Group-led student research projects: Promoting motivation for research methods and self-efficacy for the empirical dissertation

Monday 11th February 2019, 12.30pm to 2.00pm

Speakers: Zoe Handley, Lynda Dunlop & Khaled El Ebyary, Department of Education
Location: Room H/G/21, Heslington Hall, Campus West

Workshop Summary

In this interactive session, we will begin by providing an overview of our approach to teaching research methods on our undergraduate programmes in Education and English in Education, including our rationale for the introduction of group-student led research projects in the second year.

We will then invite attendees to share their experiences of teaching research methods in their contexts as well as any concerns they might have about the introduction of group-student led research projects.

We will then report the results of the Department of Education’s evaluation of the introduction of group student led research projects on the second year of our undergraduate programmes in Education. In the reported study, students’ experiences of group student-led research projects were compared with their experiences of a lecture-based approach to research methods teaching, with a focus on the impact on students’ motivation for research methods and their self-efficacy for the third year empirical dissertation. The study is a natural experiment and compares the experiences of two cohorts, one experiencing the lecture-based approach and one experiencing the group student led research projects. Surveys of and focus groups with students were carried out before and after the module, as well as after the third year empirical dissertation.

Lynda and other colleagues who have taught the module will then share their experiences of facilitating the group student-led research projects, before opening up the discussion and inviting attendees to share their experiences of similar approaches to teaching as well as their reflections on our experience.

Workshop Report

by session chair, Nick Ritchie

How can we better engage undergraduate students with research methods? This was the question underpinning a project in the Department of Education, the results of which were presented at the workshop.

Students in the Department of Education described research methods provision based on a standard diet of lectures and seminars as ‘dull’, ‘boring’ and abstracted from the more substantive issues in which they are interested, feedback that is no doubt familiar to other teaching staff that deliver research methods modules.

In response, in 2013-14 Zoe Handley redeveloped the year-long second year 30 credit undergraduate module that was subsequently implemented by Lynda Dunlop and Khaled El Ebyary. The purpose was to change the way students engaged with research methods through an experiential learning process based on group-led student research projects. The objective was to provide students with a firmer foundation for their final year dissertation that has to have an empirical focus and for which they are assessed on methodology and the reliability and validity of their findings.

Zoe conducted an initial review of the literature on alternative approaches to teaching research methods, such as active learning assignments, student-led delivery, collaborative research methods tutorials, and student participation in commissioned research projects.

The reworked module was then organised around lectures and seminars featuring mini-projects in the Autumn term to introduce students to specific research methods. The Spring term featured lectures featuring research talks from staff and PhD students and seminars based around student-led group research projects. The Summer term focussed on summative assessment of group presentations on their research projects, a second summative assessment of a 2,500-word research proposal, plus seminars based on reading groups.

Students were sorted into groups and randomly allocated a project. Research methods were generally restricted to interviews and questionnaires. Students had to write a formative reflective blog on the use of methods in their project.

The purpose here was to give students the opportunity to experience the research process in an authentic and meaningful way and prepare them for their final year independent study module. The major challenges were the management of the groups and group conflict and supporting students’ development of robust research proposals.

Zoe and Khaled presented a comparative analysis the two cohorts: the last cohort the experienced the old model of research methods teaching from 2012-15 and the first cohort to experience the new format from 2013-16. They investigated the effect of group research projects on students’ motivation for research methods and on students’ dissertation self-efficacy through questionnaires, focus groups, module results, and module feedback.

On the whole, the results were positive, though the two cohorts were relatively small (34 and 39 for the 2012-15 and 2013-16 groups respectively). Results indicate that the group projects Increased intrinsic motivation for and personal relevance of research methods, with personal relevance sustained through to the end of the programme; increased self-efficacy for the research process, with the exception of data analysis, where more work is needed. The study also concluded that students who engage in student-led research projects are more motivated than students who did not at the end of the programme but that they appear less confident than students who did not at the end of the programme, in particular with respect to data analysis and interpretation. This last part was interesting, and it was suggested that students engaging in the research projects become more aware of the challenges of analysing and interpreting data.

The workshop discussion centred on two points of interest. First, the modalities of the group work in terms of project allocation, how students are allocated to groups (including in ways that are sensitive to students with student support plans in place), and the marking and moderation process. Second, reflective from workshop participants on how their students engage with research methods, which revealed disparities across disciplines on the degree of student exposure to research methods and teaching practice on research methods.

How we teach research methods and equip our students to conduct independent research in their final year projects is an ongoing challenge, but Zoe, Lynda and Khaled’s work demonstrates the value of project- and group-based experiential learning.

Further Reading

  • Gibbs, G. (1995). Learning in teams: A tutor guide. Oxford: The Oxford Centre for Staff Development.
  • Pfeffer, C.A. & Rogalin, C.L. (2012). Three strategies for teaching research methods: a case study. Teaching Sociology, 40(4), 368‐376.
  • Robertson, J. & Kingsley, B. (2013). “For a boring subject, you made it really quite interesting!” Teaching research methods to encourage the transition from ‘reluctant scientist’ to psychologist. HEA Social Sciences Annual Conference, Liverpool 2013.
  • Winn, S. (1995). Learning by doing: teaching research methods through student participation in a commissioned research project. Studies in higher education, 20(2), 203‐214.

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