Introducing Students to Empirical Research Methods Through Digitally Mediated Assignments

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Frédérik Lesage, School of Communication

Project team: Jan Marontate and Christopher Jeschelnik, School of Communication, and Yuji Zhang, Research Assistant

Timeframe: January to September 2014

Funding: $5000

Course addressed: CMNS 260 – Empirical Communication Research Methods

Final report: View Frédérik Lesage's final project report (PDF)

Description: This project seeks to develop innovative approaches for teaching undergraduate students fundamentals in social scientific research design and analysis using digitally mediated communications. In the School of Communication, Empirical Communication Research Methods (CMNS 260) is a course with long wait lists. It is also one of the few Q courses offered by the School and is appealing to students because it offers students an opportunity to put empirical research methods into practice through hands-on experience in labs, tutorials and assignments related to their field of study.  Many students are on the wait list for this course for several terms before they can enroll, creating a bottleneck that affects student registration for the entire School, and, sadly results in students taking the course near the end of their undergraduate program, rather than in second year, which means they are unable to gain the knowledge of methods presented in this course in the work they do their upper-year courses.  The bottleneck also drives some students to apply for Q courses outside the School, but many prefer to delay graduation until they manage to register in this course, which extends their total time to completion of their degree.

The enrollment capacity of course could conceivably be expanded with larger lecture classrooms for the lecture portion of the course. However the current capacity of rooms used for labs and tutorials is very limited.  One solution to meet this student demand may be to develop an online version of the course and another is to develop digitally mediated practical assignments that can be conducted outside of the labs.  But since the underlying pedagogical strategy of the course design emphasizes students learning through practice in the contexts of labs, tutorials, and group projects, we need to ensure that CMNS 260–in all of its iterations–provides students with the same kind of opportunities to engage with the different stages of empirical research that we currently provide through the current course design.

This project will begin by conducting research to gain a better understanding of what is possible with the online tools currently at our disposal and what potential solutions others have found for similar courses.  We will then develop plans for how such solutions might be adapted for our course design as it now stands and test them if appropriate. Finally, we will draft an online version of the course based on the findings from the previous two stages.

Questions addressed:

  • What digitally mediated assignments and activities are currently being used at SFU and elsewhere to provide students with an introduction to the different stages of empirical research methods?
  • How can such assignments and activities be adapted for the current CMNS 260 syllabus?
  • How can these assignments and activities be incorporated into an online version of CMNS 260?

Knowledge sharing: We will share the results of the research with colleagues in the School of Communication who use empirical research assignments as part of their course designs. We will also contribute a poster to SFU’s Teaching and Learning Symposium.

Lesage, F. (2014, April). CMNS260 curriculum incubator, leaning into learning: An FCAT exchange forum on dynamic teaching practices. Presentation in the Faculty of Communication, Art, and Technology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.

Lesage, F., Marontate, J., Jeschelnik, C., & Zhang, Y. (2014, May). Introducing empirical research methods with digitally mediated environments. Poster session presented at the Symposium on Teaching and Learning: Provocative Pedagogy, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.