Guest post#21: Dr Sarah Lewthwaite: Working in collaboration to develop the teaching of big qual analysis

Dr Sarah Lewthwaite, Research Fellow in the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) and Southampton Education School, University of Southampton, contributes today’s guest post. Sarah has expertise in the learning and teaching of advanced research methods, as well as, the intersections between critical theory, accessibility, new technologies and student experience in higher education.

In this blog, Sarah draws on a recent NCRM collaborative project – Big Qual Analysis: Innovation in Teaching and Method – which sought to advance the capacities of researchers who work with archived qualitative material from multiple data sets and of trainers who deliver the teaching of research methods.

Sarah and her colleague Prof Melanie Nind worked with the Big Qual team to build capacity in the learning and teaching of our breath-and-depth method for big qual analysis. Sarah discusses some of the steps we took to collaborate in our pedagogic development.

Working in collaboration to develop the teaching of big qual analysis

Research teams increasingly collaborate across complex divides. Working in geographically distributed, interdisciplinary and cross-functional teams can be challenging – particularly in areas of methodological innovation, such as big qual. Added to this, the impetus to build research capacity in cutting-edge methods can mean research teams become teaching teams. Collaborating as a teaching team adds complexity, in several key areas.

Traditionally, research methods teaching has lacked ‘pedagogical culture’, with an absence of resources, research and discursive material that methods teachers can draw upon to develop teaching. This matters because methods are pedagogically distinctive in the social sciences. Learners require theoretical understanding, procedural knowledge and technical skill (Kilburn, Nind and Wiles 2014), as well as an ability to put forward a method whilst simultaneously subjecting that method to sustained scrutiny (Bourdieu 1992). Methods education can also be characterised by a focus on teaching with and through data (Lewthwaite and Nind 2016). Such requirements demand certain pedagogic responses – fostering reflexivity, learning by doing, and so forth. Experiential learning has been cited as the ‘signature’ pedagogy of qualitative research; however, when conducting research with archives, ‘experience’ and notions of the ‘field’ are redefined. This gestures to particular ‘pedagogic content knowledge’ (or PCK), (Shulman 1986) – the pedagogic specificity – of working with archives and big qual analysis, amongst qualitative methods. Collaborating to develop PCK for big qual analysis from scratch is a challenge. Whilst acknowledging that context, learners, and different modes of teaching all impact on PCK, to begin to answer this challenge, we found the following steps useful in facilitating joint working.

1. Develop shared pedagogic language

Advanced research methods are frequently taught by content experts; researchers who may not have a background in education. As a result, talk about pedagogy may not come easily. To facilitate conversations, we worked with the Big Qual team to develop a 2-page glossary of pedagogic terms (Lewthwaite and Nind 2018), offering definitions of salient pedagogies with which to work. Beginning these conversations, teams may find that they have already invested methodological language with pedagogy, in methodological writing, conference presentations and seminars. With tools for dialogue, such implicit pedagogic knowledge can be more readily made explicit. These are verdant starting points for teaching teams.

2. Sequence content

The Big Qual team employed a metaphor for a ‘breadth-and-depth’ method for big qual analysis (Davidson, Edwards, Jamieson and Weller 2019) dividing the method into four steps. This sequenced approach provided a useful framework both for the ordering and chunking of content in class, and the division of labour for the teaching team, in planning and delivery. Importantly, in practice this raised three key issues. First, the necessity of stressing the whole of the method – and maintaining a logical, iterative thread that connects across the steps (e.g. the use of a worked example across the piece)– so a method isn’t reduced to its constitute parts. Second, orientating students within this framework, so they can understand at any given point where they are in the relation to the overview. Third, the importance of step-by-step annotated lesson plans. These detailed who was responsible for what, the timing and the nature of delivery at every stage. In a distributed team, where physical planning meetings are difficult, annotated lesson plans, and the sharing of presentation slides and notes, handouts and materials (linked below), were crucial to the team as a whole for grasping what would happen and when. As a shared teacher-resource, the lesson plan could then be developed after teaching, on the basis of team reflection and student feedback, to see where improvements could be made.

3. Pedagogic dialogue and reflection

The sharing of materials gestures to how teaching might be done, but does not address potential pedagogic conflict amongst individuals within a team. Pedagogy evokes values and approaches, as well as discrete actions. To this end, it is useful to discuss as a team underlying assumptions concerning what the teaching will convey to learners. How and why are the team invested in these methods, or particular ways of teaching it? What is the team trying to articulate when they articulate the method? Will teaching be student-centred and dialogic? Will it call upon learner expertise? To this end, dialogue and reflection on teaching is essential to the development of coherent team-teaching. Innovative methods frequently rely upon incremental advance rather than revolution (Wiles, Bengry-Howell, Crow and Nind 2013), so drawing upon prior experience and teaching resources can offer a useful way into teaching, but these must be (re)purposed effectively to the task at hand. Using cycles of planning, action and reflection helps to develop teaching. Learning from each other (building a local pedagogical culture), through discussion, is essential. In our work, we proposed a typology of pedagogy for methodological learning, to facilitate discussion and draw out implicit and unreflected knowledge. This encourages teachers to reflect upon their teaching approaches, strategies, tactics and tasks (moving from an approach – how a teacher goes about their pedagogic work in a way that coheres around a theory, principles or a set of values to the operational, task level – what it is learners are required to do. See Nind & Lewthwaite, f/c). By attending to values in both pedagogy and method, teams are better equipped to address sticky questions. For example, when teaching with secondary data, particularly teaching and learning challenges are raised. Archives can be challenging for learners, being built predominantly for archiving – rather than teaching or learning. When getting learners ‘hands-on’ with an archive, should learners be able to generate or apply their own (authentic) search terms to the archive? Or should teachers supply a tried-and-tested route through Search? A learner-generated search approach may be more engaging, being authentically connected to a learners research interests. However, the search may not return any data. This is an authentic lesson in the potential frustrations of archival research, but it may disengage students from the method at an early stage. Alternatively, teacher-guided search can ensure students can access and navigate data, but without offering a ‘teachable moment’ regarding the difficulty of archival search. By considering team values – such sticky issues can be evaluated for more informed pedagogic decision-making. Is authentic and experimental learning foremost? Or is modelling, exposition and demonstration paramount at an early stage? Do the team want to prioritise student-centred, or teacher-led approaches? How and when should these change?

This is one of the pedagogic issues specific to big qual analysis that will arise in teaching (another example gravitates around learner diversity – how to bridge the divergent qualitative and quantitative understandings). However, by using active and reflexive approaches to pedagogic development in dialogue, as a team, team-teaching can be hugely beneficial. Come together to debrief after teaching. Collect meaningful student feedback for team reflection. Look for ways to smooth transitions between teachers, and broker more communal pedagogic content knowledge. Feeding into and out of this process is an impetus to share your approaches, strategies, tactics and tasks with peers and wider teaching networks. We have sought to do this with the Teaching Big Qual Analysis: Innovation in method and pedagogy project. In this way, pedagogical culture can be built, to sustain methodological developments and build a resource base that wider publics can benefit from.

For other teaching resources stemming from the Big Qual Analysis – Innovation in Method and Pedagogy project, please visit:


Bourdieu, P. (1992) “The Practice of Reflexive Sociology (The Paris Workshop)”, in An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, edited by P. Bourdieu and L. Wacquant, 217–260. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Davidson, E., Edwards, R., Jamieson, L. & Weller, S. (2019) Big data, Qualitative style: a breadth-and-depth method for working with large amounts of secondary qualitative data. Quality and Quantity. 53(363): 363-376.

Kilburn, D., Nind, M., and Wiles, R.A. (2014) “Learning as Researchers and Teachers: The Development of a Pedagogical Culture for Social Science Research Methods?.” British Journal of Educational Studies. 62(2): 191–207.

Lewthwaite S. and Nind, M. (2016) Teaching Research Methods in the Social Sciences: Expert Perspectives on Pedagogy and Practice, British Journal of Educational Studies. 64(4): 413-430.

Lewthwaite, S. and Nind, M. (2018) A glossary for methods teachingNCRM quick start guide. Manual. NCRM.

Nind, M. and Lewthwaite, S. (f/c) A conceptual-empirical typology of social science research methods pedagogy. Research Papers in Education.

Shulman, L. (1986) Those who understand: knowledge growth in teaching, Educational Researcher. 15(2): 4–14.

Wiles, R., Bengry-Howell, A., Crow, G. and Nind, M. (2013) But is it innovation? The development of novel methodological approaches in qualitative research. Methodological Innovations Online. 8(1): 18-33.

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