For my forthcoming study, my research problem is thus: many educators, linguists and scholars in the field of Standard Arabic language instruction need to conduct research that identifies specific difficulties Americans encounter in learning Arabic by classroom instruction. In order to properly investigate this problem, however, I need to decide on a philosophical worldview with which to study it. The importance of the philosophical worldview revolves around the way in which I would look at the problem and the research involved in it. In this paper, we will examine four major philosophical worldviews that could potentially inform my research.
In the post-positivist worldview, “causes probably determine effects or outcomes. Thus, the problems studied by post-positivists reflect the need to identify and assess the causes that influence outcomes, such as found in experiments” (Creswell 2009, p. 7). Knowledge is thought to never be absolute, and the best one can hope for is the most educated guess regarding the solution to a research problem. In order to perform post-positivist research, claims must be made, which are then changed as the results come in to suit the findings. This makes data the primary way in which knowledge is discovered; the overall goal is to arrive at a true and relevant statement (Creswell, 2009).
In order to look at my specific problem through the lens of post-positivism, I would take a very traditional approach to the issue. I would look at the problem in a way that deals with the evidence as potentially false and always conjectural; this would prevent concrete claims from being formed as absolute truth, and my results would perpetually be changeable depending on the new data that comes in. This worldview would also stress the importance of objectivity and verifying the information and conclusions provided, to minimize bias. Various methods would be attempted to improve Arabic language instruction in a straightforward manner, and the results would be empirically observed.
Social constructivism is used for qualitative research, and states that “individuals seek understanding of the world in which they live and work” (Creswell 2009, p. 8). The subjective experiences that people go through lead them to their own unique conclusions, which are then studied as much as possible. The lens by which the researchers form their results is based on the subjective experience of the person being researched. Their role and interaction in society is what determines how the research is created. Open ended questions are used in order to provide unlimited sharing of the participant’s views on the situation. The setting or context of these interactions and environments also serve as a barometer for behavior (Creswell, 2009).
Looking at the problem of Arabic instructional methods through a constructivist worldview would involve the perspectives of the individual participants. I would look mainly at what they have to say about the process, and what specific problems they face when going through Arabic language education. The different contexts of each individual experience with the instruction will inform me of the varying ways in which people can have problems with the process. This would allow for a bit more flexibility and personal connection to the problems, permitting more accurate assessments of what needs to be overcome.
The advocacy/participatory approach is often qualitative, but can have quantitative uses; this worldview is based on the idea that “research inquiry needs to be intertwined with politics and a political agenda” (Creswell 2009, p. 9). The research itself must be politically motivated, and the results must be put to some practical use in order to address social issues that are present and indicated in the problem statement. The process is much more collaborative, as the researcher works with the participants to avoid marginalization, and they help to determine the questions and the data. This is all done to create research design that allows the participants to let their (usually disenfranchised) voice be heard (Creswell, 2009).
An advocacy perspective regarding the study of Arabic instruction methods would involve offering non-native speakers the chance to improve their foreign language skills; it would emphasize the potential empowerment of military personnel to learn this language that would be vital to their skills and job performance. Participation in this study would require working with the participants to share and elaborate on the various problems encountered during an education intervention, and determining exactly what could be improved upon. Since each participant’s perspective is different, consensus would have to be reached addressing as many viewpoints as possible within the sample.
The pragmatic worldview typically involves “actions, situations and consequences rather than antecedent conditions (as in postpositivism)” (Creswell 2009, p. 10). The primary emphasis of pragmatism is finding a solution that will actually work in the context of a problem, in lieu of an emphasis on methods. There is no single system applied to pragmatism – mixed methods are used to determine what works, applying to both qualitative and quantitative research. Choice is rampant among the researcher with this worldview, as they would simply need to figure out what specific methods to use, including contextual and post modern theories that involve society and politics, much like advocacy/participation (Creswell, 2009).
Pragmatism would involve not sticking to a particular philosophy, taking the facts and information as they come, and forming my research and potential solutions around that. In the case of my research problem, the focus would be on assessing potential solutions to the problem instead of thoroughly investigating why the problems are occurring in Arabic language education. The majority of my energy would be strictly focused on coming up with ways to make the issues the participants encounter in this study.
The application of a philosophical worldview to my study would permit it to have a unique framework and context, allowing me to look at the problem in a focused, direct way. The ultimate aim of the study would be much clearer, whether it is to advocate for better programs for military personnel seeking to speak Arabic, or learning the specific experiences of the participants involved. Even a more generalized, empirical approach like post-positivism would lend me a great deal of concrete data to use, and the pragmatic approach would allow me to investigate solutions more readily. All four of these methodologies offer an intriguing way of looking at my problem statement that focuses my research in a more straightforward way.
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