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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM

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2.3 Choosing your data collection research methods

There are a variety of research methods for collecting data. These include interviews, observations, reflective diaries, conversations, workshops, surveys and focus groups. Further, statistics within the discipline or sector, and documents such as institutional student success priorities or the institution’s learning and teaching plan will be data sources or help guide data collection. Some other data sources are: secondary data (that is being used in the project for a purpose other than that for which it was initially intended) such as module results or information related to student performance and, finally, learning analytics. You may know several other methods and data sources from your own experiences.

You could choose one or more methods and data sources that will be appropriate for your inquiry and what you need to know for the research question(s).

When planning for data collection research methods, think about what type of data (evidence) would best address the research question(s), who and how many research participants are likely to be involved, over what time period and under what conditions.

For example, when considering case study research, questions of design will address the choice of the specific methods of data collection; for example, if observation, what to observe and how to record it? For how long? If you decide to use interviews, what type? How many? With whom? How long should they be? How will you record them? Where will they be conducted?

You may like to consider the following factors for choice of research methods:

  • relevant for what you need to find out
  • what kinds of data would best answer your research question(s)? In this context, data refers to ‘anything you find “out there” relevant to answering your research question’ (Booth et al., 2008, p. 32).
    • for your question(s), what types of data or artifacts do you already have (and from what sources) that will help you to answer the question(s)?
    • for your question(s), what other types of data or artifacts will you need (and from what sources) to answer the question(s)?
  • based on the information you require to answer the research question(s), which data collection and data analysis research methods might you use to obtain this information and answer your question(s)?
  • justify the use of a mixed methods approach if you consider it
  • previous expertise with research methods; are there any disciplinary conventions?
  • manageable in terms of their application in the context in which you are going to conduct your research and the time you have available
    • timeframe of your inquiry
    • funds to recruit researcher(s) to help with conducting the inquiry, support for transcriptions of any audio/video sessions, and how might you obtain the funding
    • availability of a researcher to help with data collection and data analysis
    • availability of research participants and how easy/difficult is to recruit them
    • number of participants
    • remote versus in-person data collection
    • you/team’s relevant skills and expertise
    • your/team’s ability to process the data with the resources and time that are available
  • availability of equipment such as audio/video recording equipment
  • availability of software (and licenses) such as for transcription or for data analysis (for example, NVivo [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and SPSS)
  • ethical considerations for your inquiry and any delays or challenges in getting ethical approvals within the timeframe of your inquiry
  • take into account what you learned from the literature review. Specifically, you should remind yourself of the theoretical and conceptual aspects of your discipline and area of investigation and assess whether they have any bearing on the methods you are thinking of using for your research. You should also remind yourself whether there were any pointers to methods you could employ (or might want to avoid) from other research that you read about as part of your literature review
  • any practical problems that you might face in doing this inquiry such as availability of time in your workload plan, and support from your department and line manager.

Case study: Mixed methods research design

In a project funded by eSTEeM, Centre for STEM pedagogy at The Open University, Christothea Herodotou used a mixed methods research design approach in her cross-institutional SoTL project. She combined surveys and interviews, and used learning analytics to explore students’ and educators' perceptions of the Virtual Microscope in blended and online-only learning settings. The project details are on this webpage: Understanding and improving students’ learning experience and engagement with practical science on-line: The case of virtual and remote microscopes.

Once you have chosen your research methods for data collection and developed a strategy for recruiting research participants, you will need to develop a research data management plan. You will consider this in the next section.