Holistic Approaches for Teaching & Mentoring Researchers

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The MethodSpace focus for August is on teaching research methods, continuing in September, with resources on mentoring, supervising, and guiding researchers. You can find the whole series here, including information about the September 12 webinar,”Nurturing the Researchers of Tomorrow.” Register now and find the time in your zone here.

Some lessons stick…

I attended Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology, which instilled a sense of systems thinking that has stuck with me. Taking an ecological approach to research instruction and supervision allows students and novice researchers to understand how pieces of an empirical study fit together.

We teach students about research methods for two main reasons: 

  1. So they understand the research articles they read. In today’s “just Google it” way of finding information, students benefit from being about to dissect articles and evaluate their credibility. Was the approach an appropriate and ethical way to study the problem? Did the data adequately support the findings? If participants were surveyed or interviewed, did the researcher find the right informants and ask the right questions?

    Writers assume that readers can grasp implications of their choices. Articles rarely spell out the methods used in a step-wise fashion. 

  2. So they can design and conduct their own research. Some undergraduate and Masters students, and all doctoral students, carry out research in order to complete academic degrees.

    Researchers carrying out empirical studies don’t work in a linear way– they need to be aware of and use all entire system of the study at the same time. They understand that each design choice influences other parts of the study.  Students who learn research methods with a holistic approach have an easier time seeing how to align aspects of their own research designs.

Visualizing Holistic Research Thinking

When I was working on my books about online qualitative research, I saw the need to take a holistic view as fundamental. I discussed ways the choice of technology used in studies where we interact with participants influences the ways we communicate with them, and the kinds of data we can collect. The choice of technology might also relate to our population, and their access to and familiarity with the mode of communication we want to use. The choice of technology could have ethical implications. Then of course we’ll need to consider how we’ll analyze the data, which is different for text, images, or media.

Design choices could change, or need to be adapted, as the study progresses. This means a holistic approach also has a temporal dimension. We can’t completely segment the stages of plan, design, conduct, analysis, interpretation, report, because we might need to circle back, reflect, re-think, decisions made at a prior point of the process. If we teach students that step one involves identifying the problem, followed by step two, and step three, they will not be adequately prepared for research in the messy real world where many steps are taken at once.

I created an E-Research Framework as a model researchers and students can use to evaluate their choices. (Salmons, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2012) I looked at inter-relationships and dependencies across the elements in the context of online research. How can this concept apply to the research lessons you are trying to teach? What would you add to the wheel?

We will discuss this Framework and other active, holistic approaches in the ”Nurturing the Researchers of Tomorrow” webinar. Register now!

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