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A Probabilistic Approach to Studies in Higher Education

Theory and Method in Higher Education Research

ISBN: 978-1-78769-278-7, eISBN: 978-1-78769-277-0

Publication date: 12 November 2018


Studies in higher education tend to use different methods and methodologies, from documentary analysis to auto/biographical and observational studies. Most studies are either qualitative or qualitative. A mixed-methods approach has emerged in recent years, in which the qualitative approach generally plays an important role. The purpose of this chapter is to show the potential of a new methodology that is also appropriate for higher education research and widely used in the social sciences: probabilistic topic models. A probabilistic method can be used to analyse and categorise thousands of words. After collecting large sets of texts, content analysis is used to deeply analyse the meaning of these words. The huge number of texts published today pushes researchers to employ new techniques in their search for hidden structures built upon a set of core ideas. These methods are called topic modelling algorithms, with Latent Dirichlet Allocation being the basic probabilistic topic model. The application of these new techniques to the field of higher education is extremely useful, for two reasons: (1) studies in this area deal in some cases with a great volume of data and (2) these techniques allow one to devise models in a way that is unsupervised by humans (even when researchers operate on the resulting model); thus they are less subjective than other types of analyses and methods used for qualitative purposes. This chapter shows the foundations and recent applications of the technique in the higher education field, as well as challenges related to this new technique.



Perez-Encinas, A. and Rodriguez-Pomeda, J. (2018), "A Probabilistic Approach to Studies in Higher Education", Theory and Method in Higher Education Research (Theory and Method in Higher Education Research, Vol. 4), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 19-30.



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