Module 2: Designing a Research Methodology

Purpose

After doing this assignment, you should be able to:

  • Understand the relationship between research precedents, theories, and variables
  • Craft a well-constructed research plan that describes how you will actually investigate a specific research problem

Technologies

On this module, you are encouraged to use any technologies  available to you, including word processors, web browsers, and online applications (e-mail, chat, blogging, productivity, workflow, etc.). We will cover some of these technologies as we go along, but you can use any that you are proficient with or want to experiment with on this module.

You will definitely need access to the following technologies to complete this module:

  1. A working and recently-updated Internet browser (Google Chrome, Firefox, or Safari are recommended)
  2. A word-processing application (e.g. Word, Pages, Writer, etc.)
  3. A reliable email client (Outlook, Apple’s Mail, or Gmail are recommended)

Situation

You now have what Dr. Grabill would call an “orientation” to your research. You have a research problem, that will probably shift as you proceed, and some knowledge of what literature has come before you. Before proceeding with your actual study, however, you still have some planning work to do, which is the purpose of this module.

Your next task, as I mention below, is thus to craft a complete plan detailing all the activities you will complete as part of your study, a plan that will help you conceptualize how you will actually carry out your study. Hopefully, this plan will also be useful as a way to understand a research methodology in a more concrete way.

Deliverables You Must Produce for this Project

The following must be posted to Blackboard by the following date / time:

The following must be posted to this course website by the following date / time:

  • A copy of your research plan – 10/1/14 by Midnight ET
  • An answer to my research question (see below) on the posts of each of your peers – 10/6/14 by Midnight ET

Audiences

The primary audience for your module is myself, an experienced researcher who will assess your plan for its validity as a series of activities for carrying out a study. Fellow researchers you will conduct this study for are an important audience to consider as well, however.

To Complete This Project (Workflow)

1) 9/18/14 by Midnight Eastern Time >>

Do Homework #2

2) 9/18/14-9/29/14 >>

As I mentioned above, the key to conceptualizing a research methodology is to think of it as a series of activities you will carry out to respond to your research problem.

It’s also important to note, however, that research design is a messy activity, just like any complex form of writing. You may discover, for instance, as you craft your research plan that your research problem needs revision. You may find a method you think will answer a different, but tangentially-related, research problem altogether.

Think of your study as being in a state of flux until you actually start collecting data. This is actually a healthy thing, though it may feel like barely controlled chaos.

To control the chaos a bit more, craft a research plan. At this point, you have a research problem, research questions, and some kind of “methodology,” but methodology is a big term that is often misunderstood, and at this point, yours is by definition under-developed. Basically, a methodology is a theoretical orientation to a research problem + a collection of research methods, or specific ways of capturing and analyzing data.

A full research plan should thus include the following elements (but may include more, depending on the study):

  1. Problem statement: you should have this from Module 1, but as you write your research plan, ask yourself if it requires revision. Is this still what you’re looking at in your study? Note: this version of your problem statement should be no longer than a couple paragraphs, and should preferably be one paragraph. It is now becoming a shorthand for you, and anyone else working with you, for what you are investigating.
  2. Research question: it’s also key to keep this in mind as you craft your full research plan. Again, ask yourself: has this shifted? Is this still the question you are trying to answer through your study?
  3. Theoretical orientation: it’s also important to keep in mind what kind of theory, or overall orientation, you are utilizing in your study. This is not synonymous with methods, like surveys or focus groups. One way to approach theory, is to think about the type of phenomenon you are investigating. Is it writing? Discourse? Gender? Sexuality? Learning style? Pedagogy? Speech? Rhetoric? Design? Technology? Multimodality? A specific kind of group (i.e. IT workers, middle school children, parents, etc. )? A specific kind of community (i.e. hobbyists who meet once a week, contributors to a wiki, gamers in the same guild in World of Warcraft, etc.)? A specific kind of institution (i.e. the family system, higher education, the legal system, etc.)? The list goes on and on. Another approach is to pick a specific theorist who has been useful to you in thinking about your study. Think about the example article we read for homework where the author picked Bakhtin to study discourse in the classroom. This may require you to do some more literature reviewing.
  4. Methods: Methods are the specific means by which you will capture and analyze data. Several of them are mentioned in our textbook (e.g. interviews, participant observation, etc.). This will almost certainly require you to do some more literature reviewing. You need to have a good understanding of how other researchers like you employ the method or methods you plan to use. Trust me when I say: these differ strongly from discipline to discipline, and often from researcher to researcher (though ideally they shouldn’t–we don’t live in an ideal world). So, your explanation of methods should not only include a name for them (e.g. participant observation) but a rationale for how you will use them in your study (e.g. to observe X group of people engaged in Y activity).
  5. Variables: This will be the hardest thing for you to think about at this point, but it’s also important to do so at this stage. Remember, what makes a variable a variable is that it is measurable in some way. So, at this point you probably have a concept you’re interested in investigating, like the learning styles of children with disabilities, to throw one example out there. This concept needs to be broken down further into discrete units that you can measure, however. So, in the current example, a learning style might be thought of as a response to a particular curriculum or method of teaching. We could break it down further and say that this response is often sensory, discursive, and social, meaning that it requires a learner to take in sensory information, to respond to this information through some kind of communication, and to do so in a particular social setting. Now, we’re getting closer to variables. “Kind of communication” is something we can measure, as are these other components. Hint: variables also often come from other researchers. You might want to return to your lit review from Module 1 with fresh eyes to see if you can identify some variables you might want to utilize.
  6. Sampling: You will also need to start thinking about who you will recruit as participants in your study, meaning what group of human beings have the knowledge you need to gather to respond to your research problem through a specific study. You will also need to think about what people you need to recruit for your study. You can look at chapter 12 to help you think about this, but we’ll also cover sampling more thoroughly in the next module. For now, I just want to see some rationale for who your participants will be, meaning what kinds of people (e.g. age, gender, occupation, belief system, etc.) they are. Hint: your variables should lead you to specific participants or vice versa.
  7. Recruitment: Another thing I want you to think about at this point, is recruitment, or the specific means by which you will ask people to participate in your study. The key parts of recruitment are: participation in research is entirely optional, you need to be careful not to be coercive if you are recruiting people who you hold a power relationship over, and you need to think about the specific means by which you will ask people (e.g. public advertisement, email, phone call, asking a group of people in person during a regularly-scheduled event). Another way to think about this is: access. How will you gain access to the participants you need to recruit? This can be relatively simple if you are, say, recruiting people to complete a survey on a public website, and incredibly complex if you want to recruit people who are members of a vulnerable population (e.g. children, prisoners, mentally ill or disabled people, etc.), or want people to reveal intimate details of their lives, details which might be damaging to them if made public. Basically, I want you to start thinking about who you could realistically gain access to by the end of this class.

I also want you to do all this in 2-4 pages. This is a plan, not a thesis or dissertation. Get to the point as quickly as possible. The goal here is to create a guide to get you through this study, not to report on research you haven’t yet conducted, or to come to conclusions you haven’t yet reached.

You may cite sources, if this is useful to your plan, but don’t use lengthy quotes. This also isn’t a literature review or annotated bibliography. You’ve done that. Again: this is a concise plan of what you will do.

3) If you want feedback from me on a draft of your plan, you must get it to me no later than 9/29/10 by 5:00 PM.

4) 10/1/14 by Midnight ET >>

Revise all your documents and hand them in:

5) 10/6/14 by Midnight ET >>

Post an answer to the following research question as a comment on the posts of each person’s webpage on this course website.

Each module, I will ask you a research question, which you must post a response to as a comment on the posts of each of your peers. Your research question for this module is the following:

  • Looking at this author’s research plan: does it make sense how all the activities mentioned are responding to the research problem stated? Are there additional activities they might want to complete? Is tweaking their research problem called for? Are there activities that don’t seem to fit?

Grading Criteria

Can be found here: grading criteria for this module