch of edu-speak!
What does this “qualitative” trend portend?
* Anthony D. Feig and Alison Stokes, Geological Society of America Special Papers 2011;474;v-vii: doi: 10.1130/2011.2474(v)