Introducing Qualitative Methodology in the Psychology Curriculum

Dr. Mirjam Brady-Van den Bos, School of Psychology                              

Name and code of course to which the example relates: PS3015: Methodology A     

Number of students affected: 148

During which session did this take place: First half session

Context: Across the Psychology curriculum, approximately half the courses consist of methodology teaching. Most of this used to involve quantitative approaches, including statistics. Despite the rising popularity of qualitative methodologies, only a couple of lectures exposed students to this field. As a consequence, students gained a one-sided view of Psychology as a quantitative, top-down science. This is mirrored in the characteristics of our staff: most of us in Psychology are quantitative researchers. I myself am a qualitative researcher and in the past few years we have attracted 2 more qualitative colleagues. To broaden students’ research experience, over the past 2 years I have offered qualitative thesis project for final year students, and so have my qualitative colleagues. However, as it had not featured in the students’ curriculum, the learning curve for students was very steep. For us supervisors, the teaching was much more intensive than it would be for quantitative projects.

Activity: I have set up an entire strand of Qualitative Methodology teaching for third-year students, consisting of 3 theory lectures, 4 workshops, and a video-lecture on how to work well as a group. In the lectures, I explained the history of Psychology and I debunked the myths surrounding qualitative research. I also explained how to do interviewing and create good questions, and I showed how to do Thematic Analysis. In the workshops, students worked in groups to create interview questions on a chosen topic, then interviewed another group. Students then had to carry out a thematic analysis and write up a group report. The lecture on team work helped them get the best out of themselves and each other. In addition, I created materials to help colleagues who were involved in teaching in the workshops. In weekly teaching-preparation meetings I explained how they could facilitate the workshops and guide students’ learning.

How did you evaluate the effectiveness of the activity? I evaluated this new strand through a questionnaire sent out to all third-year students, after group report marks had been released. Twenty-seven students completed the questionnaire. Results from the rating-scale questions showed: 1. a significant increase in students’ understanding of Qualitative methodology 2. increased awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses 3. increased interest in Psychology 4. increased perceived employability (all p-values > .001). Open questions asked students’ general opinion on the Qualitative strand, what went well for them and what they struggled with, how the resolved the struggles, how they now view Psychology and science in general, and what they thought of working in a group. These data showed that group work was the main source of struggle for most students, and that their attitudes towards this often changed dramatically for the better. Students’ definition of ‘scientific rigour’ also expanded, with it no longer being limited to quantitative research.

Impact of the activity: 1. Third-year students: Their methodological repertoire and transferable skillset has expanded substantially. On the questionnaire students indicated their understanding had increased; this became strongly evident when I subsequently advertised a voluntary research assistantship, helping with my fourth-year qualitative thesis projects. I received 25 enthusiastic applications. 2. My colleagues; As mentioned above, I now have several colleagues who also will offer fourth-year thesis projects of qualitative nature. Students who apply for this will be more knowledgeable about the projects they undertake, meaning a lighter workload for supervisors. 3. Colleagues who helped teach the Qualitative workshops; They expressed greater interest in qualitative methodologies and more confidence teaching it.  4. Fourth-year students: They benefit in two ways. First, they will feel more confident choosing a qualitative project and are more likely to carry it out competently. Second, I can now pair them with third-year Research Assistants who understands Qualitative methodology, to facilitate triangulation.

Dissemination: I have shared my lectures and workshop materials with colleagues at Nottingham University, at the Division of Academics, Researchers and Teachers in Psychology (DART-P) annual conference in Cardiff in June 2019. I have shared my materials also with an Educational Psychologist at Aberdeen City Council who is using it to teach her colleagues how to do Thematic Analysis. I will present the study based on my intervention more formally at the DART-P annual conference in Belfast in June 2020.


Enhancing postgraduate learning and experience through Socio-cultural coaching for Careers and Employability to Support Success: Pathways for Life Underpinning Success (SUCCESS PLUS)

Dr Amudha Poobalan, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition 

Name and code of course to which the example relates: Implemented in 3 Masters programmes so far - Masters in Public Health (MPH); MSc in Global Health and Management; MSc in Human Nutrition Has potential to be rolled out to all postgraduate students

Number of students affected: 112 students from the 3 programmes

During which session did this take place: Threaded throughout all the 3 semesters of the postgraduate taught programme

Context: In the School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, there are currently 24 taught post-graduate programmes. Most of these have significant numbers of international students coming from different countries, cultures and education systems; as well as UK students stepping up to Masters level. The intense one-year programmes expect students to hit the ground running with a heavy academic load from day one. This, combined with adapting from teacher centred, rote learning and memorisation practices, means students can struggle to cope with postgraduate level learning in UK Higher Education context. This may lead to poor academic performance, poor student satisfaction and mental health issues, despite their academic ability. While Higher Education sectors strive to provide student support in achieving their academic potential, personal developmental support is still in its infancy. Consequently, our stance was that providing socio-cultural mentoring will enhance learning and success of postgraduate students.

Activity: A scheme called SUCCESS PLUS (Socio-cUltural Coaching for Careers and Employability to Support Success: Pathways for Life Underpinning Success) was developed and implemented in September 2018. The scheme focussed on providing extended mentoring support to the socio-culturally diverse postgraduate students working towards holistic development and enhanced employability. Components of SUCCESS PLUS: After obtaining student consent, a short questionnaire survey was conducted to obtain demographics, work experience, expectations of studying in the UK, career aspirations and developing graduate attributes. Mentors were recruited using a snowballing technique to identify those who transitioned across subject disciplines, geographical areas and have experience of teaching and supporting postgraduate students for several years. Each student was matched to a mentor as closely as possible with career journeys. Mentors and students were provided with guidance on the remit of the programme along with suggestions on frequency of the visits and mode of contact/mentoring.

How did you evaluate the effectiveness of the activity? Nine months after implementation (May 2019), the scheme was evaluated using qualitative research methodology. Four focus groups and 17 in-depth interviews were conducted with students and mentors. An independent researcher was recruited to undertake the evaluation to reduce bias. Emerging themes from the interviews are improved integration; mature relationship and reduced isolation. Students felt that they could form a relationship with mentors; discuss sensitive issues with them without being embarrassed; and received guidance for future career prospects. Suggested improvements from mentors included an initial orientation session and information sharing. Student representatives at Student and Staff Liaison meetings indicated that this activity gave them space to talk to an academic in a stress-free situation and improved the way students handled the assessments, understood feedback and responded to it. Students also fed back to the external examiner, on exam board day, that they felt this was an important support system.

Impact of the activity: This scheme meets the needs of postgraduate students and bridges the gap in student support to enhance learning. While undergraduate students have personal tutees and medical students have Regents to support learning, postgraduate students do not have any formal support system in place within the SMMSN. Providing students with a mentor, who travelled the same pathway, faced the same struggles provides the students with a comfort zone and enhances their ability to learn; and improves student experience. When this scheme was initiated in 2018, this was intended only for the Masters of Public Health (MPH) students. However, as this proved to be quite effective, very soon, MSc Global health students were included in this scheme. This academic year, the co-ordinator for MSc in Nutrition requested that their students be included. This SUCCESS PLUS scheme is now being considered for postgraduate research students for promoting better student experience.

Dissemination: We have presented this activity at internal Teaching and Learning Network meetings and academic symposiums. The needs assessment for postgraduate student support was presented as a poster at the 10th Academic Development Symposium in April 2018; Following this, it was submitted as a report to LTEP in June 2018. In April 2019, this was presented as a swap shop workshop at the 11th Academic Development symposium. This brought out a good discussion on the need for postgraduate student support, personal development support in addition to academic support and pointers to improving PGT support. An abstract for oral presentation is submitted to the QAA Scotland’s international enhancement conference to be held in June 2020. The results from the evaluation of the SUCCESS PLUS scheme is being prepared as a manuscript to be submitted to the Journal of pedagogical research.


Chilean Arpilleras as an assessment method 

Prof. Patience Schell, School of Language, Literature, Music & Visual Culture 

Name and code of course to which the example relates: SP35/45PC (2019-2020 year but the assessment was trialled in 2016-2017)

Number of students affected: 25

During which session did this take place: Second half session, 2019-2020

Context: I teach an honours course on women’s history in Chile and Mexico and was aware that a colleague at Queen’s University Belfast had used arpilleras, a Chilean fabric mural, as a form of assessment in one of her classes. For me, assessing with arpilleras offers students a chance to be more creative and it connects to the course themes. Arpilleras emerged as a women’s art form during the dictatorship (1973-1990) and usually depict scenes of everyday life. The spread of this art is interlinked with women’s coping and survival strategies, as arpilleras were sold in Chile and abroad, both to raise money for struggling families but also to raise awareness of the military dictatorship. Thus, I asked students to create a research-based arpillera and write a 1,000-word commentary about their research and the process. They were not assessed on artistic merit, but rather on research, process of work and conception.

Activity: I organise an in-class two-hour workshop training students to make arpillera dolls, as I was taught by Roberta Bacic. To ensure the students engage with each other, and with the exercise, I supply limited materials and tools. With only a few pairs of scissors, students have to borrow and share. In the session I offer focused training for students who have less experience in crafting. Afterwards, students come up with their topics and design/create the arpillera (I regularly check in with them in class to help with research and technical issues). At the end of class, I organise a reception, with food and drink that I provide, to display the arpilleras. Students are always amazed by the creativity and quality demonstrated by the arpilleras. They are also moved and engaged to hear more about the stories which the arpilleras depict and the stories that emerged during their making.

How did you evaluate the effectiveness of the activity? The arpilleras draw students to the course; they are eager to be more creative and they understand the logic in creating an arpillera in a course about Chilean women’s history. During the course, the experiential aspect got them into the historical issues with ‘head, heart and hands’. After the course, I found student feedback entirely positive about the arpilleras. A typical SCEF comment is: ‘I felt more engaged and creative, rather than having to do another essay which can get a bit mundane sometimes’. The external examiner was highly impressed with the quality of student work, both their reflections and the arpilleras. Students have continued to be involved with their arpilleras, as all have been invited to contribute to the work towards creating the library exhibition ‘Sewing Resistance: Teaching through Chilean Textile Art’ and the on-going public engagement activities; students have spoken publicly, written exhibition labels and hosted doll-making workshops.

Impact of the activity: Students understand aspects of Chilean history in an experiential way, which they could not get without the arpilleras. The arpilleras build a strong sense of community amongst the students. Students told me that the assessment was something they discussed with family and friends, as they felt emotionally involved with the history via their arpilleras. One student told me that they would all remember making the arpilleras for the rest of their lives. The exhibition also offers stories about Chilean and Mexican women’s history to the university community, as well as the wider community in the Northeast, and visitors who come from further away. Having their assessment exhibited in the library has been exciting and validating for the students. When they first saw the exhibition, they were amazed at how good their work looks and were delighted with how professional the exhibition itself is.

Dissemination: I have discussed assessing with arpilleras at university T&L fora and this assessment has been featured in Staffnews as an example of learning and teaching good practice. The exhibition, ‘Sewing Resistance: Teaching through Chilean Textile Art’, at the Sir Duncan Rice Library (10 October 2019-31 May 2020) further disseminates the assessment. Academics from other universities (including Leeds, Liverpool, Birmingham and Birkbeck) have found the exhibition inspirational, as their tweets indicate, and hope to be more creative in their assessments. In November, I have hosted two arpillera doll-making workshops, one for the PG school (in a session focused on ‘Practice-Based Research’) and one for the public via the Festival of Social Science. Further exhibition events are planned, and the exhibition has featured in the Evening Express (https://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/fp/news/local/colourful-crafting-exhibition-opens-in-aberdeen/). Previously, I hosted arpillera doll-making workshops for the Hispanic Society and for the former College of Arts and Social Science women’s network.