Module outcomes:

  • Generate ideas for the focus of your research project
  • Explore processes for locating and critiquing literature relevant to your research project
  • Determine your research question
  • Writing your research project plan

Concept mapping to generate ideas
The first step in conceptualising your research project is to generate ideas for the focus of the project. Concept maps are a useful tool for helping you identify key words of your research topic, which you will then use to search for your literature.

Watch the video: Concept Mapping for Developing your Research


 Daley’s (2004) conference paper 'Using Concept Maps in Qualitative Research', and consider which concept mapping strategy would best support your approach to generating ideas for your project.


EDraw Visualisation Solutions provides free and easy to use concept mapping software to help you create concept maps. Follow the link below to start creating a concept map for your project:

Concept mapping will help you to start generating ideas and identifying key words relevant to your project. Once you have identified the key words, insert these into Google Scholar and Google Books, for example, to start the next step in conceptualising your project - searching for relevant literature.

You are likely to be familiar with conducting a literature review in your own discipline and there will be similarities. A literature review is something that is carried out throughout the life of your research project.

  • Before you begin your project, the literature will inform you of what has already been done or is known about the issue you are researching and help you locate your own research in that body of knowledge.
  • While you are conducting your research you should be continuing to explore the literature to compare your findings with others.
  • As you are writing up your research and drawing some conclusions it is important that you again consult the literature to identify any new or confirming findings.


 Knopf, J.W. (2006). Doing a Literature Review.

Even if you are familiar with writing literature reviews this paper will be a useful reminder on how to structure your review.


 this website, The literature review process, for a concise overview.

Managing your references. An annotated bibliography is a vital asset for you to develop. Using a tool such as Endnote® will make this much easier. Check your institution’s library for access to Endnote® or similar software for managing your references.

If you are unsure or need a refresher about the components of an annotated bibliography view the website from Cornell University Library (2017), How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography: The Annotated Bibliography.


 Create your next Blog entry. Give it a title, for example, The Literature Review, to share:

  1. How you have searched for and selected literature for your research project
  2. Your key sources of literature
  3. The analysis methodology you used to critique the literature

Determining your Research Questions
Remembering that all research is driven by a question it is time to formulate your central research question. A process for doing this is to go through the following steps:

  1. Identify the issue or phenomenon you wish to investigate.
  2. Identify the particular problem associated with this issue or phenomenon.
  3. Reword the problem as a question (the central research question).

An example of this is shown in the table below:



Undertake the process of determining the issue, the problem and the central research questions for your SoTL topic. Create a table similar to the example, and keep for reference as your project progresses.

From central research question to sub-questions

The central research question should be a broad, overarching question that encompasses the dimensions of your research. It is usual to break this question into 2-4 sub questions that address different dimensions of the project you wish to explore in your research. For instance, in the example above that had the central research question, what effect did the designed intervention have on students’ motivation to prepare for tutorials?

Related sub-questions might be:

  • What are the factors that support and encourage students to prepare for tutorials?
  • What are the barriers that prevent students from preparing for tutorials?
  • What effect did the designed intervention have on the motivation students to prepare for tutorials?


Using the example above list the Phenomenon - Problem - Central Research Question - Related Sub questions for the SoTL research project you are planning to undertake.

If you have more than one possible research project, list them all and in the next section you can examine the feasibility of each option.


Write a blog entry outlining the mapping of your Phenomenon - Central Research question - Sub-questions.

You may like to seek feedback from your colleagues on the mapping process.

Deciding on the methods of data collection to use
It is only when the research questions have been decided that it is reasonable to start thinking about what method of data collection you will employ. Too often people start with the method before they have clarified the research questions. You will hear them saying “I’m just going to survey my students to find out what they think” even before they have decided what they want to find out. The correct process should be:


The methods of data collection will depend on the answers to some of the questions you address when determining the feasibility of your project (see section 2.4). For instance in the example given above, What are the factors that motivate students to prepare adequately for tutorials? the most obvious source of data is the students (another might be the tutors). So the methods that you might want to consider to collect these data would include surveys, interviews, observation, document analysis (eg. their motivation/preparedness/learning as reflected in the quality of their work).

Which of these you settle on will depend on a number of things including:

  • How many students are involved? If there is a large number, a survey is going to be most practical. If there is a small number, individual or group interviews are likely to provide much more detailed data.
  • Where are the students located? If they are remote or distributed then an electronic survey would be more feasible than getting them together for a focus group interview. However depending on the number a phone interview might be possible.
  • How important is anonymity of the student participants in this project? Surveys will provide greatest anonymity however confidentiality can and should also be provided using interviews.
  • Do the students come together in one location for the tutorials or are they conducted online? If they are in one location then using observation as a means of data collection would be feasible.

A feasible research project is one which can produce meaningful results. It is easy to develop a project proposal that is unrealistic if certain factors haven’t been carefully considered such as time, skill, and resource requirement.

The feasibility of your project needs to be a continual consideration as you conceptualise and design it. In fact, asking "Is this research project feasible?" should be a question you ask yourself at the beginning of your project. So what are important feasibility considerations?


(Adapted from Haigh, N. (2010). Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A practical introduction and critique)

Gain access to Bartsch’s (2013) book chapter on designing SoTL studies, in which he discusses the practicalities of SoTL project design.

Bartsch talks about how SoTL research can be challenging because the project design may not be practical due to limited numbers of participants, lack of time, or an inability to have more than one condition; or may be practical but not ethical. He suggests solutions to common practical problems and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of different types of SoTL project design.


Ask yourself the following questions about your proposed research project:

  • What are the sources of your data? Is it the students or educators or colleagues?
  • How accessible are the sources of your data?
  • Can you complete the planned project within the available time-frame?
  • Do you require special resources and expertise to conduct your project? Do you have access to these?
  • Finally and perhaps most importantly, which project most interests you and is liable to be most valuable in enhancing the learning of your students?

Having answered these questions, and ensured that the project is feasible, settle on your research project.


Before you begin your research you will most likely need to receive approval from the Human Research Ethics Committee at your institution (see section 2.6). Many institutional ethics committees require a research proposal to accompany the application for ethics approval.

When designing a research project and writing the proposal, there are several factors that you need to consider, for example:

  1. What is the aim or focus of your research project?
  2. What question/s might focus this research project?
  3. Why is this research project significant/important? (educational, economic, health, social, political benefits)
  4. How will this research project contribute to the bank of knowledge already known about this area?
  5. How will this research project create new knowledge?


Use the template Plan Your Research Project to brainstorm your ideas and gain clarity around what is involved in this aspect of your project planning and writing.


You will probably be familiar with the ethical requirements for conducting research through your experience within your discipline. The same requirements are in place for pedagogical research involving humans. In the case of most pedagogical research it is regarded as “Low Risk” under the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) so the process is less arduous than for many other forms of research.


 Office of Learning and Teaching (2016). Booklet 1: Research ethics and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. In SoTL Human Ethics Resource Manual (DOCX, 101 KB).

It provides a thorough overview of the ethical considerations you need to address before commencing your research and completing your research ethics application. This booklet is the first in a series that covers the topic more thoroughly. It:

  • Provides an overview of human research ethics in Australia (this is essential a universal approach)
  • Discusses the core principles for the design and conduct of human research
  • Introduces ethics review
  • Discusses practical strategies for the design and conduct of SoTL research


Write a blog entry that:

  1. Identifies the ethical considerations you will need to consider in your research
  2. Identifies how you might address these in the design, implementation and reporting of your research


 Locate the Human Research Ethics site at your university and download the institution specific requirements. Using the information from your planning and ethical considerations complete your ethics application.

You have completed Module 2

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