On Monday January 6th, 2020 Amoud University Seminar on "Research Methods for Supervisors and their Students"
On Sunday, January 5th, 2020, Dr. David Onen proceeded to day two of the seminar on research methods. Opening the session he first invited members to ask any questions which may not have been answered during the first day of the seminar. There was an extended debate on the difference between a Thesis and Dissertation, and it was agreed that this would be food for thought which members would be allowed to carry home as a n assignment and the get back to a later date before settling on appropriate and / accurate definition of the terms to inform the way forward on what to adopt.
Basic Approaches to Writing the Research Background and the derivation of research objectives, hypotheses and questions. Four models were proposed including the 4-perspective model, the funnel-shaped model, the known-to-unknown model and the the integrated model. The raging debate was however on which approach/model is most appropriate, and when.
Research Objectives was also covered including how to State the General Objective (or purpose). How to craft Specific Objectives using Basic Models/ Approaches for Deriving Specific Research Objectives. The meaning of Research Questions and Usage of Research Questions. On Research Hypotheses, the big debate was the reasons for Preferring the Use of Hypotheses over Questions in Positivist Research. Scope of a Study, Significance of a Study, Justification of the Study and Conclusion were also covered in the first part of the seminar.
The second topic under the theme research methods was literature review: it's meaning or what it is, types of literature review and how to go about it. The facilitator covered in details the Introduction, Conceptualizing Literature Review, How Different Individuals describe Literature Review, Situating an academic review, and why we need review Literature. He further delved into what a good literature should contain, sources of Literature, requisite skills in Literature Review, how to Review Literature, reviewing Literature with the Use of a Mind Map and proposed a Template for adoption for literature Review. He emphasized that the guiding question was the purpose and value of literature review with the running philosophy of literature first and literature throughout. Dr. Onen covered the writing process, Authors and their writing styles such as those biased towards concept-centric Approach. In addition he explained how to collect information and sources (peer-reviewed) for good information such as electronic databases, journals, which provide writers with latest authentic literature. The concept centric approach advocates for writers to first Analyse (from broader perspectives to narrow perspective—breadth and depth), Arrange the thoughts and literature (e.g. logical or sequential), Summarize and provide transitional connections between sections within the literature topics. Thereafter, Organisation of your literature follows, then Synthesis of the Articles reviewed, and finally What to Critique according to Borg (1987). Another Five Steps would then follow in Reviewing Literature including Reading & Research which explains materials that is going to use; Analysis of how to assess existing research; Drafting of what the writer is going to write about; and finally Revising or fine tuning the document into the final draft. Lastly, types of Literature review, Characteristics of a Good Literature Review and Conclusion were covered as part of second half of Day Two of the seminar whose theme was Research Methods for Supervisors and their students.
Several Questions arose in the Questions and Answers session. The first question was which approach or model is most appropriate to use for writing statement of the background. Based on the information above it was established that department of Public Health prefers to use funnel perspective but could also use integrated approach. This would perhaps defer with another department like finance department, climate change and environmental studies or Computing departments which would have other preferences depending on what suits their research approaches and intended outputs. The most important mind set in academia, Dr. Onen posited, was to be able to allow flexibility as long as there is proper justification for preference of use or application of one approach instead of another. A member rose to inquire if it is correct to force research reports to be done in a certain way through a university manual. According to the facilitator his view was that it would be a wrong academic practice to dictate even through a university policy document that only model would be used for various fields, as various fields of specialization have different emphasis and preferences and that is the reason why departments are created. The supervisor, he added, should have enough capacity to advise on the best approach based on the type of work at hand and the research area because it must be assumed that his training prepared him adequately and he would be therefore competent enough to understand the nature of any study in his field and how to go about it. He strongly emphasized that there is always need for some flexibility to be given to students and their supervisors particularly those whose departments have traditionally done things in one way or the other so that not only one model is followed because various fields of specialization may have varied preferences for very solid academic reasons.
Dr. Onen added for information purposes for everyone that some scholars argue that proposal uses the phrase background to a study as a title for the proposal report while the final thesis report uses the phrase background of a study meaning "to" refers to what is planned to happen while "of" shows it has already happened. In connection to this he stated that every writer must identify their writing styles. What most students lack is The idea is there but how to write is a problem.
Approaches/ Models for deriving specific research objectives were proposed for use including for one variable to many variables, many variables to one variable, many variables to many variables for independent variables and dependent variables and lastly the Logical Deduction approach. A question arose as to when it is approoriate to use hypothesis or question in our research work. According Dr. Onen the Rule of thumb generally is that we use either one of questions or hypothesis but we can use both questions and hypothesis at the same time because Objectives, Questions and Hypothesis are all traditionally different sides of the same coin. In essence, if you state an objective, that objective has a question. So the as to when do we use hypothesis, he said that for studies where literature informs you that there is an existing relationship between variables is is better to go for hypotheses but in exploratory studies, it is preferable to use questions.
A question was asked as to whether there is need to measure general objectives and according to Dr. Onen the answer is no, because there is a relationship between questions and objectives. A member wanted the difference between intervening and moderating variables. Dr. onen defined intervening(mediating) variable as that variable which is in between Independent Variable and Dependent Variable while moderating variable does not affect directly the relationship between Independent Variable and Dependent Variable.
A member wanted to know whether any university should limit number of objectives for a research work. In his response Dr. Onen said, not particularly but two to five objectives was reasonable for masters degree students, while two to eight objectives was reasonable for students undertaking doctoral degree programmes.
A member further needed clarification on whether a student could use a hypothesis in a uni-variate or status study. Dr. Onen responded that use objectives and questions was the right way to go, not hypothesis, because there would be no two variables to compare in a uni-variate study.
Day One of the four day research Seminar scheduled to be held at Amoud University this January 2020 started today Saturday, January 4th, 2020 at 10.38am and ended at 2.00pm. Dr. Mohamed Muse Jibril, Vice President, Academic Affairs, delivered a welcoming speech to all participants. He further stated that the seminar was meant for sharing of knowledge and was to be used as part of capacity building for Amoud University Research supervising staff and students. He then invited the president, Amoud university, to officially open the seminar.
Prof. Suleiman A. Gulaid, President, Amoud University welcomed all staff to Amoud University and further indicated that Dr. Onen, the guest speaker for the seminar was not all too new to Amoud University since he has been around in the past, since the establishment of the School of Postgraduate Studies and Research (AUSPGSR) in 2012. He assured the staff that Dr. Onen would be there to accomplish various missions including guiding the seminar, deliver courses, participate in the professional growth of Amoud University in the four weeks duration he will be president at Amoud University.
In his opening address he encouraged the audience to have open minds because according to him "we learn by what happens to you from birth to death". In addition acquisition of information and experience is particularly important in university context because as we grow and develop academically we exchange information, build capacity, provide insights, ultimately we still need more information. Prof. Suleiman further informed the staff that Dr. Onen was initially scheduled to be around for one month and but will return towards end of next academic semester March 2020/ July 2020 to do similar work with a little more details in order to help with supervision of students and also with presiding over defense sessions of both proposal and final student thesis so that Amoud University staff could benefit from his shared experience, and for staff to acquire more information from one another. With those remarks, the President then declared the meeting officially opened, wishing all participants fruitful and hopefully happy seminar.
Dr. Onen, the main speaker at the event was then invited by the President to proceed. The facilitator started off by saying it was an honour to be back at Amoud University and expressed his happiness at being able to come back to Amoud University after 7 years' absence. He further expressed his gratitude and stated that he was thankful to be back. He went further to add that since the first time he interacted with Prof. Suleiman and found him to be a wise and scholarly leader, he had enjoyed every bit of his short stint at Amoud University and that even after leaving Amoud University in 2017 he had fallen in love with the institution and ended up becoming a self appointed ambassador as an advocate of Amoud University in Uganda, and he therefore continues to be a core member of staff of Amoud University at heart and by actions. He also continued to thank Amoud University for entrusting him with recommendations every once in while for possible recruitment for staff for Amoud University School of Postgraduate Studies and Research (AUSPGSR) in various fields of specialization, and that he was glad to see that some of the expatriates he recommended had settled in to share their knowledge with students in the graduate school. Dr. Onen paid glowing tribute to leadership of Prof. Suleiman and his entire team of management, and that as a scholar he had done a wonderful job at Amoud University because the world over sustaining graduate studies was always a challenge and if Amoud university had maintained consistent growth and development especially for this programme it was worth a pat on the back. In addition he said he was thankful to Oso Willis, his colleague since their earlier days at Makerere University for the work done for and on behalf of Amoud University so far. He opined that graduate training is not easy to maintain, and therefore all staff at Amoud University deserved praise for a good job done.
Embarking on the business for the day Dr. Onen stated that the seminar had given everyone a platform for sharing knowledge and capacity building. His principle, he stated, is that only one person may lead at a time while others contribute, but no one had monopoloy over knowledge especially on research matters. He further expressed his desire to guide the debate with all his experience, skills and expertise, part of which he acquired while working as co-ordinator of doctoral Colloquium programme at Makerere University. Finally, he was thankful to all staff for coming to the seminar and for attending in such large numbers.
Dr. Onen took an approach of first defining a research problem, because in his words, understanding the views of a research problem defers a lot from one school of thought to another. Therefore this status of affairs more often than not brings a lot of confusion because everyone has a different understanding of what a research problem is depending on their schools of thought. This in turn typically puts a lot of pressure on the students and the supervisors on synchronization and alignment of thoughts and ideas. In this regard he said that supervisors must be well equipped and informed to handle qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods research in order to deliver on their mandates of guiding students towards coming up with a useful thesis or dissertation.
The speaker further delved into how to write a research problem that can be easily understood by everybody, while highlighting various schools of thought currently existing and their take, about the research problem. In addition he covered how to formulate a research problem, sources of research problems, review of literature to help identify knowledge gaps and various other approaches. He emphasized that research problems however, must be rooted in literature, meaning you must have read widely about the problem before being able to explore a topic about it. Dr. Onen stated that his running theme has always been "Literature first and literature throughout" with regard to research problems, which emphasize the vital role of literature and wide and in-depth readership on the research topic proposed.
On starting up with students from scratch in writing a research thesis the facilitator advocated for supervisors to ask students about their research areas rather than asking them to create research topics as the first step, and then help them cast their research topics to fit into the problem they are trying to address. Lastly he covered various approaches used to state the research problem in writing.
The closing and final session was the Question and Answer (Q&A) part in which various members of the audience participating asked various questions which were responded to by the facilitator. Such questions which arose among others included whether you are allowed to cite within the statement of the problem, and the response was yes, it is possible in some cases because you may need to show source. A second question was on the similarities or difference between Concept by intuition and concept by postulation, whose response was deferred to day two of the seminar. A third question was seeking to find out in which element of the research topic is the ideal situation defined between Independent and Dependent variable, and the answer was in Dependent variable. A member also asked if we could have a problem represented in the Independent variable and the response given was yes, if the Independent variable is your problem variable. A member wished to know whether within statement of the problem when you provide evidence on the intensity and magnitude of a problem we have to use statistics or not. the response was, not necessarily, in qualitative research such statistics may not be applicable. Another member was also seeking to find out how to define a problem if we have a univariate study. The answere was that the template of creation of a problem which the facilitator had earlier on presented to the audience could be used in any research univariate, bivariate and multivariate included. A member enquired on how supervisors could best aid their students who were being guided in conducting research under Limited resource and the facilitator opined that perhaps more use electronic search engines would help and students should therefore be taught better how to use the search engines for them to obtain fruitful results from their searches.
Dr David Onen is a Lecturer of Educational Management, Planning, Policy Studies and Quantitative Research Techniques at the East African School of Higher Education Studies and Development, College of Education & External Studies, Makerere University. He received his B.Sc degree in Mathematics, Economics & Geography from Makerere University with Second Class Honours. He did his MA (Educ. Mgt.) (2002), and Ph.D. (2007) in the same field specialising in the area of Planning and Policy Studies from Makerere University. He was a recipient of the UNESCO’s Scholarship award in 2009 which enabled him obtain an International Certificate in Education Sector Diagnosis from the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), Paris. He has also undertaken a one-year training in Higher Education Leadership and Management earning him a certificate of the University of Tampere in partnership with the University of Helsinki, all of Finland. Dr Onen has participated and presented papers in various national and international Seminars and Conferences in China, India, Ghana, to mention just a few. His teaching interests are in the areas of Quantitative Methods of Educational Planning, Education Systems Analysis, Education Policy Studies, School Mapping and Quantitative Research Methods. He has published a book with the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation, written a host of other research and consultancy reports as well as academic papers in different international and national journals of repute. He has more than twenty years of experience in teaching, eight of which have been spent teaching at higher institutions of learning. Before re-joining Makerere in 2013 (having worked at Makerere from 2008 to August 2010), he had worked as a Consultant/Lecturer at Uganda Management Institute (2010 – 2012). His present research area of interests includes: higher education governance and policy, efficiency of higher education systems and innovations in higher education.
The training was adjourned at 2.00pm and scheduled to resume on Sunday, January 5th, 2020 at 8.00am in main Campus Amoud University graduation Hall.
For further reading on topics covered on "How to Identify, Formulate and State an Acceptable Research Problem: A Guide for Higher Degree Students and their Research Supervisors" by Dr. David Onen, please clink link below to download the reading materials.
Amoud University Academic Committee held its 14th meeting for the September 2019/ January 2020 academic semester