Conducting Research on Teaching and Learning

Recommended Timeline

Research projects can last anywhere from a few weeks to several semesters

Research on teaching and learning can help you improve your own teaching practice and contribute to scholarship on teaching in your field. This outline describes the steps to conduct and publish your research. Learning Innovation staff members are available to help throughout this process, from refining your idea to obtaining IRB approval and developing your data analysis plan.

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    1. Clarify Your Research Hypothesis: What do you want to do in your class and how will you know whether it works? Start by thinking about the goals of your project. Do you want students to have an easier time learning about a topic they often find difficult, or engage in more active learning instead listening to a lecture on a given topic? It is usually helpful to think about the goals of your research before you think about the actual activities students will do.
    2. Identify Outcomes: Once you have identified the goals of your project, or the hypothesis motivating your research, you should identify the outcomes you will measure. It is often helpful to look at prior research on teaching in your field to see how other researchers are measuring student learning. Common outcome measures include: grades, self-assessed learning gains, student evaluations, test scores, and reflective writings – but don’t limit yourself to this list if you think other measures could do a better job of capturing the outcomes you think are important.
    3. Explore Existing Data: Consider whether there are existing data sources available at Duke that could be helpful in your research. This is particularly useful if you want to compare outcomes before and after you try a new teaching method. One place to look for existing data is in your own classes; can you compare grades from a prior semester with grades after you implement something new? If you want to do this, you may need to ask students from your previous class for permission to use their grades in your project (see step 4 below). You can also find existing data through the Office of Institutional Research, the Registrar’s Office, and the Trinity Office of Assessment.
    4. Obtain Approvals: Any research involving human subjects (like students) needs to be approved by the Duke IRB. This can be the University IRB or the Medical IRB, depending on your affiliation. If your project is only limited to collecting data to inform your own teaching practice, and you do not plan to publish your results, you do not need IRB approval. A Learning Innovation staff member can help you determine whether this is the case. Be sure to allow 2-4 weeks to receive approval, if needed.
    5. Collect and Analyze Data: In many cases, you will collect your data as part of your regular teaching activities. For example, if you plan to analyze student grades on a given assessment as your key outcome, you will not need to do anything special to collect those data. There are many ways to analyze and visualize data. Talk to one of our staff members if you need help identifying the best way to analyze your data.
    6. Report Your Findings: There are many different ways to report your findings. While many instructors report their findings in peer-reviewed journal publications, you can also present your results at conferences or meetings. You can also disseminate your findings to peers and colleagues at Duke and other institutions through infographics, webinars, magazine and trade publications, and media releases.

Additional Resources

Office of Assessment – Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
The Office of Assessment for Trinity College offers advice and support in measuring student learning outcomes at the course and program level.

Social Sciences Research Institute – Duke University
Duke’s Social Sciences Research Institute offers support to Duke faculty with quantitative and qualitative analysis projects.

Contact us » Ready to get started, but need some help?