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Selecting a research topic

Author: Kiara Macartney-Clark, Knowledge Management Officer, SACE Board of SA
Published: December 2018
This article is a designed to assist those who are undertaking their CEA case study.

'Research is not just reporting what has been written on a subject; to qualify as research there needs to be an element of discovery, experimentation or testing of a hypothesis' (University of South Australia n.d.).

Brainstorm ideas

Begin by considering broader topics.

To help keep you motivated, it is important to select a topic you are passionate about, or at least have an interest in.

If there isn’t just one that jumps out at you, begging to be researched, come up with a few options.

Unsure of a topic that interests you? Check out videos from the University of Queensland’s Three Minute Thesis project, in which presenters talk about the how, what and why they chose their topic.

CEA case study

The overarching topic of educational assessment is a requirement for this assessment piece.

The broad topics are:

  • Principles of assessment
  • Assessment – purpose and design
  • Judgment
  • Data and providing effective feedback
  • Moderation and comparability

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Initial research

What do you know about these topics already? How much of this is factual knowledge; reliable and verifiable information?

Do some further research on the topics that most interest you. What resources are available? Are there any gaps in information? Is there a way you could fill these gaps through surveys or research groups?

How easy is it to access authoritative information?

Will you have assistance to collect, collate and analyse data?

CEA case study

Refer to your notes and readings from the course.

Will you be able to access information both internal to your school/sector/subject as well as external?

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Narrowing your topic

In narrowing your topic, keep in mind that if a topic is too broad you may have more information that you can work through efficiently and effectively; if it’s too narrow then you may find it difficult to locate enough reliable information for your project.

One way to narrow your topic is to limit the scope. For example, by geographical area, culture, timeframe, discipline, population group (University of Michigan-Flint 2018a).

Keep in mind that it may be difficult to find reliable sources of information if you choose a topic that is about something which is popular. For example, the latest fads covered on social media.

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Is there an area of educational assessment that piques your interest? Is there something you would like to know more about?

Ideally your topic will cover an area within your institution/school, sector or subject that you believe could benefit from improvement.

For her case study, Jo Knight narrowed her topic by focussing on the Year 3 and 4 teaching and student cohort, rather than the entire school.

Sarah Hockey used her case study to look at the challenges in the consistency of assessment practices in her school.

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Your focus group (CEA case study)

Your focus group will be made up of educators who you will work with to build their assessment capacity by developing their assessment knowledge, skills and understanding.

Can you work with and draw from colleagues in your institution/school/sector/subject?

Don’t discount your topic just because you are the only teacher of your subject in your school. Are there schools you, or your school, have a connection or relationship with already? If not, why not try contacting schools in your area to gauge interest and possible collaboration? If this isn’t viable, can you broaden your scope to your learning area?

If your subject has a large cohort of students and or teachers, would focusing on a particular year level be beneficial? If so, can you extend your project in the future, post case study?

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Narrow your topic down to a research question

‘It must be narrow and focused enough to be interesting, yet broad enough to find adequate information’ (University of Michigan-Flint 2018a)

Before selecting your topic, make sure you know what your final project should look like, keeping in mind the requirements for the end product as well as the deadline.

Is your topic something that will take some time to implement/see improvement? If so, this is okay. Consider your paper as a starting point, which you can expand on in the future.

Remember: Your focus, and therefore your research question, may change during the research process as you find your interests, or the needs of your subject, may differ from what you initially thought. Your focus group is also likely to have an impact of your final project.

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Remember, your project can continue beyond submission of your case study.

For the purposes of the case study, can you narrow your topic down to a particular subject or year level with the view to expanding the cohort in the future?

Your focus group’s values, opinions and requirements to feel engaged are likely to impact your research question.

Find out more about the CEA case study requirements.

Additional information, including access to an annotated example, can be obtained by contacting the IEA either via email at sace.iea@sa.gov.au or by phone on 08 8115 4713.

View our featured case studies selected for inclusion in Assessment Insider.

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Leadership support

Will leadership support your topic of choice? Time to undertake research, conduct meetings, access to data required for your research?

If not, will participants be able to meet in their own time? Will altering your focus/research question gain leadership support?

Will a broader focus be more amenable; for example, a focus on the sector rather than the institution/school; a collaboration between schools rather than an individual institution/school?

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Support

If you need help, or just a sounding board, don’t wait until you are frustrated and demotivated, seek assistance as soon as possible. You don’t want all of your hard work to go to waste or drop the project and later wish you had seen it through. Your project may make a difference to those affected by your chosen topic.

There are a number of avenues for support:

  • Instructor/lecturer
  • Colleagues
  • Reference librarian
  • Help functions on websites
  • You partner, family or friends.

(University of Michigan-Flint, 2018b)

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You may also like to try

  • Other course participants
  • Your focus group members
  • If you come along to our annual conference, you may like to your ideas past the like-minded participants at your table.

The IEA team are also here to help. If you get stuck, need clarification or someone to run an idea past, feel free to contact us either via email at sace.iea@sa.gov.au or by phone on 08 8115 4713.

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Extensions

If you feel you may need an extension, discuss this with your instructor/lecturer in advance of the deadline.

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Requests for extensions should be sent via email to sace.iea@sa.gov.au.

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Reference list

Institute of Educational Assessors n.d., Certified Educational Assessors (CEA) case study, SACE Board of South Australia, viewed 20 November 2018, www.sace.sa.edu.au/iea

The University of Queensland n.d., Three Minute Thesis, The University of Queensland, viewed 20 November 2018, www.threeminutethesis.uq.edu.au

University of Michigan-Flint 2018b, Research tips & techniques, University of Michigan-Flint, viewed 20 November 2018, www.umflint.edu

University of Michigan-Flint 2018a, How to select a research topic, University of Michigan-Flint, viewed 20 November 2018, www.umflint.edu

University of South Australia n.d., Research tips & tricks, University of South Australia, viewed 20 November 2018, www.unisa.edu.au

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Further reading

Alexander Mack Library 2018, Choosing a research topic: Strategies and examples, Bridgewater College, viewed 20 November 2018, www.libguides.bridgewater.edu

Flinders University n.d., Flinders tips for your research project, Flinders University, South Australia, viewed 20 November 2018, www.sace.sa.edu.au

MIT Libraries n.d., Selecting a research topic, MIT Libraries, viewed 20 November 2018, www.libguides.mit.edu

Murdoch University n.d., Choosing a research topic, Murdoch University, viewed 20 November 2018, www.murchoch.edu.au

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