How to Teach Engaged Scholarship: Andy Van de Ven

How to Teach Engaged Scholarship: Andy Van de Ven

When does the website for a research methods course get 30,000 hits? When the course shows how to make research rigorous and relevant.
Garima Sharma Maya Fischhoff May 30, 2018
Every year, Andy Van de Ven teaches a research methods class with a twist. Van de Ven, Professor Emeritus at the Carlson School of Management, says that the course’s goal is to teach students to write a good research proposal. He does that by teaching them engaged scholarship

In engaged scholarship, researchers involve stakeholders in all stages of the research process. These stakeholders might be practitioners or academics in other disciplines. 

The course challenges students to think about research more broadly including the problem their research seeks to solve, and how their research insights will reach the intended audience. 

Even though his class usually has 15 students, the course website gets 30,000 hits each semester. “Scholars from around the globe are using the materials,” Van de Ven says. 

What draws that audience?

Van de Ven’s course is filling a void. “The course website has become a kind of master resource course that faculty and students can use,” says Van de Ven.

The Class: Four Elements and One Tree

Van de Ven sees research proposal development as involving four elements in his ‘diamond model.’ The elements are problem formulation, theory building, research design and communicating/using research findings. Most research methods classes focus too much on research design, “Somehow we have lost our way, by losing sight of the importance of the problem, the theory, and how the research is used”.  He spends equal time on each element. 

Each stage requires engaging different stakeholders:

Students in the class map their proposal onto a tree diagram. The diagram captures all elements of the proposal and shows how they connect. “It’s a wonderful way of communicating on one page, all the elements that are needed to develop a research proposal,” says Van de Ven. He developed the diagram from work by Ramage et al.

Students revise their research proposal five times. Each part of the ‘diamond model’ becomes a new section of the proposal. In parallel, students fill in the tree diagram as the class progresses. Van de Ven offers examples of well-done tree diagrams that students have used to deepen their research proposals.

Deep Dive into a Class Session

What’s it like to be a student in Van de Ven’s class? Van de Ven flips the classroom. Students prepare by working through material on the website: watching a video clip, reading articles, and completing exercises. In class, Van de Ven focuses on students’ questions and presentations. 

Take class #12, on “Communicating Research and Problem Solving”. Students work toward completing questions in the Research Proposal Worksheet:
He has three learning objectives for the students in this class session:
  1. Treat communication seriously                                                                                                                                                                  Effective knowledge transfer is a research area in itself. “It requires systematic planning and development,” says Van De Ven. “A lot of the literature that we have about communicating knowledge applies right here, to getting it communicated and used.” He draws on Paul Carlile’s framework for cross-boundary knowledge.                              
  2. Practice                                                                                                                                                                                                                Van de Ven wants students to understand theories of communication and feel comfortable applying them. He uses a “triad” exercise, in which each student presents his or her proposal, while two others serve as listeners. One pretends to be an academic of another discipline; the other pretends to be a practitioner from a specific organization. “The student has to speak to those two different audiences, and get feedback from those two role players.”

    As students develop their proposals, they are also asked to talk to a manager or other person experiencing the issue under study.              
  3. Connect                                                                                                                                                                                                                Van de Ven asks students to be as concrete as possible in their proposal. He wants details: “Are you going to use a presentation? A focus group? A workshop? Are you going to be asking them how they might use the findings”?

    After students leave the class, Van de Ven encourages them to continue connecting with potential audiences, whether practitioners or scholars. Even when writing a journal paper, he says, “you're not writing to a nameless, faceless journal. It has specific readers. Go talk to one or two or three of those.” 

How to Use the Website

All resources for the class are on the website. Van de Ven provides recommended readings, exercises, and videos of his presentations. Faculty interested in teaching a similar class can direct students to these materials and layer on their own perspectives. 

The website represents a major commitment for Van de Ven. “I see the engaged scholarship work as having gone through three major revisions since the book [Engaged Scholarship] was published in 2007.” Rather than publishing a new book, Van de Ven focused on revising the website content. He has brought in exercises based on the concepts in the book. His goal is to make the ideas actionable and allow for learning through experience.

The book sold 8-9000 copies since publication, he points out, while the website has 25-30,000 hits each semester. “What do you think is having more impact?” Van de Ven asks rhetorically.

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