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The Nature of Educational Enquiry

Module titleThe Nature of Educational Enquiry
Module codeERPM000
Academic year2021/2
Module staff

Professor Brahm Norwich (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Beginning educational researchers need to have a good grasp of the central and current ideas, concepts, debates, theories, philosophies and approaches employed in educational research. This provides a foundation for their understanding and application of different research approaches and methods. The purpose of the module is to introduce you to the range of philosophical and theoretical ideas and debates underpinning educational and social science research, including exploring in some depth the key technical, philosophical and theoretical concepts and terms used in current research reports and debates, and the ethical and political dimensions of research.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aims of the module are to develop a critical understanding of:

  • The nature and purpose of educational research, its history, and its relationships with ethical, social, political, economic and power factors and influences;
  • The range of philosophical and theoretical ideas, perspectives and debates underpinning current educational and social science research, including the diversity of educational methodologies and paradigms, and their characteristics, strengths and weaknesses;
  • The central and constitutive roles of meta-theory and language in educational research; and
  • The use of theory and methodology in current research projects, debates and publications.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. demonstrate detailed knowledge of philosophical and theoretical foundations of educational research and research methodologies, as well as styles and paradigms utilized in the field and current debates and controversies;
  • 2. demonstrate understanding of the significance of alternative epistemological positions for theory construction, research design, and the selection of appropriate analytical techniques;
  • 3. demonstrate understanding of educational research in its social, political and ethical context from a variety of viewpoints;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. demonstrate the ability to apply the knowledge and skills developed in the module in a critical analysis of research papers and presentations;
  • 5. demonstrate the ability to make an informed judgment about the strengths and weaknesses of available research approaches based, among other things, on ethical considerations;

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. demonstrate skills in self-management - in particular the management of time, tasks and evaluation of own learning;
  • 7. demonstrate skills in personal judgment - particularly in respect of ethically sensitive issues;
  • 8. demonstrate the ability to work independently and cooperatively;
  • 9. communicate and present your ideas when writing and speaking and to listen effectively and persuade rationally;
  • 10. demonstrate the ability to problem solve - to think logically, laterally, strategically, analyzing and evaluating;
  • 11. demonstrate data handling skills; and
  • 12. demonstrate effective use of ICT -the use of electronic data bases in the library, email, word processing, the internet.

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • The nature of educational enquiry and the context of education research;
  • Ways of knowing and the use of theory in research and practice;
  • Ethics and educational research;
  • Scientific, interpretive, critical and mixed methods approaches to educational research; and
  • Contemporary debates in educational research.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities3010x3 hour teaching sessions (lectures, workshops and seminars), including on campus teaching and recorded sessions
Guided Independent Study70Collaborative group work
Guided Independent Study100Reading and assignment preparation
Guided Independent Study100Writing summative assignment


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Analysis of articleEquivalent to 1,200 words1-3, 5-6, 8-9, 12 Written and peer feedback
Group assignment Equivalent to 1,300 words1-9, 12Oral and written feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Written Assignment: Comparative analysis of two published pieces of research1005,000 words1-12Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Written Assignment – Comparative analysis of two published pieces of researchWritten Assignment – Comparative pieces of two published pieces of research (5,000 words)1-126 weeks from notification of failure or re-entry onto programme


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading


Pring, R. (2015). Philosophy of educational research.  3rd edition online access. London/New York: Bloomsbury 

Norwich, B. (2019) Thinking about the nature of educational research: going beyond superficial theoretical scripts. Review of Education, DOI: 10.1002/rev3.3182

Overview topics:

Issues in educational research : 

Hammersley, M. (2003) Social research today: some dilemmas    and distinctions. Qualititative Social Work, 2(1), 25-44.

Osberg, D.C. & Biesta, G.J.J.  (2007). Beyond    Presence: Epistemological and pedagogical implications of    'strong' emergence.  Interchange 38 (1) 31-55.

Schwandt, T.A. (2011) The SAGE Dictionary of Qualitative Inquiry. Thousand Oaks. SAGE Publications.

Stenhouse, L. (1981) What Counts as Research? British    Journal of Educational Studies, 29 (2) 103-114. 

Symonds, J.E. and Gorard, S. (2010) death of mixed methods?    Or the rebirth of research as a craft? Evaluation and research    in Education, 23,2, 121-136. 


Alexander, H.A. (2006) A view from somewhere: explaining the paradigms of educational research. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 40, 2, 205-221 

Morgan, D.L. (2014) Pragmatism as a Paradigm for Social Research. Qualitative Inquiry, Vol. 20(8) 1045–1053

Talisse R About pragmatism - listen to podcast from Philosophy Bites website

Critical realism

Scott, D. (2007) Resolving the      qualitative-quantitative dilemma: a critical realist      approach. International Journal of Research & Method      in Education, 30 (1), pp. 3–17

Evidence-based practice

Biesta, G.J.J. (2007). Why ‘what works’ won’t work.    Evidence-based practice and the democratic deficit of    educational research. Educational Theory 57(1), 1-22.      

Clegg, S. (2005) Evidence-based practice in educational    research: a critical realist critique of systematic review    British Journal of Sociology of Education,  26, 3,.    415–428. 

Hammersley, M (2005) Is the evidence-based practice    movement doing more good than harm?, Evidence and Policy, vol.    1, no. 1, 2005, pp1-16

MacLure,M. (2005) ‘Clarity bordering on stupidity’: where’s    the quality in systematic review?, Journal of Education Policy,    20(4), 393-416. 

Critical-emancipatory perspectives

Biesta, G (2010) A New Logic of Emancipation: The Methodology of Jacques Ranciere. Educational Theory 60, no.1: 39-59.

Carr, W (2007) Educational research as a practical science,  International Journal of Research & Method in Education,30:3,271-286.

Reygan, Finn, & Dennis Francis (2015) Emotions and pedagogies of discomfort: Teachers’ responses to sexual and gender diversity in the Free State, South Africa, Education as Change, 19:1, 101-119.

Schostak J. & Schostak J. (2012) Writing Research critically. Developing the power to make a difference London and New York. Routledge.

Post-modern/post-structural approaches

Adams St. Pierre, Elizabeth (2013). The posts continue: becoming, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26:6, 646-657.

Ball, S. (2013) Foucault, Power and Education. Abingdon: Routledge.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Key words search

Education, Enquiry, Theory, Methodology, Paradigm, Research.

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date