In her first post for the teaching blog since joining LSE last month, academic developer Jenni Carr reports on a practice exchange forum that borrowed productively from her previous experience and gave her insight into approaches to teaching and learning at LSE
When you are preparing for a job interview you spend a lot of time scouring the relevant bits of the institution’s website, trying to gather the information you might need to answer those tricky questions that you imagine will be posed by the interview panel. Every so often you come across something that makes you pause and think “Now that sounds like something I would really like to be involved in!” For me that something was discovering that LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre facilitated a teaching research methods practice exchange forum.
I love teaching research methods! In my previous job at the Higher Education Academy (HEA), part of my role had been to support the Teaching Research Methods in the Social Sciences strategic priority, which involved commissioning projects from higher education providers across the UK. You can access the resources from these projects via the links at the end of this post.
Luckily for me, I got the job here at LSE and last week I participated in the latest practice exchange forum. Two colleagues – Felipe Carozzi from the Department of Geography and Environment and Ben Wilson from the Department of Methodology – shared insights from their practice there.
Felipe focused on the notion of threshold concepts and how these concepts can form barriers to students’ engagement with quantitative methods that are embedded in discipline focused courses. He outlined how some statistical techniques can be taught using ‘recipe book’ approaches – if you do this and then do that you will get this result, and that is what you need. But Felipe highlighted how this approach could hide from students the threshold concepts that underpinned the recipe book approach, which in turn could lead to the students not being able to recognise when or how to apply the statistical technique in other contexts. Felipe used an example from his practice – one where his approach hadn’t been as successful as he had hoped – to illustrate the points he was making, and this was a great way to stimulate discussion. Given the various constraints on our teaching and students’ understandable frustration when trying to come to grips with those ‘troublesome knowledges’ that are a key feature of threshold concepts, don’t we sometimes have to stick with the recipe book so that our students aren’t stranded in that liminal space, unable to engage with other aspects of their learning?
I don’t think the discussion that followed Felipe’s presentation came to any conclusion – I suspect there is no one right answer – but I think the discussion itself illustrates the value of a forum like this. As Felipe points out:
“The forum is a unique place to exchange ideas and share experience with other scholars conducting research methods teaching. While textbooks and other materials cover the content delivered in many of these lectures they are silent about the learning problems and difficulties faced by students and how to circumvent them. This forum fills that gap by allowing for open, sincere discussions about our teaching and how to make it better.”
Ben’s contribution to the forum focused on sharing resources and expertise. He took us on a ‘guided tour’ around Methodology’s Moodle site, highlighting where resources produced for different courses were available both for re-use in teaching and for our own learning. Having to ‘reinvent the wheel’ is a habitual issue in research methods teaching – one that thankfully the open access trend is starting to address – and it was really valuable to have Ben highlight where we can access this institutional knowledge.
Ben closed by telling us how he is curating resources focusing on methodology, research design, and analysis via his personal website, inviting colleagues not only to share the resources but also to make suggestions for any additions. Speaking about why he finds the forum valuable, Ben said:
“The forum provides an excellent space to meet colleagues and share experiences. It’s nice to know that others face the same challenges, and I always come away with some useful ideas for how to improve my teaching.”
As this was the final forum for this academic year we discussed how we would like to develop it in future. The focus of the forum will remain firmly on exchanging and discussing practice. Alongside this, however, there could be a number of strands that could frame these exchanges. Drawing on issues that had emerged both from the HEA’s strategic projects and from discussions with colleagues at two HEA conferences that focused on teaching research methods I outlined a number of possible strands:
- The role of assessment for learning and of learning
- Embedding research methods in discipline focused courses
- Using open access resources
- Gamification and simulations
- Specific issues in qualitative/quantitative/mixed methods
- Students as researchers (including public engagement and pedagogic research)
- Ethical considerations
If you are interested in joining the forum next year it would be useful if you could feed back on the following questions:
- Are any of the strands outlined above of particular interest to you?
- Do you have any additional suggestions for topics?
You can feed back either via the “leave a reply” facility below or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Look forward to seeing you next year!
Monday’s resource of the week – resources from an HEA project led by Helen Walkington designed to support staff who want to encourage more active engagement among students in research.
Reflections on research methods learning and teaching – discussions with HEA project leaders on the value of teaching research methods in the social sciences, with links to reports and resources.
Teaching research methods in the Social Sciences: funded projects 2014-15 – outlines of further projects funded by the HEA with contact details to contact project leaders for access to outputs.
‘Search’ image by Pleuntje (https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleuntje/), licenced under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)
‘Question everything!’ image by Henry Bloomfield (https://www.flickr.com/photos/henrybloomfield/), licenced under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)