Assignment 3 (Fall 2020)
Assignment 3 has two parts. The first, the Research Log, is a structured opportunity for you to report to your mentor and classmates the progress you’ve made this week in exploring the literature and refining your idea. Each assignment until the Qualifier Question, you’ll submit a new Research Log documenting your research progress since the last week. The second, the Activity, is a more structured opportunity to practice one of the skills you’ll need as you move forward in the class. Each part is worth 50% of this assignment’s grade.
Your Research Log for assignment 3 follows the same procedure as that for assignments 1 and 2. At this point, though, we would expect most people to have a decent idea for what they would like to work on, and this week should be spent refining that idea with sources more closely related to your interests. As with last week, you’ll begin by summarizing your progress entering the week, then provide an itemization of your exploration for the week, the synthesize that with what you’ve explored before, reflect on the process, and plan for the next stage of the class. Take a look at the Qualifier Question and Proposal requirements to understand a bit more about why you’re gathering these sources; your Research Log is intended to prepare you for these upcoming assignments.
Your Research Log for this week should be all-new material (as you aren’t repeating the same research you did last week!), but you can include your previous Logs as appendices if you think they provide useful context to your peer reviewers.
The sections of your Research Log will be the same as Assignments 1 and 2, although the directions differ slightly due to your proximity to the next stage of the class:
- Background: In about half a page, summarize your current state. This would largely cover where you left off last week.
- Papers: List the papers you came across this week and gave considerable attention to. We would expect the Research Log to include at least 15-20 sources (though more is fine as well), and at least 12 (preferably more) should be academic and peer-reviewed. You may include blog posts, newspaper articles, etc. as well, but you should have at least 12 academic sources, too. In the list, for each source, you’ll provide:
- The paper’s bibliographic information (its APA citation, typically)
- In around one sentence, how you found it (a Google Scholar search? From a conference’s proceedings? From another paper’s references? Something else?)
- In around three sentences, a brief, original summary in your own words
- In around three sentences, the main takeaways going forward
You should never copy text directly from the source (including its abstract) unless you are quoting it with quotation marks and in-line citation; see How To: Avoid Plagiarism for more. Your summaries should be in your own words; if you want to quote the source directly, make sure to follow APA guidelines for in-line quotes and citations.
- Synthesis: In about a page, summarize the overall body of work you’ve put together, both in this Log and the previous ones. What are the high-level trends, large takeaways, or open questions you’ve found? If you’ve narrowed in on a particular domain, summarize that domain; if you’re still exploring, discuss the overall direction these efforts are leading you toward. Most importantly, anchor this synthesis in the papers you provided above (and in previous Logs), citing them where appropriate.
- Reflection: In about half a page, reflect on the process of finding sources, reading papers, synthesizing their contents, and building your understand. What was difficult, and what was easy? What are you finding yourself interested in going forward?
- Planning: In about half a page, provide a brief, preliminary plan for what you expect to do for the project itself; this should allow you to get some early ideas from your classmates and mentor about your scope and approach.
The goal of this Research Log is three-fold: to structure (in conjunction with the Research Guide) your exploration of the literature, to report to your mentor your progress in an externalizable and organized way, and to provide enough information for feedback from your mentor and classmates. The process of building your understanding of the literature is a personal journey that is difficult to assess, but we feel confident that if you can externalize the outcomes above, you’re taking steps in the right direction. We will expect your Research Log to show that you’re following the advice prescribed by the Research Guide.
In the Project Proposal, you will state a problem or question, and then give a plan for how you will solve or answer it. The mistake many people make at this stage is to rush to what they plan to do without pausing to thoroughly define the problem or question itself. In the absence of a good problem statement or research question, it is difficult or impossible to judge whether the solution or answer adequately addressed the problem.
So, for this activity, you are going to practice writing both a problem statement and a set of research questions. A problem statement addresses Development and Content track projects: there exists some problem that needs to be solved (where that problem could be, “people need to learn X, but at present they cannot”). Research questions address Research track projects: there is a phenomenon that needs to be explained, or relatedly, there is an area in which phenomena may exist that have not yet been identified.
Although you’ll generally choose one track for your project (although there may be overlaps), in this activity you’ll practice writing both. This will equip you to give better feedback to your classmates. For Activity 3, you’ll thus turn in both a problem statement and a set of research questions.
Ideally, you are far along enough in your research that you can write problem statements and research questions that may be rough drafts for what you eventually use in your proposal. If not, you’re welcome to choose any problem with which you’re familiar. It does not even have to be in education for this activity (although we would recommend staying topical) but it may be easier to write in a domain with which you’re more familiar. Don’t overcomplicate what counts as a ‘problem’ or ‘phenomenon’: a problem is anything that isn’t working as well as it could, and a phenomenon is anything we can observe and may want to explain or explore. “Students need grades and feedback faster” or “Professional certifications are prohibitively expensive” would both be problems. “Retention rates in online courses are low” or “We do not know about the structures of online courses” would be phenomena to explore.
There are many ways to write a problem statement, but in order to give you a starting point, we follow the structure advocated by Ashford University among others. You might not follow this structure exactly in your proposal, but following it now should give you good practice on the value in defining these details piece-by-piece. Your problem statement, which defines a problem to be solved, should include the following parts:
- Background Information. First, provide some background information. Depending on your problem area, the reader may not be familiar with its basic vocabulary and existing structures. Provide enough background that someone with limited familiarity with the area will be able to understand the general problem.
- General Problem Statement. The general problem statement describes a broad problem within the domain you described above. The problem here is likely so general as to be unsolvable without further specification. For example, “global temperatures are rising” is a general problem statement. It is a stated problem, but without knowing more about why the problem exists, it is not solvable.
- Scholarly Support. Here, you would provide evidence that the problem or phenomenon actually exists. Note that if scholarly support is absent, you may supply other forms of support, although a complete lack of scholarly support means you would likely first approach this as a research question to establish if the problem exists in the first place.
- Specific Problem Statement. Here, based on that scholarly support, you drill the problem down into details that can actually be solvable. For example, “Industry is outputting carbon emissions at a greater rate than can be absorbed by the earth”, “The earth is retaining greenhouse gases causing an increasing concentration over time”, or “Environmentalism tends to be prioritized only by affluent nations” would all be more specific ways to state the problem: these are more solvable. You may find you define your problem statement specifically in a way that connects to the solution that you have in mind; that’s okay.
- Closing Commentary. Finally, you would briefly discuss the overall impact of the problem you have described. How will society be affected if it remains unsolved? How will it be affected if it’s solved?
We expect a good problem statement to be around 2 pages in JDF. This is neither a minimum nor a maximum, but rather is just a heuristic to understand the level of depth we would expect. Ignore the length heuristics from Ashford University itself; we expect more depth.
While problem statements focus on problems to be solved, research statements focus on phenomena to be observed or explained. Research questions are generally expected to have certain characteristics:
- Clarity: Research questions should be clear and specific enough that the audience can understand the purpose.
- Focused: Research questions should have a sufficiently narrow focus as to be addressable and answerable.
- Concise: To be clear and focused, research questions are also expected to use as few words as possible.
- Complex: Research questions generally cannot be answered by simple numbers or yes/nos; questions like ‘how’ and ‘why’ lead to more complex answers.
- Arguable: Research questions should be addressable by facts rather than opinions.
- Hierarchical: Research questions can generally be decomposed into sub-questions which, if answered, will supply an answer to the overall question.
Write a research question that can be decomposed into at least three smaller questions. For example, the question, “How can AI be used to improve performance on algebra homework?” could be decomposed into, “To what extent can AI make sense of students’ intermediate problem-solving steps?”, “To what extent can AI use that understanding to generate hints?”, and “To what extent do such hints improve students’ performance?”
Then, justify that all three sub-questions are meet the criteria above for complexity and arguability (clarity, focus, and conciseness will be relatively self-evident). What kinds of answers can you expect to receive to these questions, and what kinds of facts or data will support those answers?
Note that this is expected to be a difficult exercise; do not expect it to come naturally. Writing good research questions is difficult to do, but it is a very important skill to learn. A quick Google search for “how to write good research questions” will bring up some additional valuable material.
We expect a good set of research questions with accompanying justification to be around 2 pages in JDF. This is neither a minimum nor a maximum, but rather is just a heuristic to understand the level of depth we would expect.
Complete your assignment using JDF, then save your submission as a PDF. Assignments should be submitted to the corresponding assignment submission page in Canvas. You should submit a single PDF for this assignment. This PDF will be ported over to Peer Feedback for peer review by your classmates. If your assignment involves things (like videos, working software prototypes, etc.) that cannot be provided in PDF, you should provide them separately (through OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) and submit a PDF that links to or otherwise describes how to access that material.
This is an individual assignment. Even if you already plan to work on a team for the project, this assignment should still be completed individually.
Late work is not accepted without advanced agreement except in cases of medical or family emergencies. In the case of such an emergency, please contact the Dean of Students.
As with all assignments in this class, this assignment will be graded on an 11-point scale (0 to 10), in accordance with the grading policy outlined in the syllabus. If your deliverable receives below a 9, you may revise and resubmit it once within one week of receiving a grade. Resubmissions may receive up to a 9. Note that this should not be treated as a de facto free pass to submit sorely lacking work initially; we reserve the right to deny resubmission or grade a resubmission more harshly if we perceive the original submission was lacking in earnest effort.
After submission, your assignment will be ported to Peer Feedback for review by your mentor and classmates. Grading is not the primary function of this peer review process; the primary function is simply to give you the opportunity to read and comment on your classmates’ ideas. All grades will come from the mentors alone.
You will typically be assigned four classmates to review. You receive 1.5 participation points for completing a peer review by the end of the day Thursday; 1.0 for completing a peer review by the end of the day Sunday; and 0.5 for completing it after Sunday but before the end of the semester. For more details, see the participation policy.