The Research Methods Database

Welcome to this online database.  You can start using it immediately by clicking here, but I thought you might be interested in some of the background thinking involved in setting it up.

The database arose as an answer to some of the problems in teaching research methods courses to undergraduates and postgraduates on a number of programmes.  On the one hand, there is increasing pressure to make research methods modules compulsory for all students, and there is an obvious managerial and educational advantage in having shared resources, if not generic modules.  On the other hand, research methods modules are not popular with students, and for very good reasons: students are interested in developing expertise in one or two particular methods only, usually the ones they are going to use in their own projects.  Academics, however, want them to know about other methods, either to make sure they are showing the necessary informed choice, especially at postgraduate level, or to acquaint them with academic debates which often feature beneath the surface of methodological ones.  In social sciences, there is often a particular need to show academic balance and even-handedness between the claims of the various schools or approaches.

Important as these academic agenda are, they are not immediately appealing to undergraduates, who, having chosen to use a survey approach, say, find it difficult to appreciate the value of sessions on autoethnography.  From my experience, it is also extremely difficult to get students interested in debates about methodology in advance of them actually doing their own research projects.  Often, however, they will have completed a research methods module before developing their own research interests to any great extent: when they realize the importance of studying research methods, it is often too late, and they will have only their old notes and booklists to fall back on.

It seems obvious that some sort of online database will meet many of these problems.  In addition, there are often excellent teaching materials and case studies covering research methods, including resources such as INTUTE, MERLOT, Sociosite, British and American government collections of research and evaluative studies.  An online database offers resources which are accessible 24/7, especially to students who are panicking to write methodology chapters at an advanced stage of their projects, long after taking their methods module.  The resources also cover a far wider range of approaches than could be managed in a short module or by a small team of lecturers.  Hence this database, which contains links to a wide range of material, some of it produced as teaching material locally, some of it contained on university websites elsewhere, or on the portals mentioned above. Of course, the materials will never replace solid and consistent teaching and reading -- but they might start some off.

The database can be used in a number of ways.  Staff teaching a particular research methods variant can suggest particular routes through the database, focusing on particular priorities, such as quantitative analysis, or action research. They will want to include their own local materials, references and so on. They can, if they wish, also direct students to a route that takes in very different sorts of methods.  This is our approach on the MA Sport Development at UCP Marjon, where we suggest that students first of all deepen their expertise in research methods that they will be familiar with and are considering using themselves, but then that they investigate completely different methods, in order to be able to make a more informed choice.

We are also aware of different approaches to teaching methods: some colleagues will want to address philosophical or theoretical issues immediately, others favour a pragmatic approach, still others prefer to teach the craft of doing research by working with actual examples first. A good database should include materials that permit all of these.

It is also quite reasonable to expect students to develop independent study, while not just throwing them back on their own resources.  A student wishing to develop the highly desirable ‘syllabus independence’ can be directed toward resources from this database which will support and encourage them: students can also search a database in any other way they wish, of course.

The entries in this database are arranged in alphabetical order, rather as in a ‘key concepts’ textbook.  This provides students with a familiar way into the material, of course, but there are disadvantages as well.  Alphabetical order is not the same as logical order or optimal pedagogic order.  Such more effective orders can be suggested by teaching teams, but the use of hyperlinks inside each entry should also suggest ways to develop  'concept nets',  through the entries instead of referring back to the alphabetical list all the time.

Finally, the database is intended to be interactive.  As with all web documents, there is no rigid barrier between users and contributors.  The database therefore contains a page which invites users to suggest new entries for periodic review and updating: eventually, a wiki would seem to be one way to progress with this idea.

Please send any initial comments or thoughts, for additional material, for additional hyperlinks, or on any other matter to Dave Harris