Exploring project-based work with L2 English university-bound students can take many forms as we, as English language teachers, have access to almost any type of content for our language instruction. So, how can we use project-based work to help prepare these academically oriented students become familiar with the daunting research process as either producers or consumers?
Recently, as coteachers in a university-based intensive English program, we used our advanced-level classroom environment to facilitate the process of building language skills while simultaneously engaging students in their own research projects. The focal point was the students’ conceptualizations of trust with the end product being a mixed-methods research project that students presented in both written (individually) and oral forms (team presentations).
The Mixed-Methods Research Project
We organized the trust mixed-methods research project via the following steps.
1. Macro-Level Strategic Plan
We co-constructed a plan for our 12–week semester (this could be modified according to a semester’s length) with one of us focusing on reading/writing skills and the other focusing on listening/speaking skills for general language skill development.
2. Identify a Trusted Adult
Students began by individually identifying a person whom they consider a trusted adult (e.g., “Who is your go-to person when you have a difficult decision to make?”).
a. Students first identified someone (e.g., a religious figure, a coach, a professor, a family member).
b. Students wrote three words that characterized this person.
c. Students wrote three supporting sentences that further exemplified why this person could be considered as a trusted adult.
3. Conduct Fieldwork
Students then conducted some fieldwork.
a. They observed someone other than their go-to person in the field (e.g., at school, at work, at the gym) whom they considered to be a trusted adult. We asked: What observations can you make about this person that would deem them trustworthy
b. Students returned to class with both their personal reflections of a trusted adult and their observations of a different trusted adult from the field.
4. Code Data
In the weeks that followed, students compiled codes for trust and tried to reach an agreement on what they could identify, thematically, as a trusted adult.
5. Anatomy of a Research Paper
Students then began to identify and compose problem statements and conduct brief literature reviews on their own, which they later compiled with their teams.
6. Semi-Structured Interviews
Working in teams, students then composed some open-ended questions regarding their classmates’ views of trust, and practiced asking and answering these questions in class using the digital recorders on their phones. They also transcribed their interviews.
7. Survey Design
In tandem, students learned to develop surveys that explored close-ended questions/statements using a Likert scale. Once all of the groups had submitted their Likert scale questions to us, we input the data into a computer software program (e.g., Qualtrics) and sent out the survey questions to all students in our department. Once students responded, we compiled a general analysis of the survey results.
8. Team Presentations
To conclude the project, students presented their team’s project via short oral presentations and reflected on the research cycle. In their presentations, they highlighted their working definitions of trust, highlighted particular thematic codes that resonated with their participants (including themselves), extracted selected quotations from their semistructured interviews, and talked about the statistical analysis of their survey results. Some included short videos to showcase a particular point or share a personalized story. Others turned to online formats to learn more about the concept of trust by listening to narrative podcast like “The Plural of You.”
In tandem with the theme of trust, in the first few weeks, students read and worked on two articles, “Learning to Trust Again” Morgan (2018), and an editorial from the Christian Science Monitor (2018) entitled “The Art of Parsing Apologies.” In the former, they were asked to summarize and reflect on the content of the article and the survey upon which it was based. In the latter, they were given a series of questions related to the article that encouraged critical reading and thinking skills needed to determine whether they felt an apology was trustworthy or not and why. The article itself gave some guidance in the form of questions to ask on how to proceed in one’s assessment of the genuineness of a public apology, which the students then extrapolated to other similar public apologies that have been made around the world.
During the second half of the term, students kept a formal written account of the “Trust” project they were working on, which they shared with the rest of the class in the final week. Their official log/journal needed to include the following:
- A description of their research topic, background information, and their process of research
- Discoveries made and data found including a list of outside resources used
- A written analysis of the data with solutions/conclusions reached
- A self-reflection of the whole project/process that included
- difficulties encountered;
- benefits derived;
- pleasant surprises, if any;
- usefulness; and
- other relevant observations and thoughts
Tips for Implementing a Project-Based Research Project
We recommend the following tips for implementing this project (or one similar):
- Think big and don’t worry about whether your students can handle the rigor of research.
- Trust your inner scientist. Even if you don’t feel like you have a strong research background, there are some basic introductory texts (e.g., Creswell & Guetterman, 2019) that can help lay the groundwork for research methodologies.
- Watch your students blossom. The students took their jobs very seriously and worked very well together. We recommend giving them some in-class time to collaborate with their teams on a regular basis.
In the end, our international students learned not only how to conduct mixed-methods research using all four integrated language skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, but they also learned how to think critically and use multimedia sources.
Creswell, J., & Guetterman, T. (2019). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (6th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.
Editorial Board. (2018, April 20). The art of parsing apologies. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved from https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2018/0420/The-art-of-parsing-apologies
Morgan, J. C. (2018, June). Learning to trust again. Readers Digest. Retrieved from https://www.rd.com/advice/work-career/learning-to-trust-again/