UoL Library Blog

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Using New Technologies for Delivering Research Skills & Professional Development Training (27 March 2014)

Posted by Helen on 28 March, 2014

This event was hosted by the UK Council for Graduate Education at Aston University. I gave a talk with Denise Sweeney (Academic Practice Service) on our use of webinars for the thesis forum. Our talk was very well received and prompted lots of questions. I hope we inspired the audience to explore the options available at their own institution for including distance learners and making events available online.

A number of talks raised interesting points for our work with doctoral researchers, and some were applicable to our teaching & learning activities across the AL team.

Sarah Hainsworth (Leicester) introduced the day with three key questions:

  • How do we deliver skills training to a disparate group of students?
  • How do we get engaged behaviours from students and supervisors?
  • Can new delivery modes and new technologies help in our quest?

Maggi Savin-Baden (Coventry) discussed student engagement and problem-based learning (PBL). She argued for getting rid of outcomes and objectives, and sending Bloom’s taxonomy and the behavioural model of learning to the bin! Her argument was enjoyable to hear, especially given the PG Cert Module A I completed earlier this year. Maggi wants to see problem-based learning used more, particularly for our users who are ‘digitally tethered’. She examined language very carefully and made an interesting distinction between training, instruction, initiation and induction, based on Stenhouse (1975). She argued that induction “involves the introduction of someone into the thought system of the culture and critical stance towards it.” Maggi questioned how valuable it was to train students within their discipline and argued for getting rid of this approach. She sees problem-based learning as a way to organise curricular content around problem scenarios, not subjects or disciplines. I have a paper version of Maggi’s handout with much more information on this if anyone is interested. She concluded with the suggestion that we aim to embed PBL and connectivist principles into our PGR work. We should design PGR education that is negotiated, constructed and embodied as a social practice.

Christine Sinclair (Edinburgh) spoke about her experience of being involved in a MOOC. Edinburgh used Coursera to host their first six MOOCs. Christine worked on the E-Learning and Digital Cultures course. This was designed for first year undergraduates, but 61% of participants were postgraduates. It was interesting to note that it was often PGRs already engaged in further study who were using such resources. Another notable point is that the use of Google hangouts was very well received. Ultimately the users wanted to see the lecturers and have some face-to-face contact. We once ran a thesis forum where we hid the video during each talk and just had the powerpoint slides. We received feedback from the online viewers that they would much prefer seeing the speaker, even if the video was very small, rather than have them hidden. Christine recommended Bali & Meier, ‘An Affinity for Asynchronous Learning’ (2014). This might be useful reading for the Research Services team as we consider our programme to create online learning resources.

**There was much informal discussion around how to engage distance learning PGR students in skills development. One university found that changing the start of their workshops from 10am to 11am really helped with the DL/part-time students who travelled by train. It allowed them to get an off peak service and still arrive for the workshop. Another university prioritises DL/part-time bookings on their version of PROSE.

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