Skip to main content

Unit information: Problem Structuring and Research Methods in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Problem Structuring and Research Methods
Unit code CENGM0015
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Mike Yearworth
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Civil Engineering
Faculty Faculty of Engineering

Description including Unit Aims

This unit will introduce students to the basic principles of problem structuring and research methods and their application in research projects across the pure, applied and social sciences to enable engineering systems research at Doctoral Level.

The unit will cover the basic research assumptions, paradigms and philosophical positions underlying different traditions in research, review approaches to exploration and definition of problem fields, consider different research design strategies and outline approaches for conducting the literature review. These will be positioned within an approach to systemic problem structuring methods so that there is a clear understanding of the relationship between a systems approach and research methods typical of business and management.

Techniques for gathering and rigorously analysing data of both quantitative and qualitative types and reporting of research results in peer reviewed publications will also be covered. Emphasis will be placed on the need to combine different philosophical research positions and quantitative and qualitative approaches when addressing real-world problems in engineering systems which bridge traditional research disciplines. This will enable students to successfully design, conduct and supervise various types of research in an ethical manner and give them a broad understanding of the purpose and application of problem structuring and research methods. This unit aims to give students in depth knowledge, understanding and skills in generic research methods and research design strategies. In terms of learning styles and generic skills, the unit also introduces students to the concept of reflective learning logs and gives guidance on the use of such logs and reflective writing.

Intended Learning Outcomes

This unit provides opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate in depth knowledge, understanding and skills in research in the following areas:

  • Exploration of wicked and messy problems
  • Systemic problem structuring methods
  • Basic research paradigms and philosophical positions underlying different traditions in research
  • Integrating research methods into systemic problem structuring methods
  • Articulating research questions and hypotheses
  • Scoping and conducting a literature review
  • Critical reading of primary research literature
  • Justification of research design including considerations of reliability, validity and generalisability
  • Ethical considerations in research
  • Conducting rigorous qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis
  • Presentation and reporting of findings in peer-reviewed publication
  • Reflective learning skills

Teaching Information

The teaching and learning strategy is based on flexible and student-centred learning approaches. It will involve a mixture of lectures, case studies, group work, plenary discussions, and a workshop on research design. The principles of writing reflective logs will also be covered. Through this approach it is aimed to provide an enjoyable learning experience consistent with the principles of adult education with ample space for exploring, questioning, and debating issues of particular interest and for exercising rational argumentation.

Assessment Information

The end of unit assignment is a reflective log in which students are required to reflect on their new learning in the unit, map this against the requirements of their nominated EngD research project and design an action plan to progress their research methodology planning (indicative word count of 5,000 words). The reflective log is structured precisely to align with the learning outcomes stated here; i.e. we stipulate this structure. The knowledge and skills identified in the learning outcomes are demonstrated in the assignment by the three aspects which the learning log addresses for each outcome - a) description of learning session associated with the outcome, b) reflection of new knowledge skills against previous experience/demands of their project, and c) action planning in relation to applying the learning outcome to their project.

Reading and References

  1. Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2012). Research methods for business students (6th ed.). Harlow, England ; New York: Pearson. [some reference will also be made to previous editions]
  2. Collis, J., & Hussey, R. (2009). Business research: a practical guide for undergraduate & postgraduate students (3rd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  3. Yearworth, M., Edwards, G., Davis, J., Burger, K., & Terry, A. (2013). Integrating Problem Solving and Research Methods Teaching for Systems Practice in Engineering. Conference on Systems Engineering Research (CSER’13), Atlanta, GA. USA.
  4. Gill, J., & Johnson, P. (1997). Research methods for managers (2nd ed.).
  5. Isaksen, S. G., Dorval, K. B., & Treffinger, D. J. (2000). Creative approaches to problem solving: a framework for change (2nd ed. ed.). Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt.

[note that the students take part in a critical reading exercise which covers ~10 key research papers in systems thinking]