Monday, January 09, 2006

It's Finals Time

In two days time my research methods' students will be handing in their final assignments. It's a simple one in that they have to compose a research proposal, which comprises a research question, their aims, a literature review, and a statement of their methodology. All to be done within 4,500 words.

Each year I provide them with examples of previous students' work to look at (anonymised of course). The three examples illustrate good practice, average practice and poor practice (ie, fail). I tell them that although one would expect every student to choose the good practice example to follow, a surprising number seem to be captured by the appeal of the poor one. To me it's inexplicable, but happens. They don't believe me when I say this...

In between the last class and the hand in day I offer to review drafts if they wish. Not many take up the offer, but some do. Generally, they share the same errors, which I hope to correct before they complete. Why these errors recur is a mystery because I go over them many times during the course. The errors are:
  1. What is the research question? They forget to provide one, so the assignment instead of looking like a research proposal looks like an essay. I suppose writing essays is what they are comfortable with.
  2. The literature review is often a list of law cases on their topic. I tell them the literature review is not a shopping list of what you've read nor is it a general essay about the topic. It is a critical discussion of the research already carried out in the topic area. Again they are comfortable with writing essays.
  3. How are they going to do the research? I get long disquisitions on the differences between qualitative and quantitative research which end up with their saying "I will use qualitative research" without telling me much of what they will actually do or what kinds of data they will actually collect.
There is the fear of writing something different from before. This is the reason I give them other students' examples, my own research proposals, plus they have a variety in their textbook. Maybe they don't actually read very much and therefore fall back on habit. Maybe I don't teach the course well, but then their evaluations were highly positive. Maybe my expectations are too high. This continues to perplex me.
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