|Further Diploma in Education (Educational Management) by Distance Education at the University of Pretoria, South Africa (CIE, 2002, 55 p.)|
|3. Research Methods|
In addition to the interviews, we also sent out questionnaires to a variety of learning centres. We distributed them to these centres to ensure a high percentage of returns. We had to implement some rigid strategies for this process, particularly within a context where questionnaires often disappear or are simply not responded to. The analysis of the questionnaires was used to add some depth to the interview data, highlighting similarities as well as some contradictions.
In developing the questionnaire we used as a starting point a questionnaire that was administered by Sussex University and the University of Western Cape for the evaluation of a pre-graduation qualification. The questionnaire was adapted to the needs of our particular inquiry.
The purpose of the questionnaire was to determine the perception of the students in the FDE Education Management course about:
· The effectiveness of the course
· The influence of the course on their professional development
· Problems related to the course
· Reasons why the students enrolled for the course
The distribution and implementation of the questionnaires proved to be complex at times. We therefore wish to describe this process in some detail. The Hammanskraal group completed the questionnaire during the week that they attended the lectures. The questionnaires were handed out after some explanation of the reason and importance of the research project. The respondents completed the questionnaires in their own time after the lectures. The researcher collected the questionnaires from the respondents. Several attempts were necessary to collect the majority of the questionnaires. The advantage of this method was that a high percentage of questionnaires were received and the researcher was available to answer questions from the respondents if they were unsure about certain questions. There were only a few questions from the respondents. The disadvantage of this method was that the respondents could discuss the questions and that might have an influence on the results.
The questionnaires for the distance education students proved more complex. There was limited time available to collect the data. The option to post the questionnaires was quickly ruled out as a possibility due to the low level of return and the time constraints. It would have also been difficult to select the sample from the address list of National Private Colleges. Another problem with posting the questionnaires was that National Private Colleges had already experienced problems with the postal addresses of the students in the past and this could have had a negative effect on the number of questionnaires that were returned.
Finally, it was decided to send the questionnaires to the selected examination centres so that the students were able to complete the questionnaires while they were at the examination centre. An advantage of this process was that it ensured a high response rate. We experienced some problems in this process:
· The students came to the centres to write examination and not to complete questionnaires.
· There could be students who objected to completing the questionnaire before the examination session officially started because it might interfere with their focus on the examination.
· If one student failed and complained that the questionnaire distracted his/her concentration, it could cause problems for the academic staff as well as for the researcher.
· Another issue we had to deal with was the timing of handing out these questionnaires: before or after the examinations. If you hand it out with the examination question paper students may get confused and start to complete the questionnaire first and then they will not have enough time to complete the question paper.
· If the questionnaire was given to students after they handed in the examination paper they might not be motivated to complete the questionnaire because normally students are used to going home immediately after they completed the examination. This is especially true for students who depend on public transport.
· Students did not have prior warning that they would have to complete a questionnaire and that it could take them about twenty minutes to complete it. This might irritate the students which might have a negative effect on their objective responses to the questions in the questionnaire.
· It was decided to inform the students about the questionnaire before they started the examination and indicate the importance of the questionnaire and the research project. The students were asked to spend extra minutes completing the questionnaire because the results of the research project could improve the standard of the course. The invigilators handed out the questionnaires thirty minutes after the students started with the examination paper. Now the students did have the questionnaire with them and they could complete the questionnaire after they completed the examination paper.
· The researcher contacted the invigilators personally to emphasise the importance of the procedures and the research project. The researcher also attended one of the sessions to assess the process. At this venue all the students completed the questionnaire without any problems.