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 It can be argued it is an excellent tool for preserving historical documents but an inappropriate tool for storing confidential and sensitive interviews.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….

MEd 3 – The role of the Literature Review and of Theory

I have always seen the literature review as the most exciting part of any research project. For me, it’s about discovering what is out there, bringing it together and building on it. The later is the most interesting part – you get to take things forward and bring in your own comments, critiques, questions and links on what is already out there. I have once again enjoyed reading Creswell (2003) and Newby (2011) this week. I think this post is highly reflective as it is based on the literature reviews I conducted for assignments, my dissertation and earlier research proposals. I have then focused my reflections from this weeks readings.

Literature use

Bringing focus and taking things forward
I think literature is valuable in helping to focus a project. Unless you are trying to back up or disprove something, why waste your energy doing something that has been done before? I like how Dr John Classen (2009) puts it in the youtube video shared in the pathway:

 You have to know where you are before you can go forward

I think that sums up the point of productive research. If you are not brining ‘something new to the table’ or at least a unique context or situation – then what is the point? The only way you can make sure this is by having a thorough background to the field you are researching and some understanding of how and why you are taking it forward.

Understanding the background and ‘how you got here’
I find a strong understanding of the literary background to what you are researching is important. It helps you understand the ‘current situation’. This could be literal history, context, events leading to the subject/event or even history of thought on a concept. Understanding what has happened before can help avoid potential pitfalls.

Developing your own ideas
On undertaking a literature review I relish coming across viewpoints, approaches, conclusions, methods, discussions and ideas that I disagree with. It has always helped me to not only develop my own ideas, but to cement my understanding. It is an excellent way to discover new ideas and angles. There have been times that a series of new journal articles have contributed so substantially to my understanding that I have changed my viewpoint and understanding on a topic.

Justify your decisions and research method
A literature review is an excellent way to help justify what you are doing. Among other things, a thorough review can demonstrate why you are brining two concepts or schools of thought together, can show how you are bridging a gap in understanding with your project or can simply apply previous thought to your own context. If there is substantial thought in one area it can demonstrate academic consensus which is useful if you are taking things on to the next step. For example, I have often found it is a good way of reviewing methods previous researchers have used and justifying my approach though showing what has/has not worked before.

Literature misuse

I think Newby’s comments on research misuse are interesting.

Ignorance: Ignorance involves leaving out or being unaware of relevant work. Sometimes (perhaps often) this is unintentionally and on reflection I have fallen into this category before. For my undergraduate dissertation I remember teasing out what I believed to be all the core papers and areas of thought. It was only three years later that I found another key development. In my defence this was due to the lack of subscription to relevant journals at my institution so I was unable to get access to those papers. This is a shame that paper would have helped corroborate some of my findings. In other situations though, you can imagine how this could really destroy someone’s foundation or conclusion.

Misunderstanding: Misunderstanding is just what it sounds like – not fully understanding something… I think it is most important to be aware of this potential when looking at papers, arguments and thoughts outside your disciplinary background, field or context. I have experienced this when I looked at some physics and chemistry behind decomposition as part of my undergraduate which was outside of my social research background. I found it important to look into further research and check my understanding t if I ever leave my field.

Selective referencing and misrepresentation: In one word – unethical. Selective referencing involves purposefully omitting some references.  This could be papers that disagree/dispute the author’s position. I find it particularly abhorrent as it is so against the academic ethos. We should be free to agree or disagree. Throughout a lot of topics there is a lot of controversy and disagreement. It is this that makes topics so rich and interesting! Misrepresentation involves twisting and misusing previous work to imply different findings, outcomes or process. It is incredibly unprofessional. I do however think Newby does not fully consider thow it can be linked to misunderstanding.

MEd 2 – Qualitative and Quantitative Research and Research Worldview

In the past I have always favoured a mixed method approach. This isn’t so much because of my personal worldview, but the context I was researching in. Quantitative research gave me those numbers, percentages and graphs that resonated with the management team. I get the feeling I’m not the only person who has experienced this. Why do senior managers love hard figure so much? All this is assuming  a statistically significant sample of course. Then comes in qualitative. The little stories that tell you a lot. Those little glimpses into something that add up to a hint at the bigger picture. I’ve always preferred that approach I think as I’ve liked connecting with people as a researcher. I always feel I learn more.

This week I focused on studying Research Methods for Education (Newby, 2012) and an older edition of Research Design (Creswell, 2003). After James’ post on Google +, I event revisited Kirkpatrick as I had adapted some work based on that model for our service level evaluation. There were some important things I wanted to move towards with this – moving away from mere evaluation to look at outputs and impact. This naturally required a new focus on the later stages which required fitting it all into a bigger framework.

What distinguishes a qualitative study from a quantitative study?

Quantitative Qualitative
1 Tests/verifies explanations or theories to produce a measurable truth. Other researchers should be able to replicate results. Uses closed ended approaches/questions to measure and quantify. Collects meanings to explore the different views people subscribe to. Uses open-ended questions and approaches.
2 Produces a single quantifiable truth* Produces meaning(s) from the individualised reality perceived by people – there is no single truth*.“People subscribe to different views and believe valid but different truths*” (Newby, 2010: pp45)
3 The researcher is objective and neutral. Unbiased and rigorous approaches are used The researcher is not unbiased and can be committed or based within the community being studies.  Interpretation of results can be

I have labelled my top characteristics above. I felt the need to draw out some further differences and some similarities:


4 Is valid where approach is rigorous and accepted
5 *Produces ‘constructed’ knowledge and truths. There is no such thing as an indisputable truth. Any ‘truth’ may later be disproved. (See discussion on Henry’s blog)
6 Data takes the form of numbers Data can take any form
7 Positivist Constructivist

I am still wary of my choice in a table to draw out the differences between qualitative and quantitative. I think I wanted to do this as I could link rows to show similarities too. Although it is an obvious one, I still feel the need to justify qualitative approaches. I sadly still come across individuals who dislike things they cannot put a ruler against to produce a nice statistic.

I am still aware I am missing my third blog post that was due this week. Sadly I am still playing catch up with the course. This week had a HUGE amount of required reading which I have simply not got through due to unforeseen circumstances this morning. I did particularly enjoy reading Newby’s first chapter. I found the ‘warnings’ amusing and truthful. Newby labels research in educational contexts as highly political which I think we can all relate to . I think this is especially apparent within HE as there are institutional politics ontop. I think Newby presents a worst case scenario in suggesting that research can “make you enemies”. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but I think it raises useful points about considering how to approach a topic that may dispute orthodoxy or identify a different approach/path/strategy to the one agreed.


Creswell, J. W. (2003) Research Design, Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Method Approaches

Newby, P. (2010) Research Methods for Education

MEd 1 – Initial Thoughts

Now that I have resumed my MEd eLearning course at the University of Hull, it seemed the perfect opportunity to make use of this (otherwise) dead site. I’m very pleased to be resuming my studies on the course and look forward to meeting some new people over the next few weeks. The start date of the course took me by surprise a little, so I intend to play catch up this week. I aim to make my first three blog posts before the week is out. Hopefully life/work will permit this goal, but perhaps writing it down will help.

This first post considers the following three areas

  1. What you feel you need to know about research …
  2. Notes on some research that has influenced your own professional work or your learning
  3. Activities within your workplace which you consider to be research and what and who they influence

As this was task is to consider ‘initial reflections’, I have first answered the questions before engaging with the literature.

What you feel you need to know about research …
So far research has been an important part of my studies and career. As part of my undergraduate I needed to write a dissertation based on a unique area of research. For this I interviewed 22 people using standard qualitative methodology. This was helpful in getting my first job and as part of that role I wrote many research and campaign papers using both qualitative and quantitative methodology.

For better or worse, I have am working on research and evaluation in my current role. Hopefully this module will support me in developing my research skills.

Notes on some research that has influenced your own professional work or your learning
Similar to Justine, I think informal research plays an important and influential role in my careers. Part of my role is to observe our volunteers, providing them coaching advice to develop their skills. I think continued professional development (CPD) is a form of self-research and reflection that forms an important part of my career. I think these elements are very influential.

Activities within your workplace which you consider to be research and what and who they influence
Considering a purely formal role, research influences a lot of what our service does. Research into peer assisted learning has helped us back and develop the PASS scheme at the University of Hull. Its ongoing evaluation helps us make our system better and prove it is working. Our Team continually evaluates all of our activities. It helps us to ensure we are doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time. Where areas for improvement are identified – it helps us get it right the next time. This is vital for any service.