Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Teaching Qualitative Research Online to Leadership Students: Between Firm Structure and Free Flow

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Teaching Qualitative Research Online to Leadership Students: Between Firm Structure and Free Flow

Article excerpt


The U.S. National Science Foundation (2013, 2015) surveys of earned doctorates in education show that between 2003 and 2014, over 20,000 degrees were granted in a field broadly defined as Educational Administration, which consists of Educational Administration and Supervision and Educational Leadership. The peak year was 2003 (2,362 awarded degrees), followed by the plateau between 2004 and 2009 (the average of 2,184 degrees) and a decline since then (895 degrees in 2014). Given the prevalence of the degrees awarded, it is then important to discuss the pedagogies of teaching not only the content area courses for educational leaders, but research as well. We concur with Wergin (2011) that doctoral studies in leadership--both EdD and PhD, since the majority of our graduates remain within their school system--should emphasize the "continued scholarship into professional practice, not just proficiency in practice" (p. 127, emphasis in original). To this end, we see the importance of teaching basic and advanced levels of qualitative research to leadership students.

We are writing this paper as teachers of qualitative research to educational and organizational leadership students in a private, not-for-profit, PhD and EdD granting university in the Midwest part of the U.S. This paper also emerges from the institutional shift we are part of in offering graduate-level classes in qualitative and other research methods completely online in 8-week terms. Over the years, we have experienced an increased emphasis on the instrumental and pragmatic nature of not only the courses we teach but also of the entire programs' philosophies and purposes. Most of our students work in schools, where the data driven decision making language rules the day, where "inquiry is cut off from politics," where "biography and history recede into the background," and where "technological rationality prevails" (Denzin & Lincoln, 2013a, p. 3). We are also observing a dissociation of the scholarly and the professional, as our students bring to the classroom an acute sense of what should be done in order to be valued in their professional world, accompanied with ideas of what could/should be done as research. Working with and within this forced dichotomy, teaching qualitative research sometimes seems like a luxury, an intellectual and aesthetic exercise confined in the space of online discussion platforms.

We argue that there is a need to find ways to foster awareness of the complexities of teaching research online, how this practice is sensitive to contexts and relationships, and how it is embedded in community, culture, language, history, and power structures. How do we enact the tenets of qualitative research to the leadership students whose professional world seems epistemologies apart from the goals of qualitative research, in the learning environment that seems counterintuitive to this mode of inquiry? As instructors of such classes, educated in traditional university settings, who until recently taught in face-to-face classrooms, in this paper we engage scholarly sources and publicly available data on the trends in online teaching to highlight challenges and unique aspects of teaching qualitative research online to leadership doctoral students. We focus on the intertwined tensions between different discourses: the ways of thinking about research that our students bring to the online classrooms, the course goals that we aspire to achieve, and the ways we teach qualitative research online. In doing so, we see our classes as spaces of the (not always smooth) interplay between the firm structure of expected goals and free-flowing nature of qualitative research.

Qualitative Research and Online Education

Given that qualitative research is not a monolith but an inter- and transdisciplinary field shaped by multiple ethical and political positions, a large tent that embraces different and often conflicting epistemologies (Denzin & Lincoln, 2013b), it is easy to understand why there is little recommendation when it comes to teaching qualitative research methods online. …

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