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Moving from research design to data collection (2012)

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Rebecca Ferguson
9 March 2012

Led by Dr Cindy Kerawalla and Dr Dorothy Faulkner.

Communicating the nature and scope of your research clearly and concisely to people outside your field is good preparation for the ‘mini viva’ that takes place as part of the probationary review process. This workshop offered the opportunity to think through the issues involved in doing this.

Extra content

When you write your probation report, your probation reviewers will be looking for clear answers to the following questions:

  • What is the main research question, focus of interest or central thesis and why is this interesting?
  • What are we going to learn as the result of the proposed project that we do not know now?
  • Why is this worth knowing (theoretical, methodological, applied contribution)?
  • How will we know that the arguments and conclusions are valid?

In this workshop, participants were invited to consider how they might answer these questions by describing their research projects to other participants. Communicating the nature and scope of your research clearly and concisely to people outside your field is good preparation for the ‘mini viva’ that takes place as part of the probationary review process. Accordingly, participants were asked to think about and discuss the following:

  • Your disciplinary and theoretical perspective
  • The implications of this for your research question, argument or central thesis
  • How you can unpack your research question/argument
  • Your research design, method of enquiry and preliminary analytical perspective
  • What types of evidence you need and why you need it
  • Where you will get it from
  • When you will collect it
  • Who you will collect it from
  • Research ethics 

As participants represented several faculties and were at different stages of the probationary period, we tried to keep our presentation very general, although, as an example, we drew on a research project and research question from our own disciplinary and theoretical perspective, (Slides 7 – 10)

 Our disciplinary perspective

We are both members of the Childhood and Youth Studies Research Group in the Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology (CREET). Cindy Kerawalla’s research expertise lies in technology enhanced learning, and Dorothy Faulkner is a developmental psychologist with research expertise in the development of children’s thinking and learning.

 Our theoretical perspective

In our research we draw on social constructivist theory (Vygotsky, 1978, Bruner, 1986) and sociocultural accounts of learning as our theoretical and explanatory framework. Sociocultural accounts of teaching and learning emphasize the interdependence of social and individual processes in the co-construction of knowledge. This means that in order to investigate how children learn, we use video observation as one of our main methods of enquiry as this allows us to analyse the social interactions and learning conversations that take place in classrooms between teachers and children and between children working together. We use both quantitative and qualitative analytic techniques to identify communication and learning processes that take place in the classroom.

Having explained our disciplinary and theoretical perspective, unpacked one of our research questions and explained the design of the research project, we invited workshop participants to do the same with their own research questions (Activity 1). Activities 2, 3, and 4 encouraged people to think about research design, evidence and ethics by sharing their own research plans and ambitions with other participants.

Research ethics

Cindy explained the procedure for applying for ethics clearance for research projects involving human participants and took participants through the form that needs to be submitted. We also discussed issues concerning copyright, intellectual property, data protection and data security as these are important considerations for all researchers regardless of whether your are carrying out research with human participants. Your supervisors, members of the University Ethics Committee, the Research Librarians and members of the IT Support team are able to help you with these issues, so please do talk to them. Even if you have not solved some of the more complex issues relating to ethics and data protection before you submit your probationary review, demonstrating that you are aware of these issues and know who to go to for help and advice will reassure your reviewers! (see URLs that follow the PowerPoint below).

Dorothy Faulkner
18:19 on 21 March 2012 (Edited 18:58 on 21 March 2012)

Cindy’s and Dorothy’s research papers are in the Open Research Online (ORO) the Open University's repository of research publications and other research outputs.

 Murphy, Suzanne and Faulkner, Dorothy (2011). The relationship between bullying roles and children’s everyday dyadic interactions. Social Development, 20(2), pp. 272–293. (

Littleton, Karen and Kerawalla, Lucinda (2012). Trajectories of inquiry learning. In: Littleton, Karen; Scanlon, Eileen and Sharples , Mike eds. Orchestrating Inquiry Learning. Oxford: Routledge, pp. 31–47. (

Dorothy Faulkner
18:30 on 21 March 2012

I am live-blogging on Dorothy Faulkner and Cindy Kerawalla’s presentation titled “Moving from research questions to design: understanding which methods are appropriate”

In all, there were 15 participants sitting in a group of five.

Presentation begins at 11.00 a.m

Dorothy commences with a clarification on the background of the audience—most of the audience are first year PhD students with social sciences, humanities, arts and Science background. 

Dorothy: Gives an overview on how they will be approaching the presentation—we (Dorothy and Cindy) are both from the Childhood and Youth Studies Research Group, a unit in the Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology (CREET). Cindy’s is an expert in technology enhancement and I (Dorothy) am a development psychologist and interested in learning methods. As such our presentation will be focusing on our field of study but we are sure it will be very useful to us all.

Dorothy poses a question: What will the reviewers of your probation do?


In your probation report, your reviewers will be interested in assessing your skills development against the established benchmarks. And make the necessary recommendations for you to continue registration and be confirmed as a PhD student. In addition, the reviewers will be looking for the research questions and asks why that research question is interesting to you and other people. The issue of what is new and why is it worth knowing the new thing in your research work will also be examined by the reviewers of your probation. Then the reviewers will also be considering the validity and practicability of the research work.

Dorothy makes an assumption—we assume that all of you in here have a research question.

Dorothy Continues: In terms of your research design, it is a very good idea to think about what type of analysis you will be doing. In addition, it is important to consider the task ahead of you, where it will be performed, when it will be done and who your target groups are e.g. Children. You must also take your theoretical discipline into consideration. The important thing that must always be considered is how the research question will influence in your theoretical discipline.

Dorothy gives examples of PhD Research questions-

Examples of PhD question/thesis are:

What is the role of consumption in the everyday life of young mothers?

How can young mothers’ consumption rate be regulated by poverty?

Climate change stipulates capital flows and migration. The question is how does this affect regional economies-- so theoretical discipline here is regional economics?

It is important to think carefully and identify the key words that are used in your research questions.

Dorothy—is there any question to be asked?

Nobody asked a question

Cindy continues

On the power point presentation is written “How digital technologies are appropriated as tools for learning and how does the conduct and experience of scripted inquiry learning mediate and change the activities of learning?”

Cindy—In the research question above (on the power point), the key theoretical focus on the research work are appropriation, tools for learning and mediation. So using these key terms will situate the research questions within a socio-cultural tradition in your research work.  It will also give a clue on the theoretical stance of the researcher. So the reason why the research is located within a particular theoretical framework can be followed in this regard. The key concepts as well as the alternative frameworks can be understood from this perspective.


11:20 a.m

Activity 1 (15 minutes): Cards are distributed to participants for an activity to be conducted.

Write down your main research question on the cards provided to you and swap with each other, and explain it to someone on your table.

D: you need to explain this research question very clearly to your examiners during probation.

Cindy and Deborah go round to listen to the discussions going on among the participants. (Discussion on going (after 7 minutes) with regards to research questions)


Dorothy takes over at 11:40 p.m.

In research design, enquiry learning studies in the form of comparative case study design can be put into two schools of thought. The main comparison is through socioeconomic status and educational achievements.


Dorothy asks a question—what are some of the data sources for your research work?

Participants list the following depending on their area of study.

Answer: Data from companies, financial database, Comtrade, field data, Laboratory experiment, secondary data, etc.

Dorothy recommends some of the possible sources of data for quantitative research as: Large Government data sets, research data archives, standardized data sets such as IQ tests, personality tests, etc., and survey data.

Dorothy also recommends qualitative evidence as: Transcript of conversations and interviews, various archives, children school work and photographs.


11.55 a.m

Workshop activity 2 (5 minutes)

Write down a couple of sources of evidence that you might use in your research work and share them (evidence) with your table.

Cindy and Dorothy go round the various groups to listen to the discussions going on at each table.

A member of each table gives some of the sources of evidence that are available.

Table 1: From laboratory work results.

Table 2: From field work


Activity 3 (15 minutes) follows- Make brief notes on a possible research design and show evidence of your data. In addition, demonstrate the reliability of the evidence.

Cindy shares handouts as discussion goes on. (In addition, both of them (Cindy and Dorothy) go round to listen to the discussions in the various groups)

Cindy gives an overview of what has been done in the workshop so far.

Cindy continues:

When working with animals or living materials, you need permission from the Ethics committee of the Open University.  On the website of the Ethics committee, the assessment form can be loaded. Each field of study has its own guideline that needs to be followed. There is the need for some form of anonymity when a respondent does not require his name to be mentioned for instance. School research may require concern from both parents and children. Tell those that will be involved in the research about how the data will be used. This may also apply to people telling you very sensitive issues on your data. One may require permission to use other journals or papers.  

Note that concern forms must be attached to your work before sending. Details of where and when the data will be collected must be specified on the ethics forms. How the data will be stored must also be given attention. Address issues of whether the participants will be paid must be considered in order not to raise the issue of conflict of interest.

Cindy poses a question-

Can a primary data be deleted?

A participant answers: Ideally, a concern must be sorted before a primary data is deleted. For very complex researches, seek some assistance from the ethics committee. Some Universities requires you to keep your data on the server.

12.15 p.m

Activity 4 (10 minutes)

Make notes on an ethical issue that you anticipate emerging during your research work and discuss.

Participants begin discussion.

Cindy: Handouts are available for use.

A response from a participants—taking video about sensitive issues in a country can result in conflict of interest issues.

Cindy continues:

If there is any problem during your field work the ethics committee advisor will be of much assistance.

Session ends 12:30 p.m

David Botchie
09:13 on 26 March 2012

Embedded Content

Vitae site for Postgraduate Researchers

Vitae site for Postgraduate Researchers

added by Dorothy Faulkner

Workshop Slides

Workshop Slides

added by Brian Plüss

Research Ethics at the Open University

Research Ethics at the Open University

added by Dorothy Faulkner

OU Library Services for Researchers

OU Library Services for Researchers

added by Dorothy Faulkner