Theoretical Frameworks

This week’s reading was about theoretical frameworks in DBER. Over the few years I have been in the PER community, I have at least heard of these frameworks (resources, transfer, misconception, p-prims, constructivism, etc.) and thought I had used some of them (transfer and grounded theory) in my research. However, over the past year I have started to question if I’ve ever used a theoretical framework while doing research. Specifically, the first two projects I worked on claimed to use a grounded theory framework where we let the data lead us to our conclusions. I’ve since learned that grounded theory is letting the data analysis build a theory which we did not do. The only person I currently know who is using grounded theory, by the second definition, would be Anne Alesandrini at the University of Washington. Mila and I thought a comparison of Anne’s approach to student reasoning and our approach could reveal interesting patterns that neither of our frameworks could reveal alone. (As I said in class, this proved to be a dead end.)            

I use Dual Process Theory (DPT) as the theoretical framework for my current research. This theory argues that there are two thought processes in human reasoning: the fast, intuitive process and the slow, analytical process.

DPT argues that when a person is presented with a situation the fast process immediately proposes a model to base a response to the situation on. At this point the slow process may or may not intervene to further analysis this model. If it does not intervene, the person’s response will be based on this first proposed model. If it does intervene, the fast process will either agree with the model, which means the response will be based on the model, or disagree with the model, which means the fast process will be asked to propose a new model. I’m currently interested in how the slow process decides to intervene and I believe it might have something to do with home the fast process communicates with the slow process (which is currently unknown).

            I also wanted to quickly touch on a point made in the “Mixed Methods for Education Research” section of the Bordner et al reading. There was once a view that qualitative and quantitative methodologies could not be used together. I really liked the quote that “qualitative and quantitative methods constitute alternative, but not mutually exclusive, strategies for research” (pg. 8). My current research plan employs both qualitative and quantitative methods with student response data and statistics (we’re currently talking with Alex from Chemistry to figure out which tests will be best for our survey data). Even when I first learned the difference between these methods, I never thought of them as exclusive, just different. I was surprised there was such a debate over which to use.

3 thoughts on “Theoretical Frameworks

  1. I also thought the whole qualitative vs. quantitative debate was interesting. In our science classes, we were always supposed to include both qualitative and quantitative observations when we were doing a lab report, not choose one or the other.

    Also, your post brought to mind a question I had during the reading. What’s the difference between a theoretical framework and a theory? Is there a difference? Can they be used interchangeably?


  2. Not to sound too much like a broken record, but I also thought the qualitative vs. quantitative debate was interesting. I’ll admit I think there are some things that simply can’t be described using quantitative data, and vice versa. A few studies I’ve read try to use the answers to multiple choice concept inventories as a way to study qualitative data quantitatively, but some interview studies we conducted in our lab last summer have indicated that perhaps the ideas we previously thought were indicated by choosing particular answers may not necessarily be correct. This highlights the need for qualitative studies that probe understanding deeper than what a concept inventory might get at. Still, it’s hard to do qualitative studies at large scales and they can be less objective, so quantitative studies are also necessary. It seems that in many cases of “which is better”, this one included, the answer is “some of both”.


  3. The discussion of dual process theory has been very interesting because the diagrams resemble a control loop, but not perfectly. It seems like a very interesting study would be to compare methods for human education / learning with approaches that are used for training computers (“machine learning”) to see what similarities and differences exist. The machine learning methods are loosely patterned on notions of how humans learn (e.g., neural networks). However, it doesn’t seem like a whole lot of modern human education concepts have made their way into machine learning work. There might also be some concepts developed in the machine learning space that could be brought over to human learning / education / DBER, which would be interesting to consider, as well.


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