Manual for doing an educational research

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Planning a research study. Explanation, as an ability to give a good theoretical background of the problem, foresee what can happen later and introduce a way of solution. Identifying a significant research problem. Conducting a pilot and the main study.

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Manual for doing an educational research

Introduction

The idea of doing a research in education is to improve or find new ways of teaching, learning and administration in this sphere. There are different approaches for doing it, but it is possible to identify four main types of required knowledge: description, prediction, improvement and explanation. Good and detailed description is very important for further researchers who will be interesting in using your data; studies made on prediction can be oriented for the future outcome or for avoiding mistakes; improvement approach helps to find a new way of usual methods of teaching or work organization. Explanation type requires more effort in comparison to others. Explanation means the ability to give a good theoretical background of the problem, foresee what can happen later and introduce a way of solution.

It is better always to remember that it is impossible to make such research which will be applicable to all the situations. That is why there will be limitations. Doing a study on education, a researcher will choose participants, for example, teachers' performance in Central Finland and then study background and peculiarities, summarizing in a sample. But even within this region there will be cases which are unique, a kind of exception of the sample. Making a study the research will find reasons and connect them to results which can be in this region or in a whole country, but for other countries this research will not be so much useful as there are other reasons and outcomes. That is why a researcher must be very careful in choosing a title and make limits for himself.

Generally there are two main kinds of conducting a research: qualitative and quantitative. Both of these approaches combine many methods of data collection. Qualitative research is seen as a detailed study of the situation in general, or in a particular city or school, it will be a case study then, while quantitative research in conducted in the same situations but more as a confirmation to the issue. For example a student wants to study teachers' self-evaluation system in Finland. In order to do in qualitative way, he needs to interview talk to people and he will never know to which conclusion he will come in the end; if he decides to choose only one or two teachers and he will need to study their cases more detailed, and it will be a case study then; and for the quantitative research a students will need to use statistical or other numerical data.

Planning a research study

The process of doing a research consists of five parts or stages.

1. Identifying a significant research problem. It is recommended to spend some time for searching for a problem one would like to study. It is very rare that the idea of the research just comes by itself; usually a lot of reading is done before. It can happen that while doing a reading about the problem one wants to study, later he or she will find out that it has already been studied or that it is not very important. The process of identifying can take a lot of time, several months; that is why it is better to start it from the very beginning. While searching for a problem and doing dome readings a research should always keep in mind that the topic of the study must have value, be urgent for now and of great interest for others, otherwise there is no sense of it. And at the same time the topic must be interesting for a researcher as well. A researcher should also think about these kinds of questions: What is already known about the topic? What are advantages and disadvantages of previous studies? What is still unknown? And what will be my impact on it? At this stage there can be an option either to make a theory-based research or the one which will extend previous studies. The theory based research is usually conducted as a confirmation of a hypothesis and gives explanation to already known fact. While the idea of doing a study of extending previous research is to analyze, summarize or go into details, the validity of which can differs according to the time.

2. Writing a research proposal. It is recommended to write it before a student starts the research because it will help to plan it and make limits of the research. Writing a research proposal helps students to formulate their thoughts on the paper, can be used as a guide and needs to be approved by an advisor before collecting a data. Research proposal is a very important document and consists of the following parts: introduction, literature review, data design, methods and analysis, human subject protection and the time line. Introduction is the first or an opening part of a study and is multifunctional: it explains the problem and some reasons for this, what is the connection between the problem and the nowadays literature, what are the hypothesis, research questions and design. There are two possible types of hypothesis. First is a directional one and here a research will show the connection between two facts (for example, the usage of painting in chemistry and physics improves students' knowledge), the second one is null hypothesis, when a researcher states that there is no connection between two factors (for example, the idea of using painting at chemistry and physics classes does not improve students' outcome). But if a research is not testing the prediction (that is hypothesis), he can have some research questions or purposes. It is better to explain to a reader why and how a researcher decided to be interested exactly in these moments. There is no strict difference between questions or purposes; it is just a matter of personal preference. Literature review section is a big one. This part requires a lot of readings, some of which the research has probably done while identifying a problem. In the literature review section one should include findings related to the topic, summarize reading of articles and other publications in order to show how studied the topic is and what are the extremes or different opinions about it. Literature review is an important part of the thesis or dissertation and usually after it almost half of the study is done. Research design and methods are also important parts. In the design section a student needs to say what kind of research it is going to be, explain this decision and how he or she is going to make it within limits of this particular research study. The methods section must be more detailed. Here the research has to choose the ways for data collecting and explain why he or she prefers these methods than other and also prove that these methods are needed and how they will be implemented. Data analysis part must be well thought-out in the beginning of the research. It will give a research feel of time and the problem of lack of time will be avoided. In the data analysis part the researcher has to show the connection between hypothesis and research questions with the chosen research methods and results, and it is recommended to summarize them in different parts so that a reader can easily see them. It is ethical always to keep in mind that the idea of any research is for the human's well-being and sometimes the advisor or grading committee can ask for some papers proving that nobody was hurt or participants' rights were taken into consideration. Time line is a kind of monthly or weekly plan of making research. This plan will make a student to think about possible difficulties in advance and do some preparations beforehand. As soon as a student has this line, than it will need just to be followed. The students should also think about participants when and how it is better to contact them for collecting data in few months.

3. Conducting a pilot study. This process is related to the data collection part, when it is better to check data collection instrument before doing it in reality. Pilot study is a way to test your data collection methods on few outside participants. This procedure will help to see disadvantages of the plan and make some corrections if needed.

4. Conducting the main study. This is practical part of the research: data collection and analyzing.

5. Preparing a report. This stage does not take place in all the situations, but if it does, it means to give a presentation on the conference or write an article to the journal about the topic. In any case it will be a good point for employee's CV or resume.

Statistics in the research

Statistics are numerical data got through mathematic calculations which can be used for different purposes. There is common misunderstanding that statistics can be used only in quantitative research studies. But there several ways how these data can be implemented in qualitative studies as well. For example, Collins used some calculations to measure reading abilities of first graders some of them considered to be in high-ability reading group, while other in a low one. Calculation was used to count time duration, percentage, amount of sentences and etc. But the whole study in general was made in a qualitative way and the mathematic measurement was one of the methods.

It is worth remembering that there are several types of scores in the statistics.

Continuous scores

Continuous scores can be found in intelligence or IQ tests. In reality these tests are not never-ending, and have limits. But theoretically there must be a possibility for the results to be continuous.

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