No lack of research exists that indicate problems with students’ ability to demonstrate meaningful learning when developing literature reviews. To assist in the review and organization of literature, LitAssist was designed based on the theory of constructivism, a proven adult learning theory. The tool assists researchers to evaluate empirical research critically by prompting students to enter key information about the research study. This prompting and organization of data allows students to determine common threads, tensions, and gaps in the literature.
Many dissertations are no better than a 'parroting' of what is already known and many students do not add, or add little, to the body of knowledge. The results may indicate that doctoral students, many being novice researchers, may not possess the necessary skills to demonstrate the meaningful learning required to complete the literature review. Students not able to complete the literature review chapter of the dissertation may result in attrition if the students are not afforded the proper training or tools necessary to assist the student in completing comprehensive literature reviews. LitAssist is a tool designed to increase the quality of the literature reviews by prompting students to critically evaluate the research.
In 2012, a pilot study of 10 docotral students in their third year of the program was conducted to evaluate the use of LitAssist's effectiveness in the review of literature. The end of pilot survey indicated favorable perceptions in the tool's effectiveness and 100% of students were likely to recommend the tool to other students. Doctoral students must demonstrate their aptitude to find and assess information, organize, and synthesize the research findings, and construct an argument for their proposed research in the form of a comprehensive review of the literature related to their research topic (Boote & Beile, 2005). However, researchers such as Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2007) suggest that students tend to approach the literature review with no more effort than a high school term paper. This approach prevents students from demonstrating meaningful synthesis. Additionally, Schoenfeld (1999) suggested that many students accomplish varying degrees of synthesis, but commonly are incapable of identifying or framing effective research problems. The ability to frame an effective research problem is the result of a substantial literature review (Creswell, 2009) and is found through a comprehensive literature review that demonstrates meaningful learning (and one in which the gap in the literature becomes the focus of the dissertation). The purpose of this study is to determine if the use of a software tool designed to assist students through review of literature increases the quality of the literature reviews. The study will take place at a major university in Arizona with a convenience sample of doctoral students taking an online literature research course offered early in the sequence of the program’s doctoral coursework. The test and control groups for this study are students using the software tool and students not using the software tool. The Literature Review Scoring Rubric segregates the scoring into five categories, (1) introduction, (2) background, (3) theoretical framework, (4) preliminary review of the literature, and (5) summary of the review. The second dependent variable for the qualitative study will be student and faculty perceptions of the effectiveness of the tool on guiding students through the review of literature.
Access - The original tool is a Windows application. Students need access to a computer able to run Windows applications. An online version is currently being developed (expected to be completed December 2012). Once online, users can access online and/or via Window's application. Faculty Satisfaction - faculty were involved in the pilot study completed in 2012 and the results indicated favorable percpetions on the tool's effectiveness in the review of literature. Learning Effectiveness - The tool has been used exclusively in the review of literature for the study's author. The tool was used to organize and store reviews of more than 300 literature articles which resulted in the successful completion of the dissertation proposal. Scale - The tools is versioned and is scaleable. Updates for the Windows application is available via download and the online version can be seamlessly scaled. Additional modules (as designed) can be added to the core functionality of LitAssist. These additional modules (available for both the application and online versions) allow for the development of additional functionality for a more robust solution. Student Satisfaction - The pilot study indicated favorable perceptions by the students involved in the study and 100% reported they would recommend the software to other students.
For the initial program, students need access to a computer able to run Window's applications. The online version (expected to be deployed December 2012) will require the user to have access to the Internet. Once the online version is available, two-way synching is available between the Window's applciation and the onine version. This flexibililty allows users to work on reviews without having access to the internet.
The cost of the core LitAssist is based on a tiered structure. The more licenses the cheaper per license. The expectation is to license directly with the university, although individual licenes can be purchased by students. Licenses are expected to range from $5 to $15 per student per semester for University licenses, or approximately $40 per user per year in purchased individually. Additional modules to increase functionality will be available for purchase; to be determined.
Boote, D. N. & Beile, P. (2005). Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher. 24(6). 3-15. Cohen, L., Manion, L. & Morrison, K. (2007). Research Methods in Education. Oxford, UK. Creswell, J.W. (2003). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. Schoenfeld, A. H. (1999). The core, the canon, and the development of research skills. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA
LitAssist is expected to be introduced into the beginning literature review courses in August and September of 2012. Results are expected to be finalized by the end of November 2012.