Qualitative Methods Module Outline

This post is part of a series of blogs offering a week-by-week account of my first year qualitative methods course. You can find them all under the tag GEO1018: Qualitative Methods

So before teaching starts next week, I thought it’d be useful to give you a little overview of this module. The course has around 250 students on it (!), which is all of our first year BA and BSc geographers plus a few others. It’s actually the second half of a course, in which the first half is taught by physical geographers. So effectively it’s a 1 semester module – that’s 10 credits in the UK system, or 5 ECTS.

Should it be of interest, the full module guide is here.

At first year, I’m not presuming any prior knowledge with the students, so I’ve structured it around being a ‘basics’ course. The idea is that (hopefully) the students pick up core qualitative techniques this year, and then build on these through introduction to more innovative and creative methods at stage 2. As I tell them in the first lecture: some of this is about learning the boring stuff so they can do the interesting stuff!

To that end, the module is split into 4 blocks:

  • Introduction-  2 lectures and 2 seminars: 1 of each covering research questions and ethics/positionality.
  • ‘Talking Methods’ – 3 lectures and 2 seminars, focused on semi-structured interviews.
  • ‘Being there’ – 3 lectures and 1 seminar, focused on participant observation
  • ‘Reading’ – 3 lectures and 1 seminar, focused on discourse analysis
  • 1 further seminar on writing up qualitative notes, for which the students can use data from either of the final 2 blocks

For each of the 3 main blocks, the students carry out a short piece of self-directed research, using the core method. I think for methods teaching you have to get students doing: lectures and class-room activity will only get you so far.  Their work is obviously not a full research project, but I hope that we’re introducing them to all the elements that make up social science qualitative research. For the assessment, the students write up reports on any two of these projects.

I don’t teach from a textbook, but my go-to book is often the Key Methods in Geography book. I also like Phillips and Johns’ Fieldwork for Human Geography as offering a slightly different approach in introducing research methods to students.

I teach with 3 teaching assistants (this year 2 postgrads and 1 Teaching Fellow). I do all the lectures, and in seminar weeks the students are split into 12 groups. The TAs do most of the seminars, though I do 1 a week in order to keep an eye on how the content is working.

I think that’s all the context you might need! Thanks for the positive responses on Twitter with regards to this project – I hope that if nothing else it offers people a few ideas for their own teaching!


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