home
Conduct research

Experiment

Overview

Experiments refer to a variety of research designs that use before and after and/or group comparisons to measure the effect of an instructional activity, innovation or program. Three types of experiments are controlled, field, and single-group design.

Suggested uses of experiments:

Limitations of experiments:

Resource requirements

A moderate level of knowledge about instrument design and writing survey questions is required unless you are using previously validated questions or survey instruments. You should also understand how to use and interpret basic statistics (e.g. frequencies, means, weighting), and have experience or training in constructing and using databases (for large classes). Data entry may be time consuming, requiring additional staff, although using scanable answer sheets or an electronic survey tool (e.g., Ongoing Course Assessment or Blackboard) will greatly reduce the knowledge, training, and time required to enter and analyze data. [more]

Plan your experiment

STEP 1. Identify the educational research problem or topic

Identify a research problem or topic from everyday life experiences, practical issues, past research, or theory.   Pay attention to the feasibility of your research problem or topic and whether it can be researched systematically.  Determine the resources needed to conduct the study, your interest level, its size and complexity, as well as the value of your results or solution for both theory and practice.

To thoroughly describe the research problem or topic, create a statement that includes the educational topic or specific problem and the justification for research. 

STEP 2. Review prior research

The literature review will help you gain an understanding of the current state of knowledge pertaining to your research idea.  It will inform you of what data collection methods have been used for similar research and to help make sense of the findings from these methods once data analysis is complete.  Try to specifically explore previous research that has used experiments for research problems or topics similar to your own. 

The most effective and efficient way to review prior research is to search educational journals through electronic computer databases such as ERIC, PsychINFO or Google Scholar.  Searching other library databases is also recommended.  

STEP 3. Determine the purpose, research question(s) or hypothesis(es)

Identifying a clear purpose helps determine how the research should be conducted, what research design you will use, and the research question(s) or hypothesis(es) of your study.  

For experiments, the purpose of your study will generally be to explain (determine) or predict the relation between two or more variables.  Therefore, experiments will be commonly used to test hypotheses.  Once you have created your hypothesis(es) for your research idea, specify or match which hypothesis(es) the experiment(s) will test.  

STEP 4. Consider the research implications of experimental findings

Implications are the practical ways your research will assist the field of education. These are the underlying goals, the rationales for, or the importance of your study.  Implications are linked to your research problem or topic, research purpose, and research question(s) or hypothesis(es) of your study.  Therefore, once you have matched hypothesis(es) that experimental findings will test, determine the implications of these findings and how it will aid the field of education.  This will help you keep focused and maintain a clear vision when planning the experiment(s) and interpreting findings.   

STEP 5. Design the experiment

Anticipate the research procedure, timeline, alternative explanations, and design methods.  Choose a design based on your resources and the study’s purpose. [more]

Additional information

Bordens, K.S. and Abbott, B.B. (1996). Research Design and Methods: A Process Approach. 3rd ed. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.

Johnson, B., & Christensen, L. (2004). Educational research: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed approaches (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Reichardt, C. S. & Mark, M. M. (2004). Quasi-Experimentation. In J. S. Wholey, H. P. Hatry, & K. E. Newcomber (Eds.) Handbook of Practical Program Evaluation, Second Edition, San Franciso: Jossey-Bass.

St. Pierre, R. G. (2004). Using randomized experiments. In J.S. Wholey, J. P. Hatry, & K. E. Newcomber (Eds.) Handbook of Practical Program Evaluation, Second Edition, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Page last updated: Sep 21 2011
Copyright © 2007, The University of Texas at Austin