Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Role of Service-Learning and Mentoring in the Early Career Development of a Research Methodologist

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Role of Service-Learning and Mentoring in the Early Career Development of a Research Methodologist

Article excerpt

Low research self-efficacy and anxiety about succeeding in quantitative research courses may be limiting graduate students' research skills development and mute the calling to serve society as a professional researcher. Onwuegbuzie and Wilson's (2003) review of the literature on statistics anxiety concluded that anxiety towards statistics course performance negatively affected students' interpretation and application of data. One reason for this anxiety may be related to an earlier crystallization of negative math self-efficacy beliefs, especially for young women (Betz & Hackett, 1987, Hackett, 1985; Lapan, Shaughnessy, & Boggs, 1996). Onwuegbuzie and Wilson also identified several effective means for reducing statistics anxiety, these methods include integrating humor, gimmicks, and journals into the class; discussing anxiety experiences with other students; untimed exams; faculty reassurance and support; and cooperative groups and projects focused on a developing a final professional product. These pedagogical formats are designed to increase students' perception of the worth and value of applied statistics in turn, reducing the base level of anxieties students are expected to experience. More contemporary research in the field (Onwuegbuzie, Leech, Murtonen, & Tahtinen, 2010), has explored the effect of teaching statistics within a mixed-methods course (methodology that simultaneously utilizes both quantitative and qualitative research methods) which is reflective of a growing trend in the use of mixed-methods, especially for interdisciplinary work. The necessity for students and researchers to understand statistics is critical for success in their respective fields, therefore research into techniques for reducing statistics anxiety is of significance.

The research conducted by Unrau and Beck (2004) and Timmerman, Feldon, Maher, Strickland, and Gilmore (2013) showed providing students with the opportunity to work with real data (data sets which are raw, legitimate data as compared to datasets designed to show specific preplanned statistical effects) contributed to the development of research skills. Zerden, Powers, and Wretman (2014) did just that by integrating a hands-on semester long learning exercises for social work master's level students to highlight components of research design. Students in the course designed, participated, analyzed, and reflected upon the experience of being both the researcher and the participant. Students who engaged in the hands-on learning experiences developed stronger research skills than those who were not in the hand-on learning experience.

We also see the integration of hands-on learning for research methods is being used in multiple institutions. For example, a national survey of social work research methods instructors found that 61% of social work instructors were explicitly using exercises to reduce statistics anxiety (Maschi, Wells, Yoder, Slater, McMillan, & Ristow, 2014). These results are meaningful as historically social work students have not been expected to have a strong statistical/mathematical background. If the techniques used in the aforementioned studies are effective for social work students it would be logical to assume the same techniques would also be effective for students in other social sciences (e.g., psychology and education).

Hands-on projects in qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods research classes may help ameliorate some of the students' negative self-efficacy beliefs about math, reduce anxieties about graduate methods classes, increase perceptions of the value and worth of quantitative and qualitative research, and open up career possibilities, all of which are desirable learning outcomes. A more structured approach to hands-on learning is the use of service-learning, the integration of formal community-service directly into academic coursework and learning objectives. Service-learning experiences in the community spark reflection in curricular or co-curricular classes or programs and have been found to promote undergraduate student development (Finley & McNair, 2013) in multiple disciplines ranging from basic writing composition to civic engagement/responsibility (see Butin, 2010; Conway, Amel, & Gerwien, 2009; Zlotkowski, 2011). …

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