Pedagogy as a Form of Praxis and Commitment: A Student-Centered Approach to Teaching Research Methodology

Pedagogy as a Form of Praxis and Commitment: A Student-Centered Approach to Teaching Research Methodology

Barbara Dennis, Peiwei Li, Karen Ross, Pengfei Zhao
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4836-3.ch001
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This chapter responds to a rising interest in re-imagining graduate school classrooms as a space for transforming social injustice. The authors situate the exploration of this issue in the context of teaching graduate-level research methodology courses. The chapter brings forth a student-centered and praxis-oriented approach to teaching graduate-level research methodology courses, which is grounded in the guiding principles of dialogue, relationality, and critical consciousness-raising. Through committing to these principles and to our students, the authors demonstrate profound connections between teaching and being. They argue that cultivating student-centered and critical teaching is not the work of creating a set of tools, but instead an engagement with being and becoming through praxis and commitment. Throughout this chapter, we draw on our teaching experiences and collaborative scholarship to illustrate what it means to connect teaching with praxis and commitments.
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In recent years, we have seen a rising interest in re-imagining graduate school classrooms so that they become a nexus of students’ intellectual growth and community building, as well as a space where the foundational work for transforming social inequality and injustice is laid out. Re-envisioning the potential of our classrooms requires us as instructors to critically interrogate conventional pedagogical approaches and ask ourselves: How can we practice our teaching in a way that enacts the kind of social transformation that we would like to bring forward? There are important content-related aspects to holistically addressing social inequities in the classroom; however, this chapter focuses particularly on pedagogical aspects of this question. While we note that our commitments are related to both our curriculum reforms and pedagogical practice, we intentionally highlight our pedagogical approach in this chapter, as our reimagining of curriculum has crystalized in our co-written textbook (Zhao, et al., forthcoming).

In this chapter, we situate exploration of this question about enacting social transformation in the context of teaching graduate-level research methodology courses. There is relatively little literature on pedagogical approaches to teaching research in higher education (for exceptions see: Ross & Call-Cummings, 2020; Ross et al, 2017; Levin & Martin, 2007; Roulston et al 2005; Roulston 2018; Roulston et al 2018). To address this gap, and in the spirit of re-imagining research methodology classrooms and better futures, this chapter illustrates our student-centered approach to teaching graduate-level research methodology courses. We contend that the context of teaching research methodology courses is particularly apt for situating this discussion, because methodology courses are not only required courses for graduate programs across multiple social science disciplines, they are, also, gateways for emerging scholars and professionals to embark on their journey of social inquiry.

Research classes, in particular, have been institutionally accountable to a substantive canon which seems to have been linked with didactic approaches to teaching (Li et al, 2017). However, the construction of canons in social science research has not been immune from institutionalized discriminative practice such as sexism and racism (e.g. Morris, 2017; Luo et al, 2018). In this sense, it is important to critically interrogate the construction of canons instead of engaging in a tokenized approach of merely adding new materials to a course’s reading list (Reyes & Johnson, 2020). In the field of teaching and learning research methodology, a central challenge is the tension between introducing students to the theories, vocabulary and methodologies that reflect the canon of the field, while at the same time opening up one’s class for critical dialogue. To address this tension, we have committed ourselves to pedagogical shifts based on fissures we noted our students were experiencing between the methodological canon (such as how and when to perform specific statistical tests on data) and being able to identify or imagine themselves as researchers (Ross et al, 2017). We thus approach our teaching in a way that foregrounds the broader applicability of methodological learning beyond the academic realm. In line with McLaren and Jaramillo (2010), we view methodology as potentially tapping into the immediate environments of students’ professional and community contexts, in the forms of inquiry, projects, activism and so on.

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