MEd 9: Lets start talking!

So, I have finally got my target demographic for this study. Only slight issue is that it is a much wider group than I had anticipated. Indeed – very hard to target when almost 50% of students qualify.

It has been difficult to accommodate for this as my research strategy was more focus on specific and specialist groups. Indeed, there is no mens group or officer for me to even approach in the Union. As such, I have had to go for a rapidly cobbled plan of trying to speak to the widest possible range of students within this group. It should at least give me some opportunity to being to explore these issues and perhaps direct further research. More importantly, it will give me an opportunity to delve into research through interviews once again.

Delving into interviews… Now this is where it dawned on me. This project and whole module is a fantastic learning opportunity. While it doesn’t do anything for my research validity – why not experiment with the format of the interview a little? I could maybe do a couple of them online or one via telephone. It would be a great way to explore different ways of interviewing and allow me as a researcher to actually experience these methods first hand. Perhaps this will help me make an informed choice in the future? – when the research REALLY matters?

MOOC: Introduction to Psychology 001

Very excited! My first MOOC starts this week: Introduction to Psychology 001 from the University of Toronto and via Coursera. I decided taking a MOOC would be a valuable experience for life, my job and more importantly – the MEd. It seems MOOCs are making some big strives into the HE market place (so much so that it is even possible to start earning credit via some of these courses).

Sadly however I need to somehow balance the MOOC and MEd for a couple of weeks until assignments are finished. It may be a case of pressing pause on the MOOC and catching up in just under a fortnight. If all else fails, I can always enroll again – but who wants to ditch their first MOOC. Not me…

MEd 8: Interesting!

So I have been working hard this week on my data analysis to help influence the next part of my study. By next part – I pretty much mean this week. I need to be reflecting by the weekend.

I have completed all the quantitative analysis and there have been some useful pointers to direct the next part of this study. This has involved looking at demographics data and comparing it between the University population and our own access statistics. This gets a lot more interesting when cross tabulated – but I’ll keep it simple for now. This is nothing drastic here – the service is being accessed by students from a whole host of demographics which is very reassuring. I’ll review some of the interesting areas here:


Despite the university population lacking the dramatic gender gap experienced within other institutions (See the 2013 article in the Guardian – Where are all the men?), there is a notably less appointments from male students. Indeed, they make up only 34.3% of appointments. Are men less likely to see 1:1 help in learning and development? Would online courses and resources be more attractive to them?



Compared to the university population, we relatively see more ‘older students’. This is perhaps not to be unexpected as the return to education or a break in study can often lead to the need for more learning and development support. This however is an assumption and this needs to be understood. It could also be a case that ‘younger students’ are less likely to seek learning and development help. This could be an issue – especially as they are unaware how digitally illiterate they are (ALDinHE Conference). Clearly a good area for further research!



For both mode of study (part-time/full-time) and level of study (undergraduate/postgraduate) there was a weighting towards one group – even if just slightly. This was ‘full-time’ for mode and ‘undergraduate’ for level. This may be for several reasons and would be interesting to research. It could be that part-time and postgraduate students are naturally more independent – it could however indicate a need for other forms of provision for these groups.


Home country

Relatively speaking, we see slightly more international students – but this is not a surprise as they are studying degree level of higher qualifications in second language. Once again however this is an assumption and is something that could be investigated.


Is  this not all terribly dull DULL?

Well maybe. But one thing I have to admit is that this isn’t exactly how I expected the data to turn out. To be honest, I suspected we’d be seeing proportionally less mature students, or postgraduates or some other clear-cut category. The results however showed us performing really well. The gender balance however – now there is something I did not expect. Out of everything, it appears gender is the one to look at for now.

I am unsure why this surprised me at the time. To be honest – gender issues like this are present across the HE sector. What interests me however is why male students at hull are less likely to seek our support. This is interesting for my study as ultimately: would further online and self-help support be more beneficial to male students?

More research is needed. At last I feel more informed now and know where I am heading!




MEd 7: Data data EVERYWHERE

So I started my research this week, collating the quantitative data I needed to identify the groups for my qualitative research. It has been an interesting process so far as it turns out out appointment record is over 26,000 records and this doesn’t even include workshop data! At this stage I am pleased I chose to focus on only on the data from the current academic year as this certainly narrows down the total number of records and makes it a lot more manageable for this mini-project.

I am however starting to get REALLY worried about what little time we have left. To ensure I am (somewhat) on track, I have decided not to analyse workshop attendance and to only focus on appointment attendance for the disengagement analysis. While this is unfortunate, this doesn’t concern me too much. The sole aim of this stage is just to identifying which groups to research. Essentially I need to get this over and done with QUICKLY so I can make a start on my interviews… while there is still time… just…

Reliability has been a bit of a shocker. I thought our data would be solid, but I have spotted problems. There has been some human error (unless we really did have a 102 year old student on a theater course…) and the data extraction has caused some problems too (some engagements are double and treble recording where a student is on multiple programmes in a session). Suffice to say I think I’ll be nipping back to readdress reliability concerns in the plan.

So… Somehow I need to get this stage and my completed plan done before the end of this month. This will give me around 10 days for data collection/analysis and a week for my summary/reflection. It feels like it will take a miracle. But then again – it is only a ‘mini’ project…

ALDinHE: 23 things for digital literacy

Helen Webster (@scholastic_rat) ran an excellent workshop on ’23 things for digital literacy’, a project she has been working on to help support PhD students and early career researchers. Like Emma, Helen hails from the University of Cambridge, source of the 23 Things Cambridge blog – “the online home of the Web 2.0 programme for University of Cambridge departmental and college librarians”. The essence of ’23 things’ is simple. You start a blog, updating it weekly. The updates are structured around a ‘thing’ of the week, introduced by the programme leader. This could be something like using wikis, twitter, LinkedIn or RSS feeds. As it is done in the individuals own time, the discovery and use of the ‘thing’ is within their own context.

What Helen has done with the project however, is to adapt it to work with research student support. Digital literacy is of great importance for any researchers and ’23 things’ is a brilliant way to break away from ICT training sessions that simply force all the students to sit at machines while some tools are dictated to them. Breaking out of this classroom, 23 things enables students to use their own equipment, helps them to learn by doing and ensures what they are doing is within the context of their own research. The crucial element is NOT the ‘thing’ itself. It is the process of engaging with a ‘thing’ and the confidence to try something new. This is important as any given tool could quickly become defunct, obsolete or even closed – as is the case with Google Reader.

To ensure interactivity, launch workshops were help so students could meet each other. More importantly, they are encouraged to comment on each others blogs. When approaching a ‘thing’ they are told to be skeptical. Just because the ‘thing’ is introduced by the programme leader, it does not mean it is a tool to be used. It is something to be investigated. Only they can decide if it is of use to their own context. An example of the discourse around each topic could be Dropbox. It can be argued it is an excellent tool for preserving historical documents but an inappropriate tool for storing confidential and sensitive interviews.
See it in action here:
See Helen’s website here

ALDinHE: Supporting and developing the digital literacy of staff

I was very interested to hear from Daniel Clark, a learning technologist from the University of Kent and wanted reflect on his ALDinHE session. It was based on the  E-Learning Summer School at the University of Kent. This is perhaps best described by their website:

The Summer School is a two-day event offering an immersive environment for staff to experience all of the tools and technologies available to them at the University and to engage in wider discussions about Technology Enhanced Learning in Higher Education.

The Summer School operates like a mini conference with invited guest speakers, parallel workshop sessions and interactive discussion groups. Attendees have plenty of opportunity to network with their colleagues and to share their own practice.

This event is open to all staff, regardless of whether you currently use technology in your teaching or not. It may also be of interest to staff who are new to the University of Kent. (University of Kent, 2013)

From the conference presentation, what they achieved seemed to have worked. I think the peer-based elements went a long way to securing this success as, from experience, involving academics helps to show the practical implications for technology. This was also seen with the use of guest presenters to provide tangible examples. Sometimes learning technologists are too abstract and this seemed a really good way to make the sessions practical.

I particularly liked the use of parallel workshops to enable staff to choose strands depending on their ability and interests. I think this is brilliant as it avoids patronising staff familiar with tools while providing those comfortable with technology the opportunity to look at more advanced stuff. I think this model has a lot of potential to break the cycle of dull workshops that no one has time to attend. Running this in summer gives staff the real potential to embed ideas into their teaching.

If you are interested and want to learn more:



ALDinHE: Of jigsaws and shape-sorters: visualising common ground in integrated information literacy and learning development provision

Emma Conan, from the University of Cambridge ran a great session on visualising common ground in integrated information literacy and learning development provision. It comes down to the following visual representation Emma developed below:


The diagram is great as it breaks the idea that skills development is sequential – students can follow any path through this diagram. I also liked that Emma argued the jigsaw suggests students need every piece. Perfect analogy! I do think it has great potential, especially for linking to development frameworks. Are we ensuring our students have all the pieces?

There was a great deal of discussion over the question mark in the session. The idea was that it could literally be whatever the student wants it to be. I guess this starts to hint at personalisation. Could this be made into an interactive jigsaw where students can supplement this with additional pieces? Could students arrange the pieces to make their own whole? Definitely some options for linking to PDP here. Another element of the question mark:

“There should not be an authority figure you don’t question”.

Part of the heart of academia. Just a shame that so many staff fear students who would question them…

I will leave it there for now – If you’re interested in reading more, check out Emma on twitter @LibGoddess or check out her blog.

MEd 6 – I like the way you think

It has been a while since I have done a proper update regarding my MEd research. I’ve not been slacking – far from it! Our Team has been very busy preparing new things for the students which took a lot of Easter. I was also lucky enough to go to the ALDinHE conference last week which took a lot of my time. I’ve happily spent most of Easter catching up on my proposal and I think the time has now come to catch up on my blog. It won’t be easy, but I am hoping to add quite a few posts to sum up the experience of honing my research proposal over the last couple of weeks.

I want to dip back to the conference first however as it has offered excellent input towards my literature review and research approach. The conference was incredibly relevant to my research proposal as all the content and papers involved new and upcoming developments in skills support. This made it a perfect starting place to look at what is out there and has really shaped my thought processes over the last few weeks. I also had the honour of presenting some work at the conference alongside a colleague (here if you are interested).

The conference has had a big impact on my research as it has really helped me hone in on what is important. This has been a lot of fun actually and has enabled me to really catch up on my research proposal. I want to try and spent a couple of days blogging about the sessions that I found useful in helping me plan my research proposal. You may have seen them referenced in my wiki, but I want to expand on this now.

I want to end this post with the following video. I have recently become obsessed with TED talks and have ashamedly been using them as a form of procrastination been using them as breaks while I study. The reason this one stood out when Brené say the following to someone wanting to call her a ‘story teller’:

The academic, insecure part of me was like… ‘Why not magic pixie’ …

I like how she was concerned of her academic integrity and the idea of her being a story teller. But what really struck me was the following:

I am a qualitative researcher. I collect stories. Thats what I do. Maybe stories are just data with a sole. Maybe I am a storyteller

I have never felt more connected to a researcher before. I cannot describe how much I like the idea of qualitative research being ‘data with a soul’. I’ve always felt that, but have never been able to vocalise that.


MEd 5 – Research Proposal

Below is a summary of what I am looking at but I will continue to develop this on the MEd course wiki

So I am a little behind, but I have finally got things together for my research proposal. This is my current idea for now, I hope it is workable… The team that I am on has an established face:face support programme involving workshops, 1:1 appointments, volunteer training and PASS. As modes of study continue to diversify and as our students increasingly have life/work commitments, we need to consider how online support can supplement what we currently do. For this mini research project I proposed to look at the following two questions:

1) Are there any students currently not engaging with our face:face programme that could be supported online?

This could utilise current participant data that is available. I could supplement this with a couple of interviews or an online questionnaire.

2) What possible technologies could be used to facilitate online workshops or appointments (and what do similar teams in other universities currently use)?

This could involve researching and collating practice across the sector (or as much as possible given the time-frame.

MEd 4 – Ethics, Validity and Reliability

Ethics – the right and wrong
Ethics. What is right? What is wrong? With research I guess the core of this is a set of principles to keep our participants and their data safe. This is both critically and morally important. I think ethics have however taken another form. We’re all involved in organisations and to them, ethics is of vital importance too. There are legal, reputational, organisational and business issues. If a piece of research we were conducting led to conflict within the area of research or we left a HDD on the train full of participants details there would be major implications for the organisation. To prevent this organisations have procedures and processes monitor research ethics and approve projects before they take place. This is a valuable way to administer ethical approval – but for some it seems needless bureaucracy.

I wanted to start my reflection on that. Often we all fall into the trap of thinking ethical approval is just something we’re made to do. Something that is part of our organisation. I wanted to focus on the importance of ethical consideration for moral reasons. For our participants. Most importantly I think it is important to maintain this thought process throughout. Often I think it is easy to consider ethics as a mere checklist at the start of a project and not an ongoing evaluatory process throughout a research project.

Why is it important to consider research ethics?
The following are what I consider headlines in ensuring ethical research:

Accurate, thorough and accurately represented data
As I said in my previous post, it is immoral to misrepresent data or skew things towards a particular finding. There is no value in such research and it literally undermines the whole purpose of conducting research. It is our responsibility as researchers to produce valid and accurate results. This is especially the case where our research involves people as it would be abhorrent to misrepresent them, their viewpoints or opinions.

No harm
Research should do no harm to the participants. This is an obvious one. Sometimes a difficult one. Imagine this applied to medical research? Sometimes it is about having processes lined up in case things do go wrong just as much as it is in trying to prevent it from happening. In the same way, people should not be put in any unnecessary risk.

Consider anonymity and confidentiality
Often we can offer anonymity or confidentiality to our participants. In doing so it is vital we handle the data carefully and sensitively. If a participant believes what they say is confidential, they may be more open. If a researcher went on to name and shame them it would a violation of research principles and even the data protection act.

In some contexts, participants (or their guardians) should know who we are and what we are doing. This is particularly the case with involved methods such as interviews and focus groups. Participants have a right to know what we are collecting and how we will use that data. There are cases where consent isn’t possible as it will affect the study outcome (psychologists observing behaviour) or sometimes it is outside our ability (participant observation of a food court at lunch). It is these cases where ethical considerations need to be carefully considered.

Is the person giving consent in a position to give consent? Are they old enough? Do they understand what it means?

Data access
How do you store your data? Who has access to this? If you have a file of participants names and addresses are you storing it securely? Do you have permission to share raw data?

Researcher safety
How can we keep ourselves safe? Are we off to go speak to participants down dark alleys where no one can hear us scream? Unlikely… What about someone’s home? For my undergraduate I interviewed people at home. For my safety someone needed to know where I was. For my participants safety, they needed confidentiality. Dilemma. To solve this I had to pass sealed details to a colleague and they would be instructed to open it should I not check in at a specified time. Perhaps it seems a little overkill but it was something that kept us both safe.

Stealing is wrong and that is what plagiarism is at the heart. It is unethical to plagiarise work. Enough said.

It is important to comply to the Equality Act 2010. This is particularly important to consider as no language should be used that would bias anyone for any of the protected characteristics in the act.

I think it is sometimes easy to forget this. As social researchers we are often invading someone else’s world. Their community,  their school, their place of work or even their home. We need to remember this as researchers and respect their territory.

Legal, health and safety, safeguarding
While all the above is important, criminal, safeguarding and health and safety issues must come first. If any participant indicated something falling into this area, the researcher may have an obligation to reveal this to the relevant authorities.

This next bit is formed for the Creswell (2003) book which looks at three ethical scenarios:

  1.  This issue falls under my last point. This issue would over-ride all other considerations and the researcher would have an obligation to inform the prison that a breakout was planned.
  2. The researcher is plagiarising and this needs to be corrected. It would be best to approach the team as whole regarding plagiarism. This would give the individual opportunity to correct their mistake and learn. If this was still not fixed at a later date then a discussion would need to be had with that researcher. Plagiarism could bring the whole team/project/department into disrepute.
  3. In this case the student has done something wrong. She should stop her research until she receives ethical approval. If her project did not or needed amendments then the participants would have to be informed. This is assuming her researcher was properly constructed. If she had conducted it unethically then she may need disciplining according to regulations.

Validity and Reliability:
I am cautious of the length of this post so will leave it there. There were also no guidelines for the validity/reliability reflections so I am unsure what to write as well….