Note to future self: Chem Ed Research

Dear Future Self,

The next time you decide to plan a Chem Ed Research project, could you please heed the following? This summer has been a world of pain that could have been avoided if some consideration had been cast in the direction of a few simple organisational points.

  1. GoogleForms/Tests: if you’re using these for one of your projects, and particularly where there will be some reuse of the questions, just create a master form of all the questions. Then you can make copies and delete the unnecessary copies. You can’t merge GoogleForms. Copy-pasting is painful. I’d also put the questions in different sections and number the sections. Then (and this is strange) DO NOT meddle with the numbering. So what if the folk filling out the form think it’s odd that they’ve got question 2, 5, 7 and 19. It will be a lot easier for analysis if the same questions have the same number in all versions.
  2. Questionnaires: would you please, for the love of all that is good in this universe, design the damn things with some kind of meaningful analysis in mind? Yes, I know, you know this, but please just get better at doing it. At least be consistent between your 3-point, 5-point, 10-point, emoticon, select-words, free text, and yes/no/maybe questions. It’s easier if you just pick a couple of types and stick with them. It’s a research tool not a fishing expedition.
  3. Ethics: your project will take you twice as long as you anticipate, so have some sense and set the end date twice as far as you think you need. It’s better than having to amend the application (when you just become tempted to add a few more things in, it’s a project, not a Christmas tree). 
  4. Pilot: pilot the damn questionnaires before you finalise the ethics application. Even if it’s a couple of colleagues or folk roped in to check the questions for sense, just do it. If you’ve got ambiguous questions, hopefully that will avoid the usual mess where you forget that people will tend to interpret things in different ways. The next time you ask for responses that can be given in different format (for example time), specify the units.
  5. Focus Groups/Interviews: get wise to the fact that you don’t get as many volunteers as you’d like, particularly at certain times of year when your likely pool of participants have already been questionnaired six ways from Tuesday. Instead of doing the same thing hoping for a different result, do something different.
  6. Name the files: let’s face it, this is a universal issue with you but come up with a better way of file naming. And file the files in the right file without creating 16 versions. 

With a little luck, next summer can be more productive and less frustrating. Or at least you’ll spend less time working out which question is which, and not be half way through analysis that feels ‘vaguely familiar’ only to find another file someplace else where you’d done it already. Just sort yourself out.

Best wishes


PS: we do still need to have a discussion about literature reviews, and due diligence in figuring out what’s been done before. 

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