June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2018
Research publications show the clean, tidy version of the research process. Researchers write and edit their reports to ensure the process is neatly and clearly communicated so that others can easily understand and replicate the study. However, the research process is rarely “neat” or “clean”. All research, regardless of the field, has an inherent level of “messiness”. The research process involves an iterative procedure of testing hypotheses, interpreting results, and making decisions as the project moves forward. This paper will explore my research process as I conducted a qualitative study for my dissertation. I present my process as an audit trail outlining the decisions I made while developing and implementing my study of a group of undergraduate students working on a cross-disciplinary team.
Researchers and program directors often apply an audit trail to evaluate a process or procedure. However, an audit trail also provides a mechanism for researchers to be transparent about their research processes in a way that allows the reader to evaluate its rigor. My goal in presenting an audit trail of my research is to present my study as a specific example to assist those just beginning their qualitative research journey. This paper introduces aspects of the qualitative research tradition for readers who may not be familiar with this approach, including common terminology.
My study borrowed from multiple qualitative methodologies including ethnographic and case study research. I took on the role of a participant observer in an undergraduate cross-disciplinary team and explored the development of undergraduate students while they participated in the cross-disciplinary team project. I collected data from multiple sources such as direct observations, interviews, memos, and written assignments from students. I made decisions about how to organize and analyze the large amount of data I collected. This paper will detail my emergent study design and the decisions I made throughout my study.
The unique nature of my real-time data collection approach with undergraduate students not only provided a deep, rich description of each team member’s experience throughout the project, but it also introduced distinct challenges to my study. These challenges ranged from students adding or dropping the project during my study to balancing my desire to collect additional data with the students’ busy schedules. I also had to creating an honest and straightforward consent form that undergraduate students will understand. This paper will present my experiences as an example for others who may be considering a similar type of study and provide suggestions that are transferable to different contexts.
Anderson, R. K., & Martin, J. P. (2017, June), A Real Report from the Trenches of a Ph.D. Dissertation: Exploring the Inherent "Messiness" of Engineering Education Research Through an Audit Trail Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. https://peer.asee.org/27504
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