Teaching A-level Research Methods: Part 3

  1. Talk the Walk

At this point students need to get to grips with learning the basics of research methods. How you organise this is up to you, but one way is to get students to take ownership of their learning:

If there are sufficient students, split the class into groups and give each group responsibility for one research method. Give the group a broad outline of how they should proceed in terms of:walk_template

• Brief overview of the method

• Primary / secondary data

• Quantitative / qualitative source / data

• Strengths

• Limitations

One way to do this is to use an evaluation template (this is for Focused (Semi-structured) Interviews – if you want a blank template download it here).

The list is merely indicative and you should tailor the guidance you give to your own particular teaching and learning preferences.

You can allocate class time for this “personal research” or you can introduce it as a form of flipped learning; the students collaborate outside the classroom using a range of resources (such as textbooks). If the latter, walk_textbook allocate some class time to each group to discuss their work with you; this way you can ensure they’ve covered the ground correctly and you can suggest any additional information (such as further strengths or limitations) if necessary.

Once this has been done get each group to think about how their particular method could be related to their Walk; that is, get them to think about how the method could be applied to a specific educational research question or hypothesis (something that links into research design that can be picked-up in the final stage). There are a couple of ways you can help students develop this application:

a. Suggest a list of possible educational issues / applications. If you go through past papers this will give you a range of possible applications. For example:

• investigate unauthorised absences from school (self-completion written questionnaires)

• investigate role of linguistic deprivation in educational underachievement (self-completion questionnaires / unstructured interviews)

If necessary you can also:

• adapt existing exam questions to different methods (e.g. replace “questionnaires” with “official statistics” in the first example).

• use an existing study and research method.

• devise your own data / issue and research method.

b. Discuss ways their method:

• has been applied in real-world research

• could be applied to understand an issue in relation to the knowledge and understanding generated from their Border Walk.

At this stage you could also take the opportunity to introduce the PET topic: Practical, Ethical and Theoretical research considerations. It can be useful to end-up with a broad checklist of considerations under each heading that the students can apply / discuss in the context of the final stage.

  1. Talk the Talk

This involves each group preparing and giving a class presentation based on their chosen research method. In basic terms this will involve three sections:

1. Students outline their method in the way they originally researched it:

• Brief overview of the method

• Primary / secondary data

• Quantitative / qualitative source / data

• Strengths

• Limitations

The objective here is to give all students notes about all the research methods on which they could be examined.

2. As a group / class focus on the strengths and limitations of this method in relation to an “exam type” scenario (e.g. investigate unauthorised absences from school using self-completion written questionnaires). Students should be encouraged to relate the method to the issue in terms of both the real sociological research they will have studied in the Education topic and in terms of their own knowledge / understanding of the issue generated through their Border Walk.

3. There’s also a useful opportunity to discuss practical, ethical and theoretical research considerations here, both in terms of “standard / textbook” observations but also, equally importantly, in relation to the students’ own observations and experiences. Their personal knowledge, coupled with their Border Walking should help them to generate a range of PET considerations that both complement and enhance textbook definitions. In this respect “personal experience” solidly anchored in sociological understanding should help students move “Beyond the Textbook” to generate some interesting and memorable “real world” observations.

During this Presentation stage teachers (and indeed other students) can both “fill-in any knowledge / understanding gaps” and get students to think more-deeply about issues and considerations.

• On a simple level this could involve something like noting how one problem with covert participant observation is access to all areas in a hierarchical organisation: how would a researcher “posing as a student in a school” get access to what went on in the staffroom? Similarly, if students were able to observe another class during their Walk this might help them generate ideas about “naturalistic behaviour” while being observed, on the one hand and what and how to record information on the other.

• On a more-complex level, a method that has limitations in one context may not always have thosewalk_what limitations in another; that is, by recognising possible limitations the researcher may be able to act to negate them.

The introduction of theoretical research considerations, coupled with hypotheses / research questions and methodological issues such as reliability / validity and generalisation provides an opportunity to firm-up knowledge and understanding of different methodologies, such as positivism, interpretivism and realism in a couple of ways:

1. The student presentations highlight methodological differences that can be incorporated into, say, a positivist – interpretivist schematic. This could be anchored by getting students to think about their own methodological positions.

2. Questions raised by the walk can be used to highlight conceptual and methodological differences; if, for example, you walked at different times (such as 3 am rather than 3pm) would you have seen different things? And would this mean you would draw different conclusions?

Finally, once all the presentations have been made, methods applied and conclusions drawn this gives you an opportunity to talk about areas like triangulation and the use of mixed methods.

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