Recommendations for DETA Research Support

There were two primary recommendations for support that resulted from the 2016 DETA meeting that looked to engage a community of individuals interested in conducting research on distance education. Small group discussions focused on identifying current challenges they faced in conducting these studies and generating potential solutions, which resulted in these recommendations.

One was in developing an online community for information sharing and networking. The second was in supporting data collection efforts.

Attendees felt that a useful method for supporting research efforts would be to provide webinars with important information.  Not only could participants in these webinars learn, the webinars could be recorded for future acquisition of this knowledge in a just-in-time fashion. Further, participants could use the webinars to ask questions, receive answers, and network with other participants. Beyond real-time webinars that would be archived, participants felt that a virtual space could allow for additional collaboration and networking.

The virtual community would have two primary components including dissemination and collaboration. Areas of dissemination could include resources to increase awareness and understanding of grant funding opportunities, relevant literature in the field, the research process, and research outcomes/dissemination from the DETA project. The dissemination materials would include such items as research questions addressed and methodology or research models used. More specifically, materials to be incorporated are “How Tos” about: IRB, grant applications, research proposals, analytic strategies, results development and dissemination, and others. Area of collaboration could include discussing key issues, especially challenges or problems and opportunities in conducting research, receiving feedback or soliciting collaborators on research proposals, including the designing of research, and sharing of current studies and data collection efforts underway, again to potentially gain collaborators on upcoming or ongoing research, if needed.

Organization and technological functionality of the virtual community platform was discussed. Technology for dissemination should be databases where information is potentially organized based upon level of expertise a researcher has and research questions being asked, including variables of interest and methodology being employed. Potential methods for organizing the online forums within collaboration efforts include: (1) a tagging system to provide guidance for important materials within a facet of DE and DE Research; (2) a labeling system indicating the intended audience based on level of expertise (newbie or expert to DE research). Online discussion forums could be included to promote communication, including problem posing and problem solving among the community. The online forum could also serve as a ‘tracking tool’ and a space to gather and house information about the entire process of DE research. Importantly, the technological functionality should be manageable and organized (avoiding wiki functionality should be considered).

Beyond the developing of an online community allowing for dissemination and collaboration, there was specific support requested for gathering survey data and institutionally warehoused data. The primary concern in survey data collection was survey technology design that would reduce survey fatigue. A list of potential solutions include:

  1. Avoid pull down menus and excessive “clicking” in survey.
  2. Allow respondents to “check” relevant items in a list instead of requiring them to click “yes” or “no” for each item.
  3. Put all questions on one page instead of having multiple pages of survey items.
  4. Utilize skip logic and radio buttons in your online survey platform.
  5. Only include survey items that are necessary to answer your research question(s).
  6. Pilot the survey to determine the time commitment and adjust the survey accordingly to meet desired survey length.
  7. Randomize survey items so respondents are less likely to know what you are trying to measure.
  8. Where relevant, insert a Likert response bar every five items to remind the respondent of the scale and ensuring accessibility for all students regardless of ability.
  9. Create multiple surveys (e.g., one survey on learner characteristics and another on course characteristics) and invite students to participate in one survey at a time throughout the duration of the course. For example, students could be invited to complete a survey on learner characteristics in the first month of the course and then be invited to complete a second survey on courses characteristics later in the term.

Additionally, attendees felt that additional support in gathering institutional data may be needed. There was a need to enhance understanding of the following: the role of IRB, institutional research, registrar’s office, information technology, and financial aid in gathering institutional data. Moreover, there were challenges in identifying and building networks with key stakeholders in access and retrieving data. Specific tools were needed as well, such as sample letters or emails of how one approaches institutional entities to access data, which could be included in the online community. Tackling policies affecting how one’s institutional data and survey data can be shared with DETA was another area; for example, do faculty have the ability to access course level student data for courses they are teaching, and can staff (non-teaching) access data for an array of online courses? Finally, additional support was needed in navigating IRB documents for accessing data and sharing with those outside of the institution.

Joosten, T., Harness, L., and Cusatis, R. (May, 2016).