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Engaging postgraduate students in mixed methods: the use of a novel activity to teach data integration and synthesis

Rebecca JohnsonThe aim of this project is to foster health sciences students' learning of the concepts and techniques of synthesising research of different types. This can be conceptually challenging, given different epistemological approaches of qualitative and quantitative research.

To meet this aim, we use an open-space teaching activity developed by Dr Nick Monk of IATL. His 'theory building exercise' for students presented different types of 'evidences' along the same topic (e.g. Climate Change) depicted on sheets of A4. Students work in groups to make sense of the topic in any way they choose. The students work together and create a narrative from the materials they have. Each A4 page has text, picture, graph/data points, quotes or screenshots on it. We translate this activity into a health sciences research format. We use complex and contemporary health topics such as the recent Ebola outbreak, concepts of healthy eating, and the MMR vaccine.

By forming a narrative as a group, the students can begin to understand the principles related to synthesising different data types. After a short teaching session, these basic principles of mixed method synthesis are put into action. Student groups are asked to plan a mixed method synthesis using a research question and several topical journal articles of various methodological types. They work in their groups to agree an approach to how they would synthesise the given data. We will record the sessions and feedback. All of the content is collaboratively developed by the PI and a PhD student with an interest in mixed methods.

We aim to enliven our students to understand several key concepts using this innovative and tactile approach. We will use the activity as a 'launching pad' for students to learn:

  • The epistemological challenges of combining different types of data
  • Data synthesis comprehension
  • The process of data integration - for example combining and appraising quantitative and qualitative results on the same subject area.
  • The experience of different perspectives of fellow students – for example, to illustrate experientially how many perspectives can be both different and yet valid.

Rebecca Johnson's research interests lie in the intersection of social sciences, epidemiology and public health practice. She focusses on three areas of study: the design and integration of qualitative and quantitative data; the improvement of 'healthy lifestyles' (e.g. public mental health and wellbeing, physical activity and increased fruit and vegetable consumption); and improving health intervention implementation and evaluation using novel approaches.

Marie Murphy is a Research Student in Health Sciences. Her research explores the factors influencing childhood obesity across ethnic groups in Coventry using a mixed methods design of quantitative data analysis and qualitative interviews and focus groups.

Final report - mixed methods teaching activity video

(PDF Document) Interim report
(PDF Document) Appendix 1
(PDF Document) Appendix 2

(PDF Document) Final report
(See below for a video on the mixed methods teaching activity)