Research Methods Class Assignments

The class I’ve enjoyed working for the most as a teaching assistant is my department’s research methods class.  By the end of the class the students have picked a research question to answer, found out what work has already been done on it and modified their question accordingly to make it “new,” written up a basic literature review, chosen research methods to answer their question, designed their research tools (survey, interview questions, etc), pre-tested and modified their research tools, and speculated on where the research might take them if they were to actually pursue the rest of it.

It’s a difficult task but some of the students get really excited about their projects, and learn a lot about scholarship in the process.  The “Big Assignments” listed below were designed by the professor leading the class, Gabby Sandoval, and appear here with my edits.  Some of the “lab assignments” listed below I adapted from the research design class I took with Katherine Masyn when I was a Master’s student at UC Davis.  The important thing is to help the students break down what can be an overwhelming project into manageable weekly tasks, especially during the first half of the class as they are getting started with their projects.

The lab plan below was designed around a teaching workload that involved students going to lecture twice a week with the professor, and then attending a 2 hour lab once a week with me.  I was responsible for two labs of twenty students each.  Students each sat at their own computer, enabling me to combine lectures, group-work, and time for students to work on their projects individually while I moved around the room to consult with them individually.  During individual work time, I made an effort to check in with each student instead of only those that sought my help, which helped nip problems with their projects in the bud.

Week 1 – No Lab

Week 2 Lab

Students bring to class: Lab Assignment 1 (first draft of their research question)

In class:

  1. Mini-lecture: Research methods are cool!
  2. Mini-lecture: What is the difference between a research proposal and a term paper?
  3. Go over handout: Common Problems With Research Questions and How to Fix Them
  4. Peer review of draft research questions
  5. Introduce Lab Assignment 2: 5 new and improved versions of their research question
  6. Individual and partner work on Lab Assignment 1: Draft of research question

Due at end of class: Turn in Lab Assignment 1 (first draft of research question) with peer-review sheet

Week 3 Lab

Return to students:  Lab Assignment 1 (first draft of research question) and peer-review sheet, with my feedback

In class:

  1. Mini lecture: Operationalizing research questions
  2. Demo: Read aloud my first and final drafts of “key terms” for my thesis research, discuss significance of the changes for my findings
  3. Demo: 2-3 students volunteer their research questions and we work on operationalizing them as a group
  4. Lab Activity: Individual and partner work to revise and operationalize research questions
  5. Mini-lecture: Review literature review assignment
  6. Introduce Lab Assignments 3 and 4: Find 20 sources and fill out one article summary table
  7. Hand back first draft of research question and peer-review sheet
  8. Individual work and student-TA check-ins

Due at end of class: Students turn in lab assignment 2 (5 improved versions of their research question) and Lab Activity (revised, operationalized research question)

Week 4 Lab

Return to students: Hand back lab assignment 2 (5 improved versions of their research question) and week 3 lab activity (operationalization of research question)

In class:

  1. Review operationalization
  2. Conduct ungraded Literature Review Quiz and review answers
  3. Check in on progress on lab assignments 2 and 3 – discuss common problems with finding sources
  4. Introduce Lab Assignments 5 and 6: literature review outline and more article review tables
  5. Workshop literature review outlines for 1-2 student research questions
  6. Individual work and student-TA check-ins

Due at end of class: Students turn in lab assignments 3 and 4 (list of 20 sources for literature review and one article summary table)

Week 5 Lab

Return to students: Lab assignments 3 and 4 (list of 20 sources for literature review and one article summary table)

In class:

  1. Mini lecture: Review Big Assignment #1 – Literature Review
  2. Guided discussion: trouble-shoot literature review problems
  3. Mini lecture: In-text citations
  4. Individual work and student-TA check-ins: Hand back and discuss lab assignments 2 and 3 while students work on literature reviews

Due at end of class: Students turn in lab assignments 5 and 6 (literature review outline and 3-5article review tables)

Week 6 Lab

Return to students: Lab Assignments 5 and 6 (literature review outline and 3-5article review tables)

Due at beginning of class: Students hand in Big Assignment #1: Literature Review

In class:

  1. Peer review: literature review drafts
  2. Review requirements for Big Assignment #2: Methods Section
  3. Review class calendar
  4. Introduce Lab Activity: methods worksheet
  5. Introduce Lab Assignment 7: research tool
  6. Workshop methods that could be used to answer research questions for several students
  7. Groupwork: Divide into small groups according to method students plan to use, and discuss how they could design research to answer their question

Week 7 Lab

Hand back to students: Students get back Big Assignment #1 (Literature Review)

In class:

  1. Conduct ungraded Methods Quiz and review answers
  2. Workshop: Discuss ways to pre-test the methods of several students’ research questions
  3. Mini lecture: Filling out Institutional Review Board forms
  4. Mini lecture: Assessing the ethical implications of your proposed research
  5. Individual work and student-TA check-ins: Students work on methods section

Due at end of class: Lab Assignment 7 (Research Tool)

Week 8 Lab

Due at beginning of class: Students hand in Big Assignment #2 (Methods section)

In class:

  1. Mini-lecture: Pre-testing research tools
  2. Individual work and student-TA check-ins

Week 9 Lab

Hand back: Hand back Big Assignment #2 (Methods section) and Lab Assignment 7 (Research Tool)

In class:

  1. Review requirements for Big Assignment #3: Final Research Proposal
  2. Individual work and student-TA check-ins: Students work on revising literature reviews, methods sections, or research tool as needed

Week 10 Lab

In class:

  1. Students who are conducting surveys as their pre-test of their research tools conduct surveys in class and get feedback from the rest of the students
  2. Hand out and review Editing check-list
  3. Individual work and student-TA check-ins

Finals Week

Due: Big Assignment #3 (Final Research Proposal)

Other resources for students:

These inquiry-based assignments will help students develop their research skills.

Research Skills: Searching, Analysis, and Resource Evaluation

Ad campaign: Research product reviews, conduct market research to identify demographic and financial information, review psychological research linked to advertising and consumer behaviour.

Anatomy of a term paper:  Break down the research for a term paper into segments – students submit a clearly defined topic, thesis statement, proposed outline of paper, and an annotated bibliography (using proper citation style)

Annotated bibliography. Find a certain number of sources (specifying how many should be scholarly, whether websites are permitted, etc.) on a topic and write descriptive or evaluative annotations.

Anthology: Readings, websites by one person or on one topic

Biography: Choose person relevant to the course; use biographical dictionaries, popular press, scholarly sources, books to find information on the person [oral presentation, poster or written]

Debate: Gather credible evidence to support either side of an argument.

Family history: Use various sources of information to compile a family history. Actual interview (primary sources), surveys, birth/death/marriage notices, maps, directories and newspapers are examples.

Follow-up: Find additional information sources that support or refute an article.

Literature review analysis: Find two literature reviews on a topic of interest. Describe the purpose of a literature review based on your reading of the two cases and provide an analysis of how the two reviews are similar or different in their writing approach.

Research journal:  Keep a record of library research including sources consulted, keywords and subject headings, noting successes and challenges in the search process.

Critical Reading  Skills

Article analysis: Identify assumptions, thesis, theoretical framework, and/or research methods in a single paper.

Course textbook analysis: Using reviews and study of authors, look behind the book to determine point of view, strengths, and weaknesses.

Journal article comparison: Compare two scholarly or popular articles with differing viewpoints on a topic.

Media analysis: Compare coverage of a controversial issue in current newspapers and media. What perspectives and biases are present?

Reference analysis: What purpose does each reference in a single paper serve to support the argument.?

Review analysis: Compare reviews of a major work to understand the scholarly review process and the new perspectives for which a work may be supported or criticized.

Communication & Presentation  Skills

Debate: Gather credible evidence to support either side of an argument.

Infographic: Collect data and information on a topic and present it in graphic format using a tool such as Piktochart. Make these works freely available using Creative Commons licenses.

Paper slam: Students present a 60-90 second oral narrative in class using one slide that highlights their key ideas.

Poster: Present research integrating written and illustrative components. Can be done in physical or virtual spaces.

Web page/ wiki entry: Page on a narrow topic relevant to the course; include major sites, e-journals, discussion lists

Wikipedia entry: Edit a Wikipedia encyclopedia entry. Review the history of the entry and who has already made edits.

Zine: Create a zine engaging materials discussed in the course; include an analysis and explanation of methods used, as well as a discussion of the experience of producing the zine

Structure of the Literature in a Discipline

Citation tracking: Trace an important paper through a citation index. What does it mean to be "cited"? How important is it that a scholar be cited? Introduces the interconnectedness of the scholarly network and how ideas percolate, disseminate, accumulate, and are refined.

Classic work: Explore  book reviews, biography, and citation indexes to learn  how and why a work becomes a "classic." What effect does a classical work have on a discipline?Demonstrates the evolution of ideas, and identifies factors which make a work "important".

Course pack: Students “compile” the readings according to specific criteria (such as scholarly, published within the last 5 years). They write an introduction to the course pack that must demonstrate an understanding of the subject matter; citations to articles must be done using the appropriate citation style for the course, annotated with why they chose the particular reading as it pertains to the course content.

Interview: To generate useful questions students would have to be familiar with the life and work of the person and understand their work’s significance. Real or hypothetical.

Journal analysis:How many journals are published in a given field? What are the core journals in a discipline? Compare and contrast  their content, tone, audience and impact factors.

Research trends: Examine a single research tool at 10-year intervals to explore changing issues and research methods.

Trace a Scholar's Career: Choose a scholar/researcher and explore biography, writings, contributions to field, and scholarly network in which s/he works.



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