This site is intended as a resource for doctoral students in the disciplines of e learning, learning and instructional design and related fields. It is a collection of tips, resources, tools and examples that my doctoral students and I have developed over the years. Please feel free to use these resources in any way you feel appropriate, but remember to respect authorship and to cite responsibly.
The site is constantly under construction, and your input is welcomed. Please feel free to contribute. The structure of the site will follow the whole process from before enrolment to post-doctoral publication. The first section will consider what you have to do even before you start. On this follows some advice on how to perform a scan of the academic environment to find a useful topic to research. Thereupon follows the writing of a research proposal, and then a literature survey. After this will be research methods, then thesis writing and finally the oral defence and publication of articles. The site links to various other useful resources. If you are the author of any of such resources and would like the link removed, then please let me know and I will do so.
There is a feedback form at the very bottom of this page. Please scroll down and let me know what you think.
The more you structure your life at the early stages of your doctoral journey the easier it will be.You may want to find out what a Doctorate actually is. Check out this piece by Dr Deborah Netolicky explaining what a doctorate is.
Now ensure that you set up your environment appropriately and that you have a proper network in place. You should have taken all the steps below before you even contact a potential supervisor for the first time.
Check out this FOUR SENTENCE RESEARCH PROPOSAL by Amanda Wolf. Write
Now that you have a research question, you need to consider a research design. Ross et al. (2008) present a really useful overview of the types of design in the field. Make a mindmap of the article and then on the map, highlight the areas that are most likely to yield results to the research question(s) that you have identified in the previous exercise.
Once you have a match between your research question and a research design it is very useful to put your ideas in very simple, every day language in a one-page research proposal. On one single page, answer the following questions.
Now you need a reference model towards which to work. An excellent point of departure is the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations. You may want to start by browsing their prize-winning dissertations before searching for theses or dissertations with similar themes,
Armed with your analysis of the field, its authors and its questions, as well as your one-page proposal and a reference thesis, you are now in a good position for a first meeting with your supervisor.
The full proposal is your fist stab at discovering the field. The proposal says why the research should be done, and how you plan to do it. It explains the value of the research.
Now read these Guidelines for preparing a dissertation proposal by arguably the most respected team of researchers in our field, Jan Herrington, Sue McKenny, Tom Reeves and Ron Oliver.
The first thing to do in the development of the proposal is to show that this research will be both necessary and unique.
Then you say how you plan to find it out.
Here is a very nice detailed Qualitative Methods Protocol Template with example Tools and SOPs From the ACT Consortium
Here is a possible template.
Remember to write the introduction LAST, as it is a complete summary of what you will be doing.
Here is an example of the wrong way to write an introduction (in this case to a full paper) and the correct way.
Here is the late Prof Chris Kapp's "Formula" for a gripping introduction:
Opening Moves: This is the hook to get your reader interested. You could use a general statement that would be a "catch all", you could use an anecdote or describe an event - people love a good story. You could use statistics, quotations or provocative facts.
Common ground: Here you present the context in a way that will resonate with the reader. Show why this research is relevant and significant. Describe the current status of the problem. Discuss previous studies and show their benefits, but specifically also their limitations and omissions. Explain where your research fits into the current body of literature.
Disruption: Now it is your turn. Explain what does not work. (On the other hand...). Show gaps, inconsistencies or misunderstandings in previous research. Finally show the cost of leaving the matter unresolved, or the benefit of the solution.
Resolution: Present YOUR response to the problem What is the purpose of your research and how will it differ from others. Indicate your research methods, clarify concepts and give an indication of what is to follow.
In deciding what you are actually going to do for your research project you need to get a good overview of the rich diversity of methods at your disposal. An excellent online point of departure is the Web Center for Social Research Methods. Another useful online text book is Dr Christopher L. Heffner's Research Methods, for students in education, psychology and the social sciences. For students from Africa, in particular, but also for everyone else, here is a link to the amazing resources of the Research Methods Library of Alexandria. It is aimed specifically at quantitative research.
In the design fields, including Interaction Design, Experience Design, Instructional Design and Learning Design there is much emphasis on methodologies that involve the development of some tangible outcome.
A useful way of approaching this is through Design Research or Project-Based research.
Here is a link to Prof Tjeerd Plomp and Nienke Niveen's booklet on Educational Design Research.
The most important aspect that I would like to outline, though, is that of conducting research with your own students. Here are two good sets of guidelines from Canada.
Once your proposal has been approved it is time for you to get the study under way. It is at this stage that you will start making the most mistakes. So why not review this article by Varun Grover about Successfully navigating the stages of doctoral study.
A good literature survey can be published as a research article on its own. Thus it follows the same basic structure as any other piece of research. Here is a nice pre-print of an article by Pickering and Byrne, explaining how to do it. And HERE is the definitive PRISMA STATEMENT of Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses.
In your literature survey you need to ensure that you have covered all the classic works in your field. Here is a list of the most cited work in the social sciences.
You begin by saying why you did the research, then how, and then what you learnt. In the text box that follows you will find a link to an excellent article about the literature review, as well as a checklist for what makes a good, publishable literature review. Read them now.
Before you go any further, paste whatever you have written into a free plagiarism checker such as http://www.duplichecker.com/
Once you have read the articles you may want to read a few good literature reviews yourself.
Here is one by Mary Reynolds. Look how well she describes how she found her sources. The link takes you to Chapter 1, the introduction, as well as to Chapter 2, the literature survey. See how they are linked.
This literature survey by Anne Strehler has an exemplary introduction, in which she explains why the literature survey is done, how it is organised, and then how the literature was obtained. You may want to read these two literature surveys critically and run them through the rubric that you have designed as a part of the exercise in the text box above.
Here are some examples of literature surveys that have actually been published in peer refereed journals:
The following document provides a brief outline of the "Structure of a literature survey".
During your literature survey you will have refined your research aim and your research questions. You will also have developed appropriate sub-questions. It is now necessary for you to develop an appropriate research design.
The design you select could mean that you would do your research in a laboratory, an office, or in the field. You would also have to decide if you plan to develop an intervention of some kind or not. An example of an intervention would be lesson you teach before testing its results. The lesson would be the intervention, and the learners' performance and opinions would be the data.
Alternatively the intervention could be a product you design, build and test. The product would be the intervention, and what you leant during building the product, and/or what you learnt while testing it on users would be the data.
Watch this space for information about the design of interventions such as lessons or computer-based learning programmes.
For those of you wishing to develop products, here is Jorn Messeter's guide to setting up a thesis project.
Regardless of whether you have conducted an intervention, or whether you are conducting a survey it is necessary for you to develop instruments to obtain data.
A really good point of departure is the resource page of the Office of Assessment at Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University.
Data collection instruments include log sheets, rubrics or check lists, interview and focus group protocols and questionnaires.
Here are some useful links:
There is no excuse for taking too long with the thesis. Once the data is in, the exciting stuff starts.
Start with an executive summary in the form of a story. Complete these sentences. (I am unable to find the original source, but it is all over the Internet)
The thesis as a story
Check out this very useful slideshow by Dr Shawn E Nordell on How to write your Dissertation/Thesis on 30 minutes a day.
Then check out this AMAZING collection about Writing Your Thesis
Kim Thomas provides the following 15 top tips for finishing your PhD thesis.
Here is some excellent advice from Theresa MacPhail on The No-Fail Secret to Writing a Dissertation.
And here are Herber Lui's Four basic writing principles you can use in everyday life.
One of the most important skills to learn in writing a thesis is how to "take your reader along with you". Graaphics are very useful in this respect. Digital inspiration provide this chart to find the right chart for your data.
The first chapter that you will finish completely is Chapter 4 - the Findings. But before you start on the chapter, it is very useful to gather your thoughts by writing an academic paper about your single most important finding. Think of the paper as a micro-thesis. So, ask yourself, if someone on the bus were to ask you "so what did you find in your research?" what would you answer? That is the topic of your paper.
So, to contextualize your chapter, check out the logic of a thesis.
Also take a look at these 25 tips for doctoral students.
Then break out the word processor and write
Here are the outlines of the other chapters.
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