Pilot Studies…

I recently had the opportunity to consult about the use pilot studies. A colleague brought to my attention a student-developed survey instrument that (allegedly) measured three dimensions –

  • Perceived Usefulness
  • Perceived Ease of Use
  • Intention to Use

These three dimension are normally associated with the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), developed by Davis (1989), and modified since then.

These three items are often modified to focus on a specific technology. However, the student did something I had never seen before: He measured six different types of technology under the banner of the “technologies of the next industrial revolution.” Rather, than use a validated instrument as a base and modify the subject in each item, he wrote new items and allocated one item for each of the six different types of technology.

Rather than go deeper into psychometrics and why the student’s approach was flawed, let’s get back to topic.

The purpose of a pilot study is to examine the feasibility of an approach before a large scale study is performed. Pilot studies are often performed in both qualitative and quantitative research. Since the student created a new instrument, a pilot study was warranted. The student should have surveyed between 50-100 people to validate the a priori face validity properties via Exploratory Factor Analysis.

What did the student do? He surveyed 13 people to ask if the items were valid based on the wording!?!? What type of validity was he seeking? Face Validity? Language validity?

Cut to the end…the survey instrument failed confirmatory factor analysis (Tucker-Lewis Index < .90), an exploratory factor analysis resulted in the elimination of three items due to loading < .50, and the resultant 15-item survey resulting in three dimensions that made no sense (e.g., a prior face validity was incorrect). What was left was an attempt to salvage the student’s research…an endeavor I dislike but understand why its done.

Where were the red flags? I see three –

  • Attempting to measure usefulness, use of, and intention to use six different types of technology with one item each. (Buy a book! I prefer Furr, but also have Miller and Lovler)
  • Failing to impanel a group of experts to evaluate the face validity of each items
  • Failing to understand the purpose of a pilot study

Who’s to blame? The three issues mentioned above fall directly on the lap of the faculty and University. Not everybody has the skills and knowledge to advise doctoral students. Some need to focus on their strength: teaching in their domain.


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