Teaching with a Presence

I am an instructor for a master’s level course on Qualitative Research Methods. The purpose of the course is to introduce students to relevant aspects of qualitative research, including: research design, sampling and recruitment, data collection (interviewing, observation, and focus groups), preliminary data analysis, and ethical issues.

I use a variety of activities throughout the semester to that seek to build community and enhance communication between and among myself, my teaching assistants, and my students. I will discuss three of those activities below as they relate to the Community of Inquiry Framework.

1. Cognitive Presence
In order to promote the application of new ideas, I have students complete an individual activity where they are asked to correct an intentionally flawed qualitative interview guide. In the previous class I will have spent 45-60 minutes reviewing the proper structure, flow, and content of a qualitative in-depth interview guide. Students will have been introduced to what types of questions are appropriate for a qualitative interview and what types of considerations they should have when crafting their own interview guide. This activity requires of a synthesis of all of the information we covered in class and in the additional readings in order to critique an example and offer corrections or modifications, when deemed necessary. By providing justifications for each modification I am able to assess whether the students are connecting ideas presented in the class and to what extent they can apply the different materials.

2. Teaching Presence
As a part of the course, students design and conduct a mini qualitative study. I ask that they conduct three in-depth interviews, two of which they will produce verbatim transcripts of from the audio recordings of the interviews. I ask students to submit those transcripts online and then provide structured feedback on how they could have improved their interview and transcription technique. Since each interview is different there are always different types of probing techniques or approaches to building rapport with participants that would improve the quality of the interview data produced from that interaction. The feedback flows as if I was a bystander in the interview, offering suggestions for how they might reflect on themselves as an interviewer and where they could explore a topic more in-depth. I find this form of feedback allows for focused discussions on how each student can improve, with suggestions that are tailored to where they are in comprehending the course content and applying it through course assignments and activities.

3. Social Presence
Interaction and communication are key underlying premises to this course topic. As such, I find that activities that promote group collaboration help reinforce many of the topics we discuss. One such activity, a group observation assignment, requires students to conduct a 10-minute observation of a space that they collectively choose and establish an observation guide for during the end of the last class. The instructions are minimal in order to promote student experimentation and reflection when it comes to figuring out what type of note-taking or jotting works best for them. Each person is asked to post their notes and diagrams of the space they individually observed and then answer a brief set of reflection questions based on the collection of work. Students are able to see variations of the same assignment and how the same space can produce different results from the same methodological approach. This activity enables risk-free learning, promotes collaboration in the initial stages of the group activity and the closing reflection as groups must express the different types of strategies taken, compare strengths and weaknesses of each, identify what types of data observation adds that we don’t get in interviews, and then reflect on how they might change their own observation skills in the future.

The three activities described above have been well received in my class and often create a foundation for interactions offline, both in the classroom and during office hours.

2 Replies to “Teaching with a Presence”

  1. Wonderful scaffolding for learning qualitative research for cognitive presence! I like how its grounded in a skill new researchers need.

    The collaborative note-taking exercise also looks fascinating. I think I may need to adopt it (giving you credit of course!) in my own place analysis assignment. Seeing the way others go about examining a space could accomplish quite a bit for thinking about the researching/writing process. How would you facilitate note sharing in an online environment? Will the post in a discussion board or make presentations with VoiceThread or a screen cast or something else?

  2. I highly recommend the activity, as students always really enjoy it!

    The last time I did this I actually assigned one person per group to get everyone’s notes and post one document with everyone’s notes and reflections to post on a discussion board on Canvas. In the future I might have them make presentations with slides of their observation diagrams and notes and then ask that they use VioceThread to respond to the reflection questions.

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