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Research Design in Occupational Education
Copyright 1997. James P. Key. Oklahoma State University
Except for those materials which are supplied by different departments of the University
(ex. IRB, Thesis Handbook) and references used by permission.





Selecting a Research Area

When selecting a research problem area, the brainstorming approach should be used first, followed by evaluation and selection. In the brainstorming phase you should try to search out all possibilities, look as broadly as possible, and try to suppress biases and preconceived notions as much as possible. After searching as broad a background as possible in the problem area, you should then start evaluating the information you have gathered, sorting and organizing it. As you begin narrowing your problem area, there are several pertinent questions you should ask. These questions are addressed in the following sections: problem, data, researcher, procedures and methods, and resources.

Problem Questions

Is the problem significant? Has the problem been studied before? What were the results? Can someone else claim the problem definition and its solution? Is the problem broad enough for a significant study to be completed, yet narrow enough to be able to reach a conclusion and solution? Is the terminology used in the problem formulation specific, understandable and clearly stated? Is the problem clearly related to prior studies? Will the solution to the problem have a significant educational impact? Can the problem be solved through the process of educational research?

Data Questions

Are the needed data readily available and accessible? What sources of data are needed? Does the data already exist for the basis of a solution to the problem or will new information be needed? Do valid and reliable data-gathering devices exist, and are they readily available?

Researcher Questions

What is the interest level of the researcher to the problem topic? Is the motivation high enough to complete the project? Is the topic within the researcher's capabilities? Does the researcher have the knowledge and skills needed concerning the problem area to conduct the research and interpret the findings? Is the researcher determined and aggressive enough to pursue the study even when faced with difficulties?

Procedures and Methods Questions

What procedural techniques are available for use? Does literature exist that can be reviewed to build a theoretical framework and background as a basis for the study? Can procedures be developed or adopted to sufficiently conduct the study and allow for replication by other researchers? Will the methodology allow for the collection of the data needed to solve the problem? Does the method chosen allow for collection of the maximum amount of data with the least amount of effort? Where will the research be conducted? How many subjects are needed; where and how can they be reached?

Resource Questions

Are acceptable resources available and accessible? Is the cooperation of others necessary in conducting this research? Are these relationships already in existence or do they need to be made? Is the sponsorship or the research readily available? How much will the study and research cost and are the financial resources available and accessible? How long will it take to complete the study? What equipment may be necessary? What working conditions will exist? What, if any, risks will be involved in conducting the study?


Developing the Title

After you have decided on an area of interest for your research study, your next step is to clearly and concisely develop the title. Titles are usually stated as a declarative sentence or phrase. Usually "A Study of" is omitted from the title to aid in conciseness. The journalism questions Who?, What?, When? and Where? are helpful in determining when enough information has been included.

Examples of Title

A Comparison of Selected Characteristics of 1968 and 1969 Vocational Agriculture Graduates from Welfare and Non-Welfare Families of Adair County, Oklahoma.
Academic Success Patterns of Native and Transfer Students in Selected Associate Degree Technology Programs at Oklahoma State University.
The Influence of Industrial Arts Experience on the Vocational Knowledge of Students in the Area Vocational Technical Schools in Oklahoma.


Defining the Problem

In establishing the background of the problem for your study, sometimes the funnel approach is helpful. At the beginning a brief, broad overview is perhaps helpful to establish the setting of the problem. This leads to the need for the study as indicated by the factors in the setting. The need can then be narrowed somewhat into the true importance of the study. If the above steps have been followed, they almost establish the format of deductive reasoning thereby establishing the rationale of the study. Once the rationale is established, the finest point of our funnel approach is drawn out by adding the usefulness. As any good pragmatist knows, a study must have utilitarian value to education, a state agency, a college department, teachers, or some other group. The case is then made for the study which leads us to a concise statement of the problem. This approach to establishing the background really encompasses the first two steps of the scientific method. Literature sources should be cited liberally to verify statements and information. This helps establish the theoretical construct or foundation of the study.


A broad overview of the background and setting of the problem lays the

groundwork for the need for the study which is established by relating

factors creating the problem. The importance of the study

is signified by indicating theoretical value, groups, and

people affected which leads to the overall reasons

for the study called rationale. This is the basis

for usefulness nationally, statewide, and

locally with various groups.

 The problem statement should summarize in a few words why the study is being done. Care should be exercised at this point to ensure that the problem is within the capability of the researcher and can be accomplished with the resources available. In other words, is the scope of the study realistic? Careful attention should be directed at this point to ensure that the title and the problem statement agree. One problem plaguing many studies is the lack of consistency between the title, problem, purpose, review of literature, findings, and conclusions. All components must agree as to direction and guide the reader from the problem through its solution.

Examples Of Problem Statement

Because of the rising multiplicity and complexity of discipline problems in secondary schools, a study of personality characteristics was deemed timely. In addition, the limited number of studies in this area have indicated the need for further research in correlating personality characteristics and the history of behavioral problems in the classroom. This study will be of value in assisting students in their attempts to adjust to school regimen and requirements. This information will be valuable as a reference for administrators, counselors, and teachers working with high school students.
In 1968, Oklahoma vocational agriculture teachers adopted a Basic Core Curriculum Guide outlining four years of instruction in vocational agriculture. From this basic core, units of instruction have been developed for vocational agriculture I to cover six sections: Careers and Orientation, Leadership, Supervised Farm Training, Animal Science, Plant and Soil Science, and Agricultural Mechanics. The instructional units are designed to account for sixty percent of an instructor's time in teaching vocational agriculture. The remaining forty percent is left to the individual instructor in order for him to have freedom to use his own initiative in making content selection compatible with the demands of his local community. Additional units of instruction for vocational agriculture II, III, and IV will eventually be developed in keeping with the established Basic Core Curriculum Guide. Plans in effect now call for completion of these units within the next two to four years using the format developed and used in compiling instruction for Vocational Agriculture I. The present study was needed to determine the acceptance of the Basic Core Curriculum for Vocational Agriculture I, and to determine if the curriculum for Vocational Agriculture II, III, and IV should be developed using the same approach as in Vocational Agriculture I.
An individual serving as a Volunteer Adult 4-H Leader has to have certain skills to properly perform their duties. The Professional Extension Worker has the responsibility to provide the training and supervision needed for these leaders to properly perform their duties. In order for a training program to be conducted for the leaders, the training skills needed by the leaders must be identified. These skills must also be ranked in order of importance to establish priorities for the training to be conducted. For these priorities of training to be established they must be identified by both of the two groups and ranked according to importance as perceived by the two groups.
In the fall semester of 1970 Tulsa Junior College first opened its doors offering various curriculums. The attrition rate in engineering technology for the first year was extremely high, approximately 40%. The problem was the need to determine whether or not the existing information that is available for all entering freshmen in Oklahoma, the American College Test (ACT) score and the level of mathematics completed prior to enrollment in the program could be used as predictors of success in engineering technology with an overall purpose being more realistic counseling of potential enrollees.


Establishing the Purpose

Up to this point, we have been establishing the problem or the reasons why the study needed to be done. With the statement of the purpose we clearly indicate what we intend to do about the problem through our study. It should be a clear, concise, overall goal statement giving direction to action. This will be broken down into specific indicators of direction in the next section as objectives, questions, or hypotheses.

Examples Of Purpose

The purpose of this study was to collect certain personality characteristics and to test for a correlation between these selected personality characteristics and a good or bad disciplinary record.
The purpose of this study was to examine the academic success patterns of two groups of students in the School of Technology: native and transfer.
The purpose of this study was to determine the value of the Basic Core Curriculum for Vocational Agriculture I, the extent of its use and the acceptance of it as an approach in curriculum development.


Objectives, Questions, and Hypotheses

Specific direction is given to the study through the objectives, questions, or hypotheses. The type of study being done and your personal preference determine which type to use. Descriptive studies lend themselves well to either objectives or questions. Experimental studies are most effectively served by hypotheses, although in some cases objectives or questions are also used. Survey studies probably are best served by questions. You should determine which seem to give direction to your study best and use them.

Objectives should be written in measurable terms which can easily be used to determine the achievement of those objectives. Questions should be asked in such a way that the answers will adequately achieve the purpose. Hypotheses should be stated in the null (no difference) form for statistical testing and should reflect the positive or negative expectations of the researcher when used as research hypotheses. In all cases, they must be testable.

If the objectives, questions, or hypotheses achieve the purpose, then they will also solve the problem provided that the problem and purpose are in agreement. The review of literature and the writer’s experience, along with counsel of advisors, should provide the background for the development of the objectives, questions, or hypotheses. The development of the purpose and objectives, questions, or hypotheses really represents the third step in the scientific method - suggesting solutions to the problem developed in such a way to allow testing.

Examples Of Objectives

To accomplish the purpose, the following objectives had to be attained: (l) to determine if the basic core curriculum is adequate for teaching today's agriculture programs, (2) to determine the extent that the basic core curriculum is being used, (3) to determine if more or less information should be included in order to teach the specific lessons, (4) to determine if this approach in curriculum development is taking any initiative away from the teacher, (5) to determine if the basic core curriculum can be adapted to each vocational agriculture teacher’s local community, (6) to determine if a need exists for the continuation of this kind of curriculum development in vocational agriculture II, III, and IV.
The objectives of this study were to: (l) To identify and rank according to importance selected aspects of training skills needed by 4-H Leaders in properly performing their duties as perceived by these leaders. (2) To identify and rank according to importance selected aspects of training skills needed by 4-H Leaders in properly performing their duties as perceived by Professional Extension Workers. (3) To compare findings to discover significant differences which may exist between perceptions held by the two groups. (4) To determine what kind of leader training programs are presently being provided in the eight county area in relation to perceived needs of the two groups.

Examples Of Research Questions

Will students who are informed of the specific objectives of a unit of instruction stated in behavioral terms achieve at a higher level on a post test and a retention test than students who are not so informed?
What measurable criteria are appropriate for determining quality and effectiveness of programs of vocational-technical education participated in by adults?

Examples Of Statistical Hypotheses

There is no significant relationship between achievement via conformity and history of behavior problems in school.
There will be no significant difference between the cumulative first four semesters’ grade point average between native and transfer students in technology courses completed after entering the School of Technology.
There is no significant relationship between student recall and prior exposure to behavioral objectives contained in a unit of instruction.

Examples Of Research Hypotheses

There is a significant relationship between selected personality characteristics and a history of behavior problems in school.
The native students will have significantly greater academic success in technology courses completed after entering the School of Technology than will transfer students.
Student exposure to behavioral objectives prior to presentation of a unit of instruction will significantly aid student recall as measured by a criterion test given immediately following the instruction.


Assumptions, Limitations, Definitions, and Scope

Assumptions may be needed to indicate ideas, theories, or facts which must be considered valid in order to conduct the study. They should be well recognized as valid or have other empirical bases to establish their acceptance.

Example Of Assumptions

For the purposes of this study, the following assumptions were accepted by the investigator:
That teachers could provide accurate evaluations of the Basic Core Curriculum for Vocational Agriculture I.
That the responses by the teachers were honest expressions of their opinions.

Limitations are factors which are recognized to exist which may affect the outcome of the study over which the researcher has no control. These should not be confused with the scope or size of the study, number of participants, etc., over which the researcher does have control.

Examples Of Limitations

Possible potential intervening variables include the inability to assign an absolute sequence of mathematics courses due to the lack of consistent terminology in the names and variations of coursework for classes of the same name in different schools and under different instructors. Other factors include the variability of the instructors' backgrounds and grading practices between the three schools involved in the study. Limitations of this nature are present in any study where more than one teacher is involved regardless of a change of institution. These differences have been de-emphasized in that instructors of these institutions gained a large portion of their background and were in close association with one another during a National Science Foundation Institute the summer of 1971.

1. Implications of this study may not be applicable to some vocational agriculture departments because of the selective sampling of schools.
2. There were a limited number of less advantaged students in the classes chosen to test the curriculum.
3. There were a limited number of students in the study who were from ethnic groups other than Caucasian.

Limitations of the Study:

Definitions need to be included when terms are used in a particular context or with a special meaning for this study. Also technical terms or terms peculiar to the study should be defined.

Example Of Definitions

The following definitions of terms are furnished to provide, as nearly as possible, clear and concise meanings of terms as used in this study:
Behavioral Objective - Clear, concise statement of the expected outcome of instruction in terms of observable student behavior.
Student Recall - Ability of the student to respond correctly to questions about the unit immediately following the last period of instruction.
Student Retention - Ability of the student to respond correctly to questions about the unit of instruction when tested 28 days following the last period of instruction.
Specific Objectives - An explicitly stated behavioral objective necessary for attainment of the terminal objective.
Terminal Objective - A behavioral objective which denotes the expected outcome of a unit of instruction.
Unit of Instruction - Sequence of periods of instruction forming an effective whole.


The following terms and definitions were relevant and added clarity and understanding to this study:
Analytic Skill - To identify simple figures hidden in a complex field: to use the critical element of a problem in a different way. Field dependent people find it difficult to overcome the influence of the surrounding field or to separate an element from its context. Field independent people do not. They can attend to the familiar object without reliance on the prevailing field (Jenkins, et al., 1990).
Field Dependent Learning Style - Perception is strongly dominated by the surrounding field; perceive globally; more difficulty solving problems (Cano, et al., 1992).
Field Independent Learning Style - Perceives items separately from the surrounding field; perceive analytically; promote problem-solving, critical thinking, and the inquiry approach to learning (Cano, et al., 1992).

Examples Of Scope

The scope of this study included:

1. Four schools which have two vocational agriculture instructors and to which student teachers from the Oklahoma State University Agricultural Education Department were assigned for the 1972 spring semester.
2. Junior and senior students enrolled in vocational agriculture and agricultural mechanics classes.
3. A single unit of instruction - "Fundamentals of Electricity."

The scope:

1. The study dealt with only the following personality characteristics: achievement-conformity, achievement-independence, aggression, anxiety level, autonomy, communality, intellectual efficiency, depression, flexibility, impulse expression, interest, outlook, psychopathic deviate, responsibility, and self-acceptance,
2. The only subjects selected were those enrolled in Lincoln High School, St. Louis, Missouri.
3. The subjects selected were only of the hard core nature.
4. The study was limited to a measurement which could be administered in a limited time interval of fifty minutes. The time interval was limited due to the number of sessions to be conducted and the length of class session.
5. The questions asked were only in areas that were considered common to the student.



To assess your ability to accomplish the objectives, write the components of the introductory chapter following these guidelines. Make sure to include:


Background Introduction/Theoretical Construct



Objectives (Questions or Hypotheses)






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