What is Academic Rigour?

This is a question that was raised near the end of Tom Reeves  very interesting presentation to ChangeMooc this week.

Recording for this session

The focus of Tom’s presentation was educational research and the lack of impact of educational technology research on educational policy and practice. To address this problem he has worked with colleagues to develop a model – Design-Based Research. in which the focus is on researching a problem.

Tom emphasised the importance of academic rigour, but this led to the question – what is academic rigour? There was no ready answer or consensus in the session.  Some answers to this question from Tom and participants were:

  • not for the faint-hearted; takes effort and commitment (Tom Reeves)
  • unchanging, in the sense that ‘rigorous’ means performing the same (type of) study every time, conforming to the same (set of) principles etc. (Stephen Downes)
  • more likely to lead to the truth (but what is truth?) (Stephen Downes)
  • disciplined, measurable, stands up to scrutiny by others (brainysmurf)
  • can replicate the methods (Tom Reeves)

None of these answers quite satisfies me and this dissatisfaction has led to some further thinking and discussion.

It seems to me now that there is not an absolute concept of academic rigour – but rather there are degrees of it depending of the closeness of research to known theory, whether or not the research is supported by known theory and the credibility of the data from which inferences are drawn.  This can be thought of in terms of the following diagram:

What is Academic Rigour?

Following a given model or a systematic process won’t necessarily lead to academic rigour or even reliable success.  I was interested in Stephen Downes’ comment that he is more a follower of Feyerabend in being “Against Method” and that ‘there is great liberation in understanding that ‘method’ is based on sociological desire for conformity rather than scientific desire for truth’.

Finally, there was the question of whether or not research needs to start with a problem – the Design-Based Research Model states that it does …..

… but this wouldn’t account for ‘Eureka’, ‘Ah Ha’ moments or accidental findings . This would suggest that ‘academic rigour’ is not always needed for good research.