Teaching & Mentoring Commonplaces

Categories: Focus Series, Instruction, Other, Research, Research Skills, Supervising and Teaching Research Skills and Roles

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The MethodSpace focus for September 2019 was on teaching research methods and guiding researchers, including masters or doctoral students, or early-career researchers. You can find the series and related posts here.

Take a bird’s eye view of the learning experience in research methods.

Sometimes it is useful to step away from the to-do list and everyday details and look at the proverbial big picture. I’ve adapted Joseph Schwab’s (1983) “commonplaces” for the purpose of taking a holistic view of ways we teach methods and guide researchers. Schwab, writing in the context of curriculum reform, proposed a collaborative approach that took into consideration the factors and listened to voices from four critical angles: the instructor, the students, the subject matter content, and the mileu.

When we consider ways to improve teaching and learning in research methods, we can think through each dimension and then look at how they align. Is the content comprehensive, will it prepare students or novice researchers to design and conduct their own studies? Is the setting conducive to carrying out the learning or research activity? Do students or researchers have basic knowledge and skills needed to move to the next stage of their studies?

Of course we also need to reflect on our own roles and practices. Do we need to learn more about the perspectives and needs of the students we teach, or the researchers we supervise, so we can recommend resources on methods content to fill in their knowledge gaps? For that matter, do we need to read new research to be more up-to-date on emerging methods and approaches?

We can’t do it all (but we can do something)!

Clearly, some factors are beyond our control. Sometimes major decisions about the content and setting for a college or university course are made by a curriculum committee. We can’t usually choose the students who enroll in our courses, and pick the ones who are motivated and have some experience to build on. As supervisors we can’t go back and change the coursework or preparation researchers had before working with us. But perhaps by looking at how these commonplaces intersect, you can find ways to move beyond constraints. Ideas presented in this MethodSpace series can help:

Schwab, J. (1983). The practical 4: Something for curriculum professors to do. Curriculum inquiry, 13(3), 240-265.

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