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Compton Center – Research Brown Bag Digest – February 2017


For February’s Research Brown Bag, we’ve moved in a slightly different direction than our previous sessions. Beginning with the February meeting, we’re focusing on using these brown bags to share the best practices in conducting educational research. One goal of the Research Brown Bags is to improve everyone’s ability to access and understand data, and we believe a better understanding of how research is generally conducted can help with this.

We started this new series with a discussion of how to create research questions. A research question is simply just the major question that guides a research project. There really isn’t a fancy definition, but creating good research questions is always an important first step to conducting good research.

In a more practical sense, understanding and being able to create research questions will help anytime your program or department needs to evaluate something. Good research questions can make SAO evaluations easier because you can make sure you design questions that give you exactly the kind of data you need for making an assessment. Understanding how to design research questions also helps when you need to design other questions (e.g., for surveys).

For more information and a detailed summary of the last Research Brown Bag, read the full post below.

We briefly discussed the differences between research questions and other types of questions. For example:

  • “Why did the chicken cross the road?” would be a general question: it doesn’t define the problem and can’t really be answered using research.
  • “How many chickens crossed a specific road on a specific day?” would be a data question: it provides details, but it could easily be answered with one statistic and does not leave room for analyses.
  • “What environmental factors occurred that would cause chickens to cross that specific road on that specific day?” would be a research question.

Good research questions will always include information about: what you want to measure, who is being measured, and whatever you think will affect these measurements (e.g., demographics, attitudes, experiences, etc.). Research questions also determine what kind of information or data you want to understand, and they identify the goals and objectives the research is meant to address. The “what, who, and whatever” aspects of a research question are often explicitly stated, but the goals and objectives of the research might only be implied.

Example: “What institutional programs implemented at Compton Center last year ended up helping improve students’ success rates?”

This research question tells us what you want to measure (success rates), who is being measured (students), and whatever you think will affect these measurements (participation in the institutional programs). It also gives us an indication of what information you want to understand (students’ success rates) and what goals and objectives this research will address (evaluating the new institutional programs).

Not every question needs to be a research question; sometimes it makes sense to ask a data question instead. This Research Brown Bag was just meant to highlight some differences between question types, and to provide some suggested components of research questions if you need to ask any.

The next session will focus on taking practical problems and scenarios and turning them into research questions that can potentially be addressed with a request from Institutional Research. We try to make the information covered in the Research Brown Bags relate to the work you do, so please feel free to send us examples of scenarios or problems your department may be facing that you think can be answered with research. We’d like to use real, practical situations whenever possible, and your feedback from around the campus helps us cater these topics specifically to you.

Presentation materials are always sent out to attendees of the Research Brown Bags, but please contact the Office of Institutional Research if you’d like a copy of the materials and were unable to attend the previous session. Please also feel free to contact us if you have any general research-related questions, comments, or concerns.


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