My session with the research students went well last night. There were six students, a few apologies, and the course leader was present.
I had been asked to cover research skills using electronic databases, and also to talk about bibliographic software. My one-hour lesson-plan accomodated all this, but in retrospect, it was all rather tightly packed in. The feedback afterwards was practically unanimous in this regard; and it has been suggested to me today that it would have been good to have had a similar session, or two similar sessions, at the start of the academic year in September. I’m inclined to think that we could have occupied two, two-hour sessions, perhaps a week or two apart.
My major change to the session, which I’ve now given several times, was in endeavouring to embrace constructive alignment theory, and to have the students much more involved. I was delighted how successful it was, to divide the students in pairs, getting them to ask each other three simple questions and then to report back to the group (a) what their partner found to be the most useful e-resource; (b) how their bibliography was progressing; and (c) whether there were any aspects of digital resources that they found challenging. Discussion was frank and animated, and I partnered with the course leader to talk about similar questions meanwhile.
I took notes as the students shared each others’ answers; some were quite surprising to me. The students make much use of the University of St Andrews’ e-resources (being far more numerous and interdisciplinary than we, a small institution, can afford); they also make quite a bit of use of Google Scholar. Naxos and JSTOR featured, not surprisingly, and also a couple of unique resources suiting the researchers’ own subjects – one from the Piobaireachd (Pibroch) Society, and the Chinese National Library. We don’t have a large enough research cohort to expect every e-resource on offer to be mentioned; it obviously depends on postgraduates’ research subjects as to what they will find useful.
More students had encountered Zotero, but were interested in what Mendeley could do; and the less technically-adept students were content with their Word document bibliographies, but again, hopefully emboldened to experiment with bibliographic software once they’d heard me and their peers talking encouragingly about their advantages.
The students’ course leader talked a little about Prezi as an alternative to PowerPoint, and one of the students engaged in dialogue with me about Scrivener as a writing tool for constructing and envisaging large pieces of written work.
Surprisingly, out of six postgraduate students, two had learned the hard way about the urgency of backing up documents and preferably keeping a copy on a USB stick, or using some kind of cloud storage. That’s 33%, which I found quite a worrying percentage!
FEEDBACK FROM THE RESEARCH AND BIBLIOGRAPHIC SKILLS SEMINAR
Peer-review from the course leader: “Many thanks for a lively and helpful session last night, I am interested to view the feedback
I was keen to get feedback from the students themselves, and decided that a simple 3-question survey would give the best chance of everyone completing it on the spot.
- overall structure very clear;
- hearing what my colleagues use to create their biblios and find articles;
- lots of experiences about bibliography software. I haven’t used any before, but it sounds very convenient and easy to produce the thesis later;
- hearing about Zotero and Mendeley;
- the useful information about software of bibliography;
- diversity of resources.
- The timing – prefer stretch over 2 or 3 hours;
- the session felt slightly rushed, but I would rather see a longer session than less content;
- that it was so short;
- too brief focus on each element!
Would like more of:-
- Bibliographical information (Zotero, etc);
- … this session! It was hugely helpful;
- practical sessions or more longer session for experiencing softwares together;
- Zotero/Mendeley training;
- details of bibliography (the way of how to use it).