projects in various programmes (Fifth Framework Programme, LEONARDO, TSER
etc) are faced with a common methodological problem: how to analyse issues
across countries, cultures, organisations, regions or systems. Several
approaches have been adopted, including experimental and innovative ones.
This resource base is intended to collect evidence from newly completed
projects, presenting the various methods that have emerged out of partnership
on methodological issues in transnational research have been scattered.
A discussion on comparative methodology related to VET research took place
at a conference in 1998 convened by CEDEFOP and DIPF (report by Lauterbach
et al. 2001). A debate on methodological aspects of collaborative research
developed, in the late '90s, within a group of LEONARDO research projects
(see Kämäräinen 1998; Kuhn 1998; Nyhan 1998). At the same
time, partnerships in TSER and COST projects generated their own methodological
approaches (see Nijhof 1999; Raffe 2001). Furthermore, large-scale projects
carried out by international organisations such as the IEA (see Postlethwaite
1995) and the OECD (see Durand-Drouhin 1999) promoted new working concepts.
Alongside the innovative thinking in project related (or policy and practice
oriented) investigations, the more academic field of comparative and international
education is also undergoing reconceptualisation, with a focus on learning
and its relation to culture (see Broadfoot 2000; Crossley 2000).
challenging question is how to capture the diversity of cross-national
research in European projects. While some of these appear to follow a comparative
approach, others centre more on a subject-related methodology. Again, in
terms of cooperation, several projects apply a centralised pattern, involving
partners as contributors, while others develop a collaborative style of
research which may even extend to target groups of investigation. Within
these contexts various methods are applied, ranging from traditional means
of investigation (like case studies) to innovative concepts (like 'cornerstones'
and 'boundary crossing'). In the ACROSS Base, two major modes of access
are applied: access by approach and access by method.
searching for the dimensions of these approaches, reviewing comparative
methodology in educational research provided an initial orientation. According
to this, there are two investigation strategies: the 'holistic' or 'systemic'
approach and the 'comparative' or 'contrastive' approach. Comparative studies
may be undertaken using either a 'scientific' approach, involving measurement
and statistics, or a 'humanistic' approach, which tends to be ethnographic
and largely descriptive (see Keeves et al. 1994).
on these considerations, a semantic map with two axes has been constructed
(see access by approach). The horizontal
axis refers to the 'holistic - comparative' continuum. These two investigation
strategies may also be described in terms of 'integrative thematic' (e.g.
focusing on the development of joint frameworks and models) versus 'comparative
thematic' (e.g. concerned with identifying 'commonalities' and differences).
Essentially, these are complementary orientations rather than opposite
poles. The vertical axis presents the two research approaches which
have been identified as 'scientific' versus 'humanistic'. According to
more common research debate these two approaches may be called 'quantitative'
versus 'qualitative', again understood as complementary rather than opposing
orientations. In the semantic map, the positioning of projects indicates
the emphasis of a given orientation (NOT its exclusiveness) in the
the context of transnational projects, the 'qualitative' approach has been
extended to include the collaborative style of research. It should
be noted that 'collaborative' in this case is related to a specific methodology
(e.g. 'collaborative writing process') and NOT applied in the general sense
of cooperation between partners (which all projects have in common).
semantic map on approaches not only helps to locate individual projects;
it also serves as a point of reference for debate. In particular, the argument
about 'collaboration' versus 'comparison', which has been prominent in
discussion among VET researchers, can be seen in a new context. Furthermore,
the debate about possible trends within research strategies (e.g. from
comparative towards integrative) may be promoted by evaluating the resources
in this base.
the framework of major approaches, individual methods have been identified
(see access by method: index). These
are understood, in a broad sense, as specific ways of proceeding in research,
including various techniques of research work. The procedure used for compiling
methods has been entirely inductive. The projects have been analysed with
regard to the methodological means they have applied. Only those methods
which are being described or discussed in at least one project have been
taken up in the resource base.
initial mapping, these methods form groups related to their function in
the research process (see access by method: map).
The grouping applied here should be regarded as tentative and open for
debate. The initial aim is to include as many methods (in the widest sense)
as possible, based on evidence in the European projects. In a further step,
a more systematic approach of describing these methods and/or of identifying
open standards may be adopted.
aim of the ACROSS Base is to compile evidence of approaches and methods
from a broad range of projects and studies. To start with, the final reports
of about 30 projects have been evaluated. Contributions to the resource
base are taken from these sources in the form of edited extracts or summaries.
These entries include both reviews and comments for discussion. The point
of view presented this way fully corresponds to the source quoted in the
methodological approaches applied in the projects are presented from two
angles: each project is briefly described in terms of its approaches, the
evidence of selected methods found in individual projects being presented
separately. Compiling this information from project reports is in itself
revealing: while traditional approaches, in particular the 'scientific'
ones, tend to be described in full detail (often with a reference to the
original source), the more experimental ones, in particular the 'collaborative'
and 'holistic' type, appear to be implicit or argumentative rather than
precise in their methodology.
design of the ACROSS Base starts out from semantic maps which form the
basis for three access points:
format for providing the resources is to use a modular structure. The base
consists of text units which follow a common pattern, including a heading,
the description of the project or approach, a review or comment if available,
and the references. The text units are supported by a bibliographical base
which provides links to on-line sources where possible. An index of experts,
projects and sources completes the resource base.
by theme, related to thematic fields and to types
by approach, starting out from basic dimensions
of educational research and including further approaches found in current
by method, being understood as a broad category
including approaches and any other means of facilitating cross-national
ACROSS Base is intended as a contribution to disseminating experience among
the research community and to stimulating discussion about the value of
the different approaches. The coordinators of European projects represent
a particular target group to benefit from this shared learning.
ACROSS Base links up with other resource bases focusing on selected themes
of project research (see overview). These
form part of a web-based environment for European research in VET and HRD
which has been promoted by CEDEFOP in collaboration with the Research Forum
WIFO, theKnowNet and other partners. These initiatives are presented in
the CEDEFOP Research Arena (CEDRA)
and its European Research Overview (ERO Gateway).
an initial stage which presents the outcome of EU projects in education
research, an extended version of the ACROSS Base may include further studies
in the field of VET and HRD. In addition, evidence from European conferences
and workshops and further contributions from experts may be compiled to
expand and enrich the resource base.
initial draft of the resource base (Word document) was sent to all experts
concerned and to further interested colleagues. Comments received by Manfred
Tessaring, CEDEFOP, on the concept and methodology are gratefully acknowledged.
Forum WIFO Berlin
outline August 2001
after Roundtable discussion at ECER in Lille September 2001