The first step of this investigation gathered both quantitative and qualitative data through a survey. Data were gathered using Biggs, Kember & Leung’s (2001) Revised Two Factor Study Process Questionnaire (R-SPQ-2F) (see Table 1), which was supplemented with additional sections designed to elicit responses related to how students perceived the effect of the study buddy activity on their approaches to learning and how they perceived the study buddy activity itself. The R-SPQ-2F is described in detail in the next section.

Open-ended questions were interspersed throughout the quantitative items on the survey. These items were designed to elicit explanations of the participants’ choices on the quantitative items in order to understand their experiences with the study buddy activity. Responses to these open-ended questions formed the qualitative data for the study. The study was proposed to include the possibility of semi-structured interviews, but it was determined after the analysis of the responses to the open-ended questions that the data obtained were sufficient to satisfy the exploratory nature of the objectives of the study.

The survey was divided into four sections corresponding to the three research questions and the fourth to gather data from subjects who did not participate in the study buddy activity. Prior to the main sections of the survey, participants were asked whether or not they participated in the study buddy activity. Those who participated were automatically directed to complete the first three sections, and those who did not participate were automatically directed to complete only the first section and the final section. The four sections are described below.

Section 1: The Revised Two Factor Study Process Questionnaire (R-SPQ-2F).

The R-SPQ-2F is predicated on the idea that students may take either a deep or a surface approach to different learning tasks depending on several factors as outlined in the 3P model of teaching and learning (Biggs et al., 2001). The R-SPQ-2F consists of 20 5-point Likert scale items, which are designed to gauge how an individual student approaches a particular learning task, with the goal of identifying whether the student takes a deep or a surface approach to the learning task. There are 10 items related to each approach. In addition to the two main scales, there are four subscales measured by the R-SPQ-2F. Within each scale are the two subscales related to the strategies students use and to their motives for using the particular approach. The R-SPQ-2F can be scored to reflect either the two main scales of a deep approach (DA) or a surface approach (SA) or to reflect the subscales, which are deep motive (dm), deep strategy (ds), surface motive (sm) or surface strategy (ss). Table 1 shows how the survey items align with each of the scales and subscales.

Table 1

Biggs et al. (2001) calculated Cronbach’s alpha (), which provides a measure for how reliably an instrument measures a particular phenomenon. Values for  can range from 0 to 1, with higher scores indicating higher reliability. Biggs et al. calculated values for the R-SPQ-2F scales at 0.73 for the deep approach items and 0.64 for the surface approach items, values which are considered acceptable.

In response to the suggestion from Biggs et al. that the instrument may be more sensitive if some items are revised according to different learning contexts, items 17 through 20 were revised to remove references to face-to-face classrooms and examinations as neither of those elements were features of the course used in the study.

In addition to the R-SPQ-2F questionnaire, participants were asked to rate their responses on two additional categories of questions. The first category of questions was aimed at determining how study buddy participants think that the study buddy activity affected their learning based on Slavin’s (2011) integrated theoretical model of cooperative learning processes (Figure 4). The final category of questions was related to participants’ perceptions of the logistics of the study buddy activity and their evaluation of the structure of the activity.

Students who chose not to participate in the study buddy activity completed section 1 of the survey related to their approach to learning, and then were directed to the final section, a series of questions to gauge their views on why they didn’t participate and under what conditions they might choose to participate in the future.

One option on one item was added after the survey was administered to the Fall 2012 and Winter 2013 classes. The original survey asked participants if they would recommend the study buddy activity with the following options for responses: (1) to other learners in MDDE 604, (2) for use in other MDDE courses, or (3) for use as a general distance education strategy. After the Winter 2013 round of data collection, a fourth option was added to the question, (4) I would not recommend this activity for other learners or courses.

Section 2: Exploring Slavin’s integrated model.

Table 2 shows the second category of questions and how they are aligned with the second research question: As a cooperative learning activity, does the study buddy activity provide sufficient scaffolding to promote deep approaches to learning?

Categories of questions were derived from Slavin’s (2011) integrated model of cooperative learning. According to Slavin, there are four theoretical perspectives that interdependently explain how cooperative learning activities enhance learning. Theorists from the motivational perspective suggest that cooperative learning activities provide high levels of task motivation for participants to complete the required work. From the social cohesion perspective, students are motivated by their affinity for their group mates. The motivationalist and social cohesion perspectives work together in a mutually reinforcing feedback loop to enhance the effect of the activity. There are two perspectives that are considered cognitive perspectives. The cognitive development perspective suggests that students in cooperative learning environments are provided many opportunities to be challenged in what Vygotsky (1978) calls the zone of proximal development, where students are exposed to developmentally appropriate challenges. The cognitive elaboration, or cognitive restructuring, perspective posits that learning is enhanced when participants in cooperative learning activities are exposed to opportunities to consider their preconceptions and misconceptions of ideas in light of new information and to form more accurate models of the world.

In this investigation, participants provided self-reports on the four categories of learning effects. There were two or three items in this section of the survey for each theoretical perspective on cooperative learning activities. Each item was answered on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from (1) “Strongly disagree” to (5) “Strongly agree.”

Table 2

Participants were also asked whether the study buddy activity helped them to improve in various areas and if they would recommend the activity to others. These items were answered with either “Yes” or “No” (Table 3).

Table 3

Section 3: Exploring student perceptions of the structure of the study buddy.

The third section of the survey (Table 4) was used to determine how participants perceived the logistical structure and requirements of the study buddy
activity. The questions in this section were answered on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from (1) “Strongly disagree” to (5) “Strongly agree”.

Table 4

Participants were asked about the quantity and quality of their interaction with their study buddy partner, as well as their views on how the activity was structured in the course (Table 5).

Table 5

Section 4: Exploring the views of non-participants.

Participants who reported that they did not participate in the study buddy activity were directed to a brief section of questions asking them for explanations of why they chose to not participate and what it might take for them to participate in a similar activity in the future (Table 6).

Table 6