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As a fourth year doctoral candidate, in addition to having completed comprehensive examinations and prospectus and working on the dissertation, my thoughts are also turning towards the job market and securing that first academic position. This purpose of this blog is to chronicle the trials and tribulations of completing my Ph.D. and finding that first job.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Methodology Question

Now that I have submitted my comprehensive exams, here is my Methodology question.

You are interested in investigating the efficacy of virtual schools in providing learning opportunities to rural secondary school students, particularly how aspects related to the design and delivery of web-based courses affect student performance in such virtual high schools. You now have to determine the research methodology that would be most appropriate for your dissertation research study. There are five sub-tasks for this question:

1. List your research questions.

2. Identify the overall goal (or goals if you have more than one) of your research in relationship to one or more of the six research goals listed on the following pages.

3. Describe three possible research methods and the associated data collection techniques that could be used in your proposed study.

4. Identify the one method that you think would be most appropriate for your study. Describe your rationale for this choice of method especially with respect to the importance of your study in terms of advancing knowledge in our field and/or the benefits for the public we serve as members of a public university. Also, address the feasibility of your method of choice.

5. Describe your method of choice in detail including the following aspects in your response if they are relevant to the specific method you describe:

  • design
  • sample
  • instrumentation
  • data collection techniques
  • data analysis strategies
  • methodological assumptions
  • limitations
  • logistics
  • timeline

Theoretical Goals - Researchers with theoretical goals are focused on explaining phenomena through the logical analysis and synthesis of theories, principles, and the results of other forms of research such as empirical studies. This type of research is relatively rare because it requires levels of synthesis, generalization, and theory construction beyond the abilities of most researchers. In addition, this type of research follows a long-term agenda that is sustained for many years. A classic example of research with theoretical goals within the field of educational technology is the seminal work of Gagné (1997) to describe the basic conditions of learning and a theory of instruction.

Empirical Goals - Researchers with empirical goals are focused on determining how education works by testing conclusions related to theories of teaching, learning, performance, assessment, social interaction, instructional design, and so forth. Educational technology researchers with this type of goal usually employ experimental (or quasi-experimental) methods to determine the effects of some form or aspect of a technological innovation under controlled conditions. This type of research has dominated educational technology for decades, but reviews reveal that it is often done poorly (Reeves, 1993). Its popularity stems from the fact that until recently, it was the only goal graduate students and young researchers were encouraged to pursue. In addition, empirical studies using quasi-experimental methods take less time and logistical support than other approaches, and many research journals remain more receptive to reports of empirical studies than other forms of research. Although such studies are often flawed, there are examples of competent research such as the investigation of cooperative learning and learning control conducted by Hooper, Temiyakarn, and Williams (1993).

Interpretivist Goals - Researchers with interpretivist goals are focused on portraying how education works by describing and interpreting phenomena related to teaching, learning, performance, assessment, social interaction, innovation, and so forth. Educational technologists with interpretivist goals draw upon naturalistic research traditions borrowed from other sciences such as anthropology and sociology. The popularity of conducting research from an interpretivist perspective has increased dramatically among educational researchers over the past 20 years, although this trend has not been as evident among educational technologists until recently. A pioneering example of interpretivist research within educational technology is Neuman’s (1991) naturalistic observations of learning disabled children using commercial courseware.

Postmodern Goals - Researchers with postmodern goals are focused on examining the assumptions underlying contemporary educational programs and practices with the ultimate goal of revealing hidden agendas and empowering disenfranchised minorities. Although increasingly evident among academic researchers with multicultural, gender, or political interests, research in the postmodern tradition is rare within the field of educational technology. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that there are relatively few educational technologists capable of mentoring graduate students or young researchers in this approach. Another is the difficulty postmodern researchers have in finding scholarly outlets for their papers. De Vaney’s (1998) analysis of the field of educational technology in relation to race, gender, and power is an important example of research with this goal.

Development Goals - Researchers with development goals are focused on the dual objectives of the developing creative approaches to solving human teaching, learning, and performance problems while at the same time constructing a body of design principles that can guide future development efforts. Development research which is also referred to as design research or formative experiments has recently received endorsements from several leaders in the field of educational technology (van den Akker, 1999). This research is the kind that Stokes (1997) would put in upper right quadrant of his model along with Pasteur (see Figure 1). A well-known example of development research is work of the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992) in developing innovative solutions to mathematics and reading problems while at the same time building theoretical models such as “anchored instruction.”

Action Goals - Researchers with action goals are focused on a particular program, product, or method, usually in an applied setting, for the purpose of describing it, improving it, or estimating its effectiveness and worth. Sometimes called action research or evaluation research, research with action goals is similar to development research except that there is little or no effort to construct theory, models, or principles to guide future design initiatives. The major goal is solving a particular problem in a specific place within a relatively short timeframe. Some theorists maintain that this type of inquiry is not research at all, but merely a form of evaluation. However, despite its primary focus on considerations of use for local practitioners, it can be regarded as a legitimate form of research provided reports of it are shared with wider audiences who may themselves choose to draw inferences from these reports in a manner similar to interpretivist papers. One example of this research is an evaluation of a project-based undergraduate engineering course conducted by Reeves and Laffey (1999).


Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992). The Jasper experiment: An exploration of issues in learning and instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 40(1), 65-80.

De Vaney, A. (1998). Can and need educational technology become a postmodern enterprise? Theory into Practice, 37(1), 72-80.

Gagné, R. M. (1997). The conditions of learning and theory of instruction. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Hooper, S., Temiyakarn, C., & Williams, M. D. (1993). The effects of cooperative learning and learning control on high- and average-ability students. Educational Technology Research and Development, 41(2), 5-18.

Neuman, D. (1991). Learning disabled students’ interactions with commercial courseware: A naturalistic study. Educational Technology Research and Development, 39(1), 31-49.

Reeves, T. C. (1993). Pseudoscience in computer-based instruction: The case of learner control research. Journal of Computer-Based Instruction, 20(2), 39-46.

Reeves, T. C., & Laffey, J. M. (1999). Design, assessment, and evaluation of a problem-based learning environment in undergraduate engineering. Higher Education Research and Development Journal, 18(2), 219-232.

Stokes, D. E. (1997). Pasteur’s quadrant: Basic science and technological innovation. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

van den Akker, J. (1999). Principles and methods of development research. In J. van den Akker, N. Nieveen, R. M. Branch, K. L. Gustafson, & T. Plomp, (Eds.), Design methodology and developmental research in education and training (pp. 1-14). The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

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