Critical Incident Technique: Exploring Meaningful Interactions between Students and Professors


In the course of a typical week of graduate study, which interactions with faculty are meaningful to students? Having previously studied meaningful academic relationships, we wanted to focus specifically on the incident level of interactions between students and faculty. We wanted to record not only the obviously significant conversations but also the routine interactions that were important at the time but might not be memorable years later. We determined that critical incident technique would allow us to isolate specific faculty and student interactions and to understand what led up to those interactions and the outcomes or impacts of those interactions. Additionally, we wanted to explore why students considered these particular interactions to be meaningful. In this Methods in Action case, we provide a detailed description of how we applied critical incident technique to answer our research questions—from conception of our research question to gathering, analyzing, and reporting our data.

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