Using World of Warcraft to Teach Research Methods in Online Doctoral Education: A Student-Instructor Duoethnography

By Snelson, Chareen; Wertz, Christopher I. et al. | The Qualitative Report, May 2017 | Go to article overview

Using World of Warcraft to Teach Research Methods in Online Doctoral Education: A Student-Instructor Duoethnography


Snelson, Chareen, Wertz, Christopher I., Onstott, Kimberly, Bader, Jason, The Qualitative Report


Online doctoral education is now a viable option for those who wish to pursue a terminal degree through a distance venue (Kung & Logan, 2014). Yet, questions about best practice in online doctoral education have led to discussion and inquiry on issues such as program structure (Butcher & Sieminski, 2006), student perspective and satisfaction (Erichsen, Bolliger, & Halupa, 2012; Fuller, Risner, Lowder, Hart, & Bachenheimer, 2014; Teng, Chen, Kinshuk, & Leo, 2012), and distance supervision (Nasiri & Mafakheri, 2014). Curricular issues are also an important part of the conversation as doctoral educators grapple with moving courses online. Research methods courses covering topics in qualitative methods, quantitative methods, or research design, comprise a core part of the curriculum for doctoral programs (Card, Chambers, & Freeman, 2016), yet challenges have been noted when teaching methods courses via distance education. For example, a reflective analysis of instructors who taught qualitative methods courses through a distance approach revealed concerns such as heavy time demands for course preparation, challenges to personal teaching philosophies, and misgivings about what students were actually gaining from the distance versions of the courses (Hunter, Ortloff, & Winkle-Wagner, 2014). Ivankova (2010) discussed findings from a study of online doctoral-level mixed methods research instruction, which involved teaching students how to combine qualitative and quantitative approaches. Although benefits were noted, such as increased access to the course and prompt feedback, challenges were also identified. The challenges were related to the combined issues of the online format and the complexities of teaching mixed methods research approaches. Online instructors experienced issues such as technological problems (e.g., connectivity, hardware incompatibility), student inexperience with online education, and difficulty in teaching certain procedural topics, such as data analysis, through the online venue. The conclusions of this study suggest reevaluating pedagogical strategies for research methods courses so that they are more applicable to the online environment.

A central concern with online forms of research methods education hinges on the role of mediating technologies and how they might support or detract from the process of teaching students how to do research. A review of the literature on doctoral supervision at a distance revealed a wide variety of technologies in use including email, social media, blogs, micro-blogs, web conferencing, VOIP (voice over internet protocol), learning management systems, discussion forums, online video, eportfolios, virtual worlds, social bookmarking, and telephone (Maor, Ensor, & Fraser, 2016). A review of 18 empirical studies emphasizing the impact of web-based tools, including Web 2.0 settings, on the training, support, and supervision of doctoral students suggested potential for collaborative and innovative approaches to doctoral supervision, but also revealed that digital pedagogies are not well developed or researched (Maor, Ensor, & Fraser, 2016). From these findings it can be surmised that additional research is warranted to deepen knowledge of instructional practices employed when teaching research methods courses through online technology-rich courses.

It seems reasonable to build on knowledge of research methods education from face-to-face settings when designing and teaching online versions of research methods courses. Unfortunately, research methods education, in general, is not well-established as a field and suffers from lack of clarity regarding best practice in how to teach students to do research. In the introduction to the book Teaching Research Methods in the Social Sciences, Garner, Wagner, and Kawulich (2009) complained of a "great ignorance of teaching research methods in the social sciences" (p. 1). This book serves to collate some of the distributed information about research methods education while striving toward development of a pedagogical culture. …

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