Data Analysis

Quantitative analysis.

Quantitative data were analyzed using an independent samples t-test for the R-SPQ-2F section of the survey and basic descriptive statistics for the remainder of the quantitative data.

An independent samples t-test was performed to determine whether or not there were any statistically significant differences in student approaches to learning between those subjects who participated in the study buddy activity and those who did not participate in the study buddy activity.

It was possible to score between 10 and 50 points on each of the two scales measured by the R-SPQ-2F. For example, students who took a particular approach (deep or surface) about half the time would score 30 points on the corresponding scale and those who frequently took a particular approach would score 40 points on the corresponding scale.

Biggs et al. (2001) do not provide or recommend norms or standards for their instrument because of the high degree of variability of institutional and teaching contexts (presage factors). Instead, they recommend the development of norms within institutions or even individual courses. As such, this study, being the first to examine this activity with the R-SPQ-2F, could not compare students’ scores with any previously published norms. Therefore, for this investigation, those participants who scored more than 40 points on the deep scale and less than 20 points on the surface scale were considered to have taken a predominantly deep approach in their learning. Those who scored 40 or fewer points on the deep scale and 20 or more points on the surface scale were considered to have taken a predominantly surface approach.

Qualitative analysis.

Qualitative data were analyzed according to the phenomenological protocols for analyzing qualitative data as outlined in Creswell (2007). Phenomenology is the study of the lived experiences of humans and is based largely on the ideas of Edmund Husserl, a German mathematician (Moustakas, 1994; van Manen, 1990). Contrary to quantitative methods, which seek to dichotomize, explain, and predict, phenomenology seeks to understand human experience (van Manen, 1990).

According to Creswell’s (2007) protocol, the first task of phenomenologists is to describe their experience with the phenomenon in a process called bracketing. This process helps the researcher set aside his or her own experience and analyze the phenomenon from a new perspective. The researcher then reads through the data to develop a list of significant statements, which are then reduced to a list of non-overlapping statements through the process of horizontalization. These statements are then grouped into themes or meaning units. The next step is to write a textural description of the phenomenon, which essentially answers the question “What happened?” This is followed by the structural description, which describes how the phenomenon occurred and includes a description of the larger context or setting of the phenomenon. The final step is to write a composite description, which is usually a long paragraph integrating the textural and structural descriptions into a description of the essence of the phenomenon.

Merging the findings.

The final step of the analysis was to compare the results of the quantitative and qualitative analyses into a single, unified statement with respect to what the findings revealed in light of the research questions and the recommendations regarding incorporating the study buddy activity into online distance learning course design. The two analyses were integrated to show areas of convergence and divergence in a process known as triangulation (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2010; Jick, 1979).