By Gary Lewandowski Jr., Ph.D., Monmouth University
If you’re anything like me when I was a graduate student, the thought of teaching a research methods course is a bit intimidating. Regardless, if you only teach one course as a graduate student, make it research methods.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a “what doesn't kill you makes you stronger” or “graduate school is supposed to be hard” types of argument. Rather, I think there are several highly pragmatic reasons why teaching research methods courses:
1) Supply and Demand
Nearly every psychology department offers a research methods course, with 99% of psychology departments reporting its inclusion in their curriculum (Stoloff et al., 2010). Someone needs to cover those courses, so if you’re interested in teaching research methods, supply and demand works in your favor. If you can demonstrate that you’re an especially good methods teacher, your chances of getting a job are likely even greater.
2) Students Don’t Like It
I realize that heading sounds like a reason NOT to teach research methods, but hear me out. Research suggests that students enter methods courses with unfavorable attitudes (Sizemore & Lewandowski, 2009). Why is this good? Well, it means students harbor really low expectations about the methods course. If you do a better than average job teaching methods and are able to engage them, the students will likely rejoice. Contrast this with courses where student expectations are likely higher (e.g., Intro, Abnormal, or Social Psychology). There, you may have to be considerably better than average to earn positive evaluations and you can be sure that positive teaching evaluations are an asset when hitting the job market.
3) The Times They Are a Changin’
To change students’ attitudes about research methods, you need to change up the way the course is typically taught. First, a little bad news. Despite positive gains in understanding methods course content, students’ attitudes toward their methods course were worse at the end of the course compared to their (already not so sunny) attitudes from the start of the semester (Sizemore & Lewandowski, 2009).
Importantly, those data were in the context of a traditional methods course that was dominated by memorizing terms and reviewing content, delivered in a primarily lecture format. My colleagues and I all successfully learned methods this way, so simply gave way to tradition and were repeating the pattern. But given this data, we also knew we needed to do something different so we decided to completely overhaul the course, essentially moving away from the traditional lecture style toward a more modern approach. We lecture less, students do more hands-on designing studies, thinking through design issues, and problem-solving. Not surprisingly students like methods a whole lot more and see methods as more useful, while still learning the same amount of material (Ciarocco, Lewandowski, Jr., & Van Volkom, 2013). A hidden bonus: the course is MUCH more enjoyable to teach.
4) It Is Easier Than You Think
When you’re earlier in your teaching career you’re naturally more flexible and not overly influenced by the inertia of how you’ve taught a course the past 10 years. If you are ever going to teach research methods in a new and dynamic way, it will never be easier to do that than right now. Because you’re newer, you don’t have bad habits to break or old methods notes to rewrite. Plus, there are lots of resources to help. I spent last summer creating the Instructor Resources Manual for our new methods textbook, Discovering the Scientist Within, and was amazed at all of the great resources that I found. Whether it is an interesting article that you have students reach to exemplify a design, a class demonstration of internal validity, lab activities, videos, or popular press articles that exemplify concepts, there is a wealth of resources out there (There are many freely available resources for methods and statistics curated on www.TeachPsychScience.org).
5) Brush Up on Your Skills
It is often said that you don’t truly know if you understand something until you try to explain it to someone else. That was certainly my experience. As a graduate student I was doing a ton of research and reading more studies than you can imagine. I thought I was an expert. But it wasn’t until I taught methods myself as a graduate student that I really understood methods. Breaking it down for others forces you to know it on a deeper level and to learn designs and techniques that your subfield may not use as frequently.
6) Foster Students’ Skills
My textbook coauthors Natalie Ciarocco, Dave Strohmetz, and I often refer to our methods course at Monmouth as an “Employers’ Dream Course.” The National Association of Colleges and Employers (2014) lists the top 5 skills employers want college graduates to have as: critical thinking/problem solving, teamwork, professionalism/work ethic, oral/written communication, and information technology application. Our approach to teaching methods, which includes lots of collaborative group work designing mini-studies, analyzing them, writing up a report, and presenting to the class, all in short periods of time, hits on every skill employers want. We realize that most of our students are not destined to be full time researchers so helping them cultivate employable skills in the context of their methods course not only makes the course more valuable, but helps them see additional value.
But the best reason you should teach research methods as a graduate student is that, done well, the course is a lot of fun. There also is nothing more gratifying than expanding students’ view of psychology and getting the chance to introduce students to the joy of science.
Ciarocco, N. J., Lewandowski, G. W., Jr., & Van Volkom, M. (2013). The impact of a multifaceted approach to teaching research methods on students' attitudes. Teaching of Psychology, 40, 20-25. doi:10.1177/0098628312465859
National Association of Colleges and Employers (2014). The skills/qualities employers want in new college graduate hires. Retrieved from http://www.naceweb.orghttp://www.naceweb.org/
Sizemore, O.J., & Lewandowski, G. W., Jr. (2009). Learning might not equal liking: Research methods course changes knowledge but not attitudes. Teaching of Psychology, 36, 90-95. doi:10.1080/00986280902739727
Stoloff, M., McCarthy, M., Keller, L., Varfolomeeva, V., Lynch, J., Makara, K., & ... Smiley, W. (2010). The undergraduate psychology major: An examination of structure and sequence. Teaching of Psychology, 37, 4-15. doi:10.1080/00986280903426274