Undergraduate Research Methods Teaching – Conceptions of Research

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Most people when they hear about a course on research methods consider it boring. This feeling is not without merit, I have attended and probably given several research method classes that were probably quite boring and students could not wait till the class was over. However, I enjoy teaching research methods and discovering about new and different research methods which could be used in higher education research.

In the early 2010s, when I began teaching undergraduate research methods within the social sciences, I became interested in how to make research methods more relevant for our students. I was trying to see how much I can tap into their intrinsic motivations. As there was limited research on the pedagogy of research methods particularly at the undergraduate level, my colleague (Dr. Namrata Rao) and I, began a small-scale project looking at what students thought was research. We felt if we knew what they thought research was, we could figure out how to tap into their motivations for learning research methods.

Using students mainly in a widening participation programme, we asked them at the beginning of the second year (before any teaching of research methods), what they thought was research. We had answers from 53 students and categorised their responses into research being about (and have listed it from least sophisticated to most sophisticated definition):

  1. Seeking and finding information
  2. Gathering information from valid and reliable sources
  3. Evaluation
  4. Collecting and analysing data
  5. Becoming more educated or knowledgeable
  6. Answering questions
  7. Proving/ disproving a theory
  8. Discovery/ investigation

These are not completely surprising results as other studies had found similar conceptions for postgraduate students and even supervisors (see Brew, 2001; Kawulich et al, 2009; Meyer et al, 2005).

One of the issues we quickly noted was that most students thought research was about seeking and gathering information (the first two on the list).  Whilst indeed research requires seeking and finding information, it appears that students’ conceptions of research were being informed by their academic skills classes, in which they were taught that research was about researching a topic.

This, therefore, is a challenge for most research methods teachers, because they needed to move their students’ conceptions of research from researching a topic, towards questioning and discovery and recognising that research was a way of thinking. We had already suspected these students’ conceptions, but it was good to confirm it.

If you want to read more about this work, you can find our paper on my ResearchGate profile:

Hosein, A., & Rao, N. (2012). Students’ conception of research and its relationship to employability. In C. Prachalias (Ed.), The 8th International Conference in Education (ICE) (pp. 359-365). Samos, Greece: Research and Training Institute of East Aegean.

The way we intended to solve this was to include, a piloting of research methods and a reflection exercise, which I will probably talk about in the future but you can read more about it, in our paper:

Hosein, A., & Rao, N. (2017). Students’ reflective essays as insights into student-centred pedagogies within the undergraduate research methods curriculum. Teaching in Higher Education, 22(1), 109-125. doi:10.1080/13562517.2016.1221804 (first 50 downloads free)

References:

Brew, A. (2001), “Conceptions of research: a phenomenographic study”, Studies in Higher Education, 26(3), pp. 271-285

Hosein, A., & Rao, N. (2012). Students’ conception of research and its relationship to employability. In C. Prachalias (Ed.), The 8th International Conference in Education (ICE) (pp. 359-365). Samos, Greece: Research and Training Institute of East Aegean.

Hosein, A., & Rao, N. (2017). Students’ reflective essays as insights into student-centred pedagogies within the undergraduate research methods curriculum. Teaching in Higher Education, 22(1), 109-125. doi:10.1080/13562517.2016.1221804 (first 50 downloads free)

Kawulich, B., Garner, M. W. J. and Wagner, C. (2009), “Students’ conceptions and misconceptions of social research”, Qualitative Sociology Review, 5(3), pp. 5-25

Meyer, J. H. F., Shananan, M. P. and Laugksch, R. C. (2005), “Students’ conceptions of research. I: a qualitative and quantitative analysis”, Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, 49(3), pp. 225-244

 

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