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CONTENT ANALYSIS OF RESEARCH PROJECTS SUBMITTED BY UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS (2000-2009) AT THE ZIMBABWE OPEN UNIVERSITY: Implications for Quality Assessment

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62-84

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One of the issues that have continued to attract the attention of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) educators, scholars and researchers at the Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) is the question of quality in the assessment of students‘ research work. This study was part of a series of studies, into issues of quality, currently being conducted at the ZOU by the present authors. The present study aimed at developing a systematic approach towards quality assessment of students‘ research work. A content analysis of 400 research projects submitted by ZOU undergraduate students between 2000-2009 was undertaken applying both conceptual and relational analysis. Conceptual analysis was based on a checklist of six concepts: research questions, research paradigm, research design, data collection instruments, data form, procedures for data analysis and presentation and sought to establish the status of students‘ research work, its gaps and areas of saturation. Relational analysis was conducted through the use of a model that sought to assess the methodological appropriateness and methodological quality of the research projects. Major findings of the study revealed a clear distinction between research methodologies applied by students in the faculties of Arts & Education, Commerce & Law and Social Sciences and those applied by students in the faculty of Physical Sciences. Most research projects in the faculty of Physical Sciences, in the department of Agriculture, were quantitative by nature, guided by relational research questions and hypotheses. These studies used simple experiments to collect numerical data through the use of tests and observations, applied statistical analysis of data and presented data through the use of statistical tables. Almost all studies in the same faculty, in the department of Geography, were case studies and employed mixed methods. Most research studies from the faculties of Arts and Education, Commerce and Law and Social Sciences were qualitative, employed the descriptive survey research design, used questionnaires and interviews and used both quantitative and qualitative techniques to analyse, and present research findings. However, a significant number of projects across faculties did not identify the research paradigm. The present study established a growing trend, amongst qualitative researchers, towards the use of mixed methods. Relational analysis revealed that students‘ projects demonstrated a high degree of methodological appropriateness and methodological quality. 63 Appropriate linkages were established between research questions, data collected and the methods used in data collection, analysis and presentation. The use of mixed methods also enhanced the quality and appropriateness of the research methodology. However, The confinement of students‘ projects to descriptive surveys and to simple experiments reflected limited knowledge and low- level research skills in both research students and perhaps their supervisors. The relational analysis model employed in the present study was found to be very useful in the quality assessment of students‘ research projects. Research students and their supervisors can use this model to assess quality of their own research work. The study recommends that developers of teaching and learning materials should develop courses and materials that adequately equip students with the right knowledge and skills required for research. There is also need to evaluate the current courses that prepare students for research work. These courses are: - Introduction To Research Methods - Statistics For Educational Research And - Computer Application In Educational Research

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