Intuitive and rational approaches to decision making in education
Thesis or dissertation
- © 2009 Christopher Luck. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.
The key question that this research focuses on is: How do head teachers make decisions?
In addition, there are a range of sub questions that are worthy of consideration within the remit of this study. What strategies do head teachers use in making decisions? How do factors such as accountability, metrics, complexity and uncertainty affect decision making? What is the impact of experience on decision making? Does increased accountability lead to a greater choice of rational or intuitive decision making strategies? To what extent do head teachers rely on their "gut feelings" in making decisions? What mix of rational and intuitive strategies do head teachers use in making decisions and do head teachers make use of their staff to explore different perceptions and frames?
In considering what is the best research approach to answer these questions, reference can be made to a new branch of research known as Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM) which has arisen over the past fifteen years. The proponents of NDM have questioned both the application and validity of the rational methods. One of the major proponents of this approach is Gary Klein who has undertaken research into decision making within a wide range of professional domains such as fire fighting, health and the armed forces. His research (1999) suggests that, in real life situations, experts employ a range of strategies very different from the oft espoused rational models of decision making. Instead they habitually use strategies that rely very heavily on domain specific knowledge developed through extensive experience. They do not involve the generation of alternative options but rather use perception and mental simulations, for example, as tools for decision making. The decision making strategies that experts employ mark them out from novices and can perhaps give us an insight into the acquisition of expertise. In this thesis the application of NDM to the work of primary head teachers will be considered.
In chapter one the relationship between education leadership, accountability and decision making will be explored making reference to the many changes that have influenced and created the current educational context. The extent to which decision making strategies may be influenced by the context in which they are made will also be considered.
In chapter two an overview of theoretical approaches to decision making will be provided, drawing out the many distinctions between rationalistic methods and what can be termed "intuitive" methods such as those "discovered" by NDM. The relationship and tension between rationalistic and intuitive approaches to decision making will be considered. This will involve exploring the well worn battleground between these two age old competing ideologies within Western civilisation:
"Traditionally, two forms of cognition analysis and intuition have been distinguished. This sharp dichotomy was made early; indeed, it is as old as the history of thought. Plato, Aristotle, Hume, and Kant all recognized that the difference between the two forms of cognition is fundamental. Even today, almost every study of human judgment employs these concepts, implicitly or explicitly" (Hammond, 1996, p.60).
A definition of "intuitive" and "rational" will be provided in this chapter and will be used throughout the thesis to highlight the differences between these two approaches.
Chapter three will give a detailed account and critique of the work of Gary Klein discussing the model of decision making he has developed and his ideas on recognition, mental simulations, stories, decisions within teams and decision making mistakes.
Chapters four and five will consider research methodology and the practical application of research to this thesis. Details of how the research was conducted, head teachers recruited and interviewed and basic data analysis will be described. Chapter six will provide a quantitative analysis of the interview data to provide the reader with a context for understanding and judging the research findings.
Chapter seven is at the heart of this research project. Here the qualitative analysis of the research data will be outlined using substantial quotations from the interview transcripts to enhance credibility and ensure that the findings are truly grounded in the research evidence. Issues such as accountability, working with staff and, most importantly, head teachers' preferred decision making styles will be discussed and illuminated.
Chapter eight will then summarise the main findings of the research and discuss possible implications arising from the findings including a description of decision making to aid our understanding of this subject.
A postscript will retrospectively consider the work of Klein in the light of this research as well as provide a reflection on the research process.
- Centre for Educational Studies, The University of Hull
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