Introduction to research methods (Social Sciences, University)

Author(s): Liisa Myyry, Minna Lakkala & Liisa Ilomäki

Affiliation(s): University of Helsinki, Finland

Date of publication: April 21, 2016

The Educational Problem

The described course was an introduction to research methods intended for international students at the beginning of their master’s degree studies. The course was earlier based on individual tasks and short-term group tasks (e.g. group discussions) in contact meetings. Separate small tasks are perhaps not best in supporting the comprehension of research planning as a larger entity. More challenging and concrete co-creational task might also motivate students to engage better in completing the tasks.

The Solution

The course practices simulated a real process of creating a research plan in small groups based on common research interests. Each group member in turn was as a chair taking care of timetables and group work activities. The course included weekly 2-hour contact sessions over seven weeks. In the first three meetings, students started their group work and were guided in the process, for instance by brief presentations by the teacher.  In meetings four to six, two groups presented one part of the research plan to others in class (e.g., how to set relevant research questions or research ethics), also receiving peer feedback from another group, and then the teacher discussed with each group about the progress of their group work. The last meeting was a poster session: students were divided in mixed groups that went through all posters so that the member who had participated in making the plan presented his/her group’s poster to others. Each student also wrote an individual learning diary. The Moodle platform was used for common activities, sharing materials and group communication. In addition, the groups prepared their plans, presentations and posters using a free choice of digital tools.

Key Experiences

The basic idea and structure of the course was successful, and the students appeared motivated to complete the tasks. The timetable was a bit tight. Some student groups did not use the Moodle forum for their group communication, hence the teacher was not able to follow their progress outside contact sessions; instructions and guidance for that could be improved. It was interesting to have multicultural groups, but some groups worked better than others.

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