Section Editors: Shelly Clevenger and Yi Ting Chua
In this teaching tips edition, Yi Ting Chua discusses teaching research methods online.
When I first learned of my assignment to teach undergraduate level research method course, I did not think much of it. I put together a syllabus based on other syllabi, chose a textbook and relied heavily on the textbook’s support materials. It is not till the end of my first semester did I notice the difference in teaching an online course in comparison to teaching in-person. After conversations with colleagues and professors, along with my personal experience, I have gathered some tips and advice that I hope would be of help to others who are teaching similar courses online.
One of my biggest obstacles with teaching online was recording a lecture. I find it challenging because it involves me speaking into a mic for 30 to 40 minutes without any interactions with the students. The process is awkward and difficult because it is impossible to gauge which topic or concept the students would have difficulties with or require in-depth discussions. In addition, it seems a bit odd at first to listen to your own voice over the microphone. However, students have generally found the lecture videos to be helpful, as opposed to only posting lecture slides. Students in my current course had shared in their discussion posts that the lecture videos improve their understanding of the materials because it goes over the main concepts in details and connects concepts to examples and studies.
Another tip about teaching online is class discussion. It provides a platform for students to interact with each other, and acts as a gauge for the instructors on students’ understanding of the week’s topic. For example, if majority of the students missed the mark on some concepts, it demonstrates a need for the instructor to re-visit some of the concepts at the start of next week’s lecture. Sometimes, other students will contribute and provide insightful answers to other students’ questions and reflection. It is a great platform that somewhat replaces the face-to-face interactions of in-person courses.
A third tip is to make the content interesting, fun and accessible to students to improve engagement. I recently learned of this tip from a SAGE webinar hosted by Dr. Callie Rennison on teaching research method (Rennison, 2008). She suggests that instructors use works by colleagues or students in the department, and to use fun examples, to help students understand the major concepts. One of the studies she suggested was a study by Johnson and Crews (2013) that examines the correlation between professors’ rantings on RateMyProfessors.com and their hotness. Fun articles like that increase the relevancies and relatability of these studies than simple lectures on the concept of correlation because it is based on something that students are familiar with.
Dr. Callie Rennison (2018) also suggested giving students fun assignments. One of the fun assignments involved students naming their consulting business and deciding their job title within it. Throughout the semester, students would be assigned written assignments where they assist fake clients on issues about criminal justice research. These written assignments need to be in the format of professional report. Students are also required to present their findings in the class.
This last component may not be as adaptable to an online teaching environment, but I do find that fun and “hands-on” assignments are well-received by students. Students tend to report positive experiences and excitement with these types of assignments. I learned of the students’ perspectives through the requirement of a short reflection at the end of each assignment. For example, I have given students assignments where they had to choose a research topic, find two relevant articles and provide a summary, and then locate a database from Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). Students’ comments for that assignment often include the challenges in identifying relevant literature and locating a secondary dataset that perfectly addresses or matches their research question, all of which are possible issues that can arise when conducting research in criminal justice. In this sense, students have a chance to partially experience what it is like to be a researcher in the field, and it improves their engagement with the course.
Teaching in an online environment does indeed provide its unique set of issues, such as the lack of immediate face-to-face interactions with students. However, it is possible to adapt some of the teaching tips for in-person teaching. For example, recording and uploading lectures maintain partial interaction with the students, and solidify concepts and connections for students. Also, there are ways to increase the level of fun of a topic that many students considered as “dry.” Allowing the students to take a hands-on approach to issues increase their engagement and grasps of important concept. Research methods have always been a challenging topic to teach but teaching in online environments allow for a different approach and dynamic to teaching!
Johnson, R. R., & Crews, A. D. (2013). "My Professor is Hot! Correlates of RateMyProfessors.com Ratings for Criminal Justice and Criminology Faculty Members." American Journal of Criminal Justice, 38(4), 639-656.
Rennison, Callie. (2018). SAGE Webinar – Teaching Research Methods in Criminology & Criminal Justice: Challenges & Tips [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/SPA/FacultyStaff/Faculty/Pages/CallieRennison.aspx