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Chapter 3

Research Problems: Statements, Questions, and Hypotheses

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Importance of Research Problems

Formulates a clear, concise, and

manageable research problem Communicates to others

Focus and importance of problem Educational context and scope Framework for reporting results

Indicates evidence-based inquiry

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Sources of Problems
Casual observation Relationship between cognition and affect Relative effectiveness of positive or negative reinforcement
Deductions from theory Effectiveness of using math manipulatives Relationship between instructional style and learning style Related literature Study of dropouts in your locale Use of math manipulatives in secondary schools

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Sources of Problems
Current social and political issues Gender and race equity Inclusion
Practical situations Evaluations of specific programs Effectiveness of local initiatives Personal experience and insight Teaching statistical courses from an applied perspective Effectiveness of non-threatening classroom assessments

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Formal Problem Statements


Introduces reader to importance of problem Places problem in an educational context Provides framework for reporting results findings and conclusions

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Problem Formulation in Quantitative Research

Is phrased as statements, questions or

hypotheses Provides identification of population, variables, and logic of problem Presents logic of constructs, variables, and operational definitions

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Complex abstraction not directly


e.g., motivation, meta-cognition, selfconcept, aptitude, etc. Derived from theory Expresses idea behind a set of particulars Can combine several variables into meaningful patterns

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An event, category, behavior or attribute Composed of attributes of levels that

express a construct Each variable a separate and distinct phenomenon Two types based on what is measured

Categorical variablesgroups variable into attributes (categories) Continuous measured variablecan assume an infinite number of values within a range
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Research Variable Types

In experimental research Independentcomes firstinfluences or predicts Also called manipulated or experimental variable Antecedent Dependentcomes secondif affected or predicted by independent variable Consequence

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Research Variable Types

In non-experimental research

Independent variable cannot be manipulated In correlational studies


called predictor variable Dependent variable called criterion Not always possible to tell which comes first

When prediction not goal, but rather to see if there is a relationship between variable

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Operational Definition for Variable

Assigns meaning to a variable by

specifying activities or operations necessary to measure, categorize, or manipulate variable Tells researcher what is necessary to answer question or test hypothesis

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Problem Formulation in Quantitative Research

Identify population, variables and logic of

problem Specific research questions and hypotheses Questionssimple and direct

Descriptivetypically asks what is and implies a survey research design

e.g., What is current dropout rate in Louisiana? e.g., What is relationship between math attitude and math achievement? e.g., Is there a difference in effectiveness of graded and non-graded homework?

Relationshipimplies a correlational design

Differenceimplies a comparison

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Research Hypotheses in Quantitative Research

Statements e.g., purpose of this research is to .... Questions e.g., What is ...?

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Research Hypotheses in Quantitative Research

Tentative statement of expected

relationships between two or more variables

e.g., there is a significant, positive relationship between self-concept and math achievement

States direction of relationship Should be testable, verifiable Should offer a tentative explanation

based on theory or previous research Concise and lucid

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Problem Formulation in Qualitative Research

Is phrased as statements or questions,

never as hypotheses

Broad statements: how, what and why

Begins with selecting general topic and

mode of inquiry

i.e., interactive and non-interactive

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Qualitative Field Records, Descriptions, and Abstractions

Employs inductive reasoning Selects a particular case (rather than variables

as in quantitative) for in-depth study

Case is a particular social situation chosen by researcher in which some phenomenon will be described by participants perceptions Aim is to gain understanding of a broader phenomenon

Qualitative field records Participant observation field notes Interview tapes Researcher notes on historical documents

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Narrative Descriptions
Detailed narrations of people, incidents, and

processes Completed after data collection because of discover-orientation of research Called rich or thick Contains information on

People Incidents Participants language Participants meanings

Synthesized abstractions Summary generalizations and explanations of major research findings of study

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Problem Reformulation
Initial statement of a broad, general


i.e., foreshadowed problem, phrased as what, how, and why of situation

Condensed problem statement

identifying a specific focus Reformulation of problem during researchemergent design

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Statements of Qualitative Research Purposes and Questions

Qualitative problem statements Qualitative traditions of ethnography, phenomenology, case study, grounded theory, and critical study

Focus on current phenomena through interactive data collection

Historical problem statements and


Analysis of documents and archives Focus on understanding past

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Mixed Method Problem Formulation

Equal priority to all questions

both quantitative and qualitative data collected about same time

Research questions and foreshadowed problems Problems usually presented together Findings from both kinds of data would be analyzed and interpreted together (triangulation)
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Mixed Method Problem Formulation

Measured results explained by

qualitative data

Data collected sequentially Quantitative phase provides general results explained with qualitative data Explanatory design

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Mixed Method Problem Formulation

Qualitative questions, then quantitative


Used when there is little prior research on a topic or practice that is new Qualitative methods used first to investigate scope of phenomenon Quantitative methods investigate findings in a more structured way Exploratory design

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Significance of Problem Selection

Rationale for a study

Justifies why an evidence-based inquiry is important Indicates researchers interest/choice

Knowledge of an enduring practice Theory testing


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Significance of Problem Selection

Extensions of understanding
Methodological advancement Current issues

Evaluation of a specific practice or policy

at a given site Exploratory research

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Standards of Adequacy for Problem Statements

General research problem

Does statement of general research problem imply possibility of empirical investigation? Does problem statement restrict scope of study? Does problem statement give educational context in which problem lies?

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Significance of Problem
Does problem contribute to one or more of


Develops knowledge of an enduring practice Contributes to theory development Expands current knowledge Provides an extension of our understanding Advances methodology Related to a current social or political issue Evaluates specific practice or policy at given site Explores an issue about which little is known

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Specific Research Question or Hypothesis


Does specific research purpose, question, or hypothesis state concisely what is to be determined? Does level of specificity indicate question or hypothesis researchable? Do variables seem amenable to operational definitions? Is logic clear? Are variables identified? Does research question or hypothesis indicate framework for reporting results
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Do research questions, foreshadowed

problems, or condensed problem statements indicate particular case of phenomena to be examined? Is qualitative methodology appropriate for description of present of past events? Is logic reasonably explicit? Does research purpose indicate framework for reporting findings?

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Mixed Methods
Is relative emphasis of each method

made explicit? Is order in which quantitative and qualitative data collected clear?

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Other Criteria
Is problem one in which researcher has

a vital interest and a topic in which researcher has both knowledge and experience? Are problem and design feasible in terms of measurement, access to case, sample, or population, permission to use documents, time frame for completion, financial resources, and like?
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Other Criteria
Does researcher have skills to conduct

proposed research and to analyze and interpret results? Does proposed research ensure protection of human subjects from physical or mental discomfort or harm?

Is right of informed consent of subjects provided? Will ethical research practices be followed?
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