Tag Archives: online

Research Support Ambassadors – a progress update

On Thursday 19th November the participants of the Research Support Ambassadors programme presented their work to date. This blog from Yvonne Creba, a member of the Research Data Facility team in the Office of Scholarly Communication, summarises these presentations of their progress so far.

A good start

Attending the Research Support Ambassadors programme presentation I can only say how impressed I was with the amount of time and effort contributed by the participants of each group. This is even more notable considering that the following was achieved outside of their normal working hours. Each of the groups produced an informative and interesting session on each of the topics.

What is the Ambassadors programme? It’s an opportunity for interested library staff to receive specialised training, to allow them to become the local ‘go to’ person on some scholarly communication issues. The programme is intended to develop a team of Ambassadors who feel confident and able to assist researchers with queries about publishing processes, data management, open access/open data policies and research sharing options, to name but a few.

The Ambassadors programme aims to provide ‘what the researchers want, where & when they want it’.  To start, the Ambassadors have embarked on development of training and information materials on the following four topics: Research Lifecycle, Research Support Services, Managing your Online Presence and Open Access to theses. Below are some of the highlights from their presentations.

Open Access to theses

The Ambassadors team assigned to this project – Matthais Ammon, Phillipa Grimstone, Charlotte Hoare, and Stephanie Palek – aimed to develop guidance materials on how to make PhD theses Open Access.

There is a need for a one-stop webpage for PhD students to answer basic questions about making their theses Open Access and the need for thesis submission to the institutional repository (now called Apollo) to be clarified in terms of Open Access.

The team  have already developed an impressive amount of resources and collated information about Open Access to theses and the advantages for PhD students, challenges with Open Access to theses and (traditional) publishing, copyright concerns and patenting & sensitive data. They referred to some of the material they have found in their research such as ‘Benefits of making theses available online’.

The team is now trying to answer how theses fit into the Open Access research landscape, the potential impact of making theses available online, fulfilment of funder requirements.

Managing your Online Presence

This team, consisting of Andrew Alexander, Céline Carty, Kasia Drabek, Agnieszka Drabek-Prime, Agnieszka Kurzeja and Brendan King, initially discussed and brainstormed this subject, as it is a large area and they wanted to define the scope of support to be offered.  The team’s strategy was focused on creating a potential outline for a session that the Ambassadors could run.

The group presented a demonstration on the creation of an ORCiD ID. ORCiD stands for “Open Researcher & Contributor ID” and it is a free, unique, individual, global, permanent identifier ideal for researchers and scholars to help them keep track of their research outputs. The group proposed some ideas on how to attractively present ORCiD to researchers.

The group thought that those who attend the session will be asked to bring along their laptops, so that after a short demonstration on how to create an ORCiD each participant will actually create their own. This will provide a tangible output of the session.

Research Support Services across the University

The idea for this topic was to provide clear signposts to the range of help on offer, rather than reinventing the wheel by creating something new. The group working on this topic are Colin Clarkson, Lindsay Jones, Mary Kattuman and Claire Sewell. There is a great deal of support available for researchers, both within the University and outside but there’s no one place where everything is listed in an accessible format.

The research doughnut available on the Office of Scholarly Communications (OSC) website has a nice, intuitive graphical display, hence the idea to use this format to present the services of the research lifecycle. The group hopes to make keywords within the cycle into clickable links, which will thus allow users to find related information and resources.

One of the sources that were highlighted in the directory was the LibrarySearch. Rather than just including a link to the static LibrarySearch interface, the group thought it would be a good idea to create a predefined search on various stages of the research process. That way the researcher can just click on a link and go straight to the required search results.

The group suggested promotional activities including a pop-up presentation of a maximum of ten minutes which could be included at the start or finish of other taught sessions. Something that will briefly introduce the concept of the site and showcase what it contains. This could be delivered by any Research Ambassador and would be a ‘presentation-in-a-box’ that people could just pick up and deliver.

One of the first things the group intends to do is to improve the general look and feel of the site and they intend to do some user testing with researchers to see how they use the site and get their feedback about the content.

Research Lifecycle

This is intended to be a web resource using the Research Lifecycle with links out to information about each of the points in the cycle – presented by Clemens Gresser, Jo Milton, Veronica Phillips, Meg Westbury.

This team reviewed the Research Lifecycle from the perspective of a researcher. They have looked at existing websites to see what information is already available and reviewed the graphical displays used by different universities – to look for content which is accessible in a user-friendly manner.

Ideas provided by the group on reaching the required audience were to plug into orientation sessions, advertisements by faculty librarians and plugging into sessions on managing an online presence.

The group also suggested that having a glossary of various terms related to the Research Lifecycle would be useful. The group is still reviewing what type of information to put up for the cycle and which format would be the most fit for purpose to best suit researchers in Cambridge.

Published 14 December 2015
Written by Yvonne Creba and Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License

What is ‘research impact’ in an interconnected world?

Perhaps we should start this discussion with a definition of ‘impact’. The term impact is used by many different groups for different purposes, and much to the chagrin of many researchers it is increasingly a factor in the Higher Education Funding Councils for England’s (HECFE) Research Excellence Framework. HEFCE defined impact as:

‘an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’.

So we are talking about research that affects change beyond the ivory tower. What follows is a discussion about strengthening the chances of increasing the impact of research.

Is publishing communicating research?

Publishing a paper is not a good way of communicating work. There is some evidence that much published work is not read by anyone other than the reviewers. During an investigation of claims that huge numbers of papers were never cited, Dahlia Remler found that:

  • Medicine  – 12% of articles are not cited
  • Humanities – 82% of articles are not cited – note however that their prestigious research is published in books, however many books are rarely cited too.
  • Natural Sciences – 27% of articles are never cited
  • Social Sciences – 32% of articles are never cited

Hirsch’s 2005 paper: An index to quantify and individual’s scientific research output, proposing the h index – defined as the number of papers with citation number ≥h. So an h index of 5 means the author has at least 5 papers with at least 5 citations. Hirsch suggested this as a way to characterise the scientific output of researchers. He noted that after 20 years of scientific activity, an h index of 20 is a ‘successful scientist’. When you think about it, 20 other researchers are not that many people who found the work useful. And that ignores those people who are not ‘successful’ scientists who are, regardless, continuing to publish.

Making the work open access is not necessarily enough

Open access is the term used for making the contents of research papers publicly available – either by publishing them in an open access journal or by placing a copy of the work in a subject or institutional repository. There is more information about open access here.

I am a passionate supporter of open access. It breaks down cost barriers to people around the world, allowing a much greater exposure of publicly funded research. There is also considerable evidence showing that making work open access increases citations.

But is making the work open access enough? Is a 9.5MB pdf downloadable onto a telephone, or through a dail-up connection?  If the download fails at 90% you get nothing. Some publishing endeavours have recogised this as an issue, such as the Journal of Humanitarian Engineering (JHE), which won the Australian Open Access Support Group‘s 2013 Open Access Champion award for their approach to accessibility.

Language issues

The primary issue, however is the problem of understandability. Scientific and academic papers have become increasingly impenetrable as time has progressed. It’s hard to believe now that at the turn of last century scientific articles had the same readability as the New York Times.

‘This bad writing is highly educated’ is a killer sentence from Michael Billig’s well researched and written book ‘Learn to Write Badly: How to Succeed in the Social Sciences‘.  This phenomenon is not restricted to the social sciences, specialisation and a need to pull together with other members of one’s ‘tribe‘ mean that academics increasingly write in jargon and specialised language that bears little resemblance to the vernacular.

There are increasing arguments for scientific communication to the public being part of formal training. In a previous role I was involved in such a program through the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. Certainly the opportunities for PhD students to share their work more openly have never been more plentiful. There are many three minute thesis competitions around the world. Earlier this year the British Library held a #Share your thesis competition where entrants were first asked to tweet why their PhD research is/was important using the hashtag #ShareMyThesis. The eight shortlisted entrants were asked to write a short article (up to 600 words) elaborating on their tweet and explaining why their PhD research is/was important  in an engaging and jargon-free way.

Explaining work in understandable language is not ‘dumbing it down’.  It is simply translating it into a different language. And students are not restricted to the written word. In November the eighth winner of the annual ‘Dance your PhD‘ competition sponsored by Science, Highwire Press and the AAAS will be announced.

Other benefits

There is a flow-on effect from communicating research in understandable language. In September, the Times Higher Education recently published an article ‘Top tips for finding a permanent academic job‘ where the information can be summarised as ‘communicate more’.

The Thinkable.org group’s aim is to widen the reach and impact of research projects using short videos (three minutes or less). The goal of the video is to engage the research with a wide audience. The Thinkable Open Innovation Award is a research grant that is open to all researchers in any field around the world and awarded openly by allowing Thinkable researchers and members to vote on their favourite idea. The winner of the award receives $5000 to help fund their research. This is specifically the antithesis of the usual research grant process where grants “are either restricted by geography or field, and selected via hidden panels behind closed doors”.

But the benefit is more than the prize money. This entry from a young Uni of Manchester PhD biomedical student did not win, but thousands of people engaged in her work in just few weeks of voting.

Right. Got the message. So what do I need to do?

Researcher Mike Taylor pulled together a list of 20 things a researcher needs to do when they publish a paper.  On top of putting a copy of the paper in an institutional or subject repository, suggestions include using various general social media platforms such as Twitter and blogs, and also uploading to academic platforms.

The 101 Innovations in Scholarly Communication research project run from the University of Utrecht is attempting to determine scholarly use of  communication tools. They are analysing the different tools that researchers are using through the different phases of the research lifecycle – Discovery, Analysis, Writing, Publication, Outreach and Assessment through a worldwide survey of researchers. Cambridge scholars can use a dedicated link to the survey.

There are a plethora of scholarly peer networks which all work in slightly different ways and have slightly different foci.  You can display your research into your Google Scholar or CarbonMade profile. You can collate the research you are finding into Mendeley or Zotero. You can also create an environment for academic discourse or job searching with Academia.edu, ResearchGate and LinkedIn. Other systems include Publons – a tool to register peer reviewing activity.

Publishing platforms include blogging (as evidenced here), Slideshare, Twitter, figshare, Buzzfeed. Remember, this is not about broadcasting. Successful communicators interact.

Managing an online presence

Kelli Marshall from DePaul University asks ‘how might academics—particularly those without tenure, published books, or established freelance gigs—avoid having their digital identities taken over by the negative or the uncharacteristic?’

She notes that as an academic or would-be academic, you need to take control of your public persona and then take steps to build and maintain it. If you do not have a clear online presence, you are allowing Google, Yahoo, and Bing to create your identity for you. There is a risk that the strongest ‘voices’ will be ones from websites such as Rate My Professors.

Digital footprint

Many researchers belong to an institution,  a discipline and a profession. If these change your online identity associated with them will also change. What is your long term strategy? One thing to consider is obtaining a persistent unique identifier such as an ORCID – which is linked to you and not your institution.

When you leave an institution, you not only lose access to the subscriptions the library has paid for, you also lose your email address. This can be a serious challenge when your online presence in academic social media sites like Academia.edu and ResearchGate are linked to that email address. What about content in a specific institutional repository? Brian Kelly discussed these issues at a recent conference.

We seem to have drifted a long way from impact?

The thing is that if it can be measured it will be. And digital activity is fairly easily measured. There are systems in place now to look at this kind of activity. Altmetrics.org moves beyond the traditional academic internal measures of peer review, Journal Impact Factor (JIF) and the H-index. There are many issues with the JIF, not least that it measures the vessel, not the contents. For these reasons there are now arguments such as the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) which calls for the scrapping of the JIF to assess a researcher’s performance. Altmetrics.org measures the article itself, not where it is published. And it measures the activity of the articles beyond academic borders. To where the impact is occurring.

So if you are serious about being a successful academic who wants to have high impact, managing your online presence is indeed a necessary ongoing commitment.

NOTE: On 26 September, Dr Danny Kingsley spoke on this topic to the Cambridge University Alumni festival. The slides are available in Slideshare. The Twitter discussion is here.

Published 25 September 2015
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License

Tips for preparing and presenting online learning

This week we had a group of library staff contribute to a roundtable discussion about online training. We were lucky to have visiting Australian Tom Worthington* talk to the group. These are some notes from the wide-ranging discussion.

Online approaches

In face-to-face teaching, a unit in philosophy taught over a semester is very different to a single training session in how to find something in a library catalogue. However in practice in the online world they are the same.

Tom noted that five years ago he decided to stop giving lectures and only deliver courses online. It has taken that time for him to feel comfortable with the online delivery.

The electronic equivalent of the traditional lecture is you prepare a reading block, mail it to the students, give them exercises to do, they write it down and you give them comments. But there is an opportunity to do much more. An example is the book “ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future“, used for an ANU course.

The ‘flipped classroom’ is an approach where the online component is first. However unless you give them a task they will come to the first day full of excuses. The convenor can give students blocks of exercises. At the face to face section you can have the informal discussion and help them with problems. That works well.

Text based courses can use video that someone else has recorded on the topic. The process is the students:

  • Read the summary of the course
  • Do the readings
  • Do the test
  • Then have a discussion online or in person together.

Asynchronous courses ask students to contribute to an online text based forum. As an example, the questions for week one of “ICT Sustainability”.  The students might be asked to answer questions – find a paper or video on the topic, say why it is relevant. They should post to the forum by the middle of the week, must reply to two other posts by two students by Friday. Then use peer assessment to mark each other’s work. It is good if their contribution is used in some way. Usually allocate 10-20% of the marks to their contribution to the marking of each other’s work. Students will go to remarkable lengths to get small number of marks. Needs to make sense to the long term goal of the student.

One way of presenting a course is to provide small ‘units’ of information which are not timed. At the end of a unit the student does a test and when they pass they move onto the next section.

Using traditional eLearning you would have at most 24 people in each group – you usually still have ‘loud’ people you have to tell to stop writing/talking.

Course structures

There are standards for learning materials. The University provides considerable resources for Learning Aims and Outcomes.

It helps to have rigid statements about what the course is about. These should include learning objectives, how the course is broken up eg: two components and three sub components. See the introduction to “ICT Sustainability”.  Without this structure the student does not know where they are up to. You need to show participants there is a plan.

Tom noted it is important to tell participants why the course will be useful to them and how it will be useful to them. It is very important to provide markers throughout the course. Where are we up to and what is this for? Eg: this will increase your chances of getting a paper published.

It is all in the preparation

Academic bravado is ‘I have a lecture in 5 minutes, I had better get something together’. With eLearning you have to design all the materials and exercises in advance before they start. Gather the materials together – but you always need to consider licenses. A repository – equivalent of an electronic book, videos and quizzes.

Don’t add things on the fly. Once it starts you need to keep things stable. You can take online material and deliver it in person easily. It is much harder to do it the other way.

Preparing online courses is very labour intensive and traditional universities do not provide for the preparation time. However the delivery is much quicker. If you are at the distance education university this is built into the system. But in a traditional university you only get paid for delivery. So first time you run a course, it is at a ‘loss’ but each time after that it is easier. So try to minimise the material beforehand.

The question about the inability to get feedback from people was raised. With online fixed courses you don’t have a way to improve the content for your students. Tom suggested observing the test results helps. The dropout rate is an indicator (and you can always ask people why they dropped out). You can look at what they have been accessing. There is considerable research on ‘Learning Analytics’ and products for extracting the data from Moodle.  There may be things they have not been looking at – it might be the link has broken. The flipped classroom will give people the chance to fix things.

Some concern was raised about reusing information. One person noted that ‘internalising the material requires creating it myself’. The group agreed it was important to ensure the information is stitched together well so there is a real narrative. Tom noted we do have standardised educational materials – they are called text books. You can still use text books in an online course. If we have standard published sources then we should use them.

Preventing cheating

If you just give students reading materials online then they will not read it. You need to give them tasks to do and monitor the results. Give them multiple choice using immediately marked systems. Them knowing there is a test at the end increases their education (even if they get all the answers wrong). Even if the test is not for credit, students will still cheat.

Ways to prevent people cheating at online tests:

  • Limited number of attempts
  • Questions are selected from a bank at random
  • Positions of the multiple-choice answers are randomised
  • If numeric answers, the system generates a random set of values so each student gets a different question

Note that young digital natives are still academically illiterate – they do not naturally know how to write things with proper referencing. They write assignments with broken jargon, not proper referencing and will copy things from Wikipedia. Tom said that he doesn’t call it ‘plagiarism’ in the first few weeks, they call it ‘poor referencing’.

Encouraging attendance

The conversation moved to the library training environment, where we often have an opportunity to see people only once face to face. Students need to get feedback on the quizzes – there might not be anything after that.

There is nothing telling the students they have to go to these sessions apart from them thinking it might be helpful. So how do we leverage off a one off teaching slot? In that one off session – eg: ‘How can you become an expert in 10 minutes’ – can we replicate that type of activity online in the same sort of way?

Suggestions for encouraging attendance included:

  • Doing this as part of something for someone they respect.
  • Provide students the materials in the live sessions eg: worksheets and reading and exercises, then collect them into a coherent ebook, step by step.
  • Give them a certificate at the end – shake their hands and give it to them.

Getting university buy-in

Tom suggested that it is a good idea to tap into the national standard for what a student needs to do in a particular area. Each department will have their own way of doing it.

He suggested going to the international standardised skills framework, finding the skill that is relevant, and using the text describing this to be part of the course outline. Accrediting bodies in some areas will be useful for this (for example Engineering). You can use the description from this body. Doing this makes it easier to get a course approved. The Executive of institutions will support that kind of course.

Examples include the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), which  is a computer science based set, and there is the Seoul Accord.

Online course technologies

Cambridge University uses the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment, which Tom noted is the equivalent of buying a Vauxhall – can buy lots of parts and find lots of people to fix it. It is not very exciting. But it is fine.

Moodle is not really built for creating an ePortfolio which shows evidence the students know how to use something. They collect material into your e-portfolio and then you present it. Use simple social media where you say “please work on this and discuss it”. This can shows evidence the student knows how to use something. One tool is the Mahara open source ePortfolio program.

Recording technology

Recording lectures is a challenge at Cambridge where there are not universal recording facilities in lecture theatres. But Tom noted that while sometimes having good technology can be useful – a document camera can show students how equations are done for example – using simple tools can work.

If you are giving a presentation, simply set a recording device on the desk. Students really like the recordings of a presentation. Tom noted that when recording something to go online is it much easier to give a presentation to a live audience rather than to an empty room. Note it is important to consider the legal issues of recording people – when they approach you to speak privately about something you need to turn the microphone off. It is also important to remember to repeat questions asked by the audience into the microphone.

Recording helps international students. They listen to the recording a minimum of six times. If use echo360 active learning program you can see how many views each part of the course is being looked at.

People are prepared to listen for 6-20 minutes. When putting recordings online you can have a talking head or show the powerpoint slides. A good way of presenting a video recording is to show a talking head for the first few seconds to see a human, then flip to powerpoint slides then have the human again at the end. An alternative is to just use a static photograph. People will treat a smiley face as a person.

Tom noted that he has never been to a webinar session at university that worked properly. You spend half the time trying to get the technology to work. It is necessary to train people in the technology. Unless there is a need for a live session don’t do it. Digital native young people still have trouble with the technology.

Examples of good online teaching

Universities UK have Open Learn and the Australian equivalent is Open 2 Study. The way these are set up – you do a short course for free then you can enrol in the longer one for a cost. The courses all started at 12 weeks, and they are now four weeks. MIT have created Open EdX.

Other useful links:

* About the speaker

Tom Worthington, is an independent computer consultant and educator. He is an Adjunct lecturer in the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University and a member of the ANU Climate Change and Energy Change Institutes. Also Tom designs and teaches on-line courses for the the Australian Computer Society (ACS) Virtual College. He was previously an IT policy advisor at the Australian Department of Defence. Tom is a Past President, Honorary Life Member and Fellow of the ACS, as well as a voting member of the Association for Computing Machinery and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Published 23 July 2015
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License