Honours sociology student Quinn Waylaing explores ethnographic approach to learning

16 Nov 2023
Undergraduate research project funded by SSHRC award for Black scholars  

Quinn Waylaing, from Ottawa, ON, believes in learning by doing. Along with an honours in sociology, she is minoring in community engaged learning and working towards an undergraduate certificate in theatre arts. This past summer she got a kickstart on her honours thesis through Mount Allison’s Independent Student Research Grant program, funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) undergraduate award for Black scholars. 

Honours sociology student Quinn Waylaing.

Waylaing’s project, Transforming Education: An ethnographic study in inquiry learning, utilizes a qualitative research methodology that uses her own social experience to collect data.  

“I wanted to use my experience in traditional education and arts-based education to compare and contrast my observations and feelings,” says Waylaing. “Historically, within the academy, that kind of knowledge has been undervalued and marginalized, so I want to highlight its importance.” 

Waylaing’s honours supervisor, associate professor in sociology Dr. Ardath Whynacht, says qualitative methods can offer powerful tools for analyzing complex data.  

“There are many important questions that, to answer them ethically and thoroughly, require creative tools to capture the shifting and often invisible dynamics that shape our social world,” says Whynacht. 

Early in life Waylaing was diagnosed with a learning disability and she was aware from an early age that the way she learned was different than her peers. She went on to attend an arts-based high school in Ottawa and studied theatre for four years. She uses this experience as the basis for her research. 

“I truly see the seeds of this project being planted throughout my whole life,” says Waylaing. “My mom is an educator and I always had the privilege of knowing that although my way of learning was different, it didn’t make me less than and that was so special.” 

In this research, Waylaing uses her experience and awareness to connect it with greater systems of society. 

“I have identified moments in my educational experience where I felt less than or othered because of how traditional systems in Western binary positivist epistemology makes sense of knowledge.” 
She calls the process of her research emotionally draining because the data collection process is reflective journaling with the outcomes of her research so far being a way of seeing and approaching learning. 

“I think it’s really important to think about tangible steps to make in your life and in your community and I see my research as being a step in a transformative awareness,” she says. 

Whynacht says Waylaing's research, using autoethnographic methods, is not for the faint of heart.

“It requires intensive reflexivity, honesty, and humility on the part of the researcher,” says Whynact. “It is a painstaking method that requires deep familiarity with literature in the field, hours of field experience, and the skills to untangle our 'observations' from our 'analysis.' Quinn's research is already telling us so much about the role of identity and creativity in education and I look forward to seeing her work out there in the world once she's done!" 

The outcome of her research will be a 40-page paper — the first step in her honours thesis. 

“I am so lucky because this research funding gave me four months to situate my ideas for my honours thesis. I feel blessed...My takeaway is that I really do have this profound trust and assuredness in myself and my own ideas. It’s a gift to trust yourself.” 

Waylaing will graduate in May 2024 and wants to use her theatre background and knowledge to attend clown school before pursuing a Master of Arts at Concordia University, studying human systems intervention with a goal of becoming a transformational educator, both professionally and personally.


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