Conducting Educational Research
Step 11: Manipulate the Treatment

This step is only relevant for experimental or quasi-experimental research designs. If you are conducting any other type of research, feel free to skip to Write Method of Data Collection.

In Develop Research Instruments, it was mentioned that every variable must be measured. This is true in every study except experimental and quasi-experimental research designs. In these designs, one of the key variables is always a treatment. Treatments are not measured, they are manipulated. Manipulation means that the researcher purposefully and carefully changes the value of a variable in order to determine its effect on another variable.

For example, if I want to determine the effect of Nigerian red pepper on people's judgment of the taste of a soup, I will manipulate the variable of Nigerian red pepper to determine its effect on the variable of judgment of taste. To this, I will make a treatment group that gets Nigerian red pepper in their soup and a control group that does not get Nigerian red pepper in their soup. I might be further interested in whether lots of Nigerian red pepper differs from little Nigerian red pepper on judgment of taste. In this case, I will make two treatment groups: Treatment A gets 1 red pepper whereas Treatment B gets 5 red peppers, plus the control group that gets no red pepper. Instead of measuring the variable of Nigerian red pepper, I am manipulating it. Each participant in the sample will be randomly assigned to Treatment A, Treatment B, or the Control group. After eating their respective soups, all participants will complete a Taste Questionnaire. Statistical analyses will determine whether the Nigerian red pepper significantly affects judgments of taste.

Similarly, experimental or quasi-experimental educational research designs also manipulate a treatment to examine its effect on significant dependent variables. Even though educational treatments can widely vary, I will assume for the purpose of this discussion that the treatment will be either a counseling program or a new method of teaching. This treatment is the real substance of the research study, so considerable, careful thought and reading is necessary to make the treatment effective. At the end of the study, the researcher hopes to be able to say that they have developed this amazing new teaching method or counseling program that has a considerable impact on important dependent variables: perhaps classroom attendance, academic achievement, or student motivation.

However, if there are no significant differences between the treatment group and the control group on the dependent variables at the end of the study, then years of work and financial resources that went into developing the treatment have been wasted. If there is no significant difference between the two groups, then the new teaching method or counseling program is ineffective. Period. This unnecessary waste can be avoided by thoughtfully planning the treatment. Therefore, make sure to allow many weeks to carefully out the treatment. This point cannot be overemphasized:

To make an experimental or quasi-experimental research study successful, considerable time and thought MUST be spent planning the treatment.

The first step in developing the treatment is to thoroughly read about the dependent variables that are hoped to be changed. Imagine a study that wants to reduce the rate of examination malpractice at the university. First find textbooks that explain examination malpractice in great detail to learn about what is theorized to influence malpractice: is it threats to be expelled, parent pressure, supportive teachers, or another factor? The treatment should relate to what educators believe affects the key dependent variables. It would be rather unreasonable to waste the time and resources to develop a counseling program to reduce examination malpractice if counseling has not been found to be effective in the past. After reading about the dependent variables in a textbook, find other experimental research studies that have developed a counseling program or teaching method with similar goals . What did that counseling program do to try to increase self esteem? What did another counseling program do to try to increase retention rates in school? A treatment that is modeled off of others that have been effective is more likely to succeed. However, be sure to give credit where credit is due by citing these studies in the Methods section.

After a few weeks have been spent extensively reading other work on the key variables, then start to plan the treatment. First consider logistical details:

  • How many weeks will the treatment last? Be realistic: It takes time for habitual behaviors and thought-processes to change.
  • How often will the participants meet for the treatment?
  • How long will each meeting last?
  • Where will the meeting hold?
  • What types of materials will be necessary for the meeting?
  • How many participants can realistically meet in one group? As discussed in Select Sampling Technique, small sample size for experimental designs might be more beneficial because it allows the researcher to give a more effective treatment to the participants than to a large group.

After considering the logistic details, then start to plan the actual activities that will take place in the treatment. If it is a new teaching method, all of the lesson plans and materials must be developed and clearly described in the research report. If it is a counseling program, then a day-by-day list of discussions and activities must be developed. Word-for-word scripts and lists of questions should be developed for discussion. Remember that the outcome of the research study depends on how well the treatment is planned, so this is a very necessary step. If it is found at the end of the study that the new teaching method or counseling program is effective, then this level of detail will help in marketing this new program to other educationalists and government. The purpose of developing the treatment is not just to get a degree, but also to try to improve education in general. Therefore, more detail is better than less!

In developing the treatment plan, always keep the goal of the program in mind. Is it to improve self esteem? Attendance? Motivation? Academic honesty? Study skills? In the planning stage, consider the following for each activity:

  • What is the objective for the day? Again, keep this realistic. Will asking the students to define counseling really help them improve their study skills? Keep the activities entirely focused on the goal of the program, which is to change the dependent variables of interest.
  • What activities can be used to help participants be active in the treatment? Very few studies have found that being lectured at will change attitudes or behavior. Therefore, plan large group discussions, small group discussions, and practical activities to help the participants deeply reflect on their attitudes and behaviors.

When developing the Treatment Scheme, it is helpful to complete in a chart like the one below.
Lesson Objectives Lesson Components Rationale Questions for Reflection
Day 1
  • Establish participant/counselor relationship
  • Introduce the participants
  • Discuss counseling ground rules
  • Introduce the topic of academic honesty
  • Introductions using the name game
  • Ask participants to set appropriate rules for the group
  • Participants reflect on what academic honesty means to them
  • Discuss responses in large group
Open relationship is necessary for honest and thoughtful participation
  • What does academic honesty mean to you?
  • Why is academic honesty important?
Day 2
  • Re-establish relationships
  • Establish the importance of academic honesty morally, academically, and for society
  • Identify dishonest study practices
  • Two Truths and a Lie introductory game
  • Brainstorm reasons why academic honest is important morally
  • Brainstorm reasons why academic honest is important academically
  • Brainstorm reasons why academic honest is important for society in general
  • Brainstorm practices that are dishonest and provide reason why
Brainstorming helps participants get actively involved and think of ways that the lesson impacts their daily lives.
  • Why is it important to be honest in your classes for moral reasons? What biblical reasons can you think of that might relate to academic honesty?
  • Why is it important for your learning to be honest in your classes?
  • Why might it be important for students to be honest in their classes for society in large? How might society be affected if students continually cheat?
  • What are some behaviors you have heard other students do that are dishonest?

It is important to include all of these materials in your research project, but where these details go depends on your supervisor. I recommend including the Treatment Scheme and at least one (perhaps all) detailed daily lesson plan in the Appendix. The Method of Data Collection section will have a sub-section that gives a general overview of the treatment and control groups.

Remember that the control group should be exactly identical to the treatment group in every way except that they do not get the treatment. In the Nigerian red pepper soup example, the two soups that the treatment group gets must be exactly the same except that the treatment gets the red pepper while the control gets no pepper. It would confound the study if the treatment group got draw soup while the control group got vegetable soup. It would also confound the study if the treatment group got a large bowl full of tuwo and the control group got a small bowl of tuwo or if the treatment received semovita while the control got pounded yam. Everything must be the same except for the red pepper.

Likewise, in educational experimental and quasi-experimental studies, everything should be the same between the treatment and control groups except that the treatment group receives the treatment. If there is another difference between the treatment and control groups, any difference on the dependent variables may be as a result of this difference, not because of the treatment.


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Copyright 2012, Katrina A. Korb, All Rights Reserved