IS4800/CS6350 - Empirical Research Methods in Information Science


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Spring 2018

Meeting: TuF 1:35-3:15

Location: Forsyth 202

4 sem hrs


Prof. Timothy Bickmore

(617) 373-5477

Office: 910-177

Office Hours: W 10-11










This course provides an introduction to methods for conducting empirical research within the field of Information Science. These methods help provide objective answers to questions about the usability, effectiveness, and acceptability of systems and their impact on individuals, work groups, organizations and society.


This is a very hands-on course, including a significant amount of fieldwork. The first half of the course covers the basics of the scientific method, building bottom-up from a survey of objective measures to the fundamentals of hypothesis testing using relatively simple research designs. The second half of the course alternates between team projects encompassing the design, conduct and presentation of small empirical studies and lectures covering more advanced research designs and statistical methods.




IS 3500 and statistics (ECON 2350, MATH 2280, MATH 3081, MGSC 2301, or PSYC 2320)



Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Describe the scientific method and its advantages over other methods of inquiry.
  • Understand and apply research methods that have been successfully used to evaluate information systems.
  • Identify and clearly describe research questions which are answerable using empirical methods and whose answers are important and meaningful.
  • Develop and document research models that can provide evidence to help answer one or more research questions, including appropriate measures, testable hypotheses, and statistical tests.
  • Conduct fieldwork to collect data using a range of techniques, including: ethnography and other qualitative methods, system measurement, questionnaires, and behavioral measures.
  • Characterize collected data using descriptive statistics.
  • Provide evidence to confirm or refute hypotheses using inferential statistics.
  • Document and present the results from empirical studies.
  • Understand and describe the ethical issues in conducting studies involving human subjects.


Required Textbooks

Bordens & Abbott, Research Design and Methods, 10th ed, 2018, McGraw Hill.


Additional readings will be provided online.


Course Requirements

This course requires a significant amount of work outside of the classroom. A typical week will consist of:

  • Reading approximately 25 pages from the textbook and other assigned readings.
  • Working on an individual or team homework assignment, encompassing some amount of field work (data collection), statistical analysis and report writing.
  • Describing and discussing homework results in class.

In addition, at least once during the semester each student will give an in-class presentation of a study they have conducted. 



Short quizzes will be given at the start of most class meetings.


Grades will be based on the following:

  • Quizzes (10%).
  • Class participation (10%), including in-class presentations.
  • Individual homework (20% divided equally among assignments).
  • Team projects (20%, consisting of 15% project grade from the instructor and 5% peer evaluation).
  • Midterm exam (20%).
  • Final exam (20%).


Class Format

A typical 100-minute class will consist of:


  1. Quiz
  2. Review of previous week's assignments, including presentation and discussion by randomly selected students.
  3. Lecture.
  4. In-class activity.
  5. Discussion of next week's assignments.


Course Rules

Academic Honesty. Individual homework assignments must be each student's own work. Team projects must be the work of the students in the team. Plagiarism or cheating will result in official University disciplinary review.


Missed Exams. There are no makeup quizzes, but the lowest quiz grade will be dropped. Normally, failure to take a quiz results in a grade of 0. If the absence is excused due to exceptional circumstances, the student's other course work will be used to determine a quiz grade.  There will be no excuses for missing the midterm or final other than a serious health emergency.


Due Dates. Work due on a given day must be emailed to by noon on that day so that it can be reviewed in class. 


Late Assignments. Assignments (individual and team) that are turned in late are automatically lowered one grade. Assignments will not be accepted more than two weeks late. 


Etiquette. Please keep all cell phones, pagers, and other electronic devices turned off during class. If your activities during class are deemed disruptive, you will be asked to leave. Use of a personal computer or PDA during class is prohibited except for note taking with Instructor permission.