Choosing the Right Methods of Data Collection

What kinds of data can I (and should I) collect? 

by Colleen M. Kuusinen, Assistant Director for SoTL


If the first question you're asking yourself is, "Should I use qualitative or quantitative methods?" you may be skipping some important questions. The first is, of course, your research question. As a reminder, there are often two types of questions faculty are investigating in SoTL studies: "What works for what instructional goal?" and "What is happening?" studies. Check out our "Getting Started" page to review these types of research questions.

With a clear "What works for what instructional goal?" research question, you first need to ask yourself "What constitutes acceptable evidence, or data, that I've reached my instructional goal(s)?" The answer to this question is informed by your own expertise in teaching your area, disciplinary standards for assessment, and acknowledgement of realistic limitations on our time and resources. 

You likely first considered final, or summative, assessments (assignments) in your course: exams, papers, presentations or other final products that students typically produce towards the end of your course. These are fine sources of data--keep in mind, however, that these assignments may represent the synthesis of different skills and forms of knowledge beyond the scope of your SoTL study. In addition, it's best to have multiple sources of data that help to make student learning visible. Think about these other formative assessments that you can use to collect data on how and what students are learning as your study progresses:

Any number of these sources of data could be used for "What is happening?' SoTL studies, though because of the nature of the question, qualitative measures of student thinking, case studies, interviews, and focus groups tend to be more useful for these studies.

Once you've identified some methods you might want to try, remember to search the literature for other SoTL scholars who've used those methods. In addition, here are some resources when you're ready to dive deeper: