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Strategic Emergence in Nursing Science: The Critical Adaptation of a Co-Created Pedagogical Space

Patrina Sexton Topper, Jane Evered, Clare Whitney, Elizabeth Broden

The Advanced Qualitative Collective (AQC) is a staple student-run group founded with the vision of Dr. Sarah Kagan in the early 2000s (Abboud et al., 2017).  Housed in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing, the AQC has met weekly for many years with the guiding goal of advancing and deepening qualitative research knowledge, skills, and critical appraisal. Hillman Scholars have been and continue to be active members and committed leaders of the group, collaborating with pre- and post-doctoral students to co-create a pedagogical and collegial space to learn and grow. Built upon the tenets of co-construction and participatory pedagogical methods, the AQC resists positivist dominant systems and structures to amplify under-examined voices and perspectives (Abboud et al., 2017). This year, a group of strongly committed trainees, including five Hillman scholars, gathered weekly to learn the craft of qualitative inquiry and to hone our skills collectively in a supportive, collegial setting.  As the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 pushed most systems and institutions into disequilibrium, we have all had to find innovative ways to pivot and maintain our balance. This was certainly true for the AQC. A strong foundation of lateral student leadership enabled the AQC to further strengthen the scholarship and collegiality of the group.

This early spring, we evolved in response to COVID-19, working together to meet emotional, intellectual, cognitive, and pragmatic needs as we learned how to be nurses and nurse researchers during a pandemic. When the City of Philadelphia implemented the stay-at-home order in March, we each knew how very beneficial it would be to continue to meet. We adapted to the new conditions, leveraging video-conferencing technologies to maintain the network and community we had so diligently cultivated in our time as graduate students. Meeting weekly to check-in as a way to support social care and scientific investments, we sought new ways to plug away. We innovated, co-creating new rituals for virtual dissertation defenses that enabled us to broaden and deepen our professional and personal connections. In addition to leveraging the support of the group to move our individual programs of research forward, we shared information about volunteer opportunities and resources related to COVID-19, and have more recently made clear commitments around contributions to the work of anti-racism in the academy and healthcare.

With a range of interests, from communication at the end-of-life to moralization of substance use, the AQC has evolved to fill an ever-expanding assortment of roles. An important pillar of the AQC is the opportunity to engage in critical sounding boards; which facilitate discussion of emerging findings, practicing and preparing for dissertation defenses (virtual and in-person), and reviewing one another’s work at various stages. The AQC engages in critical peer review throughout every level of the research process, from raw qualitative data analysis to manuscript publication preparation. Reviewing one another’s work through these iterations provides insight into potential overlaps and cross-cutting research questions for future critical pursuit. We often engage in methodological centering, asking questions like: How true are you staying to the approach? How much have you veered from your research question? What are you bringing to these data/interpretations? The AQC establishes accountability through virtual check-ins and active text chains. It remains crucial to check, and recheck, the nuanced needs and mutual goals of the group, as cohorts of scholars organically form and shift within research trajectories and sociohistorical context. For example, the current cohort shifted from strictly structured engagement with learning methodological traditions to more pragmatic questions with added social/emotional check-ins. Further, the group centered preparing for and celebrating academic milestones in the contexts of program progression, the global pandemic, and ongoing efforts to illuminate and combat racism wherever it manifests. Through these strategically emergent actions and this co-created community of scholars, we have been able to establish a culture of safety in vulnerability in which our ongoing scholarship can flourish.

Citation: Abboud, S., Kim, S. K., Jacoby, S., Mooney-Doyle, K., Waite, T., Froh, E., … & Kagan, S. (2017). Co-creation of a pedagogical space to support qualitative inquiry: An advanced qualitative collective. Nurse education today, 50, 8-11.

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