Shavelson & Towne Features of Education and Education Research

Shavelson, R., & Towne, L. (2002).  Features of education and education research. Scientific research in education.  Washington, DC:  National Academy Press.

Chapter 3: Guiding Principles for Scientific Inquiry

By Shavelson


  • “…what unites scientific inquiry is the primacy of empirical test of conjectures and formal hypotheses using well-codified observation methods and rigorous designs, and subjecting findings to peer review (p. 51).”
  • “The long-term goal of much of science is to produce theory that can offer a stable encapsulation of ‘facts’ that generalizes beyond the particular (p. 51).”
  • So should we ask ourselves, 'What is the long-term goal of research in teacher education? What type of methods make sense to study classroom spaces and all other entities that interact with such complex places?"


The Scientific Community

  • “The culture of science fosters objectivity through enforcement of the rules of its ‘form of life’ – such as the need for replicability, the unfettered flow of constructive critique, the desirability of blind refereeing – as well as through concerted efforts to train new scientists in certain habits of mind (p. 53).”
  • “Scientists must weigh the relative benefits of what might be learned against the potential risks to human research participants as they strive toward rigorous inquiry (p. 54).”


Guiding Principles

  • SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLE 1: Pose Significant Questions That Can Be Investigated Empirically

    • Question Significance

      • The quality of the question matters.
      • What is the purpose of the question? Is it a quest for fundamental understanding? Is it for considerations of use? Pure basic research does not take into consideration use, but it is a quest for fundamental understanding. Use-inspired basic research takes into account both use and the quest for fundamental understanding. Pure applied research does take into consideration use but does not exist for the quest for fundamental understanding.
    • Empirically Based
  • SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLE 2: Link Research to Relevant Theory

    • Midrange theories are used to explain phenomena in the social world. They are used as explanatory models in the social and physical sciences.
    • Research questions can come from theoretical models or they can be practical problems.
    • “…the choice of what to observe and how to observe it is driven by an organizing conception – explicit or tacit – of the problem or topic. Thus, theory drives the research question, the use of methods, and the interpretation of results (p. 62).”
  • SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLE 3: Use Methods That Permit Direct Investigation of the Question

    • Data collection methods must align with the question. The connection must be clearly explained.
    • “If a research conjecture or hypothesis can withstand scrutiny by multiple methods, its credibility is enhanced greatly (p. 64).”
  • SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLE 4: Provide Coherent, Explicit Chain of Reasoning

    • “This principle has several features worthy of elaboration. Assumptions underlying the inferences made should be clearly stated and justified. Moreover, choice of design should both acknowledge potential biases and plan for implementation challenges (p. 68).”
    • Selectivity bias occurs when the characteristics of the control group and the experimental group are different enough that the differences greatly impact the results of the study.
    • Outcome bias can happen when the history of the participant interferes enough that the outcome of the study can be linked more so to the participant's history than to the intended intervention of the study.
    • Another bias occurs when the method used does not align with the object being measured.
  • SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLE 5: Replicate and Generalize Across Studies

    • “Replication and generalization strengthen and clarify the limits of scientific conjectures and theories (p. 70).”
    • In some cases, replication can be similar to reliability.
    • Replication is difficult in social sciences, particularly in education because the contexts are so complex and unique, one will never have the exact same situation again. However, similarities can be made in the contexts to support potential replication.
    • Because generalizability is difficult in social science research, other mechanisms, such as triangulation, analytic induction, and comparative analysis, are used to substantiate the findings.
  • SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLE 6: Disclosure Research to Encourage Professional Scrutiny and Critique

    • Why is the educational world not as critical of itself when it comes to research? (Great blog topic.) Is it because of our personalities, our recognition of the complex nature of education and that task at hand to study it, our trust in one another, etc.? What is it?


Application of the Principles

  • Eisner and connoisseurship - a method used to study the arts and humanities including education and schools. Eisner argues that the only way to study schools is to see them for ourselves. We must capture what is happening and convey that to the audience in order to understand the intricacies of the organism.
  • To substantiate connoisseurship, data is related to other data and others through consensual validation agree that the description, interpretation, and evaluation are legitimate.
  • Portraiture attempts to join research methods in the arts and sciences.
  • Portraiture is judged by authenticity.
  • Generalization and portraiture do not go hand in hand.