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Lesson A-4

Assessing the Contexts
of the Situation Studied

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All phenomena occur in contexts that may affect the phenomena.  Experimental research strives to control the context and thus the effects it might have on the results, but that can rarely be done entirely.  For instance, if male and female freshmen are tested in laboratory settings for responses to violent media, their reactions may differ from those in unobserved settings, and the differences for males may be greater or less than for females. 

Qualitative research usually considers the contexts to be part of the phenomena of interest. 

Since contexts may affect the results of a study and they usually vary within a set of studies on a given topic, it is important to take into account the contexts of studies when engaging in the integration phase of the review.  There are hundreds of contexts that might affect the results of a study including the time in history, geography, social-economic conditions, cultural values, current events, and the array of other interventions to which students or employees may be subject.  Which ones are likely to most affect the results is impossible to know with certainty, but prior research, theory, and intuition can help in identifying them.  Note that the characteristics of the people, schools, businesses, or other units that are sampled are not properly considered contexts, but rather population characteristics, and will be discussed below in Lesson A-6.  While varying contexts in a set of studies on a topic can cause varying results, that will not always be the case.  Sometimes the results are fairly consistent across studies undertaken in different contexts, and when so, this strongly suggests the observed findings are robust-not much affected by contexts. 

Assessment QuestionsKey Assessment Questions
4. What are the contexts of the study that may have affected the results? 
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