Content analysis of the interview data yielded a coding system that defines elements of project ownership. Interestingly, eight of the categories are positive indicators of project ownership (categories 1–8 below) and four are negative indicators (categories 9–12 below). The last two categories listed are neutral and pertain to question clarification or details of signing up for a research program (categories 13 and 14 below). This analysis provides an extensive definition of the elements of project ownership. The coding system categories are as follows:
- Constructing connections between personal history and scientific inquiry: This category includes both statements and narratives that describe significant moments in a student's life that have shaped, influenced, and created the scientific work done in the laboratory and fieldwork. They involve a student bringing past experience in the form of personal stories and past educational experience into current and future research. An example statement is: “So I actually started last summer when I was in Ghana with some children in an orphanage and I had malaria twice and just the experience of having malaria and of being around all these children who experienced malaria at least once a year got me thinking about that.”
- Agency combined with mentorship: This category identifies moments when the student actively seeks advice, assistance, or direction from professors, teachers, and other students in order to overcome an issue or fulfill an aim in the student's research project. These moments represent joint contributions and knowledge-building between students and educators. An example statement is: “I was directed to J.M.G. who is a postdoc in M.'s lab, and just got in contact with him and he suggested this particular assay that I can do that would be easy and so that's sort of how the project came about.”
- Expressions of excitement toward scientific inquiry: This code shows emotional connections to the work the students are performing. The statements express positive emotional interaction relating to involvement in science. An example statement is: “I guess of course one of the coolest things is actually getting to go to the rainforest and actually do the research from start to finish. So that was really amazing.”
- Overcoming challenging moments in science: This category codes statements that address strategies for overcoming frustrating moments or problems encountered in research. Students discussed how they approached problems by adjusting their work or predicted how they could develop an entirely different approach. An example statement is: “So one of the challenges is that the way that I make the sample chambers that I put these particles in is not very consistent. …So one thing I'm trying to work on is to very consistently, very repeatably make these chambers for my samples. And it's a much more well-defined problem and something I just recently started to work on and it's coming up with a reproducible method for really systematically making chambers. And hopefully that will really cut down some variables.”
- Expressions of a sense of personal scientific achievement: This category describes a positive emotional expression upon achieving a specific goal. It captures a specific moment in a student's work. Students reference a specific finding or discovery, and this finding causes pride, happiness, or satisfaction for the student. An example statement is: “I guess what one of my highest points was when I found a Streptomyces during the school year …I smelled it and it had that characteristic smell and I was like oh, yeah, I found one. I got really excited because they are, you know, it's cool stuff. So that was exciting.”
- Frustrating moments in the scientific process: This category describes situations in which students find difficulty in the procedures and nature of scientific inquiry. While these statements express frustration, they also reveal a student's moment of struggle with understanding the scientific processes. The majority of statements in this code relate to procedural frustrations with lab techniques or with other people in the lab. An example statement is: “So, yeah, just realizing like how frustrating PCR can be and like, yeah, experiencing that. I mean, you know, it's failed so many times and I never realized how…”
- Scientific outcomes with real-world significance: This category identifies instances when students believe they have made a scientific discovery that may have the ability to affect the world outside the laboratory. These statements make a connection with a student's current work and its impact on humanity. An example statement is: “I really hope that one of the fungus [sic] does have like a product that it makes protein or whatever that helps women. And so it would be really great that there is like a cream or a pill so women won't have to always have the epidurals…”
- Expressions of understanding the unexpected aspects of science: This category codes moments when students realize that scientific inquiry can be unpredictable and this unpredictability can influence their research. These statements express the discovery that during scientific work, students cannot always know what to expect and that there is a uncertain aspect to doing science. An example statement is: “And you're like, well, you know, you probably are just not plugging it in right or something. But no, it's just like totally sometimes it's random. You do everything right and it just fails.”
- Prescribed scientific inquiry: This category describes instances when students encounter science by being told what to do, what results to expect, and/or procedures to follow with little or no student agency. An example statement is: “But because this is a lab class, and it's only so much time, our instructor did it for us, and then we just talked through to figure it out.”
- General statements of interest: This category identifies statements that express interest (but not excitement) in the science and reflect an appreciation for doing science as an academic subject without emotional connection. An example statement is: “The part we did last time was interesting because it's the first time that we got to see the two reactions, actually [inaudible] when the product was synthesized, and then what we're doing today is interesting because we're using techniques that can identify different products.”
- Indifference toward science: This category finds moments when students express apathy, passivity, or boredom toward their scientific work. Typically, these statements are short-phrase answers to questions concerning good or bad memorable moments in a student's work. An example statement is (in response to being asked if he/she had any memorable moments): “None really so far I don't think.”
- Descriptions of procedures: This category codes when students describe laboratory or field procedures. These are moments when students describe what they are doing and how they do it. An example statement is: “Okay, so Project One, we're looking at a protein [inaudible] which leaves DNA, and basically what we are doing, we went in and mutated the DNA using PCR mutagenesis.”
- Clarification of interview questions: These phrases occur when a student clarifies what is being asked or as linguistic fillers when the student thinks about how to answer a question. An example statement is: “The entire thing or our individual research project?”
- Procedure of entering research experience: This code is a description of a procedure of how a student got to the position, such as, “I was in a class and heard the announcement. So then I applied…”
summarizes the percentage of statements made by each research experience group for the 14 content analysis categories. All the statements made by participants were coded and categorized according to the coding system presented. The percentages were calculated in relation to the total number of statements made by each group.
Percentage of statements by group and for each content analysis category
Consistent with the various levels of autonomy and project development that were experienced by the three groups, the distribution of coding categories reveals some interesting differences in the content of their language usage. Students in group A had a higher percentage of statements in seven of the eight positive project ownership categories compared with both groups B and C. These statements suggest that they had a strong sense of project ownership, consistent with the formulation of the course. In contrast, students in group C exhibited higher frequencies of the four negative ownership indicators compared with both groups A and B (categories 9–12). Notably, group C students made no statements describing their experiences as involving agency (category 2) or personal connections (category 1). They also lacked statements about overcoming challenges or gaining unexpected understanding (categories 4 and 8), two critical elements of successful research.
Group B was generally situated between the category usage of group A and group C. These students expressed some elements of project ownership (such as agency) but not all (such as personal connection and emotional engagement). Interestingly, group B had the highest number of statements that deal with frustration with the scientific process (category 6). They made more than twice the number of statements concerning frustration than either of the other groups. This suggests that these students were conducting scientific research but may have lacked sufficient support from mentors or a community of peers.
When describing their research experiences, group C students made twice as many statements describing the procedures of science (category 12) than members of group A. Conversely, group A made twice as many statements concerning the real-world significance of their scientific research (category 7) than group C. It seems that for group A, there was far greater understanding of the broader social value of their research, while group C students were more focused on the procedures. Furthermore, group A was the only group to make statements addressing the unexpected nature of science (category 8). This suggests that a student who has ownership over his or her research also faces, and ultimately understands, the uncertainty and unpredictability that characterizes scientific inquiry. Overall, the content analysis of the interviews of the three groups suggests a different understanding of their research experiences.
We also explored the degree of ownership expressed by the students, using a usage frequency of emotional and cognitive lexicon. The computational linguistic analysis of the four linguistic categories (first-person pronouns, emotional words, cognitive lexicon, and insight words) for the three scientific inquiry groups is summarized in . Group A had a higher usage frequency of first-person pronouns and emotional words. The frequency of cognitive lexicon and insight usage were very similar for all groups. Statistical analysis supported the differences between these groups.
Means and SDs for three groups for four linguistic variables defining project ownership
Tests of the homogeneity of variances were calculated in order to verify the appropriateness of the statistical procedure. This was necessitated by the small numbers of participants and the slight inequality of student numbers in the groups and as a precursor to the statistical analysis of the descriptive data. A Box's M test and Levene's test of the equality of variances were conducted. Both returned p values above 0.05, thus allowing the assumption of normality. For evaluation of the above analysis of the descriptive data, a one-way multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was calculated using the student group as the independent variable and First-person Pronouns, Emotional Words, Cognitive Lexicon, and Insight Words as four dependent variables. Hotellings’ T2 multivariate generalization of the univariate t value was used. The MANOVA revealed a highly significant effect for the group variable (Hotellings’ T2 = 0.80, p < 0.01). Because a significant multivariate effect was found, univariate F-tests were calculated to determine which variables contributed to the overall difference. Significant differences were found for First-person Pronoun usage (F(2, 46) = 10.33, p < 0.01) and Emotional Words (F(2, 46) = 3.62, p < 0.035). The other two variables, Cognitive Lexicon and Insight Words, were not found to be significantly different.
To further understand the source of difference in the variable of Personal Pronouns and Emotional Words, we conducted post hoc comparisons of cell means, using the Scheffe method. Group A (rainforest group) was found to be significantly different than group C (standard lab group) for both Personal Pronoun usage and Emotional Words. No significant differences between groups A and B (independent research) were found on this test. However, on a less conservative, least significant differences post hoc test, group A was also found to be significantly different than group B on the variable of Personal Pronoun usage. This analysis also confirmed the significant differences between group A and C for both the Personal Pronoun and Emotional Word variables.
The statistical results support the conclusion that the three groups are significantly different based on the frequency of Personal Pronouns and Emotional Words. Group A students used first-person pronouns and emotional words with higher frequencies than did group C students. However, differences were also found between groups A and B for Personal Pronoun usage. These results suggest that there are differences in the levels of project ownership expressed in interview data concerning different types of research experiences. Higher levels of personal choice and agency in the research project design were reflected by increased first-person pronoun and emotional word use. This further demonstrates that the degree of project ownership felt by a student is reflected in the language the student uses to express that experience.