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Research Methods


See the Introduction and Overview section of the study for a full description of the methods employed in this study.   Briefly put this study is comprised of three distinct exercises designed to provide  complementary insights into the current environment in which students and faculty members work with visual materials.  Two of the exercises took place during Fall Term of 2007, when the research team (a) conducted four case studies centered on a single assignment in four discrete courses in which students worked with visual materials and (b) gathered comments on flip charts at eight support service points on campus.

The courses that served as the basis for the case studies differed in the degree to which students were expected to find, access, create, interpret, or present visual materials. Each case included interviews with the faculty member, conducted at or near the time in which he or she was grading the completed assignment, and with five students, conducted after they had documented their work on the targeted assignment.  Staff members conducted the interviews with the faculty participants.

A group of five student researchers conducted one-on-one interviews with the student participants. Two student researchers and the study lead transcribed the recorded interviews and coded the interviews within the qualitative research tool Transana. Each case was analyzed through a co-listening/co-viewing exercise that included a student researcher who had transcribed and coded the case, two support staff members new to the study, a staff member who was part of the research design team, and the project lead.

The flip chart exercise was intended to gather information at selected on-campus service points at which members of the Carleton community receive support in their uses of visual materials. A member of the study design team analyzed the comments from the flip charts.

The research design team used the findings of the case studies and the overarching research question to create three survey instruments. The first survey went to the entire Carleton faculty and is designed to gauge the degree to which faculty members are creating assignments that require students to interpret, create, and present visual materials; and the forms of curricular support that faculty members would find helpful for assignments that involve visual materials.

The remaining two surveys are not limited to work with visual materials but are instead related to curricular activities more broadly. The survey of staff members is designed to inventory the types of curricular support available either directly to students or in coordination with faculty members. The forms curricular support identified in this survey were derived from the cases studies as well as concurrent reaccreditation and curriculum redesign efforts underway at the College. Across all three surveys, response rates ranged from 30% to 40%.

The survey instruments were specifically designed so that they may be adapted for use at other institutions.  The surveys will be revised for future use.  Representatives from other institutions or researchers interested in gathering comparative data should contact the authors.


The present study was based on two preceding works. The first is a report commissioned by the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education and titled “Using Digital Images in Teaching and Learning: Perspectives from Liberal Arts Colleges” (Green, 2006). This report provided a helpful survey of resources, practices, and issues that accompany curricular uses of digital images. The second work, Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester (Foster & Gibbons, 2007), provided the model for the exercises employed in this study. The flip chart exercise was adopted wholesale. The research team adapted the mapping diary, photo survey, and co-viewing exercises from this work.

Other works provided methodological guidance. Student researchers completed a month-long training program based on Foster and Gibbons (2007), Stewart and Cash’s (2006) Interviewing: Principles and Practices, and Miles and Huberman’s (1994) An Expanded Sourcebook: Qualitative Data Analysis. The team lead, a higher education researcher, led the training program. Agresti and Finlay’s (1999) Statistical Methods for the Social Sciences was useful in selecting appropriate statistical tests for the survey analysis.

 A full version of the study is freely available here.