A Model for Effective Teaching and Learning in Research Methods

By Poindexter, Paula M. | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview
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A Model for Effective Teaching and Learning in Research Methods

Poindexter, Paula M., Journalism & Mass Communication Educator

In journalism, advertising, public relations, and communications programs that require a research course in the curriculum, students learn the role and process of research in these fields. They learn how to design and conduct scientific research studies as well as how to analyze and interpret the results. Journalism students also learn how to apply research to conducting a poll that may be reported in the newspaper or on a television or radio news broadcast. Advertising students discover how to apply the research to understanding consumers in order to create effective advertising campaigns. Public relations students master applying the research to better understanding the publics' perceptions of the client.

The teacher of research uses a variety of classroom strategies to help students become more knowledgeable about the scientific research process, computer tabulation, and analysis. The research instructor may use guest lecturers and readings from research textbooks. The instructor may also incorporate in-class assignments to illustrate random sampling, good focus group moderating techniques, or tools for content analysis coding of magazine advertising. Often the research teacher will have students conduct interviews for a class-wide survey project.

While all of these strategies facilitate learning about the research process, it is no secret that teaching research is fraught with learning barriers that the teacher must overcome. Generally, research is a required course that many journalism, advertising, and public relations students think is irrelevant to the curriculum and to their career aspirations. "What does research have to do with the business of journalism, advertising, or public relations?" some students will wonder. Consequently, the teacher of research is faced with finding a way to make research relevant in order to facilitate learning about how to conduct and analyze scientifically valid research.

In recognition of the obstacles that the research teacher faces, this article proposes a teaching model for making research relevant. This teaching model, which has produced effective learning, successful goal achievement, non-quantifiable benefits, and rewarding teaching, can be described as:

A Knowledge Base + A Team Process + A Realistic Goal-Oriented Experience + Self-Management + Expert Consultation + Evaluation and Synthesis = Effective Learning, Successful Goal Achievement, Nonquantifiable Benefits, and Rewarding Teaching.

This article will present a case study of this teaching model using advertising and public relations research classes from the University of Texas at Austin. The case study will include an examination of the components of the model as applied to the Fall 1996 semester and the evaluations of more than 100 students at the conclusion of the semester.


A knowledge-base component. When the author took her first research class in 1975 as a graduate student, the class primarily consisted of lectures and research textbook readings, what has been identified as the first component in the model, a knowledge base. Consequently, when the author taught her first research class in 1980, she used the same teaching model of primarily building the knowledge base through lectures and research textbook readings. After a full year of teaching, the author went to the Los Angeles Times where she began working in marketing research and then moved up to middle management and later, an executive position. Throughout her 10-year employment at The Times, the author conducted research and used research to plan, launch, and even discontinue various programs and projects.

On returning to full-time teaching in 1991, the author used the familiar teaching model of lecture and textbook readings to build a knowledge base. The knowledge base component consisted of the language of research and the process of conducting various research methods such as surveys, content analysis studies, experiments, and focus groups.

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