In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Data Collection in Educational Research

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Education Data Collection in Educational Research
James H. McMillan, Laura P. Gogia
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0087


Data collection methods in educational research are used to gather information that is then analyzed and interpreted. As such, data collection is a very important step in conducting research and can influence results significantly. Once the research question and sources of data are identified, appropriate methods of data collection are determined. Data collection includes a broad range of more specific techniques. Historically, much of the data collection performed in educational research depended on methods developed for studies in the field of psychology, a discipline which took what is termed a “quantitative” approach. This involves using instruments, scales, Tests, and structured observation and interviewing. By the mid- to late twentieth centuries, other disciplines such as anthropology and sociology began to influence educational researchers. Forms of data collection broadened to include what is now called “qualitative” methods, with an emphasis on narratives, participant perspectives, and less structured observation and interviewing. As contemporary educational researchers also draw from fields such as business, political science, and medicine, data collection in education has become a multidisciplinary phenomenon. Because data collection is such a broad topic, General Overviews that attempt to cover all or most techniques tend to offer introductory treatments. Few texts, however, provide comprehensive coverage of every data collection technique. Instead, some cover techniques appropriate for either quantitative or qualitative research approaches. Even more focus on one or two data collection methods within those two research contexts. Consequently, after presenting general overviews, this entry is categorized by data collection appropriate for quantitative and Qualitative Data Collection. These sections, in turn, are subdivided into the major types of quantitative and qualitative data collection techniques. While there are some data collection techniques specific to mixed method research design, which implies a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, these specific procedures are not emphasized in the present article—readers are referred to the Oxford Bibliography article Mixed Methods Research by Nancy Leech for a comprehensive treatment of mixed method data collection techniques. To locate sources for this article, extensive searches were performed using general-use Internet search engines and educational, psychological, and social science research databases. These searches included keywords around data collection and research methods, as well as specific data collection techniques such as surveys, Tests, Focus Groups, and observation. Frequently cited texts and articles, most recent editions at the time, and sources specific to educational research were given priority. Once these sources were identified, their suggested readings and reference lists were mined for other potential sources. Works or scholars found in multiple reference lists were investigated. When applicable, book reviews in peer-reviewed journals were located and taken into account when curating sources. Sources that demonstrated a high level of impact or offered unique coverage of the topic were included.

General Overviews

General educational research overviews typically include several chapters on data collection, organized into qualitative and quantitative approaches. As a rule they are updated frequently so that they offer timely discussions of methodological trends. Most of them are introductory in nature, written for student researchers. Because of the influence of psychology and other social sciences on the development of data collection in educational research, representative works of psychology (Trochim 2006) and of general social sciences (Robson 2011) are included. Available online, Trochim 2006 is a reader-friendly introduction that provides succinct explanations of most quantitative and qualitative approaches. Olsen 2012 is helpful in showing how data collection techniques used in other disciplines have implications for educational studies. Specific to education, Gall, et al. 2007 is a frequently cited text that contains most educational data collection techniques, although it tends to emphasize more traditional quantitative approaches. Johnson and Christensen 2014 offers a more balanced treatment meant for novice researchers and educational research consumers. Cohen, et al. 2011 also provides a balanced approach, but from a British perspective. Fielding, et al. 2008 offer practical advice on recently developed forms of online data collection, with special attention given to the ethical ramifications of Internet-based data collection. Finally, Arthur, et al. 2012 is unique in this section in that it is an edited work offering short overviews of data collection techniques authored by contemporary leading experts.

  • Arthur, James, Michael Waring, Robert Coe, and Larry Hedges, eds. 2012. Research methods and methodologies in education. London: SAGE.

    A diverse edited text discussing trends in study designs, data collection, and data analysis. It includes twelve chapters devoted to different forms of data collection, written by authors who have recently published extensively on the topic. Annotated bibliographies found at the end of each chapter provide guidance for further reading.

  • Cohen, Louis, Lawrence Manion, and Keith Morrison. 2011. Research methods in education. 7th ed. London: Routledge.

    This long-running, bestselling, comprehensive source offers practical advice with clear theoretical foundations. The newest edition has undergone significant revision. Specific to data collection, revisions include new chapters devoted to data collection via the Internet and visual media. Slides highlighting main points are available on a supplementary website.

  • Fielding, Nigel, Raymond Lee, and Grant Blank. 2008. The SAGE handbook of online research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This extensive handbook presents chapters on Internet research design and data collection written by leading scholars in the field. It discusses using the Internet as an archival resource and a research tool, focusing on the most recent trends in multidisciplinary Internet research.

  • Gall, Meredith, Joyce Gall, and Walter Borg. 2007. Educational research: An introduction. 8th ed. White Plains, NY: Pearson.

    A long-standing, well-respected, nuts-and-bolts perspective on data collection meant to prepare students for conducting original research. Although it tends to emphasize quantitative research methodologies, it has a uniquely rich chapter on historical document analysis.

  • Johnson, Burke, and Larry Christensen. 2014. Educational research: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed approaches. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    A comprehensive introductory text for the consumer and the would-be researcher, with extensive lists of additional resources for gathering all types of data. It discusses quantitative and qualitative research methodologies and data collection evenly but provides extended coverage of questionnaire construction.

  • Olsen, Wendy. 2012. Data collection: Key debates and methods in social research. London: SAGE.

    This recently published toolkit of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed method approaches to data collection provides a more contemporary introduction for both students and research professionals. It offers a helpful overview of data collection as an integral part of research in several different fields of study.

  • Robson, Colin. 2011. Real world research: A resource for users of social research methods in applied settings. West Sussex, UK: Wiley

    This introductory text is intended for all social science. There is an applied, integrated emphasis on contemporary quantitative and qualitative data collection techniques in a separate section of the book, including individual and focus group observations, surveys, unstructured and structured interviewing, and tests.

  • Trochim, William. 2006. Research methods knowledge base

    A free online hypertext textbook on applied social research methods. Data collection techniques associated with qualitative and quantitative research are covered comprehensively. Foundational information appropriate for undergraduates and early graduate students is presented through a series of easy-to-navigate and intuitively ordered webpages. Printed editions are available for purchase in an edition written with James Donnelly (Atomic Dog/Cengage Learning, 2008).

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