The QUAN Gong: An undisciplined (and delightfully silly) experience of learning to do qualitative research

In about week three of my winter semester graduate course on Qualitative Research Methods (which I colloquially refer to as QUAL), one of my colleagues stopped me in the hall and asked me how it was going. I paused, then replied as follows: “I forget that students never expect learning about QUAL to be life-changing. But it is!”

When my colleague stopped me to chat, my ten students and I were well into stage one of their QUAL course journey, or what I’ve taken to calling “the nosedive.” This is where we’re busily uncovering, day after day, all of the ways in which quantitative research (which I colloquially refer to as QUAN) and its associated beliefs about reality and how we can make knowledge about reality are revealed to be latent in so much of our everyday thinking about the world, let alone our thinking about research.

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The Irony is Not Lost on Me

It does not get any more undisciplined then this.  20 minutes before class: I am looking for liquid paper to label some polarizers so my P22 students can use them to explore quantum superposition and entanglement.  Shouldn’t I have had this all prepared before the term?  And what do I think I am doing, exposing non-physics majors to a field that Richard Feynman famously quipped “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” These are advanced physics topics more appropriate to Graduate courses – not a P-level course.  Something clearly does not add up here.

Where did it begin: my department head asked me to teach a course with no prerequisites (i.e., no math) that would be of interest to non-physics majors.  Right away we have a problem. You see, I am kind of a physics person. So I go with what I think are the five most important frontiers of current research –

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The Joy of Teaching

Oops! Surely the title of my blog is a mistake? Did the ‘find and replace’ function accidently substitute ‘joy’ for ‘importance’. The answer is no. ‘The joy of teaching’ is the correct title.

I confess that I did not use the word ‘joy’ to describe my teaching experiences until recently. If I had written this blog 20 years ago, I would have used a different title: ‘The cost of teaching’. Since ‘cost’ has an obvious negative inference, the selection of this word deserves a brief explanation. In keeping with standard practices in the biomedical sciences, most of my teaching at the start of my career was textbook based and it placed a high priority on factual recall. In other words, the information was often dated and it was usually dull. In contrast, my research was exciting, highly demanding, and exceptionally rewarding. Thus, the time I spent teaching was assigned to the ‘lost’ column relative to the time I spent in the lab.

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Imposter Syndrome in Higher Education and its Impact on Marginalized Students

A couple of days ago, I walked out of my last final exam, having just completed my first semester of law school. In the last few months, I have learned more than I ever have in such a short time. And yet, many sleepless nights, study guides and dried out highlighters later, the classes were not as difficult to overcome as the consistent feeling of not being good enough to be here.

In higher education, students who consistently fall through the cracks of the common narrative — whose values and experiences are not reflected in the general population of their institutions, in the mandatory curriculum, in the campus culture — often feel undeserving of the space they occupy.

The reasons for this rampant imposter syndrome among female-identifying students, students of colour, students with mental illnesses, and all the intersections in between, is far more complex than one article can explain.

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Cultivating “Whole Person” Education at Queen’s

Here at Queen’s, we have a strong culture of collective responsibility for student learning that transcends disciplines. The elaboration of common learning outcomes, creation of a network dedicated to cognitive skill-building, and launch of an experiential learning hub are just three recent initiatives that embody this cosmopolitan spirit. Pan-university projects such as these invite us to reflect on shared education goals as a community and to re-think our teaching in light of them. These initiatives have re-animated my own interest in fundamental questions about the goals of higher education and how we assess them.

Valuing what we can’t easily measure in student learning and development

As Ontario moves further in the direction of outcomes-based funding for higher education, universities face the risk of emphasizing cognitive and performance aspects of learning that lend themselves to easy measurement, at the expense of its less tangible dimensions.

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