Teaching Qualitative Inquiry

There are numerous ways to learn how to teach qualitative research methods. Prior to the advent of formal coursework, scholars were quite literally assigned to develop and teach coursework on qualitative methods that they had not taken themselves. Over the last 20 years, however, qualitative scholars have been generous in sharing resources to do with learning and teaching qualitative inquiry. For example, see Ron Chenail’s Compendium of Teaching and Learning Qualitative Research Resources.

Because so much material is now online, it is also possible to explore what other instructors do. That is what my students and I have been doing this week: examining syllabi for coursework in qualitative research methods. My students located syllabi in colleges of education, health, social work, sociology, organizational development, kinesiology, and tourism and recreation. Some of the courses were interdisciplinary in nature, while others were focused on providing an understanding of qualitative research methods as practiced in a specific disciplinary context. While this survey showed some commonalities in the activities and readings used by instructors across North America, it also revealed how scholars are teaching qualitative inquiry in innovative ways.

Reviewing others’ syllabi reminds me to think about the decision points I need to make in both the design of courses and the updates that occur every semester. For example:

  • What are the goals of the course?
  • What should students know and be able to do after having taken the course?
  • What, if any, are pre-requisites that students need prior to taking the course?
  • How does a course fit within a larger sequence of courses?
  • How can students’ learning be supported by:
    • Class activities and assignments?
    • Readings and texts?
  • How will students’ learning be assessed?
  • How does the delivery of the course (face-to-face, hybrid, online) impact the course design and organization?

We’ve also been reading Teaching qualitative research: Strategies for engaging emerging scholars, by Raji Swaminathan and Thalia Mulvihill (2018). This book not only provides numerous ideas for designing qualitative coursework, but reflective questions that any instructor can use to think about what works, what does not, and how courses can be continuously revised.

For anyone interested in experimenting with how to teach qualitative inquiry, Candace Kuby and Rebecca Christ’s recently published book, Speculative pedagogies of qualitative inquiry (2020) asks readers to think anew about teaching qualitative research. Drawing on ideas from Karen Barad (2007) and Deleuze and Guattari (1987), Kuby and Christ invite readers to follow multiple lines of flight through the book by reading chapters in any order. Throughout the book, the authors explore the meanings of words they selected (uncertain, (w)rest(full), relational, liveliness) through the process of “(re)etymologizing” them to “(re)think” “(en)query”. The authors assert that by “finding meaning and troubling meaning of words at the same time,” readers can begin to “think differently about what these words (can) do” (p. 7). This book will appeal to instructors who would like to explore post-qualitative approaches to teaching and learning qualitative inquiry.

The book is organized with an introduction and six chapters that are interspersed with “rabbit holes.” These are short artistic and textual engagements with unanticipated paths that the authors’ approach to teaching took them. Kuby and Christ draw on students’ accounts of their experiences in qualitative coursework, so readers also gain a sense of how students oriented to this approach to learning and teaching. For example, one student wrote, “The course built up stamina in me and also forced me to trust the process and the messiness of coming to better understand complex topics filled with ‘gray-ness’” (p. 56). Unsurprisingly, the idea of “messiness” throughout the process of both learning about qualitative research and doing research recurs throughout the book. This book recognizes both learning and doing qualitative inquiry as always unfinished and incomplete, while providing paths to “uncertain, (w)rest(full), relational liveliness” (p. 154). Rather than arriving at points of conclusion and certainty, learners and their instructors navigate uncertainty, ambiguity, and the process of becoming rather than arrival. For instructors willing to take risks and employ unconventional means to engage students with the complex topics entailed in learning about the range of approaches to qualitative inquiry, Kuby and Christ’s book will provoke many questions, and, one hopes, novel lines of flights in as-yet-to-be-thought directions.

Similar to the syllabi that my students and I have surveyed this week, these two books provide diverse approaches to learning and teaching qualitative inquiry. It’s exciting to see much more writing and research on teaching and learning qualitative research. In their review of literature on teaching qualitative research published from 1999 to 2013, Wagner et al. (2019) observed that authors focused on a range to topics, including experiential learning, practice-based materials, course structure, peer or collaborative work, apprenticeship model, competence of instructors, and teaching resources (p. 10). Overall though, Wagner et al. (2019) asserted that there is a lack of empirical research on how qualitative research methods courses are taught and what the outcomes are for students. Over the next decade, I expect that there will be much more empirical research on teaching and learning qualitative inquiry as instructors examine these topics.

You can find more resources on teaching qualitative research here.

Kathy Roulston


Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Duke University Press.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). University of Minnesota Press.

Kuby, C. R., & Christ, R. C. (2020). Speculative pedagogies of qualitative inquiry. Routledge.

Swaminathan, R., & Mulvihill, T. M. (2018). Teaching qualitative research: Strategies for engaging emerging scholars. The Guilford Press.

Wagner, C., Kawulich, B., & Garner, M. (2019). A mixed research synthesis of literature on teaching qualitative research methods. SAGE Open, 1-18. https://doi.org/DOI:10.1177/2158244019861488

3 thoughts on “Teaching Qualitative Inquiry

  1. I want to thanks for your time for this wonderful Article!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.


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