Lesson Ideas: Qualitative Methods

Travis DixonQualitative Research Methods, Teaching Ideas

Qualitative methods is like a lot of subjects - it can be fascinating or it can be droll; it's all in the content you select and how you approach it.

Full credit for the ideas in this post go to Alan Law who shared these with me recently. 

Problem-based Approach

Find and source a real example of a qualitative study and provide students with a very brief summary of the central research question of the study. Then ask students in small groups to decide what method they would use to conduct the study and ask them to justify it. Tell them they’ll then be given the real research and see if they thought the same as the researchers.

You can use one or more of these studies for this activity.

This can work for a number of reasons:

#1) They will naturally want to know if they guessed “right” and chose the same as the actual researchers. So while reading about qualitative studies can often seem like a chore, you’ll get students reading about the studies more enthusiastically to see if they were right.

#2) It will reinforce comprehension of the methodologies because students won’t be able to discuss the options they have if they don’t know what those options are. Simply providing a list of the potential options they have will help reinforce these building blocks of knowledge.

#3) It gets students think about the why from a researcher’s perspective, which is essential in being able to explain the use of the methods and also to evaluate them.

#4) Once you get passed the methodology, you can now discuss a whole range of other important concepts, like ethical considerations, generalizability, triangulation, researcher bias, etc.

There are plenty of freely available qualitative studies on google scholar. One way to find studies is to ask your students to think of a topical subject in the media that has caught their attention lately. Google search “qualitative psychology (your topic)” and see what you can find. 

Learning about research methodology is about understanding how and why particular methods are used. To teach the “why” we need to get students trying to see research from a researcher’s perspective. In fact, this is really what the Paper 3 is designed to do.

But Paper Three is consistently the lowest scoring exam for HL IB Psychology students. Why? In reality, the concepts aren’t any more difficult than the rest of the course and, in fact, it should be an easy exam. The problem is that many of the concepts are abstract and they’re taught in the abstract. So in order to build towards abstract, conceptual understanding we need to begin with the concrete examples.

One big question that I come back to frequently when teaching qualitative methods is “why use qualitative instead of quantitative?” Working towards this bigger picture will help students better understand the relevant methods. This question is much easier to discuss when we are looking at specific examples of research.

I think one reason teachers and students find quantitative methods easier is because there are heaps of examples of studies that use these methods that we can use to demonstrate concepts. Therefore, in order to teach a deep understanding of qualitative methods we could follow the same approach – use real examples of studies in every lesson.

You can find studies online or in Chapter 9 of the student’s guide, and we’re also putting together a digital resource with more examples to be used for practice Paper 3 questions.