Learning by Doing: Student Experiences in a Mixed Methods Research Course
The purpose of this paper is to detail the experiential learning processes of an 11-week doctoral-level intermediate mixed methods research (MMR) course in which student-researchers conceptualized and implemented an MMR study to apply theoretical and methodological learning in a practical manner. Our aim is to emphasize the value of an applied MMR course for improved student learning and curriculum planning for faculty by highlighting meaningful insights on study design, data integration, team collaboration, and the challenges and opportunities involved in project execution within a time-limited academic course.
MMR courses are increasingly being integrated into graduate programs, yet few offer intermediate or advanced courses that go beyond introductory topics and engage students in applied learning. Furthermore, most articles on MMR courses are written from the instructor perspective and not from the student perspective.
This article is organized by each week of the course curriculum, and the output of the research project, couched within reflections of the applied process, is presented. While this paper is grounded in an experiential reflection of learning, the research project itself is referred to frequently to help elucidate and capture this learning in a systematic way. The applied study employed an explanatory sequential mixed methods design to examine career satisfaction and career preference changes over time in doctoral candidates and graduates.
This paper contributes to higher education by providing a student-led exemplar of applied learning in MMR pedagogy for doctoral students irrespective of discipline and research topic. It provides a sample research project, executed start to finish with a guiding blueprint that can be adapted by faculty and students in various academic departments, within a quarter or semester long course.
Ultimately, this course led to increased confidence and preparation to conduct interdisciplinary mixed methods research. Unique to mixed methods research, the areas in which we witnessed the most growth included developing mixed methods research questions, choosing a design based on these questions, and engaging in data integration.
We provide the following recommendations to instructors interested in developing intermediate- or advanced-level MMR courses: a) obtain input from students on what they are most interested in learning during course conceptualization or early on in implementation; b) consider that a great deal of time outside of the classroom may need to be dedicated to the class project, which may impact the feasibility and successful execution of an experiential course; and c) sufficient class time is dedicated to data integration from quantitative and qualitative inputs.
Researchers interested in further examining learning and proficiency garnered from MMR and other research courses may benefit from including students as co-researchers. In addition, engaging in systematic qualitative research on student and professor experiences in learning and teaching MMR courses could highlight further areas for course refinement and topics for future research.
Given the increasing prevalence of MMR being included in research funding announcements as a preferred methodology, it is imperative to rigorously train researchers in mixed methods research at varying levels of advancement (i.e., introductory, intermediate, and advanced).
Our small explanatory sequential mixed methods study began as a class project, yet highlighted areas that could be studied further for doctoral candidates and graduates in clinically oriented fields, such as learning what types or qualities of training and mentorship may yield more career preparedness and satisfaction.