22 SES 08 E, Developing Educational Research (Methods & Skills)
Research into learning and teaching of psychology is becoming increasingly important, as the Higher Education sector across Europe continues its expansion and development. The number of students studying psychology is likewise on a steady increase across the UK (Trapp, Banister & Ellis, et al, 2010), with the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) widening its participation agenda, welcoming more students into HE than in previous generations.
This presentation focuses on psychology students’ learning of research methods, as the learning of research skills underpin several of the fundamental principles in psychology and is the basis to the vast majority of both transferable and subject-specific skills (Field, 2010). Research methods modules are also among the core modules required in most psychology degrees, and are often unpopular with students, because the course material is perceived to be complex and technical in nature (E.g. Cassidy & Echus, 2000; Edwards & Thatcher, 2004; Ball & Pelco, 2006). To date, most of the research conducted has focused on evaluating the outcomes of research methods learning; only a few studies address the processes underpinning learning (Earley, 2014). Individual differences in psychological processes, such as learning approaches, motivation, self-regulation, metacognition, academic self-efficacy and sensitivity to social contexts may play a significant role in the success of learning (Richardson, Abraham & Bond 2012). Therefore, it is important to understand how these processes develop, interlink and differ between students, and how they predict learning success and well-being in university settings.
Although the notion of difficulties experienced in learning of research methods at university is not new, previous research has mainly studied statistics and test anxiety (E.g. Macher Paechter, Papousek, & Ruggeri, 2012; Braguglia & Jackson 2012), with a few empirical studies focusing on other emotional factors that could influence students’ learning of research methods. Moreover, research looking at emotions and learning has studied only negative emotions, overshadowing the possible influence of positive ones. However, more recent studies examining the relationship between emotions and academic performance have consistently shown that positive emotions correlate with higher academic performance, whereas negative emotions correlate with lower academic performance (e.g. Artino, Holmboe, & Durning, 2012; Pekrun, Goetz, Frenzel, Barchfeld, & Perry, 2011). For example, emotions can facilitate the use of different learning strategies and promote self-regulated learning, with positive emotions being positively associated with self-regulation, motivation and the use of deeper learning strategies among university students (Pekrun, Goetz, Frenzel, Barchfeld, & Perry, 2011). Less research has further aimed to gain a deeper understanding of the views and attitudes students hold before they start their research methods journey.
Conducting more research into learning of research methods can help improving overall learning for psychology students at university. This also ties in with both the U.K government’s Teaching and Excellence Framework’s (TEF) aim to raise teaching standards and improve student learning (BIC, 2016) as well as the EHEAs vision to improve lifelong learning.
The present study adopts a mixed-methods approach, in order to gain a deep and broad understanding of first year psychology students' initial attitudes towards research methods. The study sought to answer the following research questions:
-What are the initial thoughts, feelings and expectations that psychology students have in regards to research methods modules?
- Do psychology students find research methods modules particularly challenging and what are the potential reasons why?
- How do students’ experiences of research methods influence their thoughts, feelings and expectations towards learning of research methods?
Data were collected during the first introduction to psychological research methods seminar, with the sample consisting of 107 first-year psychology undergraduates at the University of Westminster, London, UK. Participants were asked to complete a survey with demographic information (gender, age, ethnicity and socio-economic status), as well as their own and their parent’s highest qualifications. The second part of the survey consisted of four open-ended questions regarding the students’ experiences, thoughts, feelings, and expectations of research methods. The participants were also asked to rate how difficult they thought the research methods module would be, by comparing it to other modules on their course using a 5-point Likert scale and to expand on their reasons as to why they feel this way. The data obtained from the surveys was firstly subjected to qualitative content analysis by transcribing the students’ responses and coding the thoughts, feelings and expectations of students, in order to see what the most frequently used word or phrases are for each of the questions.
A variety of patterns emerged, and insights were gained into both negative and positive feelings, as well as concerns about statistics and mathematics. Preliminary analyses revealed significant differences in expected difficulty scores between students with positive/mixed feelings and those with negative feelings: Students with negative feelings expected the module to be more difficult. Furthermore, a significant relationship was found between students’ feelings and expectations towards the module: Students with positive or mixed feelings regarding research methods were more likely to report expectations for acquiring knowledge in comparison to students with negative feelings. These findings highlight the importance of feelings: The findings show that students have mixed feelings towards research methods, and that these feelings influence their expectations for the module. Taken together, these results will provide useful information about potential factors associated with students learning of research methods. These findings can be used to help students enhance their learning experiences, as well as to give guidance for lecturers on how teaching of research methods can be improved. This study is conducted as a part of a larger PhD project looking at students’ learning in research methods modules and the potential challenges that students may face. Future work will be looking at the influence of emotions in conjunction with cognitive and behavioural variables, in order to understand the learning processes of students in more depth, and to research a variety of learning journeys and success factors.
Allinson, K. (2017). Widening participation in UK outward student mobility: a picture of participation. Artino, A. R., Holmboe, E. S., & Durning, S. J. (2012). Control‐value theory: Using achievement emotions to improve understanding of motivation, learning, and performance in medical education: AMEE Guide No. 64. Medical Teacher, 34(3), e148–e160. https://doi.org/10.3109/0142159X.2012.651515 Ball, C. T., & Pelco, L. E. (2006). Teaching research methods to undergraduate psychology students using an active cooperative learning approach. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 12(2), 147–154. BIS - Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2016a) Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice, May 2016, CM9258 Braguglia, K. H., & Jackson, K. A. (2012). Teaching research methodology using a project-based three course sequence critical reflections on practice. American Journal of Business Education (AJBE), 5(3), 347-352. Cassidy, S., & Eachus, P. (2000). Learning style, academic belief systems, self-report student proficiency and academic achievement in higher education. Educational Psychology, 20(3), 307-322. Diseth, Å. (2007). Approaches to learning, course experience and examination grade among undergraduate psychology students: Testing of mediator effects and construct validity. Studies in Higher Education, 32(3), 373-388. Edwards, D. F., & Thatcher, J. (2004). A student‐centred tutor‐led approach to teaching research methods. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 28(2), 195–206. Entwistle, N. J. (1991). Approaches to learning and perceptions of the learning environment. Higher education, 22(3), 201-204. Entwistle, N., McCune, V., & Walker, P. (2001). Conceptions, styles and approaches within higher education: analytic abstractions and everyday experience. Perspectives on thinking, learning, and cognitive styles, 103-136. Macher, D., Paechter, M., Papousek, I., & Ruggeri, K. (2012). Statistics anxiety, trait anxiety, learning behavior, and academic performance. European journal of psychology of education, 27(4), 483-498. Pekrun, R., Goetz, T., Frenzel, A. C., Barchfeld, P., & Perry, R. P. (2011). Measuring emotions in students’ learning and performance: The Achievement Emotions Questionnaire (AEQ). Contemporary educational psychology, 36(1), 36-48. Richardson, J. T. E. (2005). Students’ Approaches to Learning and Teachers’ Approaches to Teaching in Higher Education. Educational Psychology, 25(6), 673–680. Trapp, A., Banister, P., Ellis, J., Latto, R., Miell, D., & Upton, D. (2011). The future of undergraduate psychology in the United Kingdom. York, UK: UK Higher Education Academy Psychology Network. Retrieved from http://www. pnarchive. org/docs/pdf/UG_PSYCHOLOGY_WEB. pdf.
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