Sunday, November 05, 2006

Finding Your Curiosity: The Appropriate Methods Approach to Developing Research Ideas

Entry for 1 November 2006:

On Wednesday last week, after our return from Glasgow, I did my second research module input for the Fulltime Diploma course. Much of the challenge and fun of working here is adapting to the new student/learner population, which is very different from the North American Clinical Psychology graduate students that I have primarily been teaching for the past 28 years. The key challenge is to find ways of presenting material on research in such as way that it does not turn off this extremely diverse group of students off. This is not easy, especially since many are quite suspicious of research in the first place.

Therefore, the more I contemplated doing a lecture on epistemology and research paradigms, the more it become clear to me that this was not going to work, that a large number of these students were going to find this boring and dry, which would defeat the whole point of trying to teach them this stuff in the first place. Much as I love discussing heavy duty epistemology, it is a bit silly of me to expect that my fascination is widely shared. So instead of doing research paradigms, I took the class through the Appropriate Methods scheme, but adding experiential exercises.

The Appropriate Methods approach to the first stage of research design advocates an experiential approach to research that begins with one’s genuine curiosity, then moves on to considering what kinds of research question are of interest and relevant to the current state of knowledge. Only after selecting one’s research questions is it time to turn to a consideration of what methods best lend themselves to answering the selected questions. The combination of research questions with appropriate methods defines a research genre, which should be judged by the criteria of methodological quality relevant to the particular research genre.

The exercises apply the method of Gendlin’s experiential focusing to construct a research process that begins by helping students identify what they are genuinely curious about.

On Wednesday, I began with a continuation of last time’s exercise:

Exercise 1: Finding your curiosity
1. Take out a blank piece of paper
2. Take a minute to relax, clear your mind
3. Ask yourself: What is something am I curious to learn about Person-Centred counselling? Or: What is my sense of something that is still unclear about Person-Centred counselling that feels like it needs research?
4. Wait… Take your time… See what comes to you… (2 minutes)
5. Write down 1 or 2 general research topics (not questions – yet!) that symbolize your curiosity (2 minutes?)
6. Check each research topic to make sure it fits at least part of your curiosity
7. Share with group if desired

The students nominated a large number of wonderfully diverse research topics, which I wrote on the board.

I followed this with an exposition of the 5 research tasks (Provide Foundation, Describe, Explain, Apply, Evaluate) and the closed vs. open research question dichotomy. After an example of how the same research topic (I used the example of Relational Depth, which I’ll present in a later entry) can be addressed via multiple research questions, I took them through a further exercise:

Exercise 2: Finding your research question
1. Take out your notes from Exercise 1
2. Take a minute to relax, clear your mind
3. Ask yourself: What questions appeal to my curiosity about the topic I found in Exercise 1? (Hint: You could try comparing different questions with your sense of curiosity about the topic you picked.) Alternatively: What questions can I imagine myself trying to answer with research?
4. Wait… Take your time… See what comes to you… (2 minutes)
5. Write down 1 or 2 research questions that help to symbolize your curiosity or what you might imagine yourself studying (2 minutes?)
6. Share with group if desired

This time the sharing focused on the students’ thought processes as they reflected on their topic and as their ideas evolved.

The resulting class might not have covered much formal philosophy of science, but it did spark students’ interest (and also the interest of my fellow trainer, Maggi), awhile at the same time introducing the qualitative-quantitative distinction and grounding it in research questions, not in the available dogma or methods.

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