Participant-observation, student journals, questionnaires and interviews were triangulated to produce student profiles which described the students' feelings and attitudes toward the project and the motivational effect that publishing had on the students' work ethic. The students' projects were also evaluated for thoroughness. Triangulation is the process of comparing the data obtained from two or more contrasting methods. It is a multimethod approach to conducting research: if the outcomes of two or more different methods produce consistent results, the researcher will be more confident that his/her findings are valid (Cohen & Manion, 1994, p. 234). The student profiles consisted of answers to the guiding questions from the first questionnaire, positive as well as negative attributes concerning attitude from the field notes, a critique of each students' science fair project from the field notes, anecdotes from the interviews and predominating themes from the students' journals. At the onset, the researcher assumed that a high percentage of student profiles would yield the same results; however, there was no guarantee that the data in the student profiles would be consistent nor that the student profiles would accurately reflect the feelings of the subjects. Therefore it was necessary for each student to read his/her own student profile and then answer a questionnaire in order to ascertain its accuracy.
Two questionnaires were given to the students while in class. The first consisted of unstructured questions and was conducted in the publishing phase of the project. The guiding questions used to construct the first questionnaire were Does publishing your science fair project motivate you to do better work? and Does publishing your science fair project change your attitude toward doing a science fair project? The guiding questions were then operationalized in order to formulate more specific subsidiary questions used to answer the guiding questions; subsidiary questions are important, can be measured through observation and match observable phenomenon that is described in the literature review (Cox, 1996, pp. 3-7). Once the students learned the software and were working on their own, the first questionnaire was administered. The data from each questionnaire were compiled and included in the student profiles.
The second questionnaire was given at the very end of the project and was used to judge the validity of the student profiles. The subjects had the opportunity to review their student profiles from the study to get their reaction or respondent validation (Cohen & Manion, 1994, p. 241). The questionnaire consisted of two Likert scale questions and six open-ended questions.
Field notes were taken on a regular basis during class activities in the computer labs for the purpose of evaluating the students' behavior as well as the documentation of the publishing process to serve as an instruction manual for future virtual science fairs. Observations of the students' behavior did not take place until students were comfortable with the software and began to work on their own. Students learned the publishing software during the research, or literature review, phase of their science fair projects. This enabled students to construct the Web pages while they worked on their science fair projects, simultaneously, thus ensuring that the publishing aspect of the project was ongoing. Specific behaviors were noted as recalled by the observer/researcher in a journal at the end of the day rather than taking notes during the activities--there was not adequate time to make such entries while facilitating the class.
Student work was evaluated for its thoroughness which was rated according to the following criteria on a one to five Likert scale and was entered into a database which was sorted by student and criteria. A score of 5 was best based on the researcher's ten years of experience with judging science fair projects.
Completion of assignments on or before due dates
Directions are followed
Literature review represents a complete study
Experiment is unique and original
Student has done his/her own work
Student pays careful attention to spelling and grammar
Student cites sources in the literature review
Discoveries are made that are not readily available to the student
Good use of charts and graphs
Data are interpreted correctly
Student constructs a clever experimental apparatus
Repetitions are made to verify experimental results
Student makes predictions based on analytical techniques
Experiment is applicable to the Real world
Report is written clearly
Data from the database concerning the evaluation of student work were sorted by student and incorporated into the student profiles.
Each period spent in the lab during the publishing phase of the project was video taped for the purpose of noting the students' behavior in detail. Notes from the video were anecdotal in form and were incorporated into the student profiles.
The purpose of the interviews was to solicit anecdotes from the students. The interviews were informal, conversational in style, unscheduled and were conducted near the end of the project. Anecdotes from the interviews were included in the student profile.
Student journals were kept to document the progress of each student's project. Entries were made at the conclusion of classroom activities when specific work had been completed on the projects. Students were directed to make entries and to focus on what had been accomplished and how the student felt emotionally:
Each of the student's journals was collected at the end of the project and analyzed for themes. Selected journal entries were incorporated into the student profiles.
Students had access to only their own student profiles. Once the study was complete, the student profiles became anonymous and were published along with this study--only with the student's permission.