Depending on your research questions, there may be data available to you that is collected by the university. This data can include student information system variables as well as student reactions or behavior that can expedite answering research questions.
Every college or university has an office or individual responsible for Institutional Research (IR). This office maintains the data provided by each student and faculty through various campus applications and surveys as well as all data maintained regarding courses and programs that are stored in the student information system (SIS). This office often is responsible for using this data for accountability through state and accreditation agencies and often informs campus administration regarding profiles and queries on students and faculty. Data that is maintained include student demographic data, academic test scores (ACT, SAT, GRE, etc.), grade point averages, (GPAs) and all transcript information. Data is stored for each course including college, department, instructor, location, and time, and is linked to each registered student.
While each Institutional Research office has their own policy, it is often possible for researchers to request data regarding the students who are enrolled in their individual classes or programs. For example, SIS data allow researchers to examine success and withdrawal across various demographics and course modalities. If you have a question regarding course or student level data, contact your IR office to see if they can help.
Student Perception of Instruction
Most colleges and universities have a required student ratings form that is administered each semester to allow students to provide feedback regarding their experiences in classes. Faculty are provided their course results each semester. This data can be valuable to determine whether any instructional change impacts student reactions to the class over time. Contact the department responsible for administering this form to determine if historical data is available for an individual faculty member or course.
Course Gradebook and Assessment Data
Learning Management Systems such as Instructure Canvas and BlackBoard allow faculty to download individual student performance for individual quiz and exam items. The entire gradebook can also be downloaded at course completion and this data can potentially be matched to demographics found in the SIS to investigate patterns of student success.
The nature of online learning allows a wealth of data to be captured as students maneuver through an online course. Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Instructure Canvas and BlackBoard capture data on how students interact with the system–for example, pages viewed, assignments completed, discussion posts, etc. Other applications that may be used in courses can store similar analytics data. Look for this data and determine if it can help you with your research. Gathering analytics data on students can provide information on exactly how students interact with an online course and its components. Linking this to student grades can provide information on how students’ interaction with a class can link to their success.
Often, you may have specific research questions that require you to construct survey instruments. A quick literature search can provide valuable information on what others have used that you may be able to modify for your own use. Here, we provide examples of student and faculty surveys that you can freely modify and use for your own research. These are examples of possible research questions, but all may not be applicable to your research.
For details and examples of rubrics to use for course or program evaluation, visit the section on
Checklists & Rubrics.