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Introduction to Research Design with Jimmy Karlan

Welcome to Xtreme Research 10.0, better known as Introduction to Research Design with Jimmy Karlan, EdD, Core Faculty in the Environmental Studies (ES) program at Antioch University New England and AUNE alum (1981). In his 25th year of teaching at Antioch, Karlan brings high-intensity energy and a “gamester’s” approach to this 7-day intensive doctoral level ES course. “At the doctoral level we are training folks to be scholars and as such to be able to create new knowledge,” said Karlan. “The course lays the foundation for students to understand different ways of creating knowledge at the paradigmatic level before they begin to get into the nuts and bolts of specific types of quantitative and qualitative research methods.”

An excerpt from Karlan’s syllabus, which details every activity and expectation of the course and includes instructions to watch “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” & “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” is perhaps the best way to convey the tone of the class:

Get Xtreme! Information X-Games

Challenge 1: Build your search muscles

Find faster, think harder, write farther, & climb higher. 50 pts.

Weeks before the class meets, students begin translating readings on research paradigms and jumping into their new research adventure through the “Information X-Games,” a game invented by Karlan and National Librarian of the year awardee, Jean Amaral. The game prepares them to “hit the ground running”— and they win prizes to boot. By the time students have finished playing they will have demonstrated their ability to master all sorts of new library research skills.

The text translation pushes them to consider provocative questions and answers in preparation for playing “The Newly Partnered Game.” By the fourth day of their intensive, they’ll apply what they’ve learned during the course to predict how their randomly assigned paradigm-partners would answer questions like “Which advertising slogan or ad campaign would your partner choose?” or “Which of the following vacations would be most interesting to your partner?” On day one they play a research-based card game intended to deepen student’s understanding of the main class text, The Paradigm Dialog by Egon Guba. “Intro to Research Design is such a fun class—but more importantly, it’s fun with a purpose! I love that Jimmy uses games to reinforce our knowledge of the course content,” said student Lindsay Ratcliffe.

During each day of the intensive, students work with a different set of peers to create and conduct an original research project from start to finish that reflects one of the four research paradigms and their corresponding methodologies and tools. Students have conducted positivist quick studies on “The Effects of Caffeine on Doctoral Students’ Blood Pressure,” post-positivist studies on “What qualities or behaviors of a pedestrian correlate with a driver stopping to let them cross?,” constructivist studies on “How does Antioch University community define the concept of sustainability?,” and critical theorist studies on “How are the impacts of gender imbalance in the ES department community affecting students’ learning experiences?”

“Through Jimmy’s explanation of the different research paradigms I was able to refine the scope of my research area, develop paradigm-guided research questions, and understand my strengths and need-for-improvement areas with respect to advanced doctoral research,” said current doctoral student, Jaques Kenjio.

Addressing a research paradigm per day is an opportunity for students to consider deeply each one’s opportunities and constraints.

Introduction to Research Design is a great way, according to Jimmy, to meet new students’ future faculty who may also become their advisor, dissertation chair, committee member and /or colleague. “All of the ES faculty are always open to helping doctoral students develop their research ideas, no matter its proximity to their own research interests,” said Jimmy. “The design of this course helps create a wonderfully collaborative learning community and invites folks to relax into their new academic adventure together,” said Jimmy. “Who in the world ever suggested that learning can’t be playful and rigorous?”

“The course encourages students to experiment and take ownership of their learning in a fun and dynamic way,” said student, Lisa Boragine. “Students perform and compete in teams to embody the various research perspectives in the course. It is a memorable class!”


Malia Gaffney holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She lives in LA.
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