ENG-W 368: Research Methods & Materials

This course, which I have now taught twice in the last five years, introduces students to research as an ongoing, recursive practice of inquiry and knowledge-making. By examining a variety of research methods and methodologies (including quantitative research, ethnography and autoethnography, textual and theoretical research, digital research tools, archival research, etc.), students in this course learn how to develop an idea, plan a research project, go about gathering data (whatever “data” may be in any given case), perform analysis, and present their work to an audience. In short, this course is a practical introduction to developing a research project in the humanities that is guided by these questions: how do researchers and scholars create knowledge? And who gets to decide what “counts” as knowledge in a given disciplinary arena?

Research Methods and Materials builds on the assumption that research is connected to context, and that what information is included/excluded and how that information is interpreted/discussed impacts the reception of the research. Therefore, we explore a number of different research “contexts” within English studies (i.e., literary studies, writing studies, and rhetoric); we learn about research methods that can be applied to vastly different materials and contexts (i.e., fields and disciplines outside of English); and we examine digital research tools and their impact on how research is performed.

Because the course covers such a wealth of material, I find it useful to divide the semester into two overlapping and interwoven parts. For roughly the first half of the semester, we concentrate primarily on so-called “traditional,” library-based research and the assorted skills and practices that go along with it—textual analysis, digital research strategies, archival research, problem statements, literature reviews, and so forth. A good portion of the second half of the semester, which includes a greater focus on research in writing studies and rhetoric (English studies’ “other half”), is devoted primarily to empirical research models, and we explore various types of quantitative and qualitative research methods: case studies, surveys, personal interviews, and field work. I find that it is important for students to understand early on in the term that these categories I’ve just mentioned are more dynamic and general than they are neat and clean; in other words, these are broad categories that tend to overlap both conceptually and practically. In fact, one of my primary goals in this course is to get across to students just how “messy” the research process can be—and usually is—as I have found that many undergraduates and even some graduate students seem to come into this class thinking that research is largely a paint-by-numbers endeavor.

The spring of 2014 marked the second time I had the opportunity to teach this course, and I was gratified to have the chance to revise some of its shortcomings from the first go round. More than any other course I routinely teach, this course might be the most challenging and time-consuming course to plan, develop, and deliver, even from one year to the next. Next to teaching first-year writing, I think this is the most difficult course I regularly teach.

As can be gleaned from some of the student comments below, part of the challenge of this course can be explained by the sheer project-load. Students complete mini-ethnographies, keep research logs and blogs, inventory their professional and personal research interests, perform field work (both physical and digital), learn about how digital tools and resources are rapidly revolutionizing the way researchers work, explore CITI and IRB certification, and complete full-scale, in-depth research projects through several theoretical and practical lenses.

It is also true that ENG-W 368 is also one of the most gratifying and, I would say, “hard-earned” teaching experiences I’ve yet had. And my qualitative course evaluations, which were quite positive for this course (a marked improvement over 2013, I think), are rivaled only by my quantitative evaluations: in most categories in 2014, my scores were close to a (perfect) 5.0 (“Strongly Agree”) among ENG-W 368 (undergrad) students. In the graduate-level course, LBST-D 511, the numbers were slightly lower, but still very close to 4.0 (“Agree”) in most categories.

The qualitative evaluations focused mainly on the practical usefulness of the course (“I learned how to write a project proposal and a lit review which will be helpful for my thesis proposal” and “I learned a lot of research strategies that have helped me with several papers this semester”) and my own effectiveness in terms of flexibility and open-mindedness. Students also noted the difficulty of the course and the “boring” nature of some of the materials. Indeed, perhaps my favorite comment for this course is from the student who wrote, “Dr. Cook goes above and beyond to make sure we succeed. This class wasn’t my favorite, but [Dr. Cook] made it worthwhile.”

I attribute the continuing success of this course to the simple fact that our students have few other opportunities to take another course with a similar scope and level of rigor. And I routinely hear from students that more courses with a similar focus on research would be useful. I plan to begin the work of researching and developing these courses in 2018. Finally, I pride myself on making this course as rigorous and comprehensive as possible, and the most significant challenge of teaching Research Methods on a small campus is that the course must cover a great deal of territory both in the Humanities and in Social Science disciplines.

Learning Outcomes

  • Define common research methodologies used in literary studies, literary history, writing studies, and rhetoric;
  • Use a wide array of digital research tools;
  • Evaluate and critique published research;
  • Recognize strengths and weaknesses of research methodologies in published studies;
  • Practice several research methods on a small scale through class activities and discussions;
  • Draft and develop a problem statement and research project proposal/abstract;
  • Propose, plan, and conduct a large-scale research study.

Course Evaluation Summaries (Quantitative)

I have now taught ENG-W 368 two times, which has offered me an opportunity for revision and pedagogical experimentation. Our Likert scale for student evaluations changed in 2013-14 from a five-point scale in which “1.00” was the highest possible score per category (i.e., 1.00 = Strongly Agree) to a five-point scale in which “5.00” became the highest possible score per category (i.e., 5.00 = Strongly Agree) starting in Fall 2013.

ENG-W 368: Research Methods & Materials (Undergraduate) Spring 2013 (31431) Spring 2014

(9431)

1.)   The course was well organized. 1.43 4.50
2.)   The course objectives were clear to the students. 1.29 4.75
3.)   There was general agreement between announced course objectives and what was actually taught. 1.43 4.75
4.)   The instructor explained the subject clearly. 1.43 4.50
5.)   The instructor summarized the major points in lecture or discussion. 1.86 4.75
6.)   The instructor made effective use of class time. 1.86 4.75
7.)     The instructor was well prepared for class meetings. 1.57 4.50
8.)     The amount of reading was appropriate for the course. 1.71 4.75
9.)     In relation to other courses of equal credits and level, the workload in this course was appropriate. 2.14 4.50
10.)  The amount of material covered in the course was reasonable. 1.57 4.00
11.)  The course required more time and effort than others at this level. 1.43 4.50
12.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 2.00 3.75
13.)  Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 1.86 4.50
14.)  The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading. 1.57 4.25
15.)  The exams accurately assessed what I have learned in this class. 2.29 4.50
16.)  The instructor showed a genuine interest in students 1.14 4.50
17.)  The instructor was readily available for consultation with students. 1.14 4.50
18.)  The instructor stimulated my thinking. 1.29 4.00
19.)  The instructor stimulated class discussion. 1.29 4.50
20.)  The instructor promoted an atmosphere conducive to learning. 1.29 3.50
21.)  Compared to other instructors I have had, this instructor is outstanding. 2.00 3.50
22.) Compared to other courses I’ve taken, I learned more in this course. 1.86 2.75

Reminder: Our Likert scale for student evaluations changed in 2013-14 from a five-point scale in which “1.00” was the highest possible score per category (i.e., 1.00 = Strongly Agree) to a five-point scale in which “5.00” became the highest possible score per category (i.e., 5.00 = Strongly Agree) starting in Fall 2013.

ENG-W 368: Research Methods & Materials (Graduate) Spring 2013 (32452) Spring 2014

(9519)

1.)   The course was well organized. 1.40 3.75
2.)   The course objectives were clear to the students. 1.40 3.75
3.)   There was general agreement between announced course objectives and what was actually taught. 1.60 3.75
4.)   The instructor explained the subject clearly. 1.00 3.75
5.)   The instructor summarized the major points in lecture or discussion. 1.00 4.00
6.)   The instructor made effective use of class time. 1.40 4.00
7.)     The instructor was well prepared for class meetings. 1.20 3.75
8.)     The amount of reading was appropriate for the course. 1.00 4.00
9.)     In relation to other courses of equal credits and level, the workload in this course was appropriate. 1.00 3.75
10.)  The amount of material covered in the course was reasonable. 1.00 3.75
11.)  The course required more time and effort than others at this level. 3.40 3.75
12.)  The grading system for the course was clearly explained. 1.20 3.75
13.)  Grades were assigned fairly and impartially. 1.20 3.75
14.)  The instructor collected enough evidence for valid grading. 1.20 3.75
15.)  The exams accurately assessed what I have learned in this class. 2.25 3.50
16.)  The instructor showed a genuine interest in students 1.00 3.50
17.)  The instructor was readily available for consultation with students. 1.00 3.75
18.)  The instructor stimulated my thinking. 1.00 4.25
19.)  The instructor stimulated class discussion. 1.00 3.75
20.)  The instructor promoted an atmosphere conducive to learning. 1.00 3.50
21.)  Compared to other instructors I have had, this instructor is outstanding. 1.40 4.00
22.) Compared to other courses I’ve taken, I learned more in this course. 1.60 4.67

Course Evaluations (Qualitative)

Spring 2014 (Undergraduate Students)

“Dr. Cook is very willing to work with students and their problems. I really appreciated this.”

“There were some classes where we didn’t do anything, in-class workshops for the final projects. They were good days though, and they helped.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] how extensive a research project is. Didn’t realize it took so much time, and Dr. Cook illustrated and taught it well.”

“He was always excited to teach and loved discussions about the topic.”

“We had many interruptions because of the weather, and it always felt like we were trying to catch up. Dr. Cook did his best to condense the material so we did not lose any information, but that’s the only complaint I have.”

“I learned how to write a project proposal and lit review which will be helpful for my thesis proposal. I learned more about qualitative studies, how to apply and use IRB [Institutional Research Board], and was able to practice presentations/presenting to a class.”

“The instructor clearly demonstrated new concepts about doing a research paper that will help me in the future. Dr. Cook is a terrific teacher!”

“[What I liked least about the class was] writing a 20-page paper, but I understand it comes with the territory.”

“I like how the instructor had us work on parts of the paper, so when it came deadline time, I already had a lot done.”

“I greatly enjoyed Sam Shepard, and look forward to reading more of his plays.”

“I thought the research textbook repeated too much information.”

“I discovered one of my new favorite playwrights”

“Dr. Cook is open-minded and flexible.”

“Nothing stands out as being unpleasant, actually.”

“[The most valuable thing I learned in this course was] research techniques, of course.”

“Dr. Cook goes above and beyond to make sure we succeed. This class wasn’t my favorite, but he made it worthwhile. Thank you.”

“I learned a lot of research strategies that have helped with several papers this semester. I think I would have struggled a lot more if not for this class.”

Spring 2014 (Graduate Students)

“Dr. Cook cares, and comes through clearly! He helps way beyond his pay scale.”

“I had this course as an undergrad [too]. Dr. Cook helped keep my interest in a fairly boring subject.”

“Proofread (#25) Question! I find it appalling that IUK has record attendance yet cannot afford to pay professors fair/prevailing wages! Shame on IUK!”

Spring 2013 (Undergraduate Students)

“This is an excellent course. There should be two of them. I wish I could have taken it twice.”

“There were no exams. Grades were based on writing assignments.”

“This is a stupid question. Are we evaluating this professor, or all the professors I’ve had?”

“Need this class offered in the evening or at nite [sic].”

“Schedule changed, but OK—because of weather days, etc.”

“Dr. Cook did an outstanding job of teaching this course. He definitely led discussions well and had great insight to writing research.”

“Dr. Cook never explains his arbitrary grading. The exam would be the final project and I do not know whether it assessed what I learned b/c he handed these out prematurely.”

“[Teacher-student relationship] is Dr. Cook’s strong point!”

“I think a blatant disregard for student’s [sic] time needs to be addressed Dr. Cook (for two semesters now) has continuously held class over and disregarded students [sic] schedules. For instance this evaluation was handout out at 12:48 and our class ‘ends’ at 12:45.”

“I am of the firm opinion that Dr. Cook is a great professor, a large source of information, and very helpful, but we were never on schedule with his syllabus, and he was all over the place in regards to organization.”

“Other courses of this level have significant less workload. Dr. Cook continuously puts us all through busy work yet has high expectations for ongoing projects. This course literally took up all of my study time and I neglected other courses just to stay afloat in this class.”

Spring 2013 (Graduate Students)

“Extremely well organized. Any deviation was logical and explained in full.”

“Absolutely awesome. One of the best, most student-learning-centered profs in the university. This class should be required for all MALS students. Best if a core requirement for all majors. Research is a key skill.”

“Excellent course.”

“Should immediately follow D510 “Intro to MALS” course as the second course in the sequence.”

“Seemed to be behind schedule a lot. Not enough time for discussions.”

“Having only 1 text was good.”

“Always available to meet outside of class!”

“Thank you for teaching me, Dr. Cook.”

“#3=> the ‘in-class activities’ were actually random assignments given for outside, sometimes w/ little or no warning. It would have been better for these to have been included on the syllabus or given at least a week to complete.”

“The workload was fine; however, the timing was not. Given a 2 day notice to do and turn in a time-consuming observation was difficult for those of us with work and home schedules.”

***

Click here for the Spring 2013 syllabus and here for the Spring 2014 syllabus (Undergraduate).

Click here for the Spring 2013 syllabus and here for the Spring 2014 syllabus (Graduate).

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