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:
- Identify the issue or phenomenon you wish to investigate.
- Identify the particular problem associated with this issue or phenomenon.
- 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.