Catholic Distance Learning Network




Welcome to the Certification Course in Teaching Research Design!

The Catholic Distance Learning Network offered from 2012 to 2014 a six-week summer institute intended to help seminary faculty address the challenge in student research skills. We have continued since 2014 to offer these training materials for ondemand use by seminaries and theological schools in the U.S. and Canada. For assistance in using these modules in your own program, please contact Dr. Sebastian Mahfood, OP, at

Our seminary students easily acquire factual knowledge but often without the ability to explore within that knowledge, using critical thinking to address issues that further their understanding. The goal of the summer institute was to help prepare faculty to assist in cultivating research skills in students to enable them to be better practitioners of their disciplines.

A syllabus for the course can be downloaded from here. Click here to see a list of faculty who have completed their certifications.

Mr. William Badke, M.L.S.

The modules for this course, developed by Mr. William Badke, M.L.S., associate librarian at Trinity Western University, are made freely available for the purpose of advancing the cause of teaching research design.

The materials that were necessary for this course include the following:

"Student Theological Research as an Invitation" by Mr. William Badke

Research Strategies: Finding Your Way through the Information Fog (Sixth Edition) [Click the image below]

Teaching Research Processes: The Faculty Role in the Development of Skilled Student Researchers by Mr. William Badke [Click the image below]

Teaching Research DesignResearch Strategies, 6th Edition
Module 1

An introduction to disciplinary expertise.  At the base of such expertise is epistemology – the informational foundation upon which the discipline is based (where it comes from, why it is valued, what is accepted, and what is rejected).  Following this comes method, including problem statement development, acceptable patterns of discourse and argumentation, use of sources and evidence, patterns of decision making and conclusions, and so on. This view of disciplines sees them as dynamic and developing, using research as the basis for “doing” the discipline.  We may view such thinking as typical prolegomenon, which might be covered in an introduction to theology or philosophy, but the approach I am suggesting pays much closer attention to the nature of sources and the methods of carrying out the discipline than is often the case in prolegomenon studies.  Students are invited to become active participants rather than mere observers.

Module 2

Articulation of the nature and extent of the information base that exists in our disciplines.  This is a step beyond epistemology into a descriptive and analytical walk through the actual knowledge of the discipline, looking beyond mere content to the types of information available (including newer forms, such as academic websites, pre-publication papers posted for review, and self-published works, introduced by emerging technologies).  Here we need also to consider the quality control factors used with regard to production of information within the disciplinary tradition, peer review of published works, and so on, as well as to emphasize the significant voices in the discipline and demonstrate why they are considered more important than other voices.

Module 3

Development of problem statements and research designs.  Essential to critical thinking within research and, indeed, to the success of any research project, is careful development of problem statements (research questions/theses) and research designs (preliminary outlines and determination of approaches and methods to be used).  Students find it difficult to plan and focus their research, but there are ways to teach them how to do this effectively.

Module 4

Optimization of information finding tools.  Today’s research environment is profoundly electronic, from library catalogs to journal databases to e-content.  The tools to optimize searching for needed resources are complex, but it is possible to teach students how to use research databases to full advantage.  Focusing on this issue will also be of benefit to faculty, who often lack the time to learn the complexities of electronic finding tools.

Module 5

Determination of the relevance of found information within the framework of a research problem and preliminary outline.  Students struggle with choosing the most relevant results.  This is a combination of a number of factors:

  • A persistently mistaken notion that they are being tasked, in their research, to write about a topic descriptively rather than seeking to address an issue or problem.  Results of database searches may be generally on topic but not address the issue at hand.

  •  A tendency to include resources that are considerably broader than the issue they are addressing.

Module 6

Development of classroom instruction in research method through a network of research-based assignments.  Research does not have to be an adjunct to instruction (thus separating what we are teaching from what students are producing).  Rather, instruction and research can be intertwined so that students become both active learners and participants in their disciplines.

Certification in Teaching Research Design was conferred between 2012 and 2014 by Mr. William Badke on behalf of the Catholic Distance Learning Network operating through the Seminary Department of the National Catholic Educational Association.

Last Updated February 15, 2018.  © Catholic Distance Learning Network.
"I'd always suspected that we were just teaching our students about our disciplines without ever inviting them to take ownership over them, but I always made a subconscious kind of excuse for my own complicity in that. This course in teaching research design calls all faculty to a higher standard on engaging students in how to enter into our disciplines." - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood, OP, Coordinator of the Catholic Distance Learning Network