Shared Journaling as Peer Support in Teaching Qualitative Research Methods

Article excerpt

Teaching qualitative research methods (QRM) to graduate students can be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience, but it can also involve considerable challenges. In particular, the sustained prevalence of positivistic thinking results in a poor understanding of and--at times--active resistance to alternative paradigms. Professors experience difficulties when students do not accept or understand that knowledge is created in multiple ways or when they realize that qualitative research is more difficult than previously assumed. Thus, because of the particular challenges of teaching QRM, peer support is vital for professors, particularly those teaching it for the first time. However, little has been written about this topic.

In this paper, we (the two authors) describe how we supported each other during two years of teaching QRM by co-creating a shared journal. This shared journal made explicit our thinking about what we were teaching and how we were teaching it; thus, we approach this paper from the perspective of metacognition. This concept was first introduced by Flavell (1976), who defined it as "one's knowledge concerning one's own cognitive processes and products or anything related to them" (p. 232). Much work has been done in this area since Flavell first introduced the concept, and there are different views on the current definition (Iiskala, Vauras, Lehtinen, & Salonen, 2011; Sandi-Urena, Cooper, & Stevens, 2011; Zohar, 1999). One recent definition is that metacognition occurs when individuals "plan, monitor, and evaluate their own cognitive behavior in a learning environment or problem space" (Sandi-Urena et al., 2011, p. 324). People who are metacognitive demonstrate awareness about their thinking processes (Griffith & Ruan, 2005), and our shared journal does just that.

We begin this paper by briefly reviewing the literature on teaching qualitative research methods and on the pedagogical value of journaling. This is followed by a description of our teaching contexts. Then, we show how through the sharing of weekly journal entries, we assisted each other through the challenges of teaching QRM, encouraged each other to think more reflexively about our teaching approaches and our understanding of QRM, and offered valuable resources to each other. Drawing on examples from our journal entries, we organize our remarks centered on three benefits we gained from the journals: (a) clarity, (b) confidence, and (c) connection. Recommendations for shared journal writing conclude the paper.

Challenges of Teaching Qualitative Methods

Some students may feel quite energized by qualitative research, as it resolves dissonances regarding quantitative research (Eakin & Mykhalvoskiy, 2005; Reisetter, Yexley, Bonds, Nikels, & McHenry, 2003), which students are often introduced to in research methods courses or multiple statistics course prior to taking a QRM course. Yet, QRM courses can also create difficulties for students due to its "disruptive capacity" (Eakin & Mykhalvoskiy, para. 31). The prevalence of positivistic thinking in research and in academia, in general, results in many students being resistant to learning about qualitative methods or having difficulty understanding or accepting alternative, more interpretive ways of knowing (Booker, 2009; Eakin & Mykhalvoskiy).

Students may expect that there is one right way to conduct research (i.e., write their theses and dissertations, carry out their research, and complete their assignments). They may also be surprised at how difficult and complex qualitative research is as they grapple with issues such as methodological congruency, validity, sampling, and reflexivity. The open-ended nature of qualitative research, such as what is observed and interpreted in an ethnographic study or how coding proceeds, evokes anxiety in students as they worry about whether or not they have done an assignment correctly or will earn a high grade in the class (Eakin & Mykhalvoskiy, 2005). …