Interpersonal Dimensions of Educational Research Consultation in Higher Education

Article excerpt

A labor-intensive responsibility of many educational researchers in higher education involves research consultation with students and other faculty. Educational research faculty often offer methodological and statistical expertise to graduate students working on theses and dissertations as well as provide assistance to colleagues. While some mention has been made of the logistics and skill levels involved in this type of consultation (Remer, 1980), no serious discussion has been offered as to the interpersonal dimensions of this type of consultation. Interpersonal dimensions unique to research consultation with students may include patience, rapport, confrontation, flattery, direct and honest feedback, dependency, and deference, to name a few. Furthermore, these psychological factors are often related to certain phases of the research process (e.g., student dependency during data analysis) and can also involve faculty committee members (e.g., faculty acquiescence to the educational researcher). Testimonials provided by Stegman (1985), Kirk (1991), and Zahn and Isenberg (1983) strongly suggest that the success of this type of consultation is as contingent upon interpersonal dimensions as on content expertise.

The intent of this inquiry is to obtain preliminary data from students and faculty as to their perceptions of interpersonal dimensions in the conduct and supervision of research. Such information may increase understanding of the role interpersonal dimensions might play in these particular activities.

Method

Participants

A purposeful sample of twelve graduate students and six faculty from a college of education in a medium-sized southeastern university were selected to participate in this study. Eight of the students were female and four were male. The faculty included two females and four males all of whom had a minimum of five years supervising student research. All students had recently and successfully completed either an Ed.S research project or a doctoral dissertation and represented a variety of educational majors. Participants were assured that their responses would remain completely confidential. All agreed to participate in this study.

Procedures

A qualitative research approach was used in which all participants were interviewed by one of the two investigators. Students were interviewed over the phone while faculty were interviewed in person. The interviews lasted between 20 to 30 minutes and all data were collected during a one-week time period.

Instrument

A semi-structured interview protocol was constructed based upon prior literature and personal experience. All questions were open-ended and required participants to reflect back upon their research or consultative experiences. The primary intent of all interviews was for participants to identify interpersonal factors that they experienced while performing or consulting in research. Both groups were also asked to identify positive as well as frustrating interpersonal experiences. In addition, faculty responded to a question pertaining to their interactions with other faculty members. Finally, all participants were invited to provide additional comments. All information was recorded on the interview schedules.

Results

Information on the interview schedules was studied by the investigators. A careful analysis of all responses was conducted for the purpose of discovering trends, patterns and commonalities.

In response to interpersonal factors that arose during their research, most students reported that they received considerable guidance and encouragement from faculty and were treated in a prompt and personal manner. Doctoral students unanimously reported that students in their cohort were a strong and consistent source of support and remain so even still. …