THEORETICAL ACCOUNT KAREN MCAULAY SESSION ON RESEARCH & BIBLIOGRAPHIC SKILLS (click here for comments on MySite – our Teaching Artist collaborative space )
I have been asked to provide an hour’s instruction on research and bibliographic skills to the research students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, on Monday 19th May between 6-7 pm in the Research Lab. Having provided this training for several years running, I have free rein within the broad subject area, but my challenge is to attempt to make the session more interactive, and more aligned with best pedagogical practice. The seminar is one of a series of evening events run for our research community. Lectures by visiting speakers are public, and thrown open to all Conservatoire staff and students, but mine is more by way of practical advice to students engaged in doctoral research, and is not offered to the wider community. It is stand-alone, insofar as it does not fit into a formal curriculum or structured series of classes. Additional challenges are the unknown variables of student numbers; their experience and/or expertise in the topic; and the absence of any form of assessment.
There are a couple of permanently networked PCs in the research lab, and individual students often have their own laptops, so there will web access during the seminar, facilitating some hands-on exploration of tools that the students may not yet have encountered.
National Policies and Strategies impacting on Learning and Teaching
Instructors in the Conservatoire are guided by the legislative framework set forth by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) for all Higher Education Institutions, viz the UK Quality Code for Higher Education. (Quality Assurance Agency, 2013) Of particular interest is Part B, ‘Assuring and enhancing academic quality’, where Chapter B4 is devoted to, ‘Enabling student development and achievement’. Taking responsibility for their own learning, and making effective use of available services and resources are specifically highlighted, and my seminar is intended to help research students achieve this.
I am also informed by the Vitae Researcher Development Framework, (Vitae, 2014) which articulates four specific zones in which doctoral students are expected to gain competence, irrespective of their subject:-
• (A) Knowledge and intellectual abilities;
• (B) Personal Effectiveness;
• (C) Research governance and organisation;
• (D) Engagement, influence and impact.
Each area is further subdivided into three specific capacities. Research and bibliographic skills are obviously essential, particularly in the first two areas. Information seeking and information literacy are explicitly listed under (A); and research management under (C).
Teaching and Learning Theories and Intended Learning Outcomes
Edwards et al remind us that learning takes place in different formal and informal contexts, particularly in the context of today’s enthusiasm for lifelong learning (Edwards, 2009). We can imagine the learning context as being various strata, or levels, and it follows that learning can be formal or informal (along a continuum), personal or in an educational system, and perhaps situated in communities of practice. My session, whilst in the context of a traditional seminar, is predicated upon the assumption that students will continue informal, independent practice in the use of citation conventions, and will experiment with bibliographic management systems until they choose the one that best suits their needs, since their final written output will require competence in both citation and bibliography-building. I am thus teaching skills that will ultimately be absorbed and assimilated into daily practice. Furthermore, some bibliographic software can be used collaboratively (rather like Dropbox or a wiki), so a bibliography could technically be compiled by a group of researchers, thereby enabling them to incorporate it into their community of practice.
In my efforts to make my teaching more interactive, encouraging students to participate in the session and form their own opinions on the methodologies I introduce, I find John Biggs’ theories on constructive alignment have particular resonance (Biggs, 2003). My teaching and learning activities (TLAs) must be designed in such a way that students attain the intended learning outcomes (ILOs); Biggs remarks that, ‘The learner finds it difficult to escape without learning appropriately’ (ibid).
Since this session is free-standing and perforce lacks context, one of the ways by which I hope to surmount this is by emailing the research student community in advance of the seminar, advising them of the topics I shall be covering, and inviting them to come prepared to discuss web applications and methodologies that they have already encountered. I think that my teaching to date may have been rather too didactic (perhaps influenced by the behaviourist tradition, but on a more prosaic level, because of the era I grew up in), but I am determined to adopt a more cognitive approach by trying to follow Biggs’ methodology, aims and objectives, getting students to think for themselves more, thereby guiding them as they reach their own conclusions and form their own opinions about the topics I’m introducing.
In the seminar itself, I am considering two different approaches depending on the number of students present. I shall introduce the subject (databases and sourcing research material; and matters relating to bibliographic citation), and then if there are enough students present, I shall divide them into pairs to discuss both aspects, bringing the group back together to consolidate the discussion. If there are insufficient numbers, this will have to be a group discussion throughout, but I would then have to take care to separate both topics in the early part of the discussion, before the summing up. In either event, I would urge students to use the networked pcs to visit the websites that I had highlighted, either to show one another sites that they already used, or to look at unfamiliar sites. I believe the hands-on element to be very important, as such experimentation and personal experience will enhance the knowledge retention. Moreover, curiosity will hopefully inspire attendees to search for subject matter relevant to their own research. My own contributions as instructor will also, following constructivist theory, provide scaffolding to support their learning, by providing context and drawing threads together. (Mayes, 2004)
Biggs introduces four distinct steps in the design of the teaching session, namely (op. cit.):-
1 Defining the intended learning outcomes (ILOs)
2 Choosing teaching/learning activities likely to lead to the ILOs
3 Assessing students’ actual learning outcomes […]
4 Arriving at a final grade
In the present context, the first two steps are crucial, but there will be no formal assessment and no final grade. Nonetheless, it is my intention to follow up by emailing those present, to establish whether they found the session helpful, and whether there are any further questions on the resources introduced, or requests for other topics to be covered.
My definition of the ILOs will be informed by a table shared by the UK Centre for Legal Education on the Higher Education Academy: ‘Writing learning objectives using Bloom’s taxonomy’ (Higher Education Academy, 2010). Bloom divided learning into cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains, each further divided into stages of increasing complexity. I do not consider the psychomotor domain to have much relevance in my session; indeed, Alan Chapman notes that Bloom himself did less research into this domain. Chapman suggests that Bloom felt the academic environment was not as well-situated to research the acquisition of manual and physical skills. (Chapman, 2009)
Nonetheless, in terms of the cognitive domain, it is clear that I want the students to know, understand and be able to apply some of the techniques I introduce, hopefully being able in time if not to analyse, then at least to be able to compare the techniques with some discernment.
A summary of my ILOs, taking this approach, would therefore be the following:-
• You will know about some of the key databases and websites for gathering information pertinent to your research
• You will appreciate the differing kinds of information available from these sources
• You will be inspired to apply some of these search techniques in your research over the coming weeks and months
• You will in time develop informed opinions as to which methodologies are most useful in your field of research
• You will know some of the different ways of maintaining your bibliography
• You will know which citation conventions are generally used at the Conservatoire
• You will understand the importance of accurate citation following a single convention.
Research resources and bibliographic citation
• You will appreciate the importance of gaining these research capabilities, which not only prepare you for a possible future academic career, but also contribute to employability skills in the wider sense.
BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR THIS THEORETICAL SURVEY
Biggs, J. (2003). ‘Aligning teaching for constructing learning‘. Higher Education Academy Resources Centre. Retrieved April 07, 2014, from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/resources/database/id477_aligning_teaching_for_constructing_learning.pdf
Chapman, A. (2009). bloom’s taxonomy of learning domains – bloom’s learning model, for teaching, lesson plans, training cousres design planning and evaluation. Businessballs.com website. Retrieved April 07, 2014, from http://www.businessballs.com/bloomstaxonomyoflearningdomains.htm
Edwards, R. (2009). Edwards, Richard; Biesta, Gert and Thorpe, Mary eds. (2009). Rethinking contexts for learning and teaching: Communities, activities and networks. London, UK: Routledge. web abstract. Retrieved April 07, 2014, from http://oro.open.ac.uk/17118/
Higher Education Academy. (2010). “Writing learning objectives using Bloom”s taxonomy‘, June 2010. Higher Education Academy Resources Centre. Retrieved from http://www.ukcle.ac.uk/resources/personal-development-planning/table/
Mayes, T. & S. de F. (2004). JISC e-Learning Models Desk Study. Stage 2, Review of e-learning theories, frameworks and models (43 pages, from Issue 1.). JISC study. Retrieved April 07, 2014, from http://inspire.rcs.ac.uk/pluginfile.php?file=%2F15047%2Fmod_resource%2Fcontent%2F1%2FReview of e-learning theories%2C.pdf
Quality Assurance Agency. (2013). The Quality Code. Retrieved from http://www.qaa.ac.uk/AssuringStandardsAndQuality/quality-code/Pages/default.aspx
Vitae. (2014). About the Vitae Researcher Development Framework. Retrieved from https://www.vitae.ac.uk/researchers-professional-development/about-the-vitae-researcher-development-framework
NB This bibliography and all references are compiled using Mendeley, which is the bibliographic citation tool I recommend!
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