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Teaching and Learning: Getting Started with Your Research Project

This guide will assist you in conducting research for projects and grants related to teaching and learning.

Resources for Getting Started

When beginning work in a new area, it's often difficult to know just where to start, and to know which resources will be most useful. The following suggestions may help you identify a topic you're interested in and and begin your research.

Watch the following video to hear what leaders in the field recommend and why.

Visit the tab in this guide called "Research Resources on Teaching" to see the list of references suggested in the video.

Types of Research Questions

Consider the following taxonomy of questions a project may ask and seek to answer:

  1. What does it look like? This is a descriptive question. For example, what is going on in a seminar that distinguishes it from another type of class?
  2. Is it working? For example, you're trying something new (e.g., problem-based learning) and you want to find out if it's working.
  3. What would it look like? For example, what would it look like if I were to teach this course in a way that is not common in the field?
  4. Theory or concept building -- For example, you might theorize about difficulties students experience in the classroom.
Hutchings, P. (2000). Opening lines: Approaches to the scholarship of teaching and learning. Menlo Park, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  

These questions are captured in the following short video featuring Pat Hutchings:

Identifying a Research Topic

Start with questions you have about teaching and learning:

“Take a minute to write down what you do well. Next reflect on your students from the past year, did you notice anything different about their approaches to the classroom, their learning, or the subject that made you pause or create a new challenge you did not have before?”

Reference: Qualters, D.  (2013). Six steps for turning your research into scholarship Faculty Focus.

To identify a topic of interest, consider the following:

  • a felt sense of difficulty
  • a sense that something is other than what it should be
  • an influencer/shaper of the methodology
  • a 'success' that you want to understand more deeply
  • a 'failure' that you can't get your head around
  • a tacit or invisible learning process that asks for more attention


McMaster Research on Teaching and Learning Guidebook 2019

McMaster Research on Teaching and Learning Guidebook 2010

Image of cover of Research on Teaching and Learning Guidebook 2010    

2010 Guidebook cover

Image of cover of McMaster Research on Teaching and Learning Guidebook 2019

2019 Guidebook cover