Self-regulated Learning as a Foundational Principle for a Successful Strategy in Teaching Educational Research Methods to Doctor of Philosophy Students Tonia A. Dousay, Diane Igoche and Robert Maribe Branch Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology University of Georgia 22 July 2010

Teaching Research Methods Abstract A challenge for all disciplines in graduate education is finding successful strategies to actively engage students in becoming proficient in authentic research practices. A contributing factor is the degree of self-regulatedness. This study investigated self-regulated learning principles, how they are used to teach research methods to doctoral students at a Research Extensive university, and specific ways doctoral students became independent researchers.


Teaching Research Methods Introduction There is a gap that exists between a novice scholar’s intent to conduct research and the actual effort of conducting research, regardless of academic discipline. Students describe research methods as "too abstract" or "irrelevant" (Rushing & Winfield, 1999). Research methods refer to the knowledge, skills, and techniques needed to efficiently conduct academic research. While there is extensive literature regarding what should be taught in a research


methods course (Birbili 2002), Deem and Lucas (2006) note that there is less emphasis on doing research than on learning about how to do research. This comes as no surprise as institutions continue to acknowledge that many students find courses in research methods difficult and challenging (Edwards & Thatcher, 2004). Since active learning in the classroom is an effective way to develop skills (Meyers & Jones, 1993), usng such a concept could be an effective means of teaching research methods. The question then becomes how to incorporate active learning effectively teach research methods to graduate students. While the skills and techniques needed to conduct academic research should be explained in theory, students are more effectively transformed into researchers in instances where instructors have engaged students in individual projects that provide hands-on methodological experience and application of statistical concepts (Smith 2002). According to Lundahl (2008), many adages convey the essence of active learning, including the maxim that practice makes perfect. The debate about the teaching objectives of a research methods course revolves around a distinction between providing students with the ability to be critical consumers of research and enabling them to become research practitioners (Burgess & Bulmer, 1981; Rose, 1981; Schutt et al., 1984). Thus, an effective solution to teaching research methods combines knowledge, skills, and practice in an authentic learning experience.

Teaching Research Methods There has been a growing interest in the use of team-based learning in education.


Forman (1994) suggests emphasizing cognitive performance to consider social or group contexts as an environment for the indivdualistic approach. This context allows for learners to become integrated into a community of practice, extending the authentic learning experience into the group environment. Livingstone and Lynch (2000) further promote this view by stating that, "team-based learning can be a method of increasing complexity in the learning experience, which thus strengthens students’ preparedness for the complex environments into which they move after completing their degrees" (p. 326). The intention of a team-based approach for authentic learning environments is to encourage active learning. Actively involving students in learning to become independent researchers through opportunities for self-regulated practice is consistent with student-centered learning environments. Continuing the trend to move towards more student-centered approaches to teaching (Spronken-Smith 2005) and as an alternative to classroom-based training, a professor at a Research Extensive university in the United States of America has spent the past seven years working with a group of doctoral students in a student-centered, active learning research project where the purpose of the project is to focus on the process. The alternative training project is known as Sentence Period Spacing (SPS). Sentence Period Spacing The Sentence Period Spacing (SPS) research team has evolved from an informal research group into an authentic research project that allows novice researchers to experience all the aspects involved in academic research. A group of students working under the supervision of a tenured faculty member identified a set of conversations that had been associated with proper layout as a means for achieving optimal readability (Clinton, Branch, Holschuh & Shewanown,

Teaching Research Methods 2003). Attempting to align accepted practice with the number of spaces between sentences in


printed documents, the team identified two main ways of thinking about sentence-period spacing. Initially, the group of students considered individuals who are accustomed to pressing the space bar of the typewriter twice after entering a period. Next, the team addressed individuals who feel the extra space on the printed page is unnecessary. Additionally, the team began to search out information regarding the readability of text in an onscreen environment. Unable to identify studies of this nature, the group turned to analyzing style guides such as the American Psychological Association (APA). While guidelines did recommend a single space after periods in their 5th Edition, there was no clear reasoning for this decision. The students concluded that APA’s recommendation was based on current software practice of using a default of one space after the period. The SPS Project was launched in an effort to research the topic with due diligence. However, at the conclusion of the first year of study, the SPS team found that they had not completely answered their initial research questions. Over the past seven years, student-lead research teams have continued the original mission and transformed the project into an ongoing authentic learning experience for teaching research methods. A list of recommendations for future research was generated from the conclusions of the first informal study. The team transitioned leadership in the following years to a student at the end of their first year on the team. First-year students were initiated to the project with an overview presentation of the study’s goal, purpose, and objectives. The cycle has continued annually in this manner, encouraging second-year students to guide the study and mentor first year students in understanding the research process. Team members work collaboratively throughout the year on the core task as well as drafting a research proposal, seeking institutional review board (IRB) approval, participant recruitment, data collection, and

Teaching Research Methods data analysis. The faculty advisor further compliments these efforts by encouraging team members to write up the results of the study, submit the manuscript for publication in a peerreviewed academic journal, and seek out a relative industry conference in which to present the research results. Team members are provided with a number of tools, including a guide to constructing an initial draft of a research proposal and a matrix of types of data collection tools (Appendix A) in order to prepare them for project tasks. During the 2009-2010 academic year, the Sentence Period Research team members included an evaluation of the effectiveness of the project as a means for teaching research methods as well as expand the basic mission of the project. The students' decision to undertake


an effectiveness study further illustrates the autonomy of the SPS project. Students set the yearly project agenda under the guidance, but not direct involvement, of their faculty advisor. Team members plan to seek grants to support future research efforts and opening the research to outside institutions in order to expand the project mission. An expanded project mission will add to the responsibilities of the team members as well as encourage collaborative work with other institutions. As this is an expectation of academic faculty, the task fits appropriately into the current framework of intended applications of the project. Cognitive Learning Processes and Sentence Period Spacing Motivation and Metacognition How motivation and metacognition affect learning processes plays a key role in engaging students. Studying motivation often begins with the question of why behavior occurs (Deci & Ryan, 1985; McClelland, 1985; Weiner, 1992). Considering Deci and Ryan’s self-determination theory, reasons for engaging in certain behaviors are driven by needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Liu, Wang, Tan, Koh and Ee (2009) point out, "learners are motivated to satisfy

Teaching Research Methods these needs because they are considered essential for personal growth and well-being" (p. 139).


As beginning scholars, doctoral students are constantly faced with information that stresses upon them the importance to grow academically throughout the course of their studies. This importance may well be a motivation trigger for some team members to complete coursework and conduct academic research. Considering that research has indicated a positive association between metacognitive strategies and motivational constructs (Bartels & Magun-Jackson 2009), SPS capitalizes on cognitive learning processes to engage students in a research project that fosters an authentic research experience with meaningful outcomes. Metacognition refers to the deliberate conscious control of cognitive activity. Student performance can be positively affected by metacognition and self. Zimmerman (2000) notes that educators have long recognized that students' beliefs about their academic capabilities play an essential role in their motivation for scholastic achievement. Furthermore, researchers such as Zimmerman posit that self-efficacy measures offer predictive advantages when a task is familiar and can be specified precisely. Therefore, the SPS project creates a cyclical model where first year students are promoted in the second year of the project. As a result, second year team members generally have an advantage over first year team members. Students’ familiarity with the project and knowledge of expectations lends to a greater chance of success in learning appropriate research methods and the tasks involved therein. Self-Regulated Learning Metacognition is central to the self-regulatory cycle. Students metacognitively monitor their progress against standards and adjust metacognitive thoughts and strategies accordingly (Hadwin, Wozney, & Pontin, 2005). Bembenutty (2009) is quick to point out that metacognitive processes involved in self-regulated learning (SRL) include comparing one’s judgment of

Teaching Research Methods learning to one’s actual performance. The calibration between judgment of learning and judgment of actual performance is an essential feature of self-regulated learning. Sentence Period Spacing team members' participation in the research project provides ample opportunity to work collaboratively with team members and adjust one’s own perception of abilities versus performance. Furthermore, an annual debriefing of the project highlights strengths and weaknesses exhibited throughout the course of the year. First year students are provided a chance to compare relative task difficulty with their ability to learn and complete the tasks.


Looking at the bigger picture of how SPS engages students, researchers must further look at self-regulation and control. Self-regulated learners engage in planning activities by setting goals and effective time management. This includes tactically selecting and using strategies such as elaboration, organization, and rehearsal. As active learners, they also allocate resources, time, and engage in effort regulation to attain goals and acquire knowledge (Bembenutty 2009). The very nature of the SPS project requires team members to set all agendas and timelines for the year. This process creates an active learning environment that fosters SRL, tapping into the team members’ intrinsic motivation to succeed. Self-regulated learning allows learners to plan or set their learning goals, monitor the progress of the goals, and regulate their learning according to the success or failure of their goals. SRL is a self-initiated action involving goal setting and monitoring the process of reaching the set goals (Zimmerman & Risemberg, 1997). The SPS project involves goal setting, team members set goals that must be achieved prior to the end of each semester. Planning, monitoring, and regulating goals are important tenets of SRL; each tenet is accompanied by other components that are important in transitioning from one to the other.

Teaching Research Methods 1. Planning- Goals or learning objectives are mapped out by learners to meet an objective that is centered on individual learning.


2. Monitoring- Once a goal has been planned, steps outlined during the planning stage are implemented and monitored. This phase requires learners to practice time management and manage outside influences to ensure that they will meet their goals. 3. Regulating- End results are assessed to decide on the success of the goals. Students learn how to regulate their learning by adjusting goals to meet objectives (if not met) or begin planning to meet other objectives, sometimes related to previous goals. Goal setting and monitoring of set goals are important characteristics to possess in becoming a successful, independent researcher and learner; as stated above, this is the main mission of the SPS project. The originators of the SPS project believed that introducing students to a student-centered style of learning environment would further aid the students’ abilities to conduct scholarly research. The concept of student centered learning supports a learner’s ability to regulate one’s learning goals with individual approach to their learning goals. Integrating SRL into a student centered learning approach such as the SPS project allows students to become better aware of their learning; Chen (2003) believes that this makes the student a better learner overall. A learner who is prepared to take control of their their experiences is more likely to be successful. Rationale The SPS Project, as an authentic learning experience, exposes doctoral students to the practical aspects of research methodology that is taught in their research methods courses. As previously noted, project members participate in all phases of academic research including, identifying a problem area, drafting a proposal to address the research problem, designing the

Teaching Research Methods


research study and compiling a final report on the findings of the study. Final reports have been presented at academic conferences and submitted as manuscripts for publication. As a result of these presentations, project team members encountered criticism regarding the project and nature of the research being conducted. Due to this feedback, it became apparent that a study to examine the effectiveness of SPS to teach research methods was necessary to support continuation of the project. Creating a stronger appreciation for how research is conducted is one intended outcome of teaching research methods. Lundahl (2008) suggests that active learning is a successful method of teaching research methodology and students view this approach favorably. However, there has not been an exclusive focus on doctoral students' (Deem & Lucas, 2006) perception of active learning methods used for teaching research methods. The purpose of this study is to summarize perceptions, successes, and failures of the efforts of project members who have transitioned from the SPS project to their respective research agenda. Some of the project members are in the final stages of their dissertation study and others have become faculty members actively contributing to global research communities. This study also provides a framework for future researchers and their mentors to possibly adopt similiar authentic learning experiences for their students. Conceptually, this style of teaching research methods promotes effective learning transfer. Theoretically, the project members gain genuine knowledge when involved in an authentic context. Practically, this project-based approach is effective in transferring the knowledge and abilities required to conduct independent research.

Teaching Research Methods Research Questions This study sought to determine if participation in the Sentence Period Spacing project


improved past project members’ ability to conduct independent research at the dissertation level and as faculty members of their respective institutions. The following questions guided the data collection, analysis and summaries: 1. How did participation in SPS impact your perception of conducting research? 2. How did participation in SPS prepare you to conduct research independently as a graduate student? 3. How did participation in SPS prepare you to conduct research as a new faculty member? Research Design Participants: In order to compile data, the researchers solicited the assistance of all past project members who participated on SPS between Fall semester 2002 and Spring semester 2009. Context: Given the geographical disbursment of past project members, the researcher used an online survey tool to distribute the study questions and collect responses. Data Collection Procedures: Upon receiving IRB approval to conduct the study, the researchers contacted past project members via email. This communication included a brief introduction about the study, consent form, and a URL link to the online survey tool. Participants were asked to complete the survey within one week. At the conclusion of the week, the respondents were thanked for their participation and the survey collection was closed. Data Collection Tools: As previously mentioned, an online survey tool will be the primary source of data collection. Refer to Figure 1 for more information.

Teaching Research Methods


Data Analysis Plan: Descriptive statistics were used to report the results of each research question. Cognitive Tools for Research Method Selection Research Questions 1. How did participation in the Sentence Period Spacing project impact your perception of conducting research? 2. Does participation in the Sentence Period Spacing project prepare doctoral students to conduct research independently? 3. Does participation in the Sentence Period Spacing project prepare doctoral students to conduct research independently? Figure 1. Data Collection Tools Data Type Statistical (Descriptive statistics) Collection Tools Survey Analysis Procedures Distribution of data (Descriptive Statistics) Statistical (Descriptive statistics) Survey Distribution of data (Descriptive Statistics) Statistical (Descriptive statistics) Survey Distribution of data (Descriptive Statistics)

Results How did participation in SPS impact your perception of conducting research? Seeking to determine how participation in SPS impacted past team members' perception of conducting research, the respondents were asked to identify how much research experience they had prior to beginning the project. As seen in Figure 2, 62.5% of the responses indicated some prior research experience, or 1-3 years. Only 12.5% of respondents stated that they had more experience, or 3-5 years, and 25% of respondents noted that they had no prior experience. Taking this prior experience into consideration, respondents were asked how their participation in SPS impacted their perception of academic research. For respondents with little or no prior experience, 62.5% indicated that participation improved their perception of academic research.

Teaching Research Methods For respondents with more prior experience, 25% noted that participation improved their perception of academic research. Figure 3 summarizes all of these responses collectively. Not


surprisingly, all of the respondents with prior research experience indicated that their background helped them work on the project.

Figure 2. Participants' years of prior research experience before joining Sentence Period Spacing.

Teaching Research Methods


Figure 3. Particpants' perception of academic research as affected by participation in Sentence Period Spacing.

How did participation in SPS prepare you to conduct research independently as a graduate student? Respondents were asked a series of three questions to gauge how participation on the project prepared team members to conduct research independently as a graduate student. The first question asked about SPS participation in relation to preparing team members for the dissertation process. 100% of respondents noted that their participation in SPS somewhat prepared them for the dissertation process. Specific break down of these responses are shown in Figure 4. The second question addressed SPS participation in relation to building their own personal publication and conference presentation portfolio. While only 12.5% of respondents indicated no relationship at all, 62.5% felt that it somewhat helped, and 12.5% felt that it competely helped. Lastly, respondents were asked to indicate how strongly they agreed or disagreed that working as a team was most helpful in preparing them to conduct research as a

Teaching Research Methods


graduate student. Responses to this question were equally distributed between completely agree (37.5%), somewhat agree (37.5%), and neither agree or disagree (25%).

Figure 4. Participants' perception of project participation effect on preparing them for completing the dissertation.

How did participation in SPS prepare you to conduct research as a new faculty member? The study also sought to identify if participation in SPS prepared past team members who are now faculty members at academic institutions to conduct research as a new faculty member. This demographic made up 50% of the respondent base. While 25% of these respondents indicated that participation in SPS did not prepare them for the hiring process, 75% felt that it somewhat prepared them. Similar to a previous question, respondents were asked to indicate how strongly they agreed or disagreed that working as a team was most helpful in preparing them to conduct research as a new faculty member. Again, responses were equally distributed between completely agree (25%), somewhat agree (25%), neither agree or disagree (25%), and somewhat disagree (25%). Lastly, respondents were asked if they had considered making a

Teaching Research Methods similar avenue available for their own students to prepare them to conduct research. Overwhelmingly, 75% of the respondents indicated that they had considered this possibility. Discussion


Given that not all students complete a master's degree prior to beginning doctoral studies, and those who do may or may not have completed a master's thesis, it was not surprising to find an array of previous research experience ranging from 0 to 5 years. Furthermore, all of the respondents with prior experience noted that this helped their SPS experience. Combine this with the fact that most of the respondents indicated that SPS participation improved their perception of academic research, the researchers extrapolated that the two-year cyclical process had a positive impact on self-efficacy. Examining the impact of project participation on conducting research as a graduate student, it is particularly of interest that all respondents felt that participation somewhat prepared them for the dissertation process. Sachs (2002) noted that "the most daunting task facing senior undergraduate and graduate students is writing a thesis." While the dissertation is specifically reserved for doctoral students, the concept behind the two is the same. Sachs further states: Unlike other degree requirements, such as coursework, where the knowledge content domain to be mastered is well prescribed, as are the assessment criteria, a thesis has no predefined content domain or assessment criteria. Rather, the student selects a topic for independent research and demonstrates his/her degree of topic mastery in the written thesis, which, in essence, is a reflection of the students academic and intellectual maturity. (p. 99) This perspective translates to a strong positive relationship between SPS participation and preparation for the dissertation process. By providing an opportunity well in advance of the

Teaching Research Methods dissertation timeline to learn and conduct academic research, participants are better equiped to complete the process. Having succesfully mastered the individual steps involved, both selfeffifacy and motivation related to academic research is positively impacted. Related to this, doctoral students are well aware of the importance of buliding a personal portfolio of publications and conference presentations. We were not surprised to see that a majority of respondents felt like SPS participation either completely or somewhat guided respondents through buidling their own academic portfolio. The task of concluding each year with a


manuscript and planned presentation provides a scaffold for team members in preparation for the research tasks in their graduate school careers. Consider that the first year student is engaged in observational learning or modeling at the end of their first year. This role transitions into practiced behavior as second year student are able to fully participate in the study and possibly mentor the newer team members. From Schunk's (2001) perspective, this is the very essence of self-regulatory activities, and is perhaps explanation for the team members' perceived success. Some of the most useful responses related to impact came from the respondents who are current faculty members. As previously noted, SPS provides a scaffold for preparing research studies for publication and presentation. This is also true of preparing team members for the academic hiring process. Presenting at conferences, engaging in discussions with peers and faculty, and completing the sometimes long publication process is an expectation of academic faculty. As SPS team members are expected, and encouraged, to engage in the data collection, analysis, publication, and presentation activities as part of the project, it can be inferred that sucessful completion of the project is directly related to conducting the same tasks as an independent researcher or new faculty member. Once again, self-efficacy is called into consideration as team members feel mentally prepared to undertake these tasks and regulate their

Teaching Research Methods


own sucess Perhaps the most significant finding of the study was 75% of respondents indicating that they had considered creating a similar avenue for their current students to use for learning and conducting research. If an overwhelming majority of past team members felt the project had such a profound effect on their own abiliities that they are willing to use the same means of teaching for their own students, then the message is clear. This without a doubt confirms the consensus in the literature that competence in conducting research can only be gained through the actual experience (Burgess & Bulmer, 1981; Rose, 1981). Furthermore, the results reinforce that students appreciate a "learning by doing" approach to research methods (Winn, 1995). Recommendations The study was very informative for the researchers and a wonderful opportunity for selfreflection for the past team members and initiator of the project. Research methods courses are very important in every research-oriented program of study; however students have indicated that they find it difficult to connect the concepts learned in the classroom to their individual research projects (Barraket, 2005). Teaching research methods using SPS or any other studentled project can be successful when it incorporates tenets of SRL and a student-centered learning approach. Implementation of a “learning by doing” research methods course has the potential to become a tedious effort for the course facilitator and an overwhelming endeavor for students that are new to conducting research methods. We suggest using a similar team-based approach used in the SPS project to allow students to work in a group environment with goals that can be successfully achieved with the division of tasks to each team member. Not only does this make the project more manageable, but it also facilitates SRL for each student.

Teaching Research Methods


Lastly, future research studies on student perception of teaching research methods should include interviews as a source of data collection. Interviews will further reveal student perception of teaching research methods and possibly improve approaches to teaching research methods to students with diverse needs and experiences.

Teaching Research Methods References Barraket, J. (2005). Teaching Research Methods Using a Student-centred Approach? Critical


Reflections on Practice’. Journal of University Teaching and Learning in Practice. 2(2), 65-74. Bartels, J. M., & Magun-Jackson, S. (2009). Approach–avoidance motivation and metacognitive self-regulation: The role of need for achievement and fear of failure. Learning & Individual Differences, 19(4), 459-463. Bembenutty, H. (2009). Three essential components of college teaching: Achievement calibration, self-efficacy, and self-regulation. College Student Journal, 43(2), 562-570. Birbili, M. (2002) Teaching educational research methods. In The Higher Education Academy Education Subject Centre. Retrieved from Burgess, R.G. & Bulmer, M. (1981). Research methodology teaching: trends and developments. Sociology, 15, 477-489. Chen, P.P. (2003). Exploring the accuracy and predictability of the self-efficiacy beliefs of seventh-grade mathematics students. Learning and Individual Differences. 14(1), 79-92. Clinton, G, Branch, R. M., Holschuh, D., & Shewanown, S. (2003). Online reading performance time as a function of text layout. Roundtable paper presented at the 2003 AECT Leadership & Technology International Convention, Anaheim, CA. Deci, E.L. & Ryan, R.M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum Press.

Teaching Research Methods Deem, R. & Lucas, L. (2006). Learning about research: Exploring the learning and teaching/research relationship amongst educational practitioners studying in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(1), 1-18. Edwards, D.F. & Thatcher, J. (2004). A student-centered tutor-led approach to teaching research methods. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 28(2), 195-206. Forman, F. (1994). Peer collaboration as situated activity: examples from research on scientic


problem solving. In. H.C. Foote, C.J. Howe, A. Anderson, A.K. Tolmie & D.A. Warden (Eds), Group and interactive learning (3-8). Southampton: Computational Mechanics Publications. Hadwin, A., Wozney, L., & Pontin, O. (2005). Scaffolding the appropriation of self-regulatory activity: A socio-cultural analysis of changes in teacher–student discourse about a graduate research portfolio. Instructional Science, 33(5-6), 413-450. Liu, W. C., Wang, C. J., Tan, O. S., Koh, C., & Ee, J. (2009). A self-determination approach to understanding students' motivation in project work. Learning & Individual Differences, 19(1), 139-145. Livingstone, D. & Lynch, K. (2000). Group project work and student-centred active learning: two different experiences. Studies in Higher Education, 25(3), 325-425. Lundahl, B. (2008). Teaching research methodology through active learning. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 28(1/2), 273-288. McClelland, D.C. (1985). Human motivation. New York: Scott, Foresman. Meyers, C. & Jones, T.B. (1993). Promoting active learning: Strategies for the college classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Rose, D. (1981). Methods for whom? Sociology, 15, 512-519.

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Rushing, B. & Winfield, I. (1999). Learning about sampling and measurement by doing content analysis of personal advertisements. Teaching Sociology, 27(2), 159-166. Sachs, J. (2002). A path model for students' attitude to writing a thesis. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 46(1), 99-108. Schunk, D.H. (2001). Social cognitive theory and self-regulation. In B.J. Zimmerman and D.H. Schunk (Eds.), Self-regulated learning and academic achievement. 119-144. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Schutt, R., Blalock, H.M., & Wagenaar, T.C. (1984). Goals and means for research methods courses. Teaching Sociology, 11, 235-258. Smith, R.A. (2002). Learning science in a junior colleague model. In R.A. Smith (Chair), Introducing students to research: Variations on a theme. Symposium conducted at the 14th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Society, New Orleans, LA. Spronken-Smith, R. (2005). Implementing a problem-based learning approach for teaching research methods in geography. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 29(2), 203221. Weiner, B. (1992). Human motivation: Metaphors, theories, and research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Winn, S. (1995). Learning by doing: Teaching research methods through student participation in a commissioned research project. Studies in Higher Education, 20(2), 203-214. Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Self-efficacy: An essential motive to learn. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 82-91.

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Appendix A: Professional Development Aid for Researchers

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