Monthly Archives: August 2014

School Research Ethics Form Template Free for Adaptation & Use

A few weeks ago I blogged on the topic of research ethics in the context of school based research by teachers. I outlined a few bullet points on some considerations to bear in mind before embarking on a research project in a school, especially where minors who represent a vulnerable category of research participant are involved. I emphasised the need to gain informed consent and approval of parents, as well as the participants themselves, before research begins. Adding to this, I’ve put together a basic template below that can be adapted for your own use in school to communicate research ideas internally between staff, and to keep SLT informed for safeguarding issues and monitoring. I’ve adapted this from a similar form we use for MSc students involved in research projects at The University of Manchester.

I think the essential point to have in mind is that everything should be transparent, above board and well thought through in advance. I don’t think this should be seen as a tool for top down control by SLT of staff engaging in research, but it should be seen as a communication tool to enhance potential research activities going on within the school and to protect and safeguard the students being taught within it.

Feel free to use and adapt this template for your own use.

PRE-PROJECT RESEARCH ETHICS FORM
For Approval by the School Research Ethics Committee/Representative
To be completed and approved by SLT prior to seeking parental consent to embark on research
Copy to be kept on file by SLT and the member of staff proposing the research

Section 1: Basic Details
A) Name of school:
B) Name of teacher / member of staff submitting form:
C) Working title of proposed research project:
D) Name of research advisor / supervision contact:
E) For research advisor / supervision contact only: please initial and date here if you have seen and approved the project idea:

Section 2: Research Background
Use this space to answer the following questions (approx 150 words):
A) What do you intend to research on and why is this research important?
B) What are some of the key issues arising from prior reading of other published research you have already read on this topic? (Provide references of source material)
[Answer these questions by stating briefly the research problem and why investigating the problem is necessary. You should also state the possible benefits of your research, including who you think might benefit from this work]

Section 3: Research Methodology
Use this space to answer the following questions (approx 200 words):
A) What key research questions are you going to ask? (1-3 are recommended)
B) What information do you need to collect or use in your research?
C) How are you going to collect this information? Eg experiments, questionnaire surveys, interviews, case studies, participant observations, documents and information from official sources etc.
D) Why is collecting information in this way suitable for your research questions?
[You are not expected to provide a full explanation of the research method at this stage. You only need to briefly describe how you are going to collect information for your research, and explain why this approach is most suitable at this stage. Cite references where necessary]

Section 4: Ethical Risks
Use this space to answer the following questions (approx 200 words):
A) When collecting information for your research, will you be involving people? For example, will you be running experiments with or on people? Will you be asking people questions? Will you be collecting or using confidential information about people?
B) If you intend to involve people, what types of people would these be? How many people will you involve? Why do you need to involve these people?
[Answer these questions briefly. The purpose of this section is to ascertain the level of ethical risks of your research project, and establish whether there is a need to seek further approval in a more in depth way from the research ethics committee/representative. Think carefully about whether your data collection and analysis have the potential for causing harm to people, including revealing confidential information. If you are only engaging in a literature review project, just state that you will not involve any people in your research.

Section 5: Ethical Considerations
A) Use this space to answer the following considerations (approx 200 words):
B) How will you recruit people to willing participate in your research? (I.e. Voluntary participation and informed consent of students and parents and anyone else proposed?)
C) How will you protect the interests of the people in your research?
D) How will you store and protect information collected in your research?
E) Are there any risks to your own safety, and how will you minimise and manage these?

SLT signature and date of receipt of document:
Research approved by SLT?: Y/N
Comments/feedback by SLT:

Once this form has been approved and any comments and feedback acted upon, it should be ok to proceed to obtaining informed consent of voluntary research participants and their parents (if minors).

Image source: http://cheer.edu.vn/en/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/img_front-page.jpg

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3 Inspirational People: Inspire Students & Teach Grit & Growth Mindset

How do you inspire students? I suppose there are many ways to skin that particular cat, but one nice way is to give them a few examples of inspiring people from history and then have them go away and research someone from the past or present who they think was inspiring and to get them to articulate through some form of presentation why they thought they were inspiring. It’s also a sneaky way of teaching a few underpinning qualities and attitudes of ‘grit’ and growth mindset at the same time in my opinion.

The three inspiring people I chose were: George Washington, Joan of Arc, and Gandhi (my bullet point notes below). The outline I stuck to was a brief intro on each giving the dates they lived, a few things we know about them, why they are inspirational, and some personal qualities they demonstrated. I’m always surprised by how little many of my students know of these characters, but sometimes I’m also blown away by the odd one or two who are experts!

I like this activity because you can also link it to persuasive writing. Once students have chosen and researched a little about their inspirational person, they can set about trying to convince others and even enter into a debate about why their chosen character is more inspirational than another.

This can be turned into poster tasks, PPT presentations, written essay tasks, letter writing tasks, cartoons and storyboards, and of course more imaginative stuff using amazing apps like Explain Everything, etc.

Anyway, here’s my notes below about the three inspirational people I would choose. What about you? Who are your inspiring role models and why?

1- George Washington
Born 1732 – Died 1799

What do you know about George Washington?

•1st president of the United States
•His first set of false teeth were made from cow’s teeth – his second pair were made of hippopotamus ivory due to bad tooth disease
•He joined the navy at the age of 14
•He was the only one of the “Founding Fathers” to free his slaves
•Marijuana was the primary crop grown by him at Mount Vernon

Why inspirational?

•Once, during battle, a cannonball almost hit him and his men. Everyone hid, except George, who kept on fighting.
•He led the Continental Army to victory over the Kingdom of Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783)
•YouTube video on George Washington: http://www.history.com/topics/george-washington/videos#george-washington

Why else was he inspirational?

•Some quotes of things he said:
•“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter”
•“Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company”
•“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence”

Some of his personal qualities:

•Courage
•Energy
•High principles
•Steadfastness
•Impartial justice
•Totally trustworthy
•Calm in the face of danger
•Dauntless in adversity

2 – Joan of Arc
Born 1412 – Died 1431

What do you know about Joan of Arc?

•Lived in the 1400s
•When she was only 16 or 17 she convinced Charles VII of France to give her a small army to go and liberate Riem from the English
•She then led the army to win several more battles and helped give Charles VII the confidence to be crowned King of France
•She was captured by the English and burnt at the stake age 19 for heresy

Why was she inspirational?

•She had no experience
•She was only 16 or 17 and spoke confidently to the would-be king
•At the same age she led an army successfully to battle
•She inspired the king to take the throne
•She died a martyr’s death for her doing what she did, because she was a woman

Some of her personal qualities?

•Personal strength
•Self-belief
•Confidence
•Faith
•Courage
•Leadership

3 – Gandhi
Born 1869 – Died 1948

What do you know about Gandhi?

•Came from an Indian family of Hindus
•Was a lawyer in South Africa
•He led India to independence in the 1940s
•He was a civil rights activist
•Peaceful freedom fighter
•Known for “non-violent civil disobedience”

Why was he inspirational?

•Famously led Indians in challenging British salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930
•Stood up for what he believed in: imprisoned for many years, many times, in South Africa and India.
•Gandhi attempted to practice non-violence and truth in all situations, and advocated that others do the same.
•Not materialistic: He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community & wore traditional Indian dhoti & shawl, woven with yarn hand spun on a charkha.
•He ate simple vegetarian food, also undertook long fasts for self-purification & social protest.

Joan of Arc:

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The Mock Turtle’s Song: A Bit Like Twitter Edu Chats?

“The Mock Turtle’s Song”, also known as the “Lobster Quadrille”, is a song and dance that the Mock Turtle recites in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It reminds me of some Twitter Edu chats: great fun, but you have to keep up or your tweets get lost under stampeding eager lobsters and turtles. And then there’s always the lurkers, thanking the whiting kindly, but perhaps not joining the dance just yet. Anyway… Here’s the song… Will you, won’t you, be joining the educhat dances on Twitter this new academic year? 😎

“Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail,

“There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail.
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle – will you come and join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?
“You can really have no notion how delightful it will be

When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!”
But the snail replied “Too far, too far!” and gave a look askance —
Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.

Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.
“What matters it how far we go?” his scaly friend replied.

“There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.
The further off from England the nearer is to France —
Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

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image source: http://static.giantbomb.com/uploads/scale_small/0/5239/261536-mockturtle_small.png

Contemporary educational ideas all my staff should know about

My reading list for the new academic year sorted!

teacherhead

 

Key ideas from different sources. Key ideas from different sources.

As I look ahead to starting my new job at Highbury Grove,  I’m thinking about all the conversations we are going to have about learning.  To a large degree I want my teachers to be as up-to-date as possible within their own subject domains. They should know the latest OfSTED position ( eg with Moving English Forward or Mathematics: made to measure ) and be up to speed with exam specifications and assessment requirements.  Subject knowledge and subject-specific pedagogical knowledge are going to be key drivers of everything we do.

However, in order to fuel the collaborative effort of reaching the ambitious goals we have for the school, we’ll need to establish a shared conceptual language for talking about teaching across the school as well as within departments. Inevitably, different teachers will have engaged to different degrees with certain ideas depending on the books…

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18 Hemingway Quotes for Writers

I like Hemingway. He was a good writer to aspire to emulate: a writer of good, clean prose.

I was just clearing out an email inbox I don’t use anymore and found this list sent to me by the Writers’ Digest. It made me smile and I got the urge to share it:

1. I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

2. If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.

3. For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.

4.That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best – make it all up – but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.

5. Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up.

6. My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.

7. When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.

8. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over.

9. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

10. There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.

11. To F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”

12. Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.

13. All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.

14. A serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.

15. It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.

16. To an aspiring writer: “You shouldn’t write if you can’t write.”

17. After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love, and I was sure this was a very good story although I would not know truly how good until I read it over the next day.

18. My training was never to drink after dinner nor before I wrote nor while I was writing.

What’s your favourite Hemingway quote? Share it in the comments!

Research Ethics & Subject Agreement

Just a quick note on research ethics:

– ask research subjects prior to engaging them in research whether they wish to be involved
– explain exactly what it is you are researching and what is required from them
– don’t seek to manipulate a research subject into participating in research without them knowing
– if anyone does this to you: you may well be within your rights to consider legal action – perhaps explore this and present the idea to them.
– think about whether, as a researcher, you are telling the truth, presenting the truth, distorting the facts as they are, or hiding any evidence
– if you engage children in research then ask their parents first or at least run it by them that you are conducting research that their vulnerable minors are involved in
– if you are SLT in a school, make sure you know what research your staff are up to and safeguard students and other members of the school community accordingly
– before staff in your school conduct any research they should at least complete some kind of pro-forma that outlines the research question, research methods, aims and objectives in brief, and states how and if any human subjects will be involved in the research. This should be signed off by a senior member of the school team to maintain awareness of what is going on and to ensure transparency for record keeping and monitoring. This would also help provide a stagegate for safeguarding of research subjects who may be vulnerable minors, and/or any others, to check if permission has been sought by research subjects or their parents and to keep records as to whether approval has been given.

I doubt sincerely whether any school or teacher would like legal action to be taken against them at a later date for carrying out unethical research.

I also doubt whether any ethical and responsible adult teacher / researcher would knowingly seek to carry out or endorse any unethical research.

There’s more to research ethics. What else can you think of to add to the list?

Research thoughts of the day: What makes bad research?

What makes bad research? I’ve read some dogmatic and untrained views and opinions being expressed strongly on Twitter and so just wanted to share a more balanced view from an academic standpoint.

The following are some reasons why a masters level research dissertation may get fewer marks, or none at all. I think this is a good starting point for a discussion.

A piece of work would be awarded a zero if it was copied or plagiarised and showed no intellectual input from the student.

If there was obvious low input of effort and superficial write-up conveying little of the context or value of the research the work would get a mark but still fail. It would be judged inadequate.

If the research was obviously deficient in effort and/or arguments and discussions were poorly resourced, if there was an uncritical use of literature, if there was little sign of analytical techniques used or depth, if there was no clear programme of work and insufficiently clear objectives… The work would still fail… But you’d be allowed to re-submit at the discretion of the exam board perhaps – depending on the institution you are studying with and their own regulations and policies.

If your research is pedestrian or lacking in imagination and critical insight, or you failed to achieve your objectives fully, or your programme of work was not particularly ambitious or innovative… You might just scrape through with a pass. But that’s it. Thanks for turning up.

If you did well overall but had some unfulfilled potential… You might get a merit.

But if you don’t have an identifiable professional research approach, if you don’t fully complete your task, if you don’t achieve your stated objectives and include a good philosophical review of shortcomings, if you don’t demonstrate clear critical appreciation of your subject area, study methods and findings… You won’t be on for a distinction, and your work isn’t considered anywhere near potentially publishable as a journal paper.

The pinnacle of success for a good piece of research would be if it met the above criteria and was deemed potentially publishable as a journal paper, only with editing and minor revision needed.

Is that all? Any more thoughts?

If this is the case, why are so many teachers up in arms when papers get published about theories and ideas that are later reviewed, critiqued and “debunked”? Isn’t all part of the learning and exploring and the bigger journey of research contributing to knowledge? The fact that someone out there has explored and presented an idea is part of that journey and has added to the debate. The fact that someone else has then come along and experimented with it and critiqued it and maybe even trashed it is part of that journey too. It’s all valid research.

Research >>> Surveys: Premises, definitions and choices

Think of the word ‘research’. What does it mean to you? Many people jump straight to the idea of finding something out, perhaps a bit like personal learning. Going a step further others might think of people doing market research, perhaps by means of a clipboard and questionnaire in the street or on the telephone. Those questionnaires are what many will understand to be part of a kind of survey. Surveys are a very popular and basic form of research, but for various reasons people tend to think if a survey as a very structured affair, which it actually needn’t be at all. I’m just blogging here about the different forms a survey can take and my own choices in order to open your research eyes a bit and maybe encourage you to think out of the box with your own research in and around teaching in order to give you some options.

One premise on which the concept of surveys is based is that, ‘if we wish to know what people think about certain things, we must ask them’ (Bennet, 1983). This postulates the use of surveys as a research method and tool. However, the word survey can also describe a research strategy, i.e. an ‘overall approach to doing social research’ (Robson, 2002). Robson outlines the central features of typical surveys, the idea of which most researchers are familiar with, as: the use of a fixed, quantitative design; the collection of a small amount of data in standardised form from a relatively large number of individuals; or, the selection of representative samples of individuals from known populations. Robson cites Bryman’s (1989) definition of surveys, which goes some way to clarifying Robson’s own position: “Survey research entails the collection of data on a number of units and usually at a single juncture in time, with a view to collecting systematically a body of quantifiable data in respect of a number of variables which are then examined to discern patterns of association” (Bryman 1989:104).

But the research I did for my PhD was not quantitative in nature, and it did follow a survey like approach. How? The way in which my research was inspired by a survey approach is meant in only a loose way to indicate that a number of research participants (13 in total) were found from which to collect data by interview and then work-focussed diaries over the course of a year. Before I started, it was helpful to me to consider the literature on surveys to get an overall command of the approach.

Use of Surveys and Associated Methods

Surveys can be used to collect information and observations at a single juncture in time, as stated above, but also over time; to conduct analysis of and describe current practices and events by polling surveys or by analytical surveys; or to collect factual and attitudinal data (Bennet, 1983). While much secular use of surveys is instrumental, undertaken in the interests of marketing or sales, a large amount is in the context of academic research with the aim of seeking to find out something about what is going on today (Robson, 2002), as was the case in my own research. Most surveys are carried out for descriptive purposes as part of a non-experimental fixed design, with the aim of obtaining information about the distribution of a range of ‘people characteristics’, and of relationships between them (Robson, 2002). When accompanied by the sophisticated analysis of the detailed pattern of correlations, surveys can be used to explore causal relationships (Robson, 2002).

Robson notes, however, that surveys are not well suited to carrying out general exploratory work, because he says, it is likely to be an inefficient and ineffective procedure, taking a great deal of time to analyse. He does add though that a wide range of open-ended questions may be used to explore an area, which may be a good way to find out what questions need to be asked in future stages of the research. While Robson’s comments were acknowledged, my research, *was* undertaken in a qualitative and exploratory fashion, with an element of descriptive content.

Survey Research Methods

An array of survey types and methods used in surveys are mentioned in the literature. How researchers conduct surveys can include any or all of: street or door-to-door interviews, face to face interviews, self-administered postal (mail), email or web questionnaires, telephone surveys, observational surveys, or the use of diaries in surveys (Robson, 2002). Surveys are more often undertaken by means of a questionnaire. Diaries as used in survey type research can even be thought of as a self administered questionnaire repeated at a certain frequency over a set period of time, and the diary method is cited in the survey context as a form of questionnaire/self observation log (Bennet, 1983) – I’m going to talk more about the use of diaries in another blog post on as they were a central feature of my research.

Zikmund (1988) offers a word of advice in reference to the use of self-administered questionnaires, however, and suggests that if time is a factor in the interest in research results or if attitudes are rapidly changing (e.g. toward a political event), then mail surveys may not be the best communication medium. This advice is somewhat outdated now though if the concept of mail is replaced with web or email, and can be seen as an effective method of cheap and speedy communication with willing participants. As Bennet (1983) suggests, survey techniques can be developed in a bespoke way that fits with the objectives of the research in question (Bennet, 1983).

Who is being surveyed depends again on the objectives of the research at hand and the sample population and size required, for example if undertaking quantitative research. While individuals are usually approached in surveys, an individual may be representative of an organisation, team or particular group (Robson, 2002). Alternatively, the whole population of an organisation, group or team could be surveyed (Robson, 2002). In the case of my own PhD research, the ‘population’ ‘surveyed’ were actually thought of as research participants and were self-selecting based on their interest and willingness to take part in the study, as well as fitting the criteria described in my thesis.

Weighing up the strengths, weaknesses, and threats afforded by survey methods and techniques was useful to me as this provided a framework to explain the reasons I made certain choices in my research, and allowed me to outline some of the pertinent limitations of the data collection methods used.

Strengths, Weaknesses and Threat Analysis

The literature provides many descriptions of the strengths (advantages), weaknesses (disadvantages), and threats of the survey approach and associated methods.

Strengths

The idea of the survey that inspired my qualitative research is where it compared favourably with other methods in terms of factors such as: cost, speed (Bennet, 1983) (Robson, 2002), access to information (Bennet, 1983) (Robson, 2002), simplicity of implementation, audience data accessibility, data transparency or accountability, and ease of access to attitudes, values, beliefs and motives (Robson, 2002), easy access to remote and distant geographical areas and busy individuals or other types of normally inaccessible workers (Zikmund, 1988).

Self-administered surveys also facilitate completion at the convenience of the individual (Zikmund, 1988). These factors were taken into consideration in the context of my research and influenced the decision to use diaries as a data collection tool, which were then sent and retrieved on a regular basis via email. This was especially useful where my research participants were based overseas.

With specific reference to interview surveys, face-to-face interviews between the researcher and interviewee were judged to provide an opportunity to: build rapport, clarify questions, encourage participation and involvement, utilise open-ended questions, in addition to maintaining control of the quality of the recorded response (Robson, 2002). These factors were considered when deciding to engage in interviews with the research participants of my study prior to their embarking on the main diary study. As a means by which to initiate the building of rapport between researcher and research participant, the pre-diary interviews undertaken were a success. This was then maintained to greater or lesser degrees through email contact in interaction with participants throughout the study.

Having established which type(s) of survey methods will be used it is still necessary to consider the benefits of different types of questions before proceeding to the design and construction of the survey. Open-ended responses provide a good warm up (Zikmund, 1988), can be used when all of the possible answer categories are not known, allow the respondent to respond adequately, can be used when there are too many potential answers to list on the questionnaire, are preferable for complex issues that are difficult to condense into smaller categories, and enable a greater degree of respondent creativity (Blank, 1984). This type of creativity can in turn facilitate a spontaneous response, a conversational style, and potentially lead to effective communication (Zikmund, 1988). Answers to closed-ended questions on the other hand are standard, relatively complete, and a minimum of irrelevant responses are received, they can be compared from person to person, and are easier to code and analyse (Blank, 1984). From the perspective of the respondent, they often understand the meaning of closed-ended questions and therefore they are easier to answer, in addition to the fact that providing sensitive information such as income, education and age may also be easier (Blank, 1984). Fixed-alternative questions require less interviewer skill, are quicker, and easier to answer, while responses facilitate answer comparability, coding, tabulating and interpretation (Zikmund, 1988).

These factors were considered in terms of the interview style I deployed in pre-diary interviews.

Weaknesses

In spite of all their advantages and strengths, surveys do have numerous disadvantages and weakness. Firstly, securing involvement is difficult and response rates are often low (Bennet, 1983; Robson, 2002). Other problems include lack of knowledge regarding the motivation of the participant to take part in the survey, which could be down to politeness, social desirability or even boredom, all of which could place doubt on the validity of responses in terms of honesty and as to whether they provide an accurate reflection of beliefs or behaviour (Robson, 2002). In addition to motivation, survey response data are influenced by individual memory, experience and personality (Robson, 2002).

Robson (2002) highlights some key weaknesses of face-to-face interviews. He relates that they reduce participant anonymity and may decrease openness. Their cost is also deemed to be high, especially in reference to completion time required, interviewer time, and travel time and cost. The sample distribution cannot usually be wide, and the motivation, personality, skills and experience of the interviewer can all affect the data adversely, in addition to the interviewer unwittingly or otherwise creating bias by influencing responses. The dynamics of the relationship between interviewer and interviewee can also be affected due to differences in characteristics such as class or ethnic background (Robson, 2002).

The bottom line for surveys though is wording, and, as Zikmund acknowledges, ‘A research survey is only as good as the questions it asks’ (Zikmund, 1988). And, as Robson points out, while the reliability and validity of the survey depends largely on the technical proficiency of the researcher, bad questions negate the value of the whole exercise (Robson, 2002). Question ambiguities and misinterpretations may go undetected with no opportunities to ask the interviewer questions or for the interviewer to probe for additional information or clarification (Robson, 2002; Zikmund, 1988).

Open-ended questions increase the researcher workload in terms of coding, editing, and analysing the data – the uniqueness of each respondent’s answer means there is some difficulty in categorising and summarising the answers, while interviewer bias may influence the responses (Zikmund, 1988). This style of questioning also leads to the collection of much irrelevant information, and low standardisation of data that makes comparison and coding challenging and subjective (Blank, 1984). In order to answer an open-ended question, better writing and intellectual skills and a reasonable educational level is needed (Blank, 1984).

These factors were all relevant to the research I did and therefore imply limitations on the interviews and diary study carried out. These issues were therefore revisited in the discussion chapter of my thesis.

Threats

Some threats arising from the use of surveys can be prepared for and sometimes avoided by advance actions, or at least made sense and use of retrospectively. Because ‘a research survey is only as good as the questions it asks’ (Zikmund, 1988) questionnaire design becomes crucial and Zikmund suggests that some problems may be minimised or avoided altogether if a skilled researcher composes the questions. He adds that if questions or instructions are difficult to comprehend, respondents must use their own interpretations, which may be wrong (Zikmund, 1988). Other threats associated with the use of surveys may be beyond the control of the researcher. These could include the respondent refusing to answer personal or other types of question, or giving false answers (Zikmund, 1988; Bennet, 1983). While securing involvement has to be accepted as a likely hazard of the strategy per se, other problems hampering this and the researcher timetable could include a range of other factors such as: bad weather, school holidays, industrial disputes, flu or other epidemics, and computer breakdowns (Robson, 2002).

The other threat associated with most surveys is the external validity problem concerning the lack of relation between attitude and behaviour, which is reflected in what people write they do in contrast with what they actually do (Robson, 2002). Blank (1984) lists other threats, which include the respondent: answering the way he thinks he should answer, whether it is an honest reply or not (caused by social desirability or sensitive questions); being afraid that his responses will reveal a lack of education or that he will appear stupid; saying that his time is too valuable to waste on the study, that the study is not applicable to him; saying he cannot answer because the questions are too general and vague or because he has never thought about the topic (Blank, 1984). Again, these factors were all relevant to my own research and therefore imply limitations on the study carried out, and these issues were therefore revisited in the discussion chapter of my thesis.

When you do any of your own research you should record your choices, your reasons for them, and any limitations and implications this had on the outcomes of your research. Your choices will no doubt reflect your main research question. It depends on what you want to find out as to how you go about trying to find your answer. A survey approach and method may or may not be the right one for you.

Have fun! 😎

Presenting your Research: How does it look?

So you’ve done you research, written it up, got some great findings, conclusions, recommendations and ideas for further research! Congratulations! Just a few last pointers on how to polish the presentation of your research up so that it looks really tip top. The aim is of course to make it easily communicable but also really professional looking so that it is accessible as well as a pleasure to read. Images, tables and graphs, when used well, can add real value to your work and should be used if and when possible to help simplify and refine your key messages and findings.

Here is a checklist for presentation of research reports to give you some reminders:

• Is the structure and layout of your research report clear?
• Does it follow a logical sequence, so as to deliver a meaningful narrative, readily comprehensible?
• Have you checked the language you have used in your report?
• Is it fully comprehensible?
• Are there any errors of grammar, syntax, punctuation, which may lead to ambiguity or lack of clarity?
• Have you used a range of tables, graphs, diagrams and illustrations to support and give further insight into the issues and points being made?
• Have you clearly labelled and numbered tables, graphs, diagrams and illustrations?
• How you acknowledged the source of all tables, graphs, diagrams and illustrations (even if you have created them)?
• Have you made reference to all tables, graphs, diagrams and illustrations in the text of your report?
• If you have used appendices for subsidiary information, have you made reference to them within the text?
• Have you ensured you have engaged in copious referencing both to clearly indicate the source(s) of information and to add authority to the narrative or arguments?
• Have you referenced in the correct format?
• Have you made sure that your list of references is complete and set out using the correct conventions?
• Have you made sure your presentation is consistently excellent, and enhances the clarity of the content?
• Does your presentation provide evidence of care and attention to detail throughout your report?

So now it looks fab, where will you present it? 🙂

Research: Wrapping up… Thoughts about conclusions…

So you’ve done your research… You’ve written up earlier stages, including your introduction, research methods and possibly a seemingly never ending literature review. What next? Well you’ve got to present your findings, discuss them, revisit earlier questions, aims and objectives, assess what you’ve done, suggest conclusions, propose recommendations for practice and further research. Not much then. And you thought you’d done. Hahahaha.

What goes in your conclusion chapter then?

I’d suggest thinking about the following:

• a justification of the relationship between conclusions and aims and objectives
• a critical reflection on the extent to which the latter have been met
• reasons why they may not have been met
• a critical assessment of the responses to the research questions and/or the testing of hypotheses
• a clear description of how the latter explicitly relate to the limitations of the methodology, data and analysis
• a clear explanation of how the validity of the findings and the conclusions are clearly related to the scope of the research done
• an honest discussion on issues of wider applicability and transferability of the findings
• a discussion to integrate synthesis of the various issues that arise from the literature and the research undertaken (someone suggested the other day that I should use a simpler word than synthesis as teachers may not understand it… I said I think teachers can cope with that word – what do you think?)
• clear evidence that the conclusions are grounded within the material discussed and introduced earlier in the report
• a clear articulation and demonstration of interrelationships between data, literature and commentary
• a clear statement of recommendations with justification
• a discussion of implications of recommendations
• suggestions for further work with reasons, indicating both their justification and methodological basis
• an honest acknowledgement of limitations with discussion of implications for the validity and potential transferability of findings

Done all that? Great! Now you can think about dissemination and publishing your work maybe… 🙂