Each year, the Edgar W. Couper Endowment Fund for Educational Excellence brings one distinguished scientist to speak at Binghamton University. On Friday, the fund brought Anthony Onwuegbuzie, the former president of the Mixed Methods International Research Association and a professor of educational leadership at Sam Houston State University, to BU’s campus for its 26th annual lecture.
The fund honors the late Edgar W. Couper, who was the chairman of the committee that founded the University in 1950. Upon his death in 1988, his friends and family created the Edgar W. Couper Endowment Fund for Educational Excellence at BU, which grants Couper Fellowships each year to one or two doctoral students in the Graduate School of Education.
Roughly 30 graduate students and faculty members attended the lecture to hear about Onwuegbuzie’s research, which involves using mixed methods to address social and behavioral scientific topics, such as children with special needs, children living in war zones and disadvantaged populations such as minorities.
Mixed methods, a type of scientific research that synthesizes both qualitative and quantitative research methods, aims to give a bigger picture of a scientific question. Neglecting one side, according to Onwuegbuzie, leaves out critical perspectives.
“You could end up only getting part of the picture,” Onwuegbuzie said. “For example, lots of quantitative studies look at how something works. So by looking at statistics and saying for ‘x’ percent, something works and for the others it didn’t, that’s great information. But it doesn’t tell you how or why it works. So without the why and the how, you only have some of the information. So the qualitative and the quantitative need to work together.”
Scientific language consistently separates quantitative and qualitative methods of research, splitting them into what Onwuegbuzie referred to as false dichotomies, such as subjective versus objective, facts versus values and change versus order.
For Onwuegbuzie, it is better to abolish this language, which uses phrases such as “qualitative research” and “quantitative research,” and instead use terms like “research” to promote dualism.
“By using more unified language, you become more inclusive,” Onwuegbuzie said. “You’re not shutting out one type or the other. You get into a situation where it could become inhibitive because the language is so jargonistic. And I think focusing less on language and more on findings and meaning-making is the way we can improve the situation.”
According to Onwuegbuzie, mixed methods can extend past scientific research to everyday decisions such as house hunting. When purchasing a house, buyers take into account quantitative factors, such as cost and square acreage, while also considering qualitative factors, such as comfort and physical appearance.
For Onwuegbuzie, it is especially important that up-and-coming researchers strengthen themselves in both disciplines.
“There [are] too many students who graduate even with doctorates who might be strong in one but weak in the other,” Onwuegbuzie said. “I’d like to see doctoral students take both quantitative and qualitative classes, but further in the future that we get rid of these quantitative and qualitative courses and replace them with courses where you learn both of them in the same course. That’s so much more powerful.”
According to Marla Mallette, an associate professor in the department of teaching, learning and educational leadership, Onwuegbuzie was brought to campus by popular demand.
“I sent out an email to all the faculty and students and asked them to nominate people, and then I sent out the nominees and everyone got to vote,” Mallette said. “Dr. Onwuegbuzie was the most popular choice. I’m hoping that attendees come to value mixed methods. It needs to be spread more.”