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H809 – What makes a good research question?

March 6, 2011

Project A

I finally made up my mind that I am going for Project A, thus designing a practice-based research study relating to educational technology. Criticising the work of others might seems at a first glance the easier task instead of designing a practice-based research study from scratch, but my critique on Rochelle’s research methods stood in stark contrast to my study colleagues, thus I should indeed better go for Project A.

Research question

With this question solved the next arise ‘What makes a good research question?‘ What makes a research question worth to be researched?

I pondered quite a long time about that issue. Is it because nobody asked the question before, or the research question is not sufficiently answered so far, or is it because the question asked meets ‘scientific standards’. I learned that a scientific hypothesis starts with an observation that leads to a provisional hypothesis and a prediction from that hypothesis is made. I also assume that the research question should be not to general, but also not too specific, because the first cannot cover the issue in-depth and the latter might yield not enough information to answer the research question.

Well, I am doing H809 a practice-based research course – so why not researching what makes a good research question! And I found a suitable source from the State University of New York, the Empire State College (ESC), which describes pretty detailed how to develop a Research Question and they even offer exercises to practice.  I found this source really helpful and used it to develop my own research question.

The page covers the following topics:

  • Choose a Topic/Issue
  • Choose a Question neither too broad nor too narrow
  • Can the Topic be researched?
  • Evaluate your own Research Question
  • Ask your tutor to review your Research Question

Topic/Issue

The page advises us to stick with just one  topic for each research paper which is understandable and they describe an issue as a concept which you can take a stand. Have a look at the examples they provide, that makes the whole issue more understandable.

The topic that I plan to choose is blogs, educational blogs or weblogs and their use in learning and teaching. My study blog made such a great impact on my personal learning since I started in the middle of last year (not sure if my personal impression and experience can be included in the TMA as well) and I would like to explore if my positive experience is comparable with other students/teachers experience.

I have now two problems. First, I am not sure if I would like to research the use of blogs in teacher education and how that could impact on better teaching methods or if I want to research the use of blogs in learning. I want to start a blogging project with my students, which I already planned in H800 for the ECA, but could not apply so far, due to lack of access to a computer lab in my school, but also because I lacked the time to move from the planning stage into execution. But now I have access to a computer lab for the rest of this school year, thus no excuse any more now I have to put my planning into action. Thus I could include some first hand experience, although I am again not sure if personal experience is wished in the assessment?

Second, I am not sure how best to phrase the question. I know I’ll have to be specific and not to general, because otherwise research is from no real use for practitioner or policy makers as Conole and Twining pointed out in the interview with James Aczel (podcast week 4). I work in a vocational school, and the majority of my students attend so to say 10 grade, therefore I thought K-12 level would be the equivalent. However, my experience with my previous courses shows me that most research seems to be done in HE.

Let’s have a look back at the page from the New York State College.

They provide the following advice. After choosing the topic ‘list all of the questions that you’d like answered yourself. Choose the best question, one that is neither too broad nor too narrow. Sometimes the number of sources you find will help you discover whether your research question is too broad, too narrow, or okay?’

Here my list of questions.

  • do blogs facilitate a deeper learning approach, a greater reflection
  • do blogs facilitate greater community building, collaboration
  • does blogging improve grades
  • How are blogs used in learning and teaching
  • which disciplines (professions) make great use of blogs?
  • are blogs used in health and care / medicine – (the subject I am teaching)
  • which school levels make use of blogs (K-12, HE, Tertiary education)
  • Is blogging used more in formal or informal settings
  • How do students/learners experience blogging, what blogging behaviour do they display (Kerawella and Minocha, 2008)
  • What is the experience of teachers/practitioners
  • How can blogs be best graded
  • etc.

Now I am spoilt for choice, which issue do I want to research 😕

Here are some of my considerations and attempts to develop a good research question.

  • Does the use of an educational blog (weblog) facilitates a deeper learning approach and greater community building in K-12 students?

I am not sure if I should reduce it down to students in the subject health and care (respectively medicine)  and if deeper learning approach  needs further explanation or if I should better substitute it with … facilitates greater reflection … but that might narrow it down to much?!

  • What is the impact of blogging on teaching and learning in K-12?

But I almost assume that this would be too general.

Here another consideration that would research the use of blogging in teacher education.

  • What is the impact of blogging on teaching and learning when used/introduced in teacher education?

Can the topic be researched?

There is a lot of research literature out their that covers the topic, I just have to narrow it down to an appropriate issue. Regarding research literature I ponder whether it would be best to present a kind of ‘blogging timeline’ to give an overview if the same question/issue is still asked, if things changed, etc? When I started a brief research I came up with pretty new articles, but they are not often cited by others, which is natural considering that some of them are published this year, but they have the advantage to look back to the references they used to back up their case.

Evaluate your own Research Question

The ESC provides a list of 8 questions to evaluate the research question including eg.

  • What type of information do I need to answer the research question?
  • Is the scope of this information reasonable
  • Given the type and scope of the information that I need, is my question too broad, too narrow, or okay?
  • What sources will have the type of information that I need to answer the research question (journals, books, Internet resources, government documents, people)?
  • Can I access these sources?
  • Given my answers to the above questions, do I have a good quality research question that I actually will be able to answer by doing research?

Ask your tutor to review your Research Question

I like that advise most 😉 and I already followed it and hope to hear from my tutor soon.


Well, I will know check my research literature and evaluate my research question(s). It is a quite challenge to put things on the right track for the EMA already with the first TMA. What if I am barking up the wrong tree, bet on the wrong horse?


Reference

Empire State College, State University of New York (undated) Developing a research question [online]. Available from:http://www.esc.edu/ESConline/Across_ESC/WritersComplex.nsf/3cc42a422514347a8525671d0049f395/f87fd7182f0ff21c852569c2005a47b7?OpenDocument (accessed 6 March 2011).

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