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VI. Conducting Scholarly Research

Mar 23, 2018 by Caroline Eisner

In the previous blog entry, you learned about developing your research question and the importance of reviewing the literature on your topic. As you were reading SoTL articles, you may have begun imagining conducting your own research. As your project begins to take shape, there are several things to bear in mind before you start. First, give some thought to the generalizability and replicability of your research. Then before you actually conduct your research, you need to seek approval from your Institutional Review Board, usually referred to as the IRB.

Clarify the Student Population and the Setting

Generalizability is important for researchers who may want to extend your findings to a different population or a different subject area than the one you studied. Generalizability implies that what you found to be true through your research in your classroom, other researchers should also find true in their classrooms. To ensure that your results will generalize to other settings, think carefully about the characteristics of your students and your setting. Will all students respond the same way to the procedures you are using in your research? What is unique about your students or your setting that might limit the generalizability of your results? Are you working with veterans returning from war, adults in professional programs, students for whom English is a second language? As you think about the aims of your SoTL research, clarify the nature of the students you are working with and the settings to which your results may generalize.

Create a Research Plan to Follow

Your SoTL research methods for data collection and analysis need to be replicable. Replicability refers to the detailed outline of the procedures you undertake and how you perform your research. Replicability means that if others want to conduct the same project in their courses, they should be able to follow the plan you have described exactly as you intended, and thus, they should achieve the same results. Before you begin your SoTL project, write down each step you will take to execute the project and analyze the results. Later, as you carry out your research, modify or elaborate each step to ensure for accuracy.

Check In With the IRB

If you are conducting a study that involves your students, meaning “research on human subjects,” you need to check in with your college or university’s IRB. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services provides the federal definition of research. You will see this definition cited on most university IRB websites:

“Research is a systematic investigation, including research development, testing, and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge. Activities that meet this definition constitute research for purposes of this policy, whether or not they are conducted or supported under a program which is considered research for other purposes.”

None of this is unusual or should deter you from conducting your SoTL research. The IRB gets involved whenever there are human subjects, which in this case means any time you involve students. One of the most important elements to IRB approval is providing evidence that you will not place any students at advantage or disadvantage over other students who may or may not be part of your research. For example, if you are conducting research on how well your students learn the material, you should not ask half the students in one class to take a multiple-choice final exam and the other half to write a paper for their final exam.

While the information I have laid out in this blog entry may at first seem to complicate what you thought SoTL research entails, most campus IRBs and Centers for Teacher and Learning will be happy to help you conduct your research ethically and appropriately.

In the final two entries in this blog series, you wll learn about the steps of disseminating and sharing your SoTL project.

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