This article describes different ways of preparing the theses in Diaconia University of Applied Sciences. These include thesis focusing on research, thesis focusing on development and a thesis consisting of smaller projects.
At the Diaconia University of Applied Sciences (Diak), final theses should always be conducted in cooperation with a partner from the working life and should always aim to improve working life in the field. The OSKE events (working life event) regularly organised by Diak provide a wealth of ideas for research topics. In the events, representatives of working life organisations and Diak’s project partners discuss their current development needs and research ideas. Topics for final theses can also be found via internships or Diak’s courses implemented in cooperation with partners from the working life. The important thing is that the topic of the thesis is concrete in nature and viable both from the student’s and the working life partner’s points of view. The thesis must always increase the student’s professional competence.
Diak Degree Regulations define thesis to be prepared in pairs or by a small group of students. Research and Development is more and more co-development process in working life, too. Diak highlights participatory approach when e.g. public sector reforms are in target. You learn collaboration by collaborating and by learning from each other. Also the thesis analysis will improve when more perspectives are taken. Multiprofessional approach is encouraged, too, when the team or more than one student is working with the theme.
However, in some cases students can complete a thesis individually. Students may apply permission to complete the thesis individually with this form.
At Diak, a final thesis can take a variety of forms. It can focus on research or development, or it can be constructed in a process-like way from smaller projects. However, with all these thesis forms, existing research information should be used to explain and discuss the phenomenon under study.
The thesis form (type of thesis) should be chosen according to the subject matter of the study. What questions or needs originating from working life does the thesis aim to answer or find solutions for? What kind of development work or product development will be conducted?
The following is a short description of each form for preparing a thesis. At the end of this article is a list of material that can be used in choosing the research topic and method.
The starting point of research-oriented thesis is a need originating from working life. There might be a need for information on service-user experiences or service development needs, for example. The selection of a topic and the research questions steer data collection and the selection of analysis methods.
Data collection is usually conducted using quantitative methods (e.g. a questionnaire) or qualitative methods (e.g. a semi-structured interview). For some research topics, it is necessary to combine different data collection methods, for example, interview and observation or interview and questionnaire. The research data to be analysed can also be collected using active or participatory methods, for example, by organising a group discussion for a service-user group or as action-based work. What separates theses focusing on research from those focusing on development is that their primary purpose is to produce new information. The information produced during the study can be used as a basis for development, but the actual development work will be conducted in relation to other theses or projects.
A thesis focusing on research can also be a literature review. A literature review closely examines previously published information on a specific subject. For a bachelor’s level degree from a university of applied sciences, the literature reviews are descriptive. However, for a master’s level degree, the literature review must be systematic.
A report of a final thesis focusing on research should present the theoretical framework of the study and its key concepts. It should define the purpose and aim of the study and describe how the research material was collected and how it was analysed. The report should also present the results of the research, and the conclusions drawn from them. The results should also be discussed.
Final theses focusing on development are related to creating guidelines or instructions for practical work, organising events or development work. The results of final theses carried out as product development work (production) are usually a new service or product, or a created model or project. The methods of development-based theses resemble the methods of action research, in which the development of operations and the active role of participants are central. The process of preparing a thesis focusing on development advances in phases from the identification of development targets to planning and implementing the activities and to assessing the work.
The report of a thesis focusing on development should discuss the theoretical framework and key concepts related to its subject matter as well as present the operating environment and the goals of the development work, and describe the process to be used in the planning, implementation and assessment of said work.
Final theses consisting of smaller projects examine and discuss the selected topic in stages from different points of view. For example, a student can produce an online article and a video focusing the same theme at different stages of the student’s studies. A final thesis consisting of smaller projects requires excellent planning. It resembles a practice-based thesis, which is why the instructions for a development-based final thesis should be applied for the planning and reporting of the thesis. (For final theses consisting of smaller projects at Diak, see Vesterinen & Alavaikko, 2020, p. 170.)
Minna Valtonen, Anna Liisa Karjalainen, Marianne Nylund, Titta Riihimäki and Olli Vesterinen 2020