Suggestions for teaching methods to terminal MA students
June 27, 2011 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Recommendations for teaching research methods please.

I'm going to be teaching a research methods course this fall to terminal MA students. I'd love to hear suggestions about readings to assign or general tips.

Good things to know:
- The course is a mixed methods course, focusing on cross-cultural research (comparative or researcher from 1 culture studying a different culture).
- It is a seminar with ~12 students.
- The discipline is Communication.
- Fewer than 20% of the students will do a thesis.
- Fewer than 10% of the students will go on to do a PhD (at a different university).
- Most of the students will go on to do policy-type jobs or might be working in policy jobs currently and are doing their MA at night.
- These students may or may not have had any research methods as graduate students or undergrads. I put in the course listing that some quanitative training would be advisable, but I don't know if students will actually adhere to this.

- I am a product of a super-researchy university, so what I learned in my graduate level methods courses is probably way beyond what these students want/need, especially with so few doing theses.
- I've taught undergraduate quantitative research methods before and I plan to base my lectures loosely on that course (although that was a 10 week course and this new one will be 14 weeks), but I'm not going to use an undergraduate textbook for this class.
- I think that I'll use these chapters (which I know very well) to guide the readings but supplemented with examples.

- I'm thinking that we'll do "what are ways of knowing" "goals of empirical research" for the first 2 weeks. Then 3rd week talk about what cross-cultural means. Then intro to quant 4th week (and read/critique 1 good and 1 bad study), then intro for qual 5th week (again read/critique 1 good and 1 bad study). Then spend weeks 6 and 7 on how one can mix methods, how to evaluate inferences from mixed methods. Then week 8 on how cross-cultural research can benefit from mixed methods (again read/critique 1 good and 1 bad study).

- I think that the main project will then to think of a phenomenon, write up a short (abbreviated lit review) proposal on how one could study it from a quant, then a qual, then integrate and evaluate the findings and we'd spend weeks 9-12 workshopping each other proposals.

The challenge for me, then, is (1) to "bring up" the undergraduate class, but not to the level that I got as a graduate student and (2) make it relevant for the majority that won't do a thesis (I suppose thinking of it as helping them be better consumers of empirical research?)

Suggested readings, assignments, pace, and ways of thinking about this (and working with terminal MA students) would be welcome!
posted by k8t to Education (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
With regard to making it relevant, perhaps you could frame most of the discussions, etc. in terms of application? So if most of the students will go on to do some kind of work in policy, what kinds of research and/or knowledge problems will they encounter? How will a knowledge of methods help them do their potential jobs better? I'm sure at some point they will be reading some kind of research reports or something in their jobs, right? So think about how a comprehensive understanding of research methodology can help you make better sense of research findings, and apply those findings to real-world problems. You might even want to make the main project focused on a more applied problem related to their general career trajectory.

Regarding the level, I think you can probably figure this out of you take time on the first class day to get a good sense of their backgrounds. If most of them have an undergrad methods class and actually remember stuff you can spend more time on the details and higher-order thinking. Otherwise you may have to start with more basic concepts first and then scale up. But in general I think you can expect the MA students to pick up things more quickly and with less hand-holding than with undergrads.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:20 AM on June 27, 2011

Is the course stand-alone, or intended to be a pre-requisite for other courses?

If the latter, if possible check the syllabi of these other courses or talk with the instructors to get a sense of what they want people to have learned from your course. When I did this, in addition to giving me an idea of what to emphasize and what to skip if crunched for time, it gave me a ready-made answer when students questioned why we were coering something that appeared too esoteric or theoretical to them (I am in a discipline somewhat related to yours, where we get a lot of terminal master's students who are also working, and they always question the value of learning anything for which they don't see an immediate application).

Your plan looks good to me. Do do a short survey either on the first day or class or prior to the class through e-mail to get their backgrounds. I might switch the order of presenting quant and qual methods if it turns out students have almost no quant backgrounds. Maybe it's my bias from encountering so many math-phobic students, but starting with quant methods with such a group would get them to freeze up early in the semester. So I would bring up quant methods later after they've become comfortable with the idea of there being various research methods or approaches.
posted by needled at 9:28 AM on June 27, 2011

. Do do a short survey either on the first day or class or prior to the class through e-mail to get their backgrounds

And then categorize students, badly, based on their survey answers to 1) problematize operationalization/measurement in research, and 2) give them an idea for what it's like as a research participant to be misrepresented by researchers. And then draw conclusions about how you expect people to do on the course, based on the survey, and when they fail to bare out your predictions, come up with a deficit model of the students that maintains the supremacy of your predictive model and shames them for not being predictable--even better if you can change their grades in some way related to this.

I'm not kidding very much. It would all be very instructive and I've used or participated in exercises involving each of these (including grade changes, which mimics real life consequences for policy implementation and policy-informed-by-research).
posted by vitabellosi at 12:39 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also--include a section on program evaluation and how it is similar to and differs from research---program veal will likely be more relevant than research for many of them in their careers.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:40 PM on June 27, 2011

"program eval" --- not "veal"
posted by vitabellosi at 12:42 PM on June 27, 2011

You've got a decent plan and the advice above makes sense. All I'll add, working in a similar context, is that the department's archive is your friend. That is, once you've got a rough outline of the issues/topics to cover, I'd rummage around in the repository of completed theses by past students from the program (preferably recent grads) and pull example studies that illustrate the points you want to make. Student work tends to resonate much more with students than published examples at this level and, as a bonus, will help you stay grounded in reasonable expectations for this particular environment/student population. (Needless to say, only choose positive examples, and keep the discussion focussed on the strengths, despite whatever weaknesses even the best examples will likely have as well.)

I'd also use a similar strategy so far as your colleagues. Depending the politics of the department and your own relationship with other faculty, I'd look at on a regular basis inviting folks to visit who are doing the sorts of research you want students to learn and/or whose research illustrates a particular methodological concept/issue. That is, when you're teaching survey design, invite in the department's resident survey whiz. With this approach, I'll often assign a published piece by the visiting expert as a way to frame the discussion. Among benefits, this approach a) takes some of the burden preparing lessons off you exclusively, b) builds good will between you and your colleagues (even the biggest of big-name scholars often appreciate recognition from a local audience, but given how department politics vary, YMMV), and c) provides a chance for the grad students to get a sense about the range of faculty potentially available to work with them on a given research topic. One of the challenges that arises around research at the MA level involves the condensed time frame: students come and go quickly, and during this brief period must not only find a research topic but a supervisor/committee to support it. Coursework provides some exposure, but the logistics of the curriculum often mean that some students don't otherwise come in contact with some faculty who might share their interests. The research methods course can provide a good place to address this challenge around networking.

Finally, just a general note that even though such a course gets defined around "research," a lot of what you'll be teaching (or should be) is actually research *writing*, insofar as students will enact these research methods via (and be judged by) the texts they compose in various genres. Most programs, even in comm and English, do a crap job of actually *teaching* the sorts of genre and literacy expectations which grad study in a given discipline values as well as the composing processes necessary to accomplish them, but despite this reality, many faculty think nothing of bitching endlessly that "my students can't write." Don't be that kind of prof. Plan time throughout your syllabus to teach and scaffold the writing process through multi-stage writing assignments, peer review of drafts, and direct discussion of relevant composing strategies/heuristics, etc. FWIW, I've found a number of sources helpful in this regard.
posted by 5Q7 at 4:08 PM on June 27, 2011

Oh, let me rephrase my first point more broadly: whether or not students do an actual "thesis," there's likely some specific curricular expectations around research at work in your program (otherwise, there's not much rationale for requiring a research methods course like yours in the first place), so that I'd make decisions about what to include/cover based on these program-wide goals (ideally, these would be officially articulated as learning outcomes, but most curricula aren't that tight): whether it's a thesis, an exam, a portfolio, or genres that typically arise in job settings where your program's grads end up, identify concrete examples of genres/projects that embody "research" according to your program, then use these examples to determine the relevant conceptual goals that underlie them, and based on these outcomes, gear everything in your course towards helping students accomplish them. (Same goes for involving colleagues, and writing issues will likely impact these overall goals/outcomes as well.)
posted by 5Q7 at 4:25 PM on June 27, 2011

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