"Online instructional course on Research Methods." (3 credit hours)
"Research is fundamentally a state of mind involving continual re-examination of the doctrines and axioms upon which current thought and action are based. It is, therefore, critical of existing practices." Theobald Smith, 1929
"The maddening thing about research was that most answers just meant more questions.... " Corian Trevanni, Wintermind, Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin, 1982
Research is the process of offering conjectures to solve problems, and of the testing, and sometimes refuting, of those conjectures. It is a process of theory building and hypothesis testing-- the sifting and winnowing of ideas that leads to new knowledge, and new interpretations of old knowledge. It is a search for truth. And what it achieves are views that might reasonably be believed to be the truth, in the light of the evidence and the critical dialog.
Research is a term that is used casually to cover everything from poking around in an encyclopaedia to rigorous experiments using control groups and sophisticated statistical techniques. There is, in fact, a continuum that encompasses both these examples. For this class, however, we are going to settle somewhere at the middle of the continuum. Research is not just looking in an encyclopedia or in a library. This course aims at what might be described as mainstream social science research as practiced in universities.
No one can be taught to be a researcher in a single three hour course. However, you can be taught to be a better consumer of research in a three hour course. There is good research, and bad research. The aim is to get you to be able to tell the difference, and understand and articulate what the differences amount to.
The course opens with a historical and intellectual background to research. It moves through experimental and quasi-experimental design, explaining the notions of evidence, validity, and reliability. Different styles of research are described including: quantitative research, qualitative research, field research, archival research, and laboratory experiments. There are discussions of sampling and elementary descriptive and inferential statistics. (Doing extensive mathematical calculations is not part of the course. We do, though, try to develop an educated and critical eye for looking at other people's choice of tests and calculations.) Research proposals and research reports are discussed. The course closes with an account of the types of research commonly found in Library and Information Science (such as evaluation research, qualitative research, surveys and questionnaires, and bibliometrics).
How this course will be taught
This is an online course taught virtually at a distance using the Web. The course is conceived of as discussions on 20 (or so) topics. A lecture course in the University of Arizona amounts to 37 1/2 hours of instruction spread through a semester. Our 'discussions' will be the virtual counterpart of 30 (or so) one and a quarter hour lectures, delivered at a rate of two a week. There will be notes, readings, discussion groups, chat, and (of course) assignments.
The course has a start date and an end date, and the class as a whole will move through the course together The primary means of introducing the scholarly material will be Notes. These are going to be posted one at a time steadily through the session, keeping the whole class moving forward through the material. There are 20 plus sets of Notes, and these normally will be delivered at a rate of 2 a week (usually put up on a Tuesday and a Friday). There will be assignments, with due dates, and formal discussions, and these will serve to check progress. There also will be readings or references to be followed up on the Web.
Almost all interactions will be asynchronous. That is, students can log on whenever they wish, and read material and post replies on timetables that suits their individual needs. A student will typically need to log on about 5 times a week. (An analog here is email-- most folk check their email at least five times a week.)
The students will also be placed in groups of about 5 students and there will be some groupwork.
d2l (desire to learn) will be used as the instructional and course management environment. Students who enrol in the course will be given an account. They will be able to log in to their account via the Learning Technologies Center E-Learning Portal.
d2l is going to be supplemented with Google Hangouts (students should establish a Google+ account) and also NoteBowl. NoteBowl is an initiative/startup created by former University of Arizona students, and it is being trialed in this class and elsewhere in the University. Students will be given a Notebowl account through https://notebowl.arizona.edu. Notebowl will be used in conjunction with Hangouts
Students are expected to log on reasonably regularly, to read and study the Notes and references, to participate in the online discussions, to interact by email (and other means) with their fellow students, to write (or otherwise answer) the assignments, to download and upload files (this will be taught), and to carry out various other activities. It is hard to anticipate accurately how much time all these course related activities will take in total (and such a figure would vary from student to student and from week to week), but seven hours a week is a rough order of magnitude estimate.
The course will start in earnest a few days after the start of the semester. The d2l software can detect when students log on, and when most of the students have shown that the are present by logging on, the Instructor will get the course underway.