MEd 11: So what does this all mean?

Yesterday I finished my research interviews and took to looking at the data. In total, eight participants were interviewed and this has provided some good insight into our service. This blog post will review and reflect on my key findings. All participants were openly asked if they knew of our team and what we do before the interview began. This enabled me to provide those who needed it with an overview of the service remit to help contextualise the interview. None of the participants had used the service as intended. This allowed me to focus on issues surrounding why they have no used the service.

Mode of delivering study support

The overwhelming preference for study support seems to be on a personalised, contextualised 1:1 basis. The desired mode of this delivery heavily varied between participants. Some insisted that the content needed to be delivered face:face, though the majority did not care how the content was delivered (email, phone, skype etc.) as long as it was personalised to them. Though only one participant mentioned electronic/distance/internet appointments unprompted, all participants viewed them as a useful way to engage the team (more on this later).

What support?

The unfortunate thing that this research has highlighted is that the vast majority of what the students want – constitutes things we currently offer already. This was the hardest part of the research as I had to carefully control my facial expressions and body language to ensure I did not influence the participants. The worst part of this was to not reveal we’re doing this stuff mid-interview – particularly difficult when someone describes their need for a service in intricate detail and it is already something you offer. This information is useful however as it highlights the need to work on our team profile, developing our marketing to ensure students know what we do and where we are.

Why have you not used the service?

This was the most interesting question of them all. The surface issues indicated students had not used the service as they did not know of it or did not understand its full remit. On further investigation however, asking students if they would use the service led to some interesting discussions. The first issue that usually came up involved time or schedules. Participants felt they could probably utilize the help but would not be able to access it in a convenient way. Unprompted they were asked how they would like support – many would prefer additional times to those offered while some suggested but some suggested online services may be more useful. Once again however there was a focus on tutor support and personalisation.

The largest issue however was to do with the principle of asking for help itself. This was the most difficult issue to address with the participants. Asking them if there is stigma with asking for help. Some of them opened up and really demonstrated the vulnerability they feel when seeking help. How it makes the feel weak and ‘look weak’. There was a lot of reflection on how strength is revered in society so they feel like they must live up to that and not show weakness. Not in this competitive world. Some felt issues with looking stupid or feeling like they were bothering staff.

Underlying themes also included peer support and departmental support as a crucial way to develop skills. Those who spoke of this highlighted the strength of skills contextualised to their discipline or the comfort from receiving help from students who understood their disciplinary content too.

 So what?

My overwhelming feeling at this stage is that this I have only begun to scratch the surface. Speaking to only eight individuals has given a good foundation to the issues, but has not really given me the depth I need to draw out any themes. The good news in this is that there is definitely something interesting there that warrants further research. While not a groundbreaking piece of research, this has really given me a taste for research again and has provided some valuable points to reflect on for the future.


The scary thing now is finalising my 1,000 reflection on all of this before Friday. I am so happy I got the research together, but feel overwhelmed by how long this took for a non-assessed task. I just need to look forward now and plan my time effectively to get these two assignments finished.

MEd 10: Snooze

Finally home and with all my ‘research’ done. I am glad I used different approaches to the interviews as I have learned a lot from the process. Online synchronous typed interviews have to be my biggest surprise – they were incredibly effective. Not only are they already transcribed due to their very form, but I found some participants really opened up in this from of conversation. Sadly, there is no body language or tone – no real way to tell if they mean what they say. The same could be said for conversations however.

Online interviews certainly helped make it convenient for both the participants and myself so I wanted to expand on this a little. This is where Skype comes in. I did a couple of video interviews as part of this process to try an keep the advantages of online interviews but bring back in some tone, expression and body language. While I liked the approach, I felt I would rather do it face:face than across the internet with webcams. It did not feel as connected as a face:face interview, but there was more relation than with the instant messaging interview outlined above. One thing that did interest me however was that participants tended to be more open with me as an interviewer when there was no spoken or visual element. Perhaps instant messaging interviews are a good way forward for controversial or personal topics – Is it easier to be honest and vulnerable when you’re just typing? or is it the distance from the interview? the lack of relations?

As you can see – I have more questions than answers due to the small sample. It has however enlightened me to the fact that 1:1 interviews don’t need to be face:face. More importantly – I have seen them working over digital mediums and there are some excellent advantages to this kind of interview. I did of course undertaken face:face, 1:1 interviews and these formed the majority of my ‘research’. 🙂

MEd 9: Lets start talking!

So, I have finally got my target demographic for this study. Only slight issue is that it is a much wider group than I had anticipated. Indeed – very hard to target when almost 50% of students qualify.

It has been difficult to accommodate for this as my research strategy was more focus on specific and specialist groups. Indeed, there is no mens group or officer for me to even approach in the Union. As such, I have had to go for a rapidly cobbled plan of trying to speak to the widest possible range of students within this group. It should at least give me some opportunity to being to explore these issues and perhaps direct further research. More importantly, it will give me an opportunity to delve into research through interviews once again.

Delving into interviews… Now this is where it dawned on me. This project and whole module is a fantastic learning opportunity. While it doesn’t do anything for my research validity – why not experiment with the format of the interview a little? I could maybe do a couple of them online or one via telephone. It would be a great way to explore different ways of interviewing and allow me as a researcher to actually experience these methods first hand. Perhaps this will help me make an informed choice in the future? – when the research REALLY matters?

MEd 8: Interesting!

So I have been working hard this week on my data analysis to help influence the next part of my study. By next part – I pretty much mean this week. I need to be reflecting by the weekend.

I have completed all the quantitative analysis and there have been some useful pointers to direct the next part of this study. This has involved looking at demographics data and comparing it between the University population and our own access statistics. This gets a lot more interesting when cross tabulated – but I’ll keep it simple for now. This is nothing drastic here – the service is being accessed by students from a whole host of demographics which is very reassuring. I’ll review some of the interesting areas here:


Despite the university population lacking the dramatic gender gap experienced within other institutions (See the 2013 article in the Guardian – Where are all the men?), there is a notably less appointments from male students. Indeed, they make up only 34.3% of appointments. Are men less likely to see 1:1 help in learning and development? Would online courses and resources be more attractive to them?



Compared to the university population, we relatively see more ‘older students’. This is perhaps not to be unexpected as the return to education or a break in study can often lead to the need for more learning and development support. This however is an assumption and this needs to be understood. It could also be a case that ‘younger students’ are less likely to seek learning and development help. This could be an issue – especially as they are unaware how digitally illiterate they are (ALDinHE Conference). Clearly a good area for further research!



For both mode of study (part-time/full-time) and level of study (undergraduate/postgraduate) there was a weighting towards one group – even if just slightly. This was ‘full-time’ for mode and ‘undergraduate’ for level. This may be for several reasons and would be interesting to research. It could be that part-time and postgraduate students are naturally more independent – it could however indicate a need for other forms of provision for these groups.


Home country

Relatively speaking, we see slightly more international students – but this is not a surprise as they are studying degree level of higher qualifications in second language. Once again however this is an assumption and is something that could be investigated.


Is  this not all terribly dull DULL?

Well maybe. But one thing I have to admit is that this isn’t exactly how I expected the data to turn out. To be honest, I suspected we’d be seeing proportionally less mature students, or postgraduates or some other clear-cut category. The results however showed us performing really well. The gender balance however – now there is something I did not expect. Out of everything, it appears gender is the one to look at for now.

I am unsure why this surprised me at the time. To be honest – gender issues like this are present across the HE sector. What interests me however is why male students at hull are less likely to seek our support. This is interesting for my study as ultimately: would further online and self-help support be more beneficial to male students?

More research is needed. At last I feel more informed now and know where I am heading!




MEd 7: Data data EVERYWHERE

So I started my research this week, collating the quantitative data I needed to identify the groups for my qualitative research. It has been an interesting process so far as it turns out out appointment record is over 26,000 records and this doesn’t even include workshop data! At this stage I am pleased I chose to focus on only on the data from the current academic year as this certainly narrows down the total number of records and makes it a lot more manageable for this mini-project.

I am however starting to get REALLY worried about what little time we have left. To ensure I am (somewhat) on track, I have decided not to analyse workshop attendance and to only focus on appointment attendance for the disengagement analysis. While this is unfortunate, this doesn’t concern me too much. The sole aim of this stage is just to identifying which groups to research. Essentially I need to get this over and done with QUICKLY so I can make a start on my interviews… while there is still time… just…

Reliability has been a bit of a shocker. I thought our data would be solid, but I have spotted problems. There has been some human error (unless we really did have a 102 year old student on a theater course…) and the data extraction has caused some problems too (some engagements are double and treble recording where a student is on multiple programmes in a session). Suffice to say I think I’ll be nipping back to readdress reliability concerns in the plan.

So… Somehow I need to get this stage and my completed plan done before the end of this month. This will give me around 10 days for data collection/analysis and a week for my summary/reflection. It feels like it will take a miracle. But then again – it is only a ‘mini’ project…

MEd 6 – I like the way you think

It has been a while since I have done a proper update regarding my MEd research. I’ve not been slacking – far from it! Our Team has been very busy preparing new things for the students which took a lot of Easter. I was also lucky enough to go to the ALDinHE conference last week which took a lot of my time. I’ve happily spent most of Easter catching up on my proposal and I think the time has now come to catch up on my blog. It won’t be easy, but I am hoping to add quite a few posts to sum up the experience of honing my research proposal over the last couple of weeks.

I want to dip back to the conference first however as it has offered excellent input towards my literature review and research approach. The conference was incredibly relevant to my research proposal as all the content and papers involved new and upcoming developments in skills support. This made it a perfect starting place to look at what is out there and has really shaped my thought processes over the last few weeks. I also had the honour of presenting some work at the conference alongside a colleague (here if you are interested).

The conference has had a big impact on my research as it has really helped me hone in on what is important. This has been a lot of fun actually and has enabled me to really catch up on my research proposal. I want to try and spent a couple of days blogging about the sessions that I found useful in helping me plan my research proposal. You may have seen them referenced in my wiki, but I want to expand on this now.

I want to end this post with the following video. I have recently become obsessed with TED talks and have ashamedly been using them as a form of procrastination been using them as breaks while I study. The reason this one stood out when Brené say the following to someone wanting to call her a ‘story teller’:

The academic, insecure part of me was like… ‘Why not magic pixie’ …

I like how she was concerned of her academic integrity and the idea of her being a story teller. But what really struck me was the following:

I am a qualitative researcher. I collect stories. Thats what I do. Maybe stories are just data with a sole. Maybe I am a storyteller

I have never felt more connected to a researcher before. I cannot describe how much I like the idea of qualitative research being ‘data with a soul’. I’ve always felt that, but have never been able to vocalise that.


MEd 5 – Research Proposal

Below is a summary of what I am looking at but I will continue to develop this on the MEd course wiki

So I am a little behind, but I have finally got things together for my research proposal. This is my current idea for now, I hope it is workable… The team that I am on has an established face:face support programme involving workshops, 1:1 appointments, volunteer training and PASS. As modes of study continue to diversify and as our students increasingly have life/work commitments, we need to consider how online support can supplement what we currently do. For this mini research project I proposed to look at the following two questions:

1) Are there any students currently not engaging with our face:face programme that could be supported online?

This could utilise current participant data that is available. I could supplement this with a couple of interviews or an online questionnaire.

2) What possible technologies could be used to facilitate online workshops or appointments (and what do similar teams in other universities currently use)?

This could involve researching and collating practice across the sector (or as much as possible given the time-frame.

MEd 4 – Ethics, Validity and Reliability

Ethics – the right and wrong
Ethics. What is right? What is wrong? With research I guess the core of this is a set of principles to keep our participants and their data safe. This is both critically and morally important. I think ethics have however taken another form. We’re all involved in organisations and to them, ethics is of vital importance too. There are legal, reputational, organisational and business issues. If a piece of research we were conducting led to conflict within the area of research or we left a HDD on the train full of participants details there would be major implications for the organisation. To prevent this organisations have procedures and processes monitor research ethics and approve projects before they take place. This is a valuable way to administer ethical approval – but for some it seems needless bureaucracy.

I wanted to start my reflection on that. Often we all fall into the trap of thinking ethical approval is just something we’re made to do. Something that is part of our organisation. I wanted to focus on the importance of ethical consideration for moral reasons. For our participants. Most importantly I think it is important to maintain this thought process throughout. Often I think it is easy to consider ethics as a mere checklist at the start of a project and not an ongoing evaluatory process throughout a research project.

Why is it important to consider research ethics?
The following are what I consider headlines in ensuring ethical research:

Accurate, thorough and accurately represented data
As I said in my previous post, it is immoral to misrepresent data or skew things towards a particular finding. There is no value in such research and it literally undermines the whole purpose of conducting research. It is our responsibility as researchers to produce valid and accurate results. This is especially the case where our research involves people as it would be abhorrent to misrepresent them, their viewpoints or opinions.

No harm
Research should do no harm to the participants. This is an obvious one. Sometimes a difficult one. Imagine this applied to medical research? Sometimes it is about having processes lined up in case things do go wrong just as much as it is in trying to prevent it from happening. In the same way, people should not be put in any unnecessary risk.

Consider anonymity and confidentiality
Often we can offer anonymity or confidentiality to our participants. In doing so it is vital we handle the data carefully and sensitively. If a participant believes what they say is confidential, they may be more open. If a researcher went on to name and shame them it would a violation of research principles and even the data protection act.

In some contexts, participants (or their guardians) should know who we are and what we are doing. This is particularly the case with involved methods such as interviews and focus groups. Participants have a right to know what we are collecting and how we will use that data. There are cases where consent isn’t possible as it will affect the study outcome (psychologists observing behaviour) or sometimes it is outside our ability (participant observation of a food court at lunch). It is these cases where ethical considerations need to be carefully considered.

Is the person giving consent in a position to give consent? Are they old enough? Do they understand what it means?

Data access
How do you store your data? Who has access to this? If you have a file of participants names and addresses are you storing it securely? Do you have permission to share raw data?

Researcher safety
How can we keep ourselves safe? Are we off to go speak to participants down dark alleys where no one can hear us scream? Unlikely… What about someone’s home? For my undergraduate I interviewed people at home. For my safety someone needed to know where I was. For my participants safety, they needed confidentiality. Dilemma. To solve this I had to pass sealed details to a colleague and they would be instructed to open it should I not check in at a specified time. Perhaps it seems a little overkill but it was something that kept us both safe.

Stealing is wrong and that is what plagiarism is at the heart. It is unethical to plagiarise work. Enough said.

It is important to comply to the Equality Act 2010. This is particularly important to consider as no language should be used that would bias anyone for any of the protected characteristics in the act.

I think it is sometimes easy to forget this. As social researchers we are often invading someone else’s world. Their community,  their school, their place of work or even their home. We need to remember this as researchers and respect their territory.

Legal, health and safety, safeguarding
While all the above is important, criminal, safeguarding and health and safety issues must come first. If any participant indicated something falling into this area, the researcher may have an obligation to reveal this to the relevant authorities.

This next bit is formed for the Creswell (2003) book which looks at three ethical scenarios:

  1.  This issue falls under my last point. This issue would over-ride all other considerations and the researcher would have an obligation to inform the prison that a breakout was planned.
  2. The researcher is plagiarising and this needs to be corrected. It would be best to approach the team as whole regarding plagiarism. This would give the individual opportunity to correct their mistake and learn. If this was still not fixed at a later date then a discussion would need to be had with that researcher. Plagiarism could bring the whole team/project/department into disrepute.
  3. In this case the student has done something wrong. She should stop her research until she receives ethical approval. If her project did not or needed amendments then the participants would have to be informed. This is assuming her researcher was properly constructed. If she had conducted it unethically then she may need disciplining according to regulations.

Validity and Reliability:
I am cautious of the length of this post so will leave it there. There were also no guidelines for the validity/reliability reflections so I am unsure what to write as well….

MEd 2 – Qualitative and Quantitative Research and Research Worldview

In the past I have always favoured a mixed method approach. This isn’t so much because of my personal worldview, but the context I was researching in. Quantitative research gave me those numbers, percentages and graphs that resonated with the management team. I get the feeling I’m not the only person who has experienced this. Why do senior managers love hard figure so much? All this is assuming  a statistically significant sample of course. Then comes in qualitative. The little stories that tell you a lot. Those little glimpses into something that add up to a hint at the bigger picture. I’ve always preferred that approach I think as I’ve liked connecting with people as a researcher. I always feel I learn more.

This week I focused on studying Research Methods for Education (Newby, 2012) and an older edition of Research Design (Creswell, 2003). After James’ post on Google +, I event revisited Kirkpatrick as I had adapted some work based on that model for our service level evaluation. There were some important things I wanted to move towards with this – moving away from mere evaluation to look at outputs and impact. This naturally required a new focus on the later stages which required fitting it all into a bigger framework.

What distinguishes a qualitative study from a quantitative study?

Quantitative Qualitative
1 Tests/verifies explanations or theories to produce a measurable truth. Other researchers should be able to replicate results. Uses closed ended approaches/questions to measure and quantify. Collects meanings to explore the different views people subscribe to. Uses open-ended questions and approaches.
2 Produces a single quantifiable truth* Produces meaning(s) from the individualised reality perceived by people – there is no single truth*.“People subscribe to different views and believe valid but different truths*” (Newby, 2010: pp45)
3 The researcher is objective and neutral. Unbiased and rigorous approaches are used The researcher is not unbiased and can be committed or based within the community being studies.  Interpretation of results can be

I have labelled my top characteristics above. I felt the need to draw out some further differences and some similarities:


4 Is valid where approach is rigorous and accepted
5 *Produces ‘constructed’ knowledge and truths. There is no such thing as an indisputable truth. Any ‘truth’ may later be disproved. (See discussion on Henry’s blog)
6 Data takes the form of numbers Data can take any form
7 Positivist Constructivist

I am still wary of my choice in a table to draw out the differences between qualitative and quantitative. I think I wanted to do this as I could link rows to show similarities too. Although it is an obvious one, I still feel the need to justify qualitative approaches. I sadly still come across individuals who dislike things they cannot put a ruler against to produce a nice statistic.

I am still aware I am missing my third blog post that was due this week. Sadly I am still playing catch up with the course. This week had a HUGE amount of required reading which I have simply not got through due to unforeseen circumstances this morning. I did particularly enjoy reading Newby’s first chapter. I found the ‘warnings’ amusing and truthful. Newby labels research in educational contexts as highly political which I think we can all relate to . I think this is especially apparent within HE as there are institutional politics ontop. I think Newby presents a worst case scenario in suggesting that research can “make you enemies”. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but I think it raises useful points about considering how to approach a topic that may dispute orthodoxy or identify a different approach/path/strategy to the one agreed.


Creswell, J. W. (2003) Research Design, Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Method Approaches

Newby, P. (2010) Research Methods for Education