Editor’s Note: Doctoral students must prepare and present proposals for their Doctoral Dissertation research. Brent Muirhead addresses the need for certain planning structures to ensure that purpose, proposal, methodology, results, and significance are clearly stated and intelligible to the target audience. This raises certain challenges in research design communication.
Academic Research Presentations:
Practical Advice for Today's
Presenting research results is a vital aspect of graduate work. It is an exciting time in a student's degree program because it represents the culmination of many hours of hard work. The communication of research findings provides a valuable opportunity to inform others of a current investigation and it and can lead to future speaking opportunities at conferences, grants for future research projects, school and business meetings and offer natural connections to new job opportunities! My discussion will highlight major elements in preparing academic presentations that will help students to best represent their research while effectively meeting audience expectations. An emphasis will be placed on action research projects that are growing more popular in today's graduate education programs.
Action research projects are naturally proactive endeavors that are designed to promote an accurate understanding and awareness of educational problems. They are solution- oriented investigations that use systematic analysis and data reflection that are essential for encouraging the implementation of instructional changes in classrooms and educational institutions (Johnson, 1993). Action research projects are becoming more popular among contemporary professionals in the social sciences and especially those involved in social work, health and education. (Hart & Bond 1995) cite seven distinguishing characteristics to action research:
deals with individuals as members of social groups;
is problem-focused, context-specific and future-orientated;
involves a change intervention;
aims at improvement and involvement;
involves a cyclic process in which research, action and evaluation are interlinked;
is founded on a research relationship in which those involved are participants in the change process (pp. 37-38).
Presenting academic material requires careful preparation and planning to effectively communicate to your audience. It is important to consider the diversity of expertise within a group of educators. Audiences will usually contain people who are experts in your subject area, others who have a general knowledge of the topic and the remainder who have basically little or no knowledge. How do you plan to effectively reach such a wide range of knowledge levels within one group? A popular communication strategy is to directly address the experts while integrating relevant and interesting illustrations and ideas into the presentation that make the results accessible to entire audience. It is a multidimensional speaking technique that demonstrates respect for those who attend your presentation (Cryer, 2000; Hill, 1997).
Essential elements for action research presentations:
Problem description and documentation
Analysis of results (anticipated & otherwise)
Recommendations for change & for future researchers
Solicitation of audience feedback
Problem Description & Documentation
The problem statements should be presented in descriptive language that the audience can easily understand. The presentation should include several key studies from the literature review to provide solid support for the rationale for pursuing your research problem. There is a real temptation to share a host of studies but it tends to distract people who generally are more interested in understanding why an individual has undertaken a particular study.
This section should reflect a basic overview of the study participants and help acquaint people with the school or organizational setting for the research project. Due to the international interest in research efforts, be sure to share enough factual information about the study site and population to inform individuals from other countries. Also, it might be necessary in some situations to include a brief overview of key terms to effectively communicate with a diverse audience.
Presenting possible solutions to educational problems is a vital part of the research process. Individual projects will often focus on issues within a specific realm of practice in a classroom or throughout a school such as disciplinary referrals. It is important to present information in a concise manner that highlights the specific changes to improve the educational setting. Therefore, stress three or four changes that will help you keep your presentation focused and reduce potential resistance to your ideas
Analysis of Results (anticipated and otherwise)
Interpretation of qualitative and quantitative data is always a very challenging task. The author recommends reviewing your results in light of the concepts of significance, generalizability, reliability and validity. The generalizability of an action research project requires you to ask specific questions which examine the degree of broader applicability of your particular study. Blaxter, Hughes & Tight (2001) recommend asking yourself the following questions:
If you carried out a detailed study of a specific institution, group or individual, are your findings of any relevance beyond that institution, group or individual?
Do they have anything to say about the behavior or experience of other institutions, groups or individuals, and if so, how do you know that this is the case? (p. 221)
Every study has a certain level of limitations involving generalizability. Action research projects are designed to address real problems in a school such as the quality of student writing or reading comprehension skills. Collaborative action research projects offer opportunities to increase the significance of an investigation by exploring and examining issues within a school or several schools. Individual case studies and action research projects remain an important part of today’s academic community.
Researchers need to carefully share conflicting or even somewhat confusing results because this represents valuable information. Often, it stresses the complexity of studying the teaching and learning process and the need to explore the topic in greater depth in a future research venture.
Salmon’s (2000) investigation into facilitating online dialogs at the Open University (London, England) reflects how an individual study can benefit both a higher education institution and offer potential insights for online teachers. Her findings were based on a combination of content analysis of online communication of students and teachers, focused group work and testing and evaluation of a new teaching and learning model. Salmon developed a comprehensive chart of five facilitator or e-moderator competencies:
1. Understanding of online process - understand how to promote group work, pace online discussions, experiment with new ideas
2. Technical skills - use software to facilitate student interaction by monitoring student messages and create conferencing opportunities
3. Online communication skills - able to effectively interact with students by using concise and clear messages that encourage academic dialog and personalize the online experience
4. Content expertise - credible subject matter knowledge and experience to share comments/questions that stimulate lively debate
5. Personal characteristics - able to adapt to different teaching situations and demonstrates a genuine excitement about online learning
The five facilitator skills provide an excellent overview of distance educator competencies. The educational community can use the facilitator skills in a variety of ways: instructional design specialists that are creating online curriculum materials help assist distance educator administrators who are recruiting online personnel, trainers of online faculty members who need guidelines to help them make accurate assessments and individual instructors who want to develop a professional development plan.
Recommendations for Change & for future researchers
As you prepare your presentation, take the time to consider the questions that those who might be skeptical of your findings and share recommendations for changes. Garofoli & Woodell (2003) relate, “why would some faculty be so skeptical when others have achieved great success and discovered new ways to increase learning outcomes? Why would faculty resist tools that can help them simplify their work?”(paragraph 2).
Action research can be an effective tool for promoting relevant changes within a school setting by informing policy debates and improving teacher research skills and practices.
A research project may:
address gaps in knowledge by investigating an area of research that fills a void in existing information
expand knowledge by extending research to new ideas and practices
replicate knowledge by testing old results with new participants or new research sites
add voices of individuals to knowledge, individuals whose perspectives have not been heard or whose views have been minimized in our society
(Creswell, 2002, p. 4).
Solicitation of Audience Feedback
The audience can be a good resource for advice and feedback on your presentation and a forum to enhance professional knowledge and practices in today’s classrooms. Naturally, researchers are somewhat anxious about the personal risks involved having their project being scrutinized by others. O’Brien (1998) relates, “one of the prominent fears comes from the risk to ego stemming from open discussion of one’s interpretation, ideas, and judgments. Initiators of action research will use this principle to allay others’ fears and invite participation by pointing out that they, too, will be subject to the same process, and whatever the outcome, learning will take place” (Risk, paragraph 1). Audience feedback can help individuals identify shortcomings or flaws in their research project which can be addressed in a future journal article or in future investigations. Dialog over research results can provide the basis for a deeper understanding about current interpretations of educational practices and theories. Graduate students should be encouraged by the fact that their presentations will give others the opportunity to publicly affirm the positive elements and educational contributions of your work (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight , 2001)
Conference Speaking & Publishing Opportunities
The action research project can be a good resource for sharing valuable knowledge with the academic community. It is wise to investigate potential speaking opportunities at your school (i.e. staff development days), national and international conferences. Today's technology and educational conferences often provide Web sites with specific details about their expectations for papers. Conference leaders will post information describing their preferences for paper topics, targeted audience, word length of papers, style format, how to create graphs and charts, multimedia directions and the amount of time allocated for each presentation. The author recommends emailing one of the conference leaders with your presentation ideas to help affirm them or have information to modify your topic. This is an important step because competition for presenting papers can be enormous and you can greatly increase your acceptance rate to conferences by checking with individuals who are organizing the event.
As you explore various speaking opportunities, it is a good time to examine publication of your research results in journals, magazines and newsletters (print & online). The publication process requires diligence, persistence and a willingness to shape your material to target specific groups of readers. Additionally, editors appreciate writers who provide creative research articles and meet their deadlines. It is very important to cultivate good working relationships with editors who can assist you in sharing your ideas with the academic community (Muirhead, 2002).
Research presentations are excellent opportunities to demonstrate originality and inform others of valuable investigation findings. Contemporary educators appreciate quality work because it encourages improvement in educational practices, refinement of research skills and benefits a diversity of stakeholders.
Blaxter, L. Hughes, C. & Tight, M. (Eds.). (2001). How to research (2nd ed.). Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.
Calhoun, E. F. (1993). Action research: Three approaches. Educational Leadership. 51 (2). Available: http://ucerc:edu/teacherresearch/muhsdar0110-99.html
Creswell, J. W. (2002). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Upper Saddle Creek, NJ: Pearson Education.
Cryer, P. (2000). The research student’s guide to success (2nd ed.). Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.
Garofoli, E. & Woodell, J. (2003). Faculty Development and the Diffusion of Innovations Syllabus. Available: http://www.syllabus.com/article.asp?id=7093
Hart, E. & Bond, M. (1995). Action research for health and social care: a guide to practice. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.
Hill, M. D. (1997). Oral presentation advice. Available: http://www.cs.wisc.edu/~markhill/conference-talk.html
Johnson, B. (1993). Teacher-as-researcher. Washington, D.C.: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 355 205). Available: http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed355205.html
O’Brien, R. (1998). An overview of the methodological approach of action research. Available: http://www.web.net/~robrien/papers/arfinal.html
Muirhead, B. (2002). Writing for academic publication. USDLA Journal, 16 (12). Available: http://www.usdla.org/html/journal/DEC02_Issue/article06.html
Salmon, G. (2000). E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online. London, UK: Kogan Page.
About the Author
Brent Muirhead, Senior Online Editor for this Journal,
has a BA in social work, master's degrees in religious education, history, administration and e-learning and
doctoral degrees in Education (D.Min. and Ph.D.).
Dr. Muirhead is the area chair for the MAED program in curriculum and technology for the University of Phoenix Online (UOP) and teaches a variety of master level courses. Also, he mentors faculty candidates and serves on dissertation committees in UOP's Doctor of Management degree program. He is an Associate Editor for Educational Technology & Society and recently was a visiting research fellow to Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland. He may be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org