Teaching Methods: Some Trends in the Literature

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

Tags: ,

The MethodSpace focus for August is on teaching research methods. We will follow on in September, with a focus 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.”

Research methods are hard to learn, and a challenge to teach.

The term research methods encompasses a wide range of topics, from abstract ideas about ethics and theory to practical skills like interviewing or statistical analysis. Understanding research methods is only the beginning for those who would become researchers. Conventional read-discuss-write approaches to instruction aren’t adequate for developing a novice researcher’s ability to analyze the options, decide what fits the purpose of the study, create an ethical proposal, then actually conduct the research and write about it. 

As a graduate student I was chagrined to find that seemingly every methods discussion was accompanied by an “it depends…” caveat. It didn’t appear that any two methodologists agreed on definitions of terms or principles to follow. As an instructor and research supervisor, I saw students’ difficulties and felt one of my most important message was to remain calm.

What does the literature say about teaching research methods?

I took a look at the literature to clarify the issues and discovered three  trends we’ll continue to explore in future posts. Here they are, with related open access articles:

Teaching methods from across disciplines.

Methods that have been associated with particular fields of study are being used by researchers in other disciplines. For example, researchers in fields such as business or education are drawing on methods associated with sociology or anthropology. Exposing students to a range of methods also exposes them to other ways of thinking about research problems.

How and why to teach interdisciplinary research practice (Szostak, 2007)
Abstract. This article addresses the interrelated questions of why it is important to teach students about the nature of interdisciplinarity and how this material might be best communicated to students. It is important to define for students what is meant by disciplines and interdisciplinarity. Having distinguished interdisciplinarity from the disciplinary approach, the advantages and disadvantages of each can be discussed. It is useful to discuss the history of both disciplines and interdisciplinarity. It is also useful to discuss the complex relationship between interdisciplinarity and other intellectual currents: postmodernism, unity of science, complexity analysis, feminism, and others. Critically, students should be guided as to how interdisciplinary research might be best performed. Some potential objections to teaching interdisciplinary research practice are addressed.

Spark: Why I wrote a novel designed to teach the research process (Leavy, 2019)
Abstract. I’m a sociologist specializing in research methodology. I’m also a novelist. When my latest novel, Spark, was released, people remarked that it seemed inevitable for me to combine my two passions. I agree. In some ways this is probably always where my work was heading, although it necessarily took a long time to get here. I’d like to share why as a scholar I turned to fiction, the inspiration for Spark, and my hopes for the book.

Teaching Research Methods in the Social Sciences: Expert Perspectives on Pedagogy and Practice (Lewthwaite & Nind, 2016)
Abstract. Capacity building in social science research methods is positioned by research councils as crucial to global competitiveness. The pedagogies involved, however, remain under-researched and the pedagogical culture under-developed. This paper builds upon recent thematic reviews of the literature to report new research that shifts the focus from individual experiences of research methods teaching to empirical evidence from a study crossing research methods, disciplines and nations. A dialogic, expert panel method was used, engaging international experts to examine teaching and learning practices in advanced social research methods. Experts, perspectives demonstrated strong thematic commonalities across quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods domains in terms of pedagogy, by connecting learners to research, giving direct and immersive experiences of research practice and promoting reflexivity. This paper argues that through analysis of expert responses to the distinct pedagogic challenges of the methods classroom, the principles and illustrative examples generated can form the knowledge and understanding required to enhance pedagogic culture and practice.

Using research (and research activities) to inform teaching across the curriculum.

Yes, we teach methods in research courses. However, students also learn about research methods when they dissect scholarly articles or carry out research projects in subject-matter courses. These learning experiences allow students to study research in contexts relevant to their professional and academic interests.

Developing Research-Led Teaching: Two Cases of Practical Data Reuse in the Classroom (Haaker & Morgan-Brett, 2017)
Abstract. Research-led teaching is an area that has gained attention and prominence within higher education. This article reviews two teaching resources developed from archived researchdata and demonstrates how this type of data reuse helps teachers establish a clear connection between research and teaching. The two teaching resources, developed by the authors in their time working at the UK Data Service, were created for use in higher education, and use Annette Lawson’s 1980s study of adultery and Stanley Cohen’s 1960s study of Mods and Rockers. The authors describe the resources in detail, explain how and why the content was developed, and explore the potential value that preserved real-world research data can have when using research to teach. The reviews of these resources point to the great possibilities for future development of teaching resources using archived data to support a range of teaching modules, from methods to topical undergraduate courses, as well as demonstrate the value of archived data and documentation for research practices.

Teaching phenomenological research and writing (Adams & van Manen, 2017) (Find open access version on Research Gate.)
Abstract. In this article, we describe our approach and philosophical methodology of teaching and doing phenomenology. The human science seminar that we offer involves participants in the primary phenomenological literature as well as in a variety of carefully engaged writing exercises. Each seminar participant selects a personal phenomenological project that aims at producing a publishable research paper. We show how the qualitative methodology of hermeneutic phenomenology requires of its practitioner a sensitivity and attitudinal disposition that has to be internalized and that cannot be captured in a procedural or step-by-step program. Our experience is that seminar participants become highly motivated and committed to their phenomenological project while involved in the rather intense progression of lectures, workshop activities, readings, and discussions.


Learn-by-doing through research projects and practica.

First-hand experience is essential. Active learning throughout the curriculum with hands-on projects helps students prepare for roles as researchers. As these articles note, mentoring and modeling from instructors and time for discussing and reflecting on the project translate into more meaningful learning.

Teaching Good Research Practices: Protocol of a Research Master Course (Sarafoglou et al., 2019)
Abstract. The current crisis of confidence in psychological science has spurred on field-wide reforms to enhance transparency, reproducibility, and replicability. To solidify these reforms within the scientific community, student courses on open science practices are essential. Here we describe the content of our Research Master course “Good Research Practices” which we have designed and taught at the University of Amsterdam. Supported by Chambers’ recent book The 7 Deadly Sins of Psychology, the course covered topics such as QRPs, the importance of direct and conceptual replication studies, preregistration, and the public sharing of data, code, and analysis plans. We adopted a pedagogical approach that: (a) reduced teacher-centered lectures to a minimum; (b) emphasized practical training on open science practices; and (c) encouraged students to engage in the ongoing discussions in the open science community on social media platforms.

Essential aspects of science teaching professional development: making research participation instructionally effective (Southerland et al., 2016)
Abstract. Current reform efforts in science place a premium on student sense making and participation in the practices of science. Given the disparity between these activities and current teaching practices, effective means of professional development around such practices must be identified. We use a close examination of 106 science teachers participating in Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) to identify, through structural equation modeling, the essential features in supporting teacher learning from these experiences. Findings suggest that participation in RET shape science teacher practice and beliefs, which in turn influence practice. Essential features of RET include engaging teachers socially in the research context and in research projects that are personally relevant to them. The model suggests ways to maximize the professional development potential of RET intended to support engagement in disciplinary practices.

Research Practicum: An Experiential Model for Social Work Research (Walsh, Gulbrandsen, & Lorenzetti, 2019)
Abstract. Research training is a key area of social work education and integral to the success of future practitioners. Innovative pedagogical models for teaching research have been proposed, including those based on experiential approaches. This exploratory study evaluated a research practicum (RP) model for social work students. The intended outcome of the study was to develop, implement, and evaluate a comprehensive model for RP that encompasses experiential, cognitive, relational, and affective dimensions of learning. In total, 16 students and 14 instructors completed an online survey and open-ended questions about their experiences. Mentorship was identified as a key component facilitating student learning during the RP across cognitive, affective, behavioral, and relational dimensions. Mentoring provided students in this study with modeling, guidance, and scaffolding; offering a secure foundation for developing their research skills; and envisioning themselves as researchers. The findings suggest that a RP can provide students the setting in which to develop a broad range of skills and competencies in social work research.


Adams, C., & van Manen, M. A. (2017). Teaching phenomenological research and writing. Qualitative Health Research, 27(6), 780-791. doi:10.1177/1049732317698960

Haaker, M., & Morgan-Brett, B. (2017). Developing research-led teaching: Two cases of practical data reuse in the classroom. SAGE Open, 7(2), 2158244017701800. doi:10.1177/2158244017701800

Leavy, P. (2019). Spark: Why I wrote a novel designed to teach the research process. The Qualitative Report, 24(3).

Lewthwaite, S., & Nind, M. (2016). Teaching research methods in the social sciences: expert perspectives on pedagogy and practice. British Journal of Educational Studies, 64(4), 413-430. doi:10.1080/00071005.2016.1197882

Sarafoglou, A., Hoogeveen, S., Matzke, D., & Wagenmakers, E.-J. (2019). Teaching good research practices: Protocol of a research master course. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 1475725719858807. doi:10.1177/1475725719858807

Southerland, S. A., Granger, E. M., Hughes, R., Enderle, P., Ke, F., Roseler, K., . . . Tekkumru-Kisa, M. (2016). Essential  aspects of science teaching professional development: Making research participation instructionally effective. AERA Open, 2(4), 2332858416674200. doi:10.1177/2332858416674200

Szostak, R. (2007). How and why to teach interdisciplinary research practice. Journal of Research Practice, 3(2).

Walsh, C. A., Gulbrandsen, C., & Lorenzetti, L. (2019). Research practicum: An experiential model for social work research. SAGE Open, 9(2), 2158244019841922. doi:10.1177/2158244019841922

Leave a Reply