Conducting Educational Research
Interesting Educational Variables
It can sometimes be overwhelming to think of a topic for a research project. Below are some interesting variables that you might consider in your educational research study. Recall that a variable is a characteristic of the unit that you are studying. If you are conducting an educational research study, a unit of interest may include:
- Educational Administrators
Again, my philosophy of educational research in Nigeria is that all research studies should aim at providing practical tips for improving educational practice. This may include either better understanding the variable or providing an intervention (treatment) for improving the variable. Some educational variables of interest include:
Academic Achievement. In education, academic achievement is perhaps the principal variable of interest. Academic achievement could be conceptualized as very general (e.g., overall academic performance in school), content-specific (e.g., academic performance in a specific course such as biology), or very specific (e.g., learning multiplication in mathematics). Academic achievement should always be measured by some type of academic assessment such as an examination.
Study Skills. Study skills (or study strategies) are specific plans students use to improve their understanding of a lesson. A student's academic achievement largely depends on their study skills. Therefore, educators should spend time developing student's study skills. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a great website that provides guidance on many study strategies.
Self Regulation. Closely related to study skills is self regulation, a student's ability to accept responsibility for and controlling one's own learning. This includes setting goals for one's learning, making plans to achieve those goals, and monitoring progress to those goals.
Motivation. There are many interesting variables related to motivation that are of interest to an educational researcher. Students who are positively motivated tend to study more and have higher academic performance. Motivation can be conceptualized in many ways listed below.
- Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. SSelf Determination Theory presents a compelling overview of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The self determination theory website has many resources of interest, including links to empirical articles and questionnaires.
- Attitudes. Attitude is a positive or negative reaction to a person, object, or idea. Many different attitudes can be studied, including attitudes toward education, attitudes toward a specific course (e.g., English), attitudes toward examination malpractice, attitudes toward the teacher, etc. When studying attitudes, it is important to be specific on attitude toward what specific concept (e.g., attitude toward studying).
- Effort. Effort that students put toward studying or the effort that teachers put toward preparing lessons is an important educational variable.
- Self Efficacy. Self efficacy is the belief about one's capability to succeed at a specific task. For example, a researcher might be interested in a student's self efficacy in science or a teacher's self efficacy in their classroom management skills.
- Student Engagement. Student engagement is the behavioral intensity and emotional quality of students active involvement during a learning activity. The more students are engaged in a lesson, the better they will learn. Thus, researchers can examine teachers' behavior that might influence students' engagement, including their method of instruction, classroom management style, and interpersonal relationships with students. Skinner, Furrer, Marchland, & Kindermann (2008) wrote a good overview of student engagement.
- Anxiety. Anxiety is a mood characterized by strong negative emotion and bodily symptoms of tension in which an individual anticipates future danger or misfortune. Students sometimes experience anxiety in education, particularly examination anxiety (commonly called "test anxiety" in the research literature).
- Goals. A goal is the outcome a person is trying to accomplish. Examining the type and/or quality of students' and teachers' goals can be of interest.
Relatedness. Relatedness consists of feeling connected to and cared for by others. Learning is improved when students feel close to and cared for by their teachers and fellow students. Likewise, teachers typically perform better when they feel close relationships with their superiors and colleagues.
Teaching Practices. There are many aspects of teachers' practice that can influence student learning. Educational researchers need to spend much time and attention to identify teaching practices that maximize student learning and motivation.
- Teachers' Autonomy Support. Teachers' autonomy support consists of teaching practices that support students' interests, needs, preferences, and personal goals to guide learning and engagement. Typical autonomy supportive practices include developing interesting and relevant learning activities, providing optimal challenges for learners, highlighting meaningful learning goals, and supporting students' endorsement of class behaviors. For more information on teachers' autonomy support, as well as an instrument to measure autonomy support, see Jang & Reeve (2006).
- Teachers' Structure. Teacher's structure consists of clarifying information that teachers provide about expectations and ways of effectively achieving desired educational outcomes. Typical examples of teacher support include clear, understandable directions, guidance offered during lessons, and feedback given to students about their progress. (The article cited above by Skinner et al (2008) has a good questionnaire to measure this variable.)
- Classroom management. Classroom management includes teachers' strategies that create and maintain an orderly learning environment. Classroom management strategies include ways of structuring the classroom that prevent discipline problems, as well as how teachers discipline students who do misbehave.
To identify other variables of interest, read educational research studies. Another good resource is an educational psychology textbook.
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Copyright 2012, Katrina A. Korb, All Rights Reserved