The Department of Social Policy, along with guidance from TLC, has developed a research diary for our second year research methods students. The diary includes: guided questions related to the research project each week; a detailed timeline for project completion; and space to write down questions as they arise.
We designed the research diary for our second year undergraduate students in our compulsory research methods course.
Over the summer, I worked with Jenni Carr in TLC to develop the idea of the research diary and what it should include. Then, based on the course content, I created a series of steps the students need to complete for their final project. We broke these steps down into weekly sections that include: spaces to write down any questions that students have, a weekly task list, guided questions relating to the reading, and questions that ask students to apply the course material to their specific research project.
To get the diary ready for MT, I worked throughout the summer developing content. LSE Design then designed and formatted the research diary. Last, we printed a diary for each student, as well as the course instructors. To pay for the printing and design, we used Departmental funds, as well as funds from the Teaching and learning development fund.
We have asked students to complete a research project as a summative assignment for past two years and noticed some common obstacles faced by students. The most prominent obstacle was that students did not devote adequate time to completing the project until the last few weeks of term. This then has some significant knock on effects to other parts of learning. For example, the instructors of the course received many requests for additional office hours at the end of the term from students. In some cases, rather than having specific questions, students make general statements about not understanding research methods at all. At the end of term, students also became daunted by the length of the final assignment, although we devoted class time to allow students to work on their project throughout the year. Several students told me that they felt like they have not written anything up until that point.
When discussing these problems with Jenni Carr, she suggested the possibility of developing a research diary that students can use throughout the year. In general, a research diary is a means to log decisions made about research projects, as well decisions made during the research process. Borg (2001) has also highlighted other functions of research diaries, including:
- Helping researchers identify concerns about the research project;
- Establishing goals, formulating plans and deciding on actions;
- Describing and evaluating progress (or lack of it); and
- Capturing, exploring, and pursuing ideas.
Based on mid-term feedback given by students, they are finding that the research diary, and especially the timeline very helpful. They say it is full of good information, it helps them organise their ideas, and that it is helpful for time management.
The one area for improvement that was raised by multiple students is that the research diary could be used and discussed more explicitly in class. One student told me that she is writing in the diary weekly, but would like some guidance about whether what she is writing is correct. We told students that they could get feedback during ‘office hours,’ but I think it would be helpful to ask students to present sections that they have written during classes.
The Research Diary idea has worked well so far. It does demand sitting down and thinking through a detailed timeline and questions for students far in advance of the week that the teaching is being done. Also, leave in enough time to have it properly formatted and printed.
 Engin, M (2011). Resarch diary: A tool for scaffolding. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 10(3): 296-306.
 Borg, S. (2001). The research journal: A tool for promoting and understanding research development. Language Teaching Research, 5(2): 156-177.