From Archives to Datasets: Using Data for Historical Research
Historical research relies on two main sources of data: primary and secondary. Primary sources are derived directly from eyewitness accounts or tangible evidence, such as photographs, certificates, decrees and edicts, reports of meetings, buildings, and furniture.
On the other hand, secondary sources provide information that is obtained indirectly. Nkpa (1997: 8) explains that in secondary sources, a non-observer acts as a mediator between the original evidence and the investigator.
Examples of secondary sources of information or data include books, news reports from journalists, and research reviews.
Both primary and secondary data are valuable to the historical researcher, but primary data is preferred due to its directness and authenticity. The use of secondary sources should be minimized to avoid potential inaccuracies.
Historical data is evaluated through two forms of criticism: external and internal. External criticism is focused on verifying the authenticity of the sources of information or data, and seeks answers to questions such as:
- Who was the author – his position, qualification and skills as a reporter of the events?
- What personal interest had he in the matter?
- How soon after the event was the documents
On the other hand, internal criticism is concerned with the validity of the information or data provided by the source, and aims to establish the authenticity of the content of the document through questions about its accuracy and reliability.
- Can the information be considered an accurate portrayal of the events? Is there any indication that the reporter was swayed by personal biases or external interest groups? Are there any statements that are false or contradict established facts about the event?
(b) Descriptive Research
Descriptive studies aim to describe and interpret the current state of a particular issue, such as attitudes, teaching methods, beliefs, or students’ achievements. Alternatively, they may compare existing relationships within educational practices. Descriptive research comes in various types, with the major ones being survey research, case studies, and documentary analysis.
(i) Survey Research
A Survey research is a method that involves studying a large number of people or items to determine the current status of a problem or phenomenon. The study can be conducted on a true representative of the population or the entire population. If the survey covers the entire population, it is called a census, while a sample survey studies only a representative portion of the population. To obtain a true representative sample in a sample survey, appropriate sampling techniques must be used to make reliable inferences about the target population. Examples of survey studies include:
- Survey of infrastructures in secondary schools.
- Opinions of undergraduates on cultism In tertiary institutions.
A good quality survey study require valid and reliable instruments of data collection. Survey instruments include; questionnaires, interview
observation, ete. survey research has had profound
influence on the field of education and social sciences.
(ii) Case Studies
A case study involves a thorough examination of a particular phenomenon in an individual or a specific social unit, such as a family, school, church, community, or association. Since the sample size is limited and not representative, the findings cannot be generalized. However, the information gathered can provide valuable background information that can lead to further investigation. For example, Piaget’s theory of intellectual development was based on case studies of his three children, as noted by Nkpa (1997). One drawback of case studies is their subjectivity, which can result in bias in the selection of the unit to be studied, possibly due to preconceived notions or convenience rather than the unit’s typicality in relation to the population.
(iii) Documentary Analysis
Document analysis refers to the study of the content of various records and documents, including meeting minutes, school diaries, panel reports, library records, curriculum materials in schools, and official gazettes. This approach yields valuable information that can be used for auditing and supervisory purposes.
(c) Experimental research
Experimental research is employed to establish causal relationships, where a systematic and logical procedure is utilized to identify and assess the cause of a particular effect under controlled conditions. The primary objective of control in experimental research is to ensure that any difference observed between the groups being studied can be attributed solely to the treatment effect and not to any other factors. This technique typically involves the use of experimental groups, control groups, and specific treatment conditions.
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The group that underwent manipulation or exposure to treatment conditions is referred to as the experimental group, while the group that was not exposed to treatment is known as the control group. The variable that is being manipulated and studied for its effects is referred to as the treatment, and any observed differences between the control and experimental groups are attributed to the treatment provided that all other influencing variables are adequately controlled.
However, experimental research in education and other areas of the behavioral sciences is limited due to the difficulty of manipulating human beings and animals in a controlled laboratory setting. As a result, such research is often classified as quasi-experimental research rather than pure experimental research. In contrast, pure experimental research is feasible in fields such as the chemical sciences, where chemical compounds can be made to react in a closed conical flask under controlled conditions.
Image source: Google.comTypes of Variables in Experimental Research
There are four types of variables considered
in experimental research designs as outlined
by Ukwuije (1988: 8). These variables are;
1. Independent Variables
The researcher manipulates independent variables, which are conditions or variables whose effects are being investigated and are often referred to as treatment variables. For instance, in a mathematics education study aimed at examining the impact of specifically designed visual, audio, and audiovisual materials on learners’ performance in trigonometry, the independent variables are the visual material, audio material, and audio-visual material. As the number of independent variables increases, the complexity of experimental research design and analysis also increases. A study with one independent variable is less complicated to handle than a study involving two or more independent variables.
2. Dependent Variables
The dependent variable is not manipulated and is instead observed for any changes or effects resulting from the manipulation of the independent variable. In the example mentioned earlier regarding independent variables, the dependent variable is the academic performance of the learners in trigonometry.