Barbara Ohlund and Chong-ho Yu
The books by Campbell and Stanley (1963) and Cook and Campbell (1979) are considered classic in the field of experimental design. The following is summary of their books with insertion of our examples.
Experimental method and essay-writingCampbell and Stanley point out that adherence to experimentation dominated the field of education through the 1920s (Thorndike era) but that this gave way to great pessimism and rejection by the late 1930s. However, it should be noted that a departure from experimentation to essay writing (Thorndike to Gestalt Psychology) occurred most often by people already adept at the experimental tradition. Therefore we must be aware of the past so that we avoid total rejection of any method, and instead take a serious look at the effectiveness and applicability of current and past methods without making false assumptions.
ReplicationMultiple experimentation is more typical of science than a once and for all definitive experiment! Experiments really need replication and cross-validation at various times and conditions before the results can be theoretically interpreted with confidence.
Cumulative wisdomAn interesting point made is that experiments which produce opposing theories against each other probably will not have clear cut outcomes--that in fact both researchers have observed something valid which represents the truth. Adopting experimentation in education should not imply advocating a position incompatible with traditional wisdom, rather experimentation may be seen as a process of refining this wisdom. Therefore these areas, cumulative wisdom and science, need not be opposing forces.
Please note that validity discussed here is in the context of experimental design, not in the context of measurement.
- Internal validity refers specifically to whether an experimental treatment/condition makes a difference or not, and whether there is sufficient evidence to support the claim.
- External validity refers to the generalizibility of the treatment/condition outcomes.
Factors which jeopardize internal validity
- History--the specific events which occur between the first and second measurement.
- Maturation--the processes within subjects which act as a function of the passage of time. i.e. if the project lasts a few years, most participants may improve their performance regardless of treatment.
- Testing--the effects of taking a test on the outcomes of taking a second test.
- Instrumentation--the changes in the instrument, observers, or scorers which may produce changes in outcomes.
- Statistical regression--It is also known as regression to the mean. This threat is caused by the selection of subjects on the basis of extreme scores or characteristics. Give me forty worst students and I guarantee that they will show immediate improvement right after my treatment.
- Selection of subjects--the biases which may result in selection of comparison groups. Randomization (Random assignment) of group membership is a counter-attack against this threat. However, when the sample size is small, randomization may lead to Simpson Paradox, which has been discussed in an earlier lesson.
- Experimental mortality--the loss of subjects. For example, in a Web-based instruction project entitled Eruditio, it started with 161 subjects and only 95 of them completed the entire module. Those who stayed in the project all the way to end may be more motivated to learn and thus achieved higher performance.
- Selection-maturation interaction--the selection of comparison groups and maturation interacting which may lead to confounding outcomes, and erroneous interpretation that the treatment caused the effect.
- John Henry effect--John Henry was a worker who outperformed a machine under an experimental setting because he was aware that his performance was compared with that of a machine.
Factors which jeopardize external validity
- Reactive or interaction effect of testing--a pretest might increase or decrease a subject's sensitivity or responsiveness to the experimental variable. Indeed, the effect of pretest to subsequent tests has been empirically substantiated (Willson & Putnam, 1982, Lana, 1959).
- Interaction effects of selection biases and the experimental variable
- Reactive effects of experimental arrangements--it is difficult to generalize to non-experimental settings if the effect was attributable to the experimental arrangement of the research.
- Multiple treatment interference--as multiple treatments are given to the same subjects, it is difficult to control for the effects of prior treatments.
To make things easier, the following will act as representations within particular designs:
- O--Observation or measurement
- R--Random assignment
The three experimental designs discussed in this section are:
The One Shot Case StudyThis is a single group studied only once. A group is introduced to a treatment or condition and then observed for changes which are attributed to the treatment
The Problems with this design are:
- A total lack of control. Also, it is of very little scientific value as securing scientific evidence to make a comparison, and recording differences or contrasts.
- There is also a tendency to have the error of misplaced precision, where the researcher engages in tedious collection of specific detail, careful observation, testing and etc., and misinterprets this as obtaining good research. However you can not misinterpret that a detailed data collection procedure equals a good design.
- History, maturation, selection, mortality and interaction of selection and the experimental variable are all threats to the internal validity of this design.
One Group Pre-Posttest DesignThis is a presentation of a pretest, followed by a treatment, and then a posttest where the difference between O1 and O2 is explained by X:
O1 X O2
However, there exists threats to the validity of the above assertion:
- History--between O1 and O2 many events may have occurred apart from X to produce the differences in outcomes. The longer the time lapse between O1 and O2, the more likely history becomes a threat.
- Maturation--between O1 and O2 students may have grown older or internal states may have changed and therefore the differences obtained would be attributable to these changes as opposed to X.
- Testing--the effect of giving the pretest itself may effect the outcomes of the second test (i.e., IQ tests taken a second time result in 3-5 point increase than those taking it the first time). In the social sciences, it has been known that the process of measuring may change that which is being measured--the reactive effect occurs when the testing process itself leads to the change in behavior rather than it being a passive record of behavior (reactivity--we want to use non-reactive measures when possible).
- Instrumentation--examples are in threats to validity above
- Statistical regression--or regression toward the mean. Time-reversed control analysis and direct examination for changes in population variabilities are useful precautions against such misinterpretations. What this means is that if you select samples according to their extreme characteristics or scores, the tendency is to regress toward the mean. Therefore those with extreme high scores appear to be decreasing their scores, and those with extreme low scores appear to be increasing their scores. However this interpretation is not accurate, and to control for misinterpretations, researchers may want to do a time-reversed (posttest-pretest) analysis to analyze the true treatment effects. Researchers may exclude outliers from the analysis.
- Others--History, maturation, testing, instrumentation interaction of testing and maturation, interaction of testing and the experimental variable and the interaction of selection and the experimental variable are also threats to validity for this design.
The Static Group ComparisonThis is a two group design, where one group is exposed to a treatment and the results are tested while a control group is not exposed to the treatment and similarly tested in order to compare the effects of treatment.
Threats to validity include:
X O1 O2
- Selection--groups selected may actually be disparate prior to any treatment.
- Mortality--the differences between O1 and O2 may be because of the drop-out rate of subjects from a specific experimental group, which would cause the groups to be unequal.
- Others--Interaction of selection and maturation and interaction of selection and the experimental variable.
The next three designs discussed are the most strongly recommended designs:
The Pretest-Posttest Control Group DesignThis designs takes on this form:
This design controls for all of the seven threats to validity described in detail so far. An explanation of how this design controls for these threats is below.
R O1 X O2 R O3 O4
- History--this is controlled in that the general history events which may have contributed to the O1 and O2 effects would also produce the O3 and O4 effects. This is true only if the experiment is run in a specific manner--meaning that you may not test the treatment and control groups at different times and in vastly different settings as these differences may effect the results. Rather, you must test simultaneously the control and experimental groups. Intrasession history must also be taken into consideration. For example if the groups truly are run simultaneously, then there must be different experimenters involved, and the differences between the experimenters may contribute to effects.
A solution to history in this case is the randomization of experimental occasions--balanced in terms of experimenter, time of day, week and etc.
- Maturation and testing--these are controlled in that they are manifested equally in both treatment and control groups.
- Instrumentation--this is controlled where conditions control for intrasession history, especially where fixed tests are used. However when observers or interviewers are being used, there exists a potential for problems. If there are insufficient observers to be randomly assigned to experimental conditions, the care must be taken to keep the observers ignorant of the purpose of the experiment.
- Regression--this is controlled by the mean differences regardless of the extremety of scores or characteristics, if the treatment and control groups are randomly assigned from the same extreme pool. If this occurs, both groups will regress similarly, regardless of treatment.
- Selection--this is controlled by randomization.
- Mortality--this was said to be controlled in this design, however upon reading the text, it seems it may or may not be controlled for. Unless the mortality rate is equal in treatment and control groups, it is not possible to indicate with certainty that mortality did not contribute to the experiment results. Even when even mortality actually occurs, there remains a possibility of complex interactions which may make the effects drop-out rates differ between the two groups. Conditions between the two groups must remain similar--for example, if the treatment group must attend treatment session, then the control group must also attend sessions where either not treatment occurs, or a "placebo" treatment occurs. However even in this there remains possibilities of threats to validity. For example, even the presence of a "placebo" may contribute to an effect similar to the treatment, the placebo treatment must be somewhat believable and therefore may end up having similar results!
The factors described so far effect internal validity. These factors could produce changes which may be interpreted as the result of the treatment. These are called main effects which have been controlled in this design giving it internal validity.
However, in this design, there are threats to external validity (also called interaction effects because they involve the treatment and some other variable the interaction of which cause the threat to validity). It is important to note here that external validity or generalizability always turns out to involve extrapolation into a realm not represented in one's sample.
In contrast, internal validity are solvable within the limits of the logic of probability statistics. This means that we can control for internal validity based on probability statistics within the experiment conducted, however, external validity or generalizability can not logically occur because we can't logically extrapolate to different conditions. (Hume's truism that induction or generalization is never fully justified logically).
External threats include:
- Interaction of testing and X--because the interaction between taking a pretest and the treatment itself may effect the results of the experimental group, it is desirable to use a design which does not use a pretest.
- Interaction of selection and X--although selection is controlled for by randomly assigning subjects into experimental and control groups, there remains a possibility that the effects demonstrated hold true only for that population from which the experimental and control groups were selected. An example is a researcher trying to select schools to observe, however has been turned down by 9, and accepted by the 10th. The characteristics of the 10th school may be vastly different than the other 9, and therefore not representative of an average school. Therefore in any report, the researcher should describe the population studied as well as any populations which rejected the invitation.
- Reactive arrangements--this refers to the artificiality of the experimental setting and the subject's knowledge that he is participating in an experiment. This situation is unrepresentative of the school setting or any natural setting, and can seriously impact the experiment results. To remediate this problem, experiments should be incorporated as variants of the regular curricula, tests should be integrated into the normal testing routine, and treatment should be delivered by regular staff with individual students.
Research should be conducted in schools in this manner--ideas for research should originate with teachers or other school personnel. The designs for this research should be worked out with someone expert at research methodology, and the research itself carried out by those who came up with the research idea. Results should be analyzed by the expert, and then the final interpretation delivered by an intermediary.
Tests of significance for this design--although this design may be developed and conducted appropriately, statistical tests of significance are not always used appropriately.
- Wrong statistic in common use--many use a t-test by computing two ts, one for the pre-post difference in the experimental group and one for the pre-post difference of the control group. If the experimental t-test is statistically significant as opposed to the control group, the treatment is said to have an effect. However this does not take into consideration how "close" the t-test may really have been. A better procedure is to run a 2X2 ANOVA repeated measures, testing the pre-post difference as the within-subject factor, the group difference as the between-subject factor, and the interaction effect of both factors.
- Use of gain scores and covariance--the most used test is to compute pre-posttest gain scores for each group, and then to compute a t-test between the experimental and control groups on the gain scores. Also used are randomized "blocking" or "leveling" on pretest scores and the analysis of covariance are usually preferable to simple gain-score comparisons.
- Statistics for random assignment of intact classrooms to treatments--when intact classrooms have been assigned at random to treatments (as opposed to individuals being assigned to treatments), class means are used as the basic observations, and treatment effects are tested against variations in these means. A covariance analysis would use pretest means as the covariate.
The Soloman Four-Group DesignThe design is as:
R O1 X O2 R O3 O4 R X O5 R O6
In this design, subjects are randomly assigned to four different groups: experimental with both pre-posttests, experimental with no pretest, control with pre-posttests, and control without pretests. By using experimental and control groups with and without pretests, both the main effects of testing and the interaction of testing and the treatment are controlled. Therefore generalizability increases and the effect of X is replicated in four different ways.
Statistical tests for this design--a good way to test the results is to rule out the pretest as a "treatment" and treat the posttest scores with a 2X2 analysis of variance design-pretested against unpretested.
The Posttest-Only Control Group DesignThis design is as:
This design can be though of as the last two groups in the Solomon 4-group design. And can be seen as controlling for testing as main effect and interaction, but unlike this design, it doesn't measure them. But the measurement of these effects isn't necessary to the central question of whether of not X did have an effect. This design is appropriate for times when pretests are not acceptable.
R X O1 R O2
Statistical tests for this design--the most simple form would be the t-test. However covariance analysis and blocking on subject variables (prior grades, test scores, etc.) can be used which increase the power of the significance test similarly to what is provided by a pretest.
As illustrated above, Cook and Campbell devoted much efforts to avoid/reduce the threats against internal valdity (cause and effect) and external validity (generalization). However, some widespread concepts may also contribute other types of threats against internal and external validity.
Some researchers downplay the importance of causal inference and assert the worth of understanding. This understanding includes "what," "how," and "why." However, is "why" considered a "cause and effect" relationship? If a question "why X happens" is asked and the answer is "Y happens," does it imply that "Y causes X"? If X and Y are correlated only, it does not address the question "why." Replacing "cause and effect" with "understanding" makes the conclusion confusing and misdirect researchers away from the issue of "internal validity."
Some researchers apply a phenomenological approach to "explanation." In this view, an explanation is applied to only a particular case in a particular time and place, and thus generalization is considered inappropriate. In fact, a particular explanation does not explain anything. For example, if one askes, "Why Alex Yu behaves in that way," the asnwer could be "because he is Alex Yu. He is a unqiue human being. He has a particular family background and a specific social circle." These "particular" statements are alway right, thereby misguide researchers away from the issue of external validity.