Learning through Collaborative Research: The Six Nation Education Research Project
reviewed by W. James Jacob & John M. Collins - 2005
Title: Learning through Collaborative Research: The Six Nation Education Research Project
Author(s): Noel F. McGinn (Ed.)
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 0415949335, Pages: 229, Year: 2004
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Multinational-collaboration research projects offer tacit reservoirs of knowledge and experiences that can benefit the increasingly global economy. In an effort to bridge international differences and adapt educational excellence practices already established in various countries, Noel F. McGinns Learning Through Collaborative Research highlights the potential strength of such collaborative research efforts. This volume presents the efforts of a 7-year project to apply cross-national, cross-disciplinary approaches to the relationship between education and the economy. The project included six nations representing perspectives from the East (China and Japan) and West (Germany, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United States). The underlying goal of the Six Nation Education Research Project (SNERP) was to evaluate the relationship between education and the economy. The project used the following model: Context → Inputs → Process → Outputs → Outcomes (p. 11). It had two principal objectives: (a) to focus on areas of the model that were not well researched and (b) to provide relevant policy recommendations to the participating countries.
In an attempt to increase the potential for implementation of the policies the project recommended, 15 scholars, policymakers, and business leaders contributed to this work. As the editor of the volume, McGinn provides bookend introduction and conclusion chapters capturing the strengths of SNERPs international cooperation in comparative-education efforts. Chapters 2 through 6 are the write-ups from the different collaborative projects undertaken. Using the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) Teacher Log, Chapter 2 juxtaposes predictors of national differences in math and science scores. Chapter 3 examines pedagogical practices in English language education in the case countries, with implications for policy planning and local-needs contextualization. However, not all topics under examination include each of the six countries. For instance, Chapter 4 analyzes how vocational training and education (VTE) has shaped the economic contexts of Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United States. Chapter 5 looks at trends in higher educational reforms based primarily on the Japanese case, but incorporating facets of reforms in the other five case countries. In Chapter 6, Zhang Li provides a strong comparison of various evaluation methods and indicators used by educational institutions in China, Singapore, and the United States.
The overarching theme uniting SNERP was intended to be the relationship between education and the economy, but the topic appears to be an add-on to research involving higher education, English language instruction, and math and science education. The book falls short of its objectives in most chapters; the majority of the findings draw conclusions from small samples of self-selected individuals. Although the book is forthcoming about the limitations of the work presented, it must be emphasized that many of the findings cannot be generalized to larger educational settings or even to other areas within the case countries. Most of the acknowledged limitations stem from limited finances, time, and governmental support.
Although Akira Arimotos assessment of higher education (Chapter 5) focuses primarily on the Japanese case, it attempts to draw in general references from other countries and higher education models. Yet the chapter only superficially incorporates a truly comparative international portrayal of higher educational reforms. McGinn appears to show agreement with our critique in his concluding chapter, in which he notes that Arimotos chapter, along with several other of the books chapters, lacks the enrichment that would have been provided by alternative perspectives and interpretations offered by persons from different conceptual and cultural backgrounds (p. 217). Arimotos methodology focused on sending Japanese researchers to the other five SNERP countriesas well as Australia, France, Thailand, and the United Kingdomto gather materials and meet with local experts. A survey was constructed and administered in Japan to look at responsiveness, responsibility, and accountability in higher education institutions. The U.S. and Swiss teams conducted modified surveys that were more appropriate for the type of higher education system that existed in their countries. Although the study reflects collaboration between the Japanese and the U.S. and Swiss teams, the findings rely heavily on the Japanese researchers perspectives based on interviews and research on education models and not necessarily from the collaborative process.
Two chapters capitalize on the incorporation of balanced international perspectives and provide a positive model of the collaborative process as they evaluate the pedagogical practices of English language education (Chapter 3) and VTE (Chapter 4). Both the English language study and the VTE study employed joint preparation of the research plan during all phases of the project, including the planning, implementation, and evaluation stages. Incorporating the perspectives and ideas of multiple researchers and their perceptions from the different case countries significantly enriches the discussion and strength of their findings. Because it was ensured that visits were conducted by team members from each of the case countries, open dialogue germinated in an environment in which researchers could create new knowledge through their interactions and discussions and by providing a forum in which voices of the other could be expressed (p. 205).
The actual amount of collaboration that occurred for each project varied. Whereas certain projects involved very minimal collaboration, others appear to have been examples of a more successful collaboration. The TIMSS project (Chapter 2), for instance, used data from each of the case countries but carried out a confederation of separate, nonintegrated analyses that was determined to meet the needs and interests of each individual country (p. 209). Although China is mentioned as one of the case countries in the TIMSS study, in actuality it was only Hong Kong that was surveyed, and thus the analysis presented for China cannot be considered an accurate representation of the entire country. The amount of participatory research design, data collection, and analysis was limited, as the group held only one joint meeting to discuss the project. The projects only collaborative element was in the process of acquiring the TIMSS data (p. 213). Although the research conducted is interesting, the knowledge that could have been gained through collaborative research was discarded as countries focused more on using the study to better understand their own systems of math and science achievement.
Although the VTE study used small sample sizes, the authors did evaluate the relationship between VTE and the economy, using an interpretive qualitative design. Furthermore, the study examined potential avenues for improving VTE to increase rates of employment, economic growth, and social stability, meeting all three criteria established in the goals of the VTE portion of SNERP. The study was collaborative in the sense that the teams from the different countries worked together to analyze each VTE system within the context in which it was located. Each researcher brought experience and questions from his or her own system and then strengthened the analysis, discussion, and questions inductively during the data collection process.
Rita Skuja-Steele and Rita Silver (Chapter 3) note that the research process accentuated the diversity of educational systems, language issues, and economic connections in the participating SNERP countries (p. 82). They go on to mention that many connections between education and economic development are assumed and that many government policies regarding education are more implicit than explicit. The resulting multiple roles and purposes of education and its many components make collaborative research more difficult.
Case country perceptions differed on the various ways English language instruction, VTE, higher education institutions, indicators, and math and science contribute to shaping the countrys economy. Each countrys research team was responsible for securing funding for the research conducted within its country. This research then became tailored to the needs and setting of the country, making comparative studies using similar research tools difficult. In addition, limited resources and time prevented many studies from conducting research in a generalizable manner. Alternative views and differing cultural backgrounds promulgated different research perspectives, making universal inquiry virtually impossible. As is reflected in the Arimoto chapter on higher education, the Swiss team commented that responsiveness, responsibility, and accountability, which were the subject of a number of the research questions, were unfamiliar topics to the majority of professors in their country, which resulted in a very low response rate of only 25 percent among those surveyed, compared to the 62 percent response rate seen in Japan (pp. 155156).
The network established among SNERP participants appears to bring richness to the discussion and allows constructive critical analysis of each system using the other national systems as comparisons. It is this aspect of the book that becomes appealing to the reader. The findings of the research are informative though not necessarily groundbreaking, but the process by which the survey was conducted and the findings reportedusing researchers and policymakers from the case countriesprovides multiple perspectives and new interpretations for the reader. In the concluding chapter, McGinn discusses many of the limitations to the collaborative process and even failures that SNERP encountered. He notes that the German team was in charge of a project intended to look specifically at the relationship between education and economic growth. However, because of lack of support and unwillingness from other country participants to work on the research, the project was terminated. The variation in rates of collaborative participation demonstrated in the different settings and the understanding that one study was not carried out emphasizes the difficulties of collaborative research. This highlights the fact that each country views the role of education systems, the countrys needs, and how each system contributes to the country differently than other countries.
Although the actual studies presented in Chapters 2 through 6 do not provide an all-encompassing overview of the collaborative process, McGinn does give an insightful critique of this process in his concluding chapter. His commentary offers meaningful insights for those interested in pursuing collaborative research projects. In an era in which each individuals worldview is constructed from varying psychosocial backgrounds, an attempt to bring researchers and policymakers from six different countries together to collaborate in tackling large, overarching questions in education is impressive. Although ambitious in their scope, the 15 authors are careful not to overgeneralize their findings among the case countries. McGinn uses the last chapter to summarize lessons learned from many of the participants. Offering both extrinsic and intrinsic perspectives to the collaborative process, the book is a good example of how to incorporate linguistic, cultural, and limited resources when conducting collaborative research. We therefore agree with McGinns conclusion that international differences are not necessarily weaknesses but potential strengths in collaborative projects. The 15 authors in Learning Through Collaborative Research generate new levels of understanding through continual discussion, dialogue, and shared experience.
Although SNERP appears to have fallen short of fully developing the relationship between education and the economy in the six case countries, the book does provide useful tools and insight into the collaborative research process. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected with technology and the media, the importance of collaboration and networking will likewise burgeon in the research process. McGinns volume is a welcome contribution to the field of comparative and international development education, as it provides a useful model for successful collaboration across cultures, languages, and disciplines.