Drawing on popular culture to teach qualitative research methods

As we end another year and prepare for a new one, many people will likely be revising their course syllabi for teaching qualitative research methods in 2022. If you need a bit of inspiration, here are some ideas from a range of scholars on how to incorporate popular media in teaching qualitative research. Enjoy!


Kara and Brooks (2020) discussed how comics can be used to assist novice interviewers think about issues related to using the interview method. Written by Helen Kara and illustrated by Sophie Jackson, Conversation with a purpose is a comic illustrating a novice interviewer’s experiences learning how to conduct interviews.

Sally Campbell Galman has published several texts in which she uses comics to discuss qualitative research methods. For example, check out her books on ethnography (Galman, 2007), qualitative data analysis (Galman, 2016), and using ethnography to conduct research with children (Galman, 2018).


A number of scholars have discussed how games can be used to teach qualitative research methods. Waite (2011) discussed how to use a deck of playing cards to teach qualitative data analysis; Sandlyn and Hautzinger (2013) described the use of the game Set®, a game created by population geneticist Marsha Jean Falco, as an activity to teach qualitative research design and analysis; and Mallette and Saldaña (2019) talked about how the party game Pickles to Penguins can be used in teaching qualitative data analysis.


There are numerous ways to use films in teaching qualitative research. For example, I’ve used excerpts from films in teaching ethnographic observations (Latcho Drom [1993]; The Straight Story [1999]) and interviewing (Bowling for Columbine [2002]). And coursework on research ethics in social research can be supplemented through the use of films concerning actual research studies (e.g., Miss Evers’ Boys [1997]; The Stanford Prison Experiment [2015]; Experimenter [2015]; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks [2017]). Of course, some of these films (e.g., Miss Evers’ Boys and Stanford Prison Experiment) are not completely accurate depictions, so students would benefit from reading written accounts (Reverby, 2009; Zimbardo, 2007). Nevertheless, I’ve found that viewing films instead of reading written accounts provides another way for students to engage with the larger ideas and concepts that I hope to convey in a course.

In addition to using films in teaching research ethics as already mentioned, Saldaña (2008) discussed how films can be used to teach epistemology and ontology, reasoning and assertion, phenomenology, and data analysis, among other topics.


And of course, music can be used in a variety of ways. Kranke et al. (2016) discussed the use of song lyrics in teaching qualitative data analysis, while Cosgrove (2018) used different musical genres as a metaphor to discuss validity in qualitative inquiry. One could easily imagine how music could be used in multiple ways in qualitative coursework.

Media interviews

Finally, Brigette Herron and I (2021) have used interviews from popular media as tools for encouraging students to critically reflect on the mechanics of interview interaction as one step in the process of learning to conduct interviews. We have used interviews from archived collections and popular media as a starting point for novice researchers to examine others’ interview practices prior to conducting and/or analyzing their own interview practices.

If you have suggestions for how teachers of qualitative research methods can make use of popular media in their courses, send me an email, and I’ll share those with other readers.

And wishing you a happy and healthy 2022. Qualpage will take a break for the next two weeks, and will be back in the new year.

Kathy Roulston


Cosgrove, P. B. (2018). Teaching an elusive phenomenon: Qualitative research, validity, and the cover of the Big Tent. International Review of Qualitative Research, 11(3), 318-333. https://doi.org/10.1525/irqr.2018.11.3.318 %J

Galman, S. C. (2007). Shane, the lone ethnographer: A beginner’s guide to ethnography. Altamira Press.

Galman, S. C. (2016). The good, the bad, and the data: Shane the lone ethnographer’s basic guide to qualitative data analysis. Routledge.

Galman, S. C. (2018). Naptime at the OK Corral: Shane’s beginner’s guide to childhood ethnography. Routledge.

Herron, B. A., & Roulston, K. (2021). Slowing down and digging deep: Teaching students to examine interview interaction in depth. LEARNing Landscapes, 14(1), 153-169. https://doi.org/10.36510/learnland.v14i1.1031

Kara, H., & Brooks, J. (2020). The potential role of comics in teaching qualitative research methods. The Qualitative Report, 25(7), 1754-1765. https://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol25/iss7/2

Kranke, D., Constantine Brown, J. L., Danesh, S., & Watson, A. (2016). Ideas in action: Teaching qualitative analytic methods in social work research through the analysis of song lyrics. Social Work Education, 35(2), 229-235. https://doi.org/10.1080/02615479.2015.1129398

Mallette, L. A., & Saldaña, J. (2019). Teaching qualitative data analysis through gaming. Qualitative Inquiry, 25(9-10), 1085-1090. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800418789458

Reverby, S. (2009). Examining Tuskegee: The infamous syphilis study and its legacy. Chapel Hill.

Saldaña, J. (2008). Popular film as an instructional strategy in qualitative research methods courses. Qualitative Inquiry, 15(1), 247-261. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800408318323

Scandlyn, J., & Hautzinger, S. (2013). Playing Set® to Discover Qualitative Data Analysis. The Qualitative Report18(41), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.46743/2160-3715/2013.1457

Waite, D. (2011, 12/01/). A simple card trick: Teaching qualitative data analysis using a deck of playing cards. Qualitative Inquiry, 17(10), 982-985. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1077800411425154

Zimbardo, P. G. (2007). The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. Random House Trade Paperbacks.

2 thoughts on “Drawing on popular culture to teach qualitative research methods

  1. How fabulous to see all these resources in one place! I’ve found such benefit of using drawing and games for research and love seeing how others are using and applying it to work with others. Thanks so much Kathy!


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