Academic journal article Family Relations

Wade into the Water: Preparing Students for Successful Quantitative Research*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Wade into the Water: Preparing Students for Successful Quantitative Research*

Article excerpt


To date, family scientists have not examined the processes and outcomes of research training. In this study, we present a potential way in which the research-practice gap is sustained by our current forms of research education, and we suggest two improvements. First, graduate and undergraduate programs should improve assessment of their research training. Second, experience with research should be integrated into undergraduate family studies programs, preferably in a capstone research experience for all students. Toward these ends, we present a model of curriculum organization and assessment data across 3 years. Assessment indicated that undergraduate students' confidence and skills changed over the course of their education. These results suggest that graduate and undergraduate family studies programs could benefit from defining outcomes and investigating processes of research education for all students.

Key Words: education, pedagogy, quantitative research, statistics anxiety, teaching undergrade.

To date, family scientists have not examined the processes and outcomes of research training. This training is a fundamental part of graduate education; yet, too often we leave the training methods and quality to be decided by institutional, program, or faculty needs. The most obvious consequence of this approach is the research-practice gap, and we need large-scale intervention to address these problems with research education and reduce this gap.

In this study, we make two suggestions toward this end. First, we propose that graduate and undergraduate programs improve assessment of their research training, and we offer an example of such assessment. Second, we present a curriculum designed to improve the process of research training for all undergraduate students, where intervention likely will be most fruitful.

We begin by reviewing literature on the research-practice gap and connect the gap to our undergraduate educational process. Then, we discuss lessons we can gain from the literature in other fields on obstacles to the process of research education and potential outcomes. Finally, we suggest ways to improve quantitative research education on the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Literature Review

The Research-Practice Gap

A dilemma facing many applied fields, from medicine to psychology to family studies, is the research-practice gap (Addis, Wade, & Hatgis, 1999; Chambless & Ollendick, 2001; Greenberg, 1994; Lavee & Dollahite, 1991; Small, 2005; Weisz, Hawley, Pilkonis, Woody, & Follette, 2000; Willinsky, 2000; Wolfe, 1999). This often-cited gap is the tendency of practitioners (often clinicians) to ignore research findings and of scientists to study questions irrelevant to practice or to fail to disseminate findings in an accessible manner (Small). This gap also relates to distance in education and experience between the scientists and the practitioners and conveys the notion of a bifurcation in social science, with the practitioners on one side and the scientists on the other.

Unfortunately, the research-practice gap reflects the state of family studies (like many other fields) in which we have an abundance of programs designed by talented practitioners but little evidence that they work. For example, in one recent study of marital enrichment programs, 6 of the 13 examined programs were empirically untested (Jakubowski, Milne, Brunner, & Miller, 2004). The research-practice gap has proven to be persistent, despite recent efforts to connect program content with research findings (cf. Adler-Baeder, Higginbotham, & Lamke, 2004).

We suggest that one of the roots of this persistent problem lies in the inadequate quantitative research curricula of many family studies programs. The following description (based on our experience) of a stereotypical undergraduate program in family studies may shed some light on how the process of research education maintains the research-practice gap. …

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