I am on a quest to find valid, rigorous and sophisticated research methods to explore the impact of using technology in learning. Many research studies in education lean towards case studies and qualitative methods. I think we need something more robust with informative constructs in order to examine any shift in learning when using technology, such as with blended learning formats. I want to examine cognitive changes versus personal experiences with participants. As Dr. Martha Cleveland-Innes of Athabasca University recently suggested at this year’s CSSHE conference in Montreal, we need more research that focuses on causation, not explanation.
My blog will become my learning diary as I unfold some stones and consider different methods.
A couple of years ago I reviewed and wrote about a book on researching technology education, edited by Middleton (2008 ). One particular research method that struck me was by Lars Bjorklund. He used a repertory grid technique to chart and analyze the “elicit underlying, often tacit criteria that professional teachers use when they assess creative work” (p.46). Using polarized criteria or design elements, such as ugly and beautiful, he uncovered through interviews essential criteria for design work as seen by experts. I would think something of this accord could be used to examine the thinking of students and then compare this to their thinking and constructive building of knowledge after using technology.
In a recent ALT-J issue, Nie et al. shared their experience with a research study on the role of podcasting in a graduate program. They were interested in how uploaded podcasts would benefit campus-based students. Their method was similar to design-based research, though they called it action research. After collecting data through surveys, student blog entries and discussion board postings, curriculum meetings, pre- and post-interviews, and eventual analysis, changes were made to curriculum and the use of podcasts. This research was spread over 3 terms of the course that used podcasts giving it the rigor of a longitudinal study.
Terry Anderson of Athabasca University also supports design-based research, a method advocated by Thomas Reeves of the University of Georgia. Design-based research is quite pragmatic focusing on real world problems and directly impacting the researched phenomenon. It blends learning and design principles with innovative learning environments to improve learning. In short, it relies on theory and a variety of research methods to improve a way students learn with and are supported by technology.