Introduction

Our group has decided to do a research study to determine whether there is a significant difference between the graduation rate of students attending online degree programs and students attending campus-based degree programs.  The broad topic of online education versus campus-based education was agreed upon very early in the discussion.  A couple of other good topics were also mentioned, such as: the perception of ethics in corporate America, and the effects of a carnivorous diet versus the effects of a vegan diet on the body, however; as a group, we felt the majority of us could best relate to the online versus campus-based education topic.

Narrowing Focus

Once the broad topic was agreed upon, the group brainstormed several potential angles in an effort to narrow down the focus.  One angle discussed was whether or not employers place the same weight on a degree from an online program as a degree from a campus-based program.  Another potential question discussed was whether the open courseware project and other open source platform-based learning projects might, as they grow in popularity, have an impact on both online-based degree programs and campus-based degree programs.  Finally, we determined we should either examine the rate of employment between the two types of programs, the rate of unemployment between the two types of programs, or the graduation rates between the two types of programs.  Ultimately, we ended up settling on graduation rates between the two types of degree programs.  Having narrowed the focus of the topic, the discussion moved into whether qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods should be used.  We tended to agree that a mixed-method approach would be best used, but we hadn’t yet determined the supporting questions for the central question.  Since the questions themselves are what best dictates the type of strategy used, we decided to wait until we determined the supporting questions before officially agreeing on the mixed-method approach because it combines both qualitative and quantitative approaches to make a more powerful strategy in determining study results (CTU Online, 2012).

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Research Questions

Here is the central question for our research study based on a literature review of the topic, followed by supporting questions:

1)      Overall, are graduation rates lower for online-based degree programs than for campus-based programs?

2)      If graduation rates are lower for online programs, what are the contributing factors?

3)      Does age, gender, or race play a factor in whether one type of schooling is more successful than the other?

4)      Do retention rates for one type or the other differ according to age, gender, or race?

5)      Do graduation rates for one type or the other differ according to age, gender, or race?

Determining Methodology

The original question appears to be quantitative in nature, but some of the supporting questions appear to be more qualitative, so it was determined that the mixed-method approach would be best used for the research project.             Qualitative methods will be used to determine the overall graduation rate for both online-based and campus-based programs, as well as, how it differs according to age.  Many of these statistics are readily available and can be compared with survey results determine the answers to several of the questions.  The questions regarding contributing factors are qualitative in nature and can be answered with surveys, questionnaires, interviews, and observations (Hohmann, 2006).

Tentative Hypotheses

Our research and discussions have led us to believe that overall, graduation rates are much higher for traditional programs than online programs, however; if the numbers are broken down by age, gender, and race, there appears to be a definite trend toward younger students having more success with traditional programs and older students having more success with online programs.  This could be for a number of reasons.  The older students who are taking online courses might have a higher success rate simply because they are more mature and have more discipline or they might have a higher success rate with online courses because they already have full schedules and the flexibility of online courses allows them to fit it in when they can.  Other factors could also come into play, such as whether students have any type of medical condition that might make one type of degree program easier than the other, whether financial considerations make a difference, etc.  These are the types of questions that interviews, surveys, and other qualitative methods will answer.  Information derived from qualitative approaches will further clarify the results of the quantitative portion of the study.

Conclusion

The group did a great job discovering a topic, narrowing focus of the topic, brainstorming supporting questions, and determining which methodology should be used.  Additionally, we were able to share our own personal experiences to help solidify our questions and the suspected hypotheses.  When it comes time to actually write our individual research proposals, we will have a much easier time doing so because as a group we worked well together and created a strong foundation to build upon.

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