F6-BR3-1 - A Worksheet Method for Developing Research Questions: An Examination of Three Graduate Student Cohorts

2. Research-to-Practice Full Paper
Vetria Byrd1 , Jorge Dorribo Camba1
1 Purdue University

In this Full Paper, we describe a design activity method for developing research questions and present a study on student’s perception to validate it. New researchers, specifically graduate students, often struggle with developing good research questions. The purpose of this study is three-fold. The first aim is to introduce an activity worksheet approach for developing research questions. The second aim is to assess students’ perception of the usability and effectiveness of the design activity worksheet method. The third aim is to provide educators with insight as to what parts of the process should be scaffolded to meet students’ experience with identifying and transforming topics into sound research questions. In this paper we examine, compare and present results from three different graduate student cohorts who used the worksheet method at different stages of their graduate careers. The main research questions are “At what point is the worksheet method most effective and when should the worksheets be introduced?” A related question is: “How can the worksheet method be expanded to help students better understand the research process?” The method consists of four worksheets designed to help students identify topics, think critically about the underlying questions to explore a topic, identify a problem to be addressed by the research, and identify data sources to facilitate the research effort. A cognitive constructivist framework for teaching and learning is utilized to facilitate key topics of the framework: building blocks of knowledge, adaptation processes that enable the transition from one stage to another and stages of cognitive development. Scaffolding is a key feature of constructivist teaching and as such, the design activity worksheets are used to scaffold the process. Four stages are introduced as part of the scaffolding process: identifying topics, generating questions, developing a problem statement, and identifying data sources. The worksheets were administered to 49 students (first, second, and third semester Master’s degree students) enrolled in a graduate research seminar in a research-intensive university in the Midwest in the United States. Preliminary results showed graduate students found the worksheets effective in helping to develop research questions. This research is significant because it will help to better inform educational practice and pedagogy in research methods. The implications of this work will help students to understand the process of developing research questions, potentially improve the quality of student research, and advance the science in engineering and computing education. The contribution of this work is a methodical approach to assist, in any discipline, in helping students to develop sound research questions.