Forms and Form: Consent and Structure

I’m working on steps 3 and 4 as enumerated by the dauntingly effective inbox nag that is Asana. This entry will be thinking out loud, or thinking through the keyboard if you will as I’m in the throes of trying to balance participation in this project with the all-consuming nature of mid-semester obligations to progress report writing and getting my students ready for either the completion of their oral history projects or getting ready for the Advanced Placement United State History exam in mid-May.

In pondering the ways that I will study student perception of in-class group work, I will have to bear in mind that “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” to borrow an aphorism from Voltaire. I will not be able to do this project at a level of testing sophistication sufficient to satisfy requirements for an educations masters degree, but I do believe that it will yield data useful to thoughtful teachers.

As for structure, my primary means of data collection will be an online survey that I am now writing. I have colleagues in my department well versed in the theory of research; I look forward to inviting them to critique my questions and offer recommendations for avoiding some of the pitfalls typical of survey construction. The seriousness of this problem hit home recently when I received a poorly written survey from a group of students in AP Statistics. My attempt to complete it proved so irritating that I deleted it, but I remember that its problem was that the questions put me in an option box in which none of the available responses allowed me to indicate my reality and the anti-homework biases and assumptions of the authors were clumsily obvious. Perhaps there is a valid case for zero or reduced homework, but results from that survey won’t make it.

To anticipate problems, the homogeneity and small size my sample will militate against broad generalization. The students available to me for research are all girls at a Catholic private school. The average income of their households is probably way above average and the percentage of them, 100, that will go to college is unrepresentative of the general population.

Regarding the matter of consent, I enlisted the aid of my colleagues to help me distribute and collect the consent form. In spite of incentives for some of the students to quickly have the forms signed and returned, I’ll be lucky to get 33% response. I can’t put too much burden on my colleagues to see this through, so I’ll be lucky to get back about 130 forms. Of those students, I hope that at least 100 will get around to doing the survey once I release it.

The other method I’m pondering for gathering information will be interviews with five randomly selected students from the sample who return signed consent forms. I think I’ll have to limit my questioning to three questions with some follow-up queries to keep the volume manageable. Processing recording video and/or audio is tremendously time consuming. Indeed, as I write this I wonder if I’ll be able to get to this in the time remaining. Would one question work? How could I design the interviews to be processable in the scant time left in this rapidly elapsing school year?