If institutions of higher education are to remain at the forefront of the knowledge-generating enterprise, the nature of graduate-level teaching must be critically examined. Exploring the manner in which discussion is facilitated in a seminar-like context offers one avenue for attaining this understanding. This study aims to shed light on the prevalence, purpose, and form of discussion facilitation practices that were observed in a small group setting within a social science academic program at a large Southern California university. An exploratory, embedded case study was conducted over approximately 24 weeks using ethnographic and conversation analytic methods. Data sources consisted of ethnographic field notes, audio recordings of meetings, transcripts from those recordings, and artifacts, including literature used during each session. Results suggest that facilitating small group discussions requires balancing focus on the selected text and participant engagement, a diverse set of facilitation practices, and use of different strategies (or micro-avenues) to arrive at the same end. Study findings emphasize the importance of intersubjectivity and form versus function of speech in an educational environment. What is said and how it is said both have great implications for shared learning and understanding. Adaptability of mixed qualitative methods in this study demonstrates the potential of ethnography and conversation analysis as complementary approaches for understanding the functional nature of talk and interaction. Thus, the criteria for rigorous qualitative research, the view that ethnography and conversation analysis do not mix, and the under-valuing of critical multiplism in research need to be re-examined.
I thank Professor Marvin Alkin for facilitating access to the research site. Professors Alkin and Christina Christie, as well as Rodney Hopson, reviewed an early draft of this manuscript, and I am deeply appreciative of the feedback that they provided. I also thank the reviewers of this chapter who offered invaluable insights about the work, which resulted in a much-improved manuscript.
Vo, A.T. (2016), "Teaching through Discussion: A Mixed Qualitative Methods Study of Educator Facilitation Practices in a Small Group Learning Context Using Ethnographic and Conversation Analytic Approaches", New Directions in Educational Ethnography (Studies in Educational Ethnography, Vol. 13), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 213-248. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1529-210X20150000013008
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