Maybe it’s the love of lifelong learning. Or maybe it’s a fascination with the new ideas out there. Or it could even be a flashback to the excitement I always felt when opening a new AU course start-up package. Whatever the reason, I’m feeling that way all over again as I read about all the brand-new, you-could-be-the-first-student-enrolled courses Athabasca University now has available.
It’s true: during 2010, AU was hard at work creating a variety of exciting and challenging new courses. The most recent offering is CMNS 333: Research Methods in Communication Studies, which just became available this month.
CMNS 333: Research Methods in Communication Studies explores the way we collect, analyze, and evaluate data in communications research. The entire course is online-accessible (with the exception of the course text, which is distributed in hard copy for easy access and studying).
The course is divided into nine units. The first unit is an introductory one, familiarizing students with the concept of research methods and their necessity for scientific accuracy. “These research methods provide researchers with a powerful way to get at the truth about such areas of social and professional concern as the effects of print and electronic media, advertising, public relations, and the Internet,” says acting course coordinator Jayne Gackenbach.
Once students are comfortable with these methods, they learn about ethical responsibilities in research. Ethics is a particularly important concern when obtaining informed consent in studies involving human beings. An example, Gackenbach says, is “audience effects research.”
Next, students explore the domains of quantitative and qualitative research, and what situations best employ each method. Quantitative research “provides descriptive, numerical statistics that are relatively easy to collect, calculate, analyze, and report,” explains Gackenbach, indicating that it’s often used for budget and profit research. However, she continues, quantitative research has its limitations; it lacks the “primary elements of communication” that people follow. Qualitative research fills this void, but it is “not easily tested for . . . validity,” as is quantitative research.
Over the next few units, students learn the framework of research itself: critical thinking skills and the ability to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of different research methods in order to gain the most applicable model for the study in question. Students become comfortable with “focus groups, text analysis, case studies and field observations,” according to the course materials.
CMNS 333 students also investigate content analysis and survey research methods, using quantitative and mixed research methods, respectively, as the primary research strategies. Additionally, students are introduced to other research methods. Longitudinal research involves monitoring “data over a period of time,” says Gackenbach, and experimental methods are those in which “a researcher manipulates one variable to see how it affects another.”
The remaining three units in CMNS 333 are related to research applications. Students explore different media (including print, electronic, and advertisement) through which research can be propagated, and delving into the far-reaching effects of each one. Additionally, they learn about the financing end of research: the necessity of funding to both initiate and complete projects, and ways to gain such funds.
Evaluation in CMNS 333 is based on several factors. Students will complete eight short assignments, each worth five per cent of the final grade. These assignments vary from creative work like writing short essays and designing new studies to mathematical work like working with statistics. CMNS 333 students will also be evaluated through two tests (worth five per cent each), given to students by the tutors “at key points” during the course, says Gackenbach. Finally, students will write a research proposal (worth 20 per cent) focusing on research design, and a final exam at the end of the course (30 per cent of the final grade).
The course is worth three credits, and has CMNS 308 (or equivalent) as its pre-requisite. It’s also cross-listed with CMNS 410.