How an Expansion of Research Methods Curriculum is leading to a Diversification of Doctoral Student Produced Research at Concordia University Chicago

Jan 6th, 2011 | Category: Research in Education
By Amanda Maddocks

Abstract

This paper describes the modifications made to the research methods coursework sequence in doctoral programs at Concordia University Chicago and how those changes are resulting in a more diverse selection of research methods used in doctoral dissertation work. The expansion of research methods courses offered to students has allowed the university to better tailor the curriculum to the needs of individual students to meet their learning objectives and desired research outcomes. A description of the curriculum and data related to the typologies used by students conducting research are included.

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of a new research methods curriculum on the learning and research of doctoral students at Concordia University Chicago (CUC). Doctoral programs were first offered at CUC ten years ago. Since that time the number of research methods courses has grown from three to seven. These four new courses were developed in 2008. In 2008 the number of doctoral programs also grew from two programs with three areas of specialization to a current selection of ten different specializations.

During the first eight years of doctoral programming at the university a small pool of candidates completed their dissertation work. It was noted that during this time the variety of methods used by students in their dissertation work was limited.

During the past two years, CUC has seen an incredible jump in the number of students enrolled in its doctoral programs. There has also already been an increase in the diversity of methods used and proposed for dissertation work. This study was undertaken to determine how these methods align to the new curriculum and to determine if the increasing diversity of methods is a result of more than just a jump in enrollment.

Researcher Perspective

This study was conducted by the director of doctoral programs and lead faculty member in the area of research methods at CUC. Three faculty members were responsible for the revision of the research methods curriculum and a primary pool of seven instructors taught courses in this area. This research serves the purpose of informing decision making and curriculum improvements. It also serves a program evaluation function.

Methods

Dissertations completed by graduates of the university’s doctoral programs were examined to determine the research method/design used in each study. A total of eleven dissertations were included in this sample.

Data was then gathered from dissertation prospectuses and fully developed proposals to determine the research methods/designs currently in use and proposed for use during the next academic year. A total of nine prospectuses and proposals were included in the sample. More data is expected in this area as additional students move into the dissertation phase of their programs. Syllabi from the three original research methods courses and the four new research courses were also examined. This examination was done to determine what methods/designs students were exposed to through formal class instruction before and after the curriculum revisions that took place in 2008.

Data

Data for this study included all dissertations published by graduates of CUC over the past ten years, all dissertation prospectuses from students who have not yet completed their dissertation work, and the syllabi from seven doctoral level research methods courses.

Results

The original research methods curriculum developed for doctoral programs at CUC included a three course sequence: Qualitative Analysis, Quantitative Analysis and finally Research Design. The Qualitative Analysis course introduces students to several approaches to qualitative research and then focuses on one selected by the instructor. In most cases this approach was Grounded Theory. Quantitative Analysis includes an introduction to basic statistics from descriptive to inferential techniques. Advanced techniques like hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) and meta-analysis are covered as special topics but are not included in the main curriculum for this course. The final course in the original sequence is Research Design. This course gives an overview of educational research methods and focuses on the creation of the dissertation prospectus as a product of the course.

Data for the first ten years of graduates indicated that a limited number of research designs were utilized in dissertation research. Two of the ten students that graduated between 2006 and 2009 used fully qualitative designs. Only one of the two specified an approach within the field of qualitative research stating that she was making use of “personal narratives” to employ narrative research.

Three of the ten graduates used what they called “quasi-experimental designs” in each case to compare academic achievement between existing groups. Two students did “survey research.” These five students made use of some statistical techniques but limited their analyses to t-tests and ANOVAs.

One student conducted an action research study and another utilized a design that combined both qualitative and quantitative techniques but was not considered mixed methods. Only one student conducted a study employing a methodology not directly covered in the original research methods curriculum. This student conducted an instrument validation study using concurrent-criterion related validity.

In 2008 the research methods curriculum was revised. This revision involved the creation of four new courses and a re-sequencing of classes for two different program foci. One was identified as a practitioner focus and one a researcher focus. See Table 1.

Table 1

New Research Methods Sequence

Research Methods Curriculum Table 1

The four new courses expose students to instrument development techniques, qualitative analysis software applications, advanced statistical procedures including factor analysis, meta-analysis and HLM and the emerging field of mixed methods research.

Since the implementation of this new curriculum, one student has completed a dissertation. This study involved a sequential mixed methods design (quant à qual à qual). The student used a quantitative survey to inform the development of the interview and observation protocols which then informed the data collection during the final focus group phase.

Of the nine students that have not yet completed their research but who are in the dissertation phase of their programs, four are conducting qualitative studies. Only one student further specifies the design to be one using naturalistic inquiry.

Of the five remaining students, three are conducting quantitative studies and two mixed methods. The three quantitative studies will use techniques including ANOVAs, item analysis, multiple regression and modeling, specifically classification trees.

Based on the small sample of studies used in this analysis, it is noted that there has been an increase in the number of mixed methods studies. It is also noted that higher level statistics are being used by some students. Of concern is the continued over generalization of qualitative methods in the students’ descriptions of their research designs.

It is encouraging that students are using more advanced statistical techniques and that more mixed methods studies are planned. Only a small number of students have enrolled in the Advanced Statistics course and those that have are pursuing more sophisticated analyses. As a required course in all Ph.D. programs at the university, the Mixed Methods curriculum should lead to an increasing number of studies making use of multiple methodologies.

Significance and Future Research

The revisions to the research methods curriculum at CUC have resulted in some changes to the types of designs used by students during their dissertation research. A wider variety of quantitative techniques are being employed. And more formal mixed methods studies are being done. This diversification reflects the additions to the curriculum.

Of interest for future research is the difference that may exist between the research designs selected by students in the practitioner and research tracks. The research track is a new offering at CUC and thus far there is not enough data to make these comparisons. As the programs grow it will be interesting to see if the addition of advanced courses and the requirement of additional coursework (five courses as opposed to three) will result in research track students pursuing a wider variety and perhaps more specialized selection of methods/designs.

This study has illuminated the need for the research methods faculty to assess how qualitative design courses are taught and how approaches and design types within this field are presented to students. The revised curriculum has added additional content from the qualitative field, but it has not resulted in more specific or sophisticated research designs by students selecting qualitative methods for their dissertations.

Author Information

Amanda Maddocks, PhD is an Associate Professor of Research, Department of Foundations, Social Policy and Research, Concordia University Chicago. She can be contacted at amanda.maddocks@cuchicago.edu.