Research methods

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: