Maximizing your Scholarly Productivity: A How-To Workshop on Integrating Social Science Research into your Online Course

Concurrent Session 4
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

The primary aim of the session is to provide a clear step-by-step path for course instructors, designers, and administrators who are interested in adding a quantitative social science research study to the online courses they teach, design, or manage.


Amanda Denes (Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Connecticut. Her primary area of specialization is interpersonal communication, with an emphasis on communication processes related to maintaining successful relationships. She teaches online courses on Interpersonal Communication and Gender and Communication. She extends her passion for studying interpersonal communication processes by studying ways to promote social connection in online learning environments. Her research has been published in top Communication and interdisciplinary journals. She is also co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of the Physiology of Interpersonal Communication and Associate Editor for the journal, Personal Relationships.
Rory McGloin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Connecticut. Professor McGloin’s research is focused on media effects. Of particular interest to Professor McGloin is the process by which individuals interact with a mediated environment and the subsequent effect of these interactions on their perceptions of certain variables such as perceived realism and immersion. In addition to this, Professor McGloin’s research has recently focused on how various control devices may be changing the way users interact with virtual environments and in turn how these devices may be impacting the users overall feelings of enjoyment and aggression. Dr. McGloin has also explored the nature of online interactions in a variety of contexts (social support, product reviews, health and social support) with a focus on perceived source credibility and he continues to do work in this area. Dr. McGloin’s work has recently been published in such journals as: Journal of Communication, Media Psychology, and Computers in Human Behavior.

Extended Abstract

Workshop Summary:

Online courses provide an ideal landscape for research and this express workshop is designed to help instructors (as well as course designers and administrators) take the first steps towards implementing an effective research study. The primary aim of this workshop is to provide a clear step-by-step path for instructors who are interested in organizing and executing a quantitative social science research study in their online course. The workshop will be facilitated by experienced researchers Dr. Denes and Dr. McGloin, who will walk attendees through the process of integrating research assessment into their online courses. The topic is especially relevant to the field because research and the publication of study findings related to online learning help disseminate valuable lessons and tools beyond one’s home institution. Furthermore, for online instructors at research institutions who may face a “publish or perish” model, integrating research into their online courses also provides an important opportunity to accomplish their dual needs for excellence in research and teaching. For administrators and course designers, this approach may also help incentivize instructors to continually improve their online courses and prioritize best practices for online learning. As courses continue to move to online spaces, this topic is timely in addressing the multiple pressures that faculty and institutions face to excel pedagogically, while also contributing to the larger body of research in the field via publication of research findings.

The workshop is highly interactive and takes a “hands on” approach to designing and implementing a research study. First, we will guide attendees through an activity to help write the initial research question and/or hypothesis that will direct their study. Next, we will provide a review of the process of survey design. We will offer several quantitative instruments that may help increase attendees’ understanding of how to forge a strong foundation for the measurement of certain primary learning characteristics and outcomes. We encourage attendees to use these (or related) measures as a starting point for considering measurable outcomes in their online courses. From there, the workshop will provide attendees with a brief overview of how to navigate the university institutional review/ethics board (a requirement for research with human subjects), including tips and sample language for completing research protocol submissions. Finally, the workshop will offer recommendations for data analysis, opportunities for collaboration, and recommendations for how to publish and distribute research findings. Attendees will leave the workshop with a toolkit (including sample documents, measures, etc.) for conducting a research study in their online course.

Target Audiences:

The primary audience for this workshop is course instructors seeking to integrate research into their online course, or individuals who are simply interested in learning more about the research process. A secondary audience for this workshop are course designers and administrators who want to be more familiar with the research process as it applies to online courses in an effort to help accommodate or promote the integration of research into their current or future online courses.


Upon completion of the workshop, attendees will have:

1. Produced a novel research question and/or hypothesis to explore in their online course.

Explanation: Participants will learn how to formulate research questions and hypotheses. The presenters will provide examples and demonstrate how to build a study idea that is theoretically-grounded, expands current knowledge on online learning, and has important applied implications.

2. Gained awareness of the survey methodology used in online course research.

Explanation: Participants will receive a crash course on survey design, with the aim of giving attendees the skills and confidence to begin designing their own study of online learning. While the primary focus will be on conducting survey research, the workshop will also briefly cover experimental research designs. Participants will identify the appropriate study design for addressing their research question and/or hypothesis. The presenters will also provide a variety of instruments that may be integrated into research studies.

3. Prepared for institutional review board (IRB) submission.

Explanation: Participants will review the key components of submitting a protocol for conducting research with human subjects (i.e., students in the online course). The presenters will provide template language for completing such applications efficiently and ethically, discuss the “dos” and “don’ts” of the IRB process, and help attendees feel confident in preparing their studies for review.

4. Identified target journals for publishing their study findings.

Explanation: OLC conferences provide an excellent format for researchers studying online learning to share their study findings. A next step after conference presentation would be to seek out publication of the research findings in a scholarly journal. The presenters will provide attendees with a list of peer-reviewed journals that welcome research on online courses and online pedagogy (including OLC’s journal). Participants will gain an understanding of the peer-review process and how to identify the appropriate journal to target for publication. As part of the workshop, they will also identify 2-3 target journals as they relate to the study research question/hypothesis.

5. Established a network of research-minded collaborators.

Explanation: The session will offer opportunities for attendees to connect with one another and with the session presenters. A research team approach can often make the process more manageable and enjoyable; therefore, the session will involve tasks focused on networking, enabling attendees to establish future avenues for collaboration. For example, attendees may choose to conduct a study that spans multiple institutions or investigates whether the effectiveness of an online tool varies by institution type or education level (e.g., high school vs. college).