E891 Part 3 Action 3.4 Applying an experimental frame to explore practice

As I concluded earlier on in the module, most of the research questions I identify tend to be suited to an interpretivist/constructivist frame. I am often interested in why and how something is happening, not necessarily on what is happening and whether there is a systematic effect, although the latter is potentially a secondary concern to me.

Having reconsidered my tentative research questions from earlier on in the module, there is, however, one question to which an experimental frame might be aligned.

To what extent would personalised study skills support from a personal tutor help students to achieve at university?

I’m particularly interested in students who perhaps have not developed strong self-efficacy or self-regulation and therefore are less prepared for HE study than some others in their cohort.

An experimental design could be applied with, for example, a randomised section of students receiving personal study support, and another randomised section not receiving any intervention. There might be potential ethical concerns around one group receiving something extra/better than the norm, so perhaps the other group could have other additional resources on study skills but no personal tutor intervention in this area. The experiment would need to run perhaps for a whole semester, and then marks could be tracked throughout. However, it would be rather difficult to compare the with/without group since the main assessments come at the end of the semester. Just comparing how the two groups do might result in false results because so many factors might influence the end of semester performance, particularly in year 1 as the students are settling in. Perhaps a test could be set mid-semester and performance of the two groups compared then (means etc).

I think this design might help me to understand better the impact a personal tutor might have, but I would see this as a starting point in the research as it might answer ‘what’ but not ‘why’ questions about the intervention and support needed. I would be interested in tutor and student perceptions of the intervention, what the students feel they are finding difficult early on in university, what kind of help they and the tutors would consider most effective etc. One might even track students over their HE careers as case studies, understanding how they develop the self-efficacy and self-regulation skills over time, and then taking lessons from that into the 1st year curriculum and skills development content.

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