Planning for a principled approach to engaged research

by Prof. Richard Holliman, The Open University

Effective planning for engaged research is essential to the success of any subsequent activity. The Open University’s (OU) Public Engagement with Research Catalyst identified six dimensions of engaged research: preparedness; politics; people; purposes; processes; and performance (Holliman et al., 2015). We argue that those involved in the planning for engaged research should take account of all six dimensions.

In our contribution to the Digitally Agile Researcher we draw on an example from the Engaging Opportunities Project. As part of this project a team comprising OU researchers and local teachers documented how the six dimension of engaged research were applied in practice to develop, deliver and evaluate a ‘Labcast’ for sixth-form students at Denbigh School in Milton Keynes.

What is a Labcast?

A ‘Labcast’ is an interactive, live web broadcast that integrates video streaming and instant messaging to enable a conversation between two or more locations.

A short video explaining the concept of a Labcast can be viewed in the short video below.

Planning for school-university engagement with research

In our contribution to the Digitally Agile Researcher we explore the six dimensions of engaged research as guiding principles through which school-university engagement with research can be planned. Each dimension or principle is informed by a series of questions. In providing collaboratively-derived answers to these questions the ‘Labcast’ activity was planned, enacted and evaluated.

Figure 1: The dimensions of engaged research (adapted from Holliman et al., 2015)

Preparedness

How can people plan effectively for school-university engagement with research? Why should researchers, school students and teachers engage with research? What levels of information are required to engage? What skills and competencies are required to engage?

Politics

What are the conditions required to facilitate school-university engagement with research? Do the participants—in this instance, researchers, school students and teachers—see genuine value in engaging, or do they feel they ‘have to’ engage? What is the wider context for school-university engagement with research?

People

Who could participate? Who should participate? What forms of expertise are necessary to participate? How will the contributions of different participants be attributed as the engagement progresses?

Purposes

Why engage? What are the expectations of the various participants—in this instance, researchers, school students and teachers—to the processes of engagement? Can the purposes be characterised as: Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; and Time-bound (SMART)?

Processes

How, when, where and through what media will the engagement take place? Have the processes been discussed and agreed with the participants? What are the rules of engagement?

Are they fair to all participants? Who governs the processes of engagement? At what points in the research cycle should participants engage? In what ways should engagement take place for particular publics, at particular points in the cycle of responsible research and innovation?

Performance

Who should assess the performance of the school-university engagement with research? What types of knowledge, data, methods of data collection and techniques of analysis could be used to evaluate the potential impacts of the engaged research? What measures could be used to explore whether the engagement worked? How can the findings from evaluation research be shared effectively with participants to improve future processes of engagement?

Pragmatism vs. morality

We sought pragmatic answers to each of these questions, and we discuss them in the chapter. As a result of these collaborative and cooperative experiences, we argue that these guiding principles should not be set in stone. Rather, they provide a framework through which engagement can be enacted in ways that are meaningful and relevant to participants. In effect, this is a principilist approach, underpinned by a philosophy of pragmatism.
One of the critiques of a principilist approach is that it lacks an underlying moral theory. To that end, our approach our approach to school-university engagement with research can be seen to draw on the work of Fricker (2007), who explored the concept of ‘epistemic injustice’.

At the Open University our mission is to be open to people, places, methods and ideas. All our work is informed by an ethos of social justice. This moral theory has underpinned our approach to school-university engagement with research within the Engaging Opportunities project. Our approach has been informed by the following ethical tenets: Knowledge for all; Mutual Respect; Openness in Process; Collaboration over competition; Balance in validity and accuracy; Do no damage; and Power with responsibility.

Together, these tenets combine in our pupil-centred approach. We argue that such an approach is important because children and young people are key publics for engaged research. They are the pool of talent from which the next generation of expertise will develop. They are also prospective citizens with a stake in how research agendas are framed and prioritised. And they will have some responsibility for managing the benefits and challenges that arise from the social and economic impact of these studies.

It follows that effective planning for school-university engagement with research requires a mixture of pragmatism and underpinning moral theory. Such an approach requires careful upstream planning, downstream project management through the research cycle, and effective forms of governance

References

Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic injustice: Power and the ethics of knowing. Oxford, University Press, Oxford.

Holliman, R., Davies, G., Pearson, V., Collins, T., Sheridan, S., Brown, H., Hallam, J. and Russell, M. (2017, in press). ‘Planning for engaged research: a collaborative ‘Labcast’’, in Kucirkova, N. and Quinlan, O. (eds.) The Digitally Agile Researcher. Open University Press, Maidenhead.

Holliman, R., Adams, A., Blackman, T., Collins, T., Davies, G., Dibb, S., Grand, A., Holti, R., McKerlie, F., Mahony, N. and Wissenburg, A. (2015). An Open Research University: Final Report. The Open University: Milton Keynes. Available from: http://oro.open.ac.uk/44255.

Acknowledgements

This post is based on a chapter that is co-authored by: Gareth Davies, Victoria Pearson, Trevor Collins and Simon Sheridan from the Open University; and Helen Brown, Jenny Hallam and Mark Russell from Denbigh School in Milton Keynes. Several of the ideas, workshop activities and tools discussed in this blog post were funded through an award made as part of the RCUK School University Partnership Initiative (EP/K027786/1; http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/pe/PartnershipsInitiative) and a further award made through the RCUK Public Engagement with Research Catalysts (EP/J020087/1; http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/pe/embedding). The Labcast was funded through an RCUK ‘Bringing Cutting Edge Science into the Classroom’ Award (https://www.stem.org.uk/cpd-partners).

I am grateful to Fabien Medvecky for introducing me to the work of Miranda Fricker.

Navigating the digital world: managing online search – Nicola Dowson #digagres

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I started my career working in a public library in South London in the early 1990s and moved to working in academic libraries in the late 1990s.  In the 1990s and early 2000s access to information was provided via library catalogues and networked CD-ROMs.  Print was still the main route of publishing in many disciplines.
The birth of the Internet was a real game changer for librarians and publishers as it opened up the possibilities of providing access to information 24/7 from anywhere in the world providing there was Internet connection.
Today, in 2016, there are a vast number of resources available online, in a wide variety of formats and available via wide range of platforms.  Being able to find, evaluate and manage information has always been an essential skill for researchers. In the digital world that we now live in it researchers are needed to further develop and hone their digital literacy skills to effectively navigate the digital world.
In writing the chapter on managing online search I have reflected on how the information landscape has changed in the last 20 years and how developments in scholarly communication, for example open access publishing and blogs are enabling wider dissemination of research outputs.  The chapter includes an overview of some database and discovery tools.  It also gives some tips on effective searching, managing your research results and evaluating what you find.
Writing the chapter has made me reflect on the need for researchers not to be come reliant on certain resources to find information as these are constantly changing , may disappear all together and there are always new resources being made available. Exploiting the functionality of databases and other services e.g. setting up alerts, recommender services can really help researchers with keeping-up-to-date with new developments in their field though it is essential to manage these to avoid information overload.

Nicola Dowson

Image CC BY Mosman Library

Three steps to become a digitally agile educator by @wiobyrne #digagres

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A 21st century educational system must educate all students in the effective and authentic use of the technologies that permeate society to prepare them for the future. As part of this future, learners need opportunities to not only read, but also write the web.

Despite the transformative possibilities associated with the inclusion of the Internet and other communication technologies (ICTs) in instruction, relatively little is known about the regular use of these technologies in our daily lives. For educators in particular, understanding how best to utilize these digital and web literacies in our work is central to our collective future.

One the problems is that researchers and educators have little or no guidance in how to embed these new and digital literacies into their work process and product. There are numerous reasons for this current situation.

The purpose of this post is to identify three steps to get you started on the path of becoming a digitally agile educator.

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Create and curate your digital identity

One of the first steps in this process is the need to create and curate your digital identity. Educators spend a lot of time preparing for teaching class and interacting with students and colleagues in the “real world.” We pick out an outfit and new shoes for the first day of classes. We make sure that we’re well groomed and look professional when we show up for face-to-face lessons. Many of us pride ourselves on being organized and presenting ourselves in a positive light.

Much of this veneer of professionalism and organization is not carried through to our digital identity. We may have a page on the school or organization website that shares our information. We have social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Google+) that we maintain or have been orphaned. There usually is little to no consistency in design or identity across these spaces. Finally, the identity presented across these spaces is usually inconsistent with the identity we present face-to-face. It is also usually inconsistent with the identity we choose to use in identifying ourselves.

In working with educators from Pre-K up through higher education, one of the reasons individuals give for not maintaining a digital identity is that they would prefer to remain private and not have a presence online. In the Post-Snowden era, there are also serious concerns about privacy and security online. The problem with this thinking is that by not creating and developing your own online brand, you’re allowing others to do it for you. Not if, but when someone searches for you online, they’ll only find information others have said about you. You should be the one to create and curate that information.

Think deeply about the identity you want to use to represent yourself. What colors, images, and text will you use to build this identity? As an example, will you use a photo of yourself for your picture? You don’t have to. You’ll also need to consider what colors and patterns will you use across your spaces to keep it consistent. Finally, what information will you share about yourself, and what will you keep private. You can keep all of this written down and refer back to it as you create and revise your identity across spaces. Once you have these guidelines written, go to each of your accounts for your various social networks and places that you appear online and edit the information they have about you. Keep it consistent. Create the digital identity that you want to have.

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 12.56.36Digitize your workflow

The second step in the process of becoming a digitally agile educator is to modify your workflow. In my own work process I rarely use Microsoft Office. Everything that I create and share is usually in Google Drive. I use Google Docs for writing and planning. I use Google Slides for all of my presentations. I use Google Forms and Spreadsheets for assessments in classes and during research. I rarely, if ever use Word, PowerPoint, or Excel for any of my work. These are usually the tools that we use to create and share teaching, learning, and research materials.

Usually people think that this is crazy as we’re indoctrinated that we need to have “our computer” and we use Microsoft Office to create, manipulate, and save files on our machines. The problem is when we work from multiple locations, or when the computer crashes, all is usually stuck on that one computer. I also work from multiple locations and use multiple tools. I also want to make sure that there is always a backup and nothing that stops me from teaching, presenting, or researching. Those of us that have had a computer crash in the middle a lesson or speech will know what I’m talking about. Technology glitches will happen. It is for these reasons that I strive for a workflow that is device agnostic and gives me ubiquitous access to my materials.

Being device agnostic means that I can utilize any tool or platform that I have at my disposal. I’m frequently writing on my MacBook, or teaching using the PC in our classrooms. I review documents and read on my Android phone, or iPad. I bring my Chromebook on the road to use for presenting at keynotes and workshops. I need to be able to quickly use any device and not have concerns about my materials not working on that specific device.

Having ubiquitous access to my materials means that my products are cloud-based and usually saved digitally. My use of Google Drive (and other tools) allows me to build a system that automatically makes my materials available anywhere. Moving over to a Chromebook several years ago jumpstarted this process. One of the challenges with this system is that you almost always have to have access to the internet. You can create and revise your materials offline, but you’ll have to plan ahead for some of the instances. In my mind the advantages outweigh the challenges as you’ll always be able to access your materials. If your computer crashes, you can easily log on to another and access your content. If you forgot the correct adapter for the projector, share the document or slides with your audience and have them follow along while you present. Having a cloud based system to store and save all of my content has allowed me to work much more easily both individually and collaboratively with colleagues and learners.Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 12.57.14

Build an online learning hub

One of the final steps in this process is the need to build and establish an online learning hub. As you create and curate your online brand, your identity will be spread across numerous spaces online. Many of these online social networks acts as silos and only privilege their content. As an example, Google, Twitter, and Facebook frequently change the access to your data that they provide to each other. The end result is that your great work on your Facebook or Twitter profile might not be accessible when “Googles” you.

You should also consider what happens when you meet someone for the first time, or they happen to come across some part of your digital identity. How much are they learning about you if they only read some of your recent tweets? If that an adequate or complete picture of you? If you build and maintain one space on the internet, you can archive and/or share materials using your own website. This allows colleagues and friends the opportunity to look back through the digital breadcrumbs that you’ve left online to get a more complete picture of you.

To build and maintain your online learning hub, you have several options. You can useWix, Weebly, WikiSpaces, Google Sites, or WordPress to build a website for archiving and sharing content. The options I listed are all free and are listed in the order of “ease of use” that I usually share with my students and clients. I believe any of the options listed above are a good starting point to build up a domain of your own. The challenge is that your options and the URL (address) for your website are somewhat limited. The challenge is that your website also might be taken down if the company decides to leave that business altogether.

It is for these reasons I pay a hosting company (I thoroughly recommend Reclaim Hosting) as I build my websites. I pay for a URL, this means that I can pay for a specific web address that will be used for my website. I also pay to host the open source version of WordPress that runs all of my websites. There is some extra work required, but it’s not impossible. By maintaining your space you can choose what to share and what to put in the background. If you’ve got materials or information about you that you don’t want online, you cannot delete it. You do have the ability to create and share your own information and push the other information down or off of a search engine results page.

Become a digitally agile educator

As I’ve indicated at the start of this post, educators need to identify and develop opportunities to build and utilize these new and digital literacies in their work. There is not only a need to use these texts and tools in our teaching, learning, and research, there is a need to guide students in the processes.

The steps listed above will take time, but will bring you to the starting point as you interact online. The steps and work detailed are also not impossible. Your mindset should be to move forward through the steps in a granular and thoughtful pace.

If needed, I am available to help guide you in this process. You should also subscribe to my newsletter to continue your thinking about these skills and habits.

W. Ian O’Byrne

Changes to academic practice in the 21st century by @oliverquinlan #digagres

26666376366_2046b119b6_bWe are past the planning stages and onto the writing of ‘The Digitally Agile Researcher’ now. Over the coming months you will hear from some of the contributors about the ideas they are working on for the book. As author of the first chapter, it falls to me to open this series and consider what changes there have been to academic practice in the 21st century.

The first thing to acknowledge, I think, is that whatever changes there have been they are not likely to be evenly distributed. One of our reasons for putting together this book is that some institutions are pushing forward with new approaches while others are engaging with changes less so. This also goes for some individuals and groups in different institutions. Some of this change has been driven by adapting to genuine challenges and opportunities presented by technology. However, such is the power of technology to dazzle and to bring feelings of inevitable change, some of these changes may also be down to other drivers.

In this chapter of the book I want to set this scene, and raise some of the questions that will be dealt with throughout the book.

  • How do researchers know which of the rapidly developing tools to invest their time in mastering, and which to pass over?
  • How does increased transparency as a result of communications technology affect academic work?
  • Is there a tension between rapid public communications and the necessarily closely focused and tentative approaches needed for academic work? How do we navigate this?
  • What parts of the research process should be automated and turned over to technology, what parts should remain solidly human?
  • How does engagement with digital research tools affect participants in research?
  • What aspects of more traditional, pre-digital research practice are paramount to retain as we develop into a more digitally agile approach to research?
  • How does power and authority affect these changes, both institutional and the reputational power of influential individuals? There is a political dimension to technological changes in academic work that we should not ignore.

These are my starting points for work on the chapter, but in the spirit of the book I would really welcome feedback on them. Are they enough? Have I missed important aspects, or are there some that are perhaps tangential and should be discounted? Please let me know in the comments below, or via the hashtag #digagres which we are using for the book on twitter.

Photo Credit: pestoverde via Compfight cc

Why ‘The Digitally Agile Researcher’? – Oliver Quinlan @oliverquinlan #digagres

In ‘The Digitally Agile Researcher’ we are producing a book aimed at exploring the new emerging methods of using digital technologies as part of the research process. In the audio recording below, co-editor Oliver Quinlan talks about the benefits he has seen of using digital tools in the research process, and how the book is designed to capture and explore both these and the limitations or challenges.

Why ‘The Digitally Agile Researcher’? – Natalia Kucirkova @nkucirkova #digagres

The Digitally Agile Researcher is a book designed to break new ground in supporting researchers to make the most of digital tools across the many stages of their research process. In this audio interview co-editor of the book Natalia Kucirkova talks with contributor Christian Payne about the importance of digital agility, and how she is seeking to explore this subject through the book.

Introducing The Digitally Agile Researcher #digagres

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New digital technologies have enormous potential to enhance a researcher’s work, engage audiences with research, and generally make life easier. However, navigating the fast moving world of digital media and communications -and marrying it with the established best practices in academia -can be a challenge.

This is a challenge increasing numbers of academics are rising to. They are using digital tools to collect, analyse and explore data and information. They are collaborating with participants in research. They are optimising the painstaking work necessary as they conduct research, and engaging new and diverse audience with findings once it is done.

For many this sounds like a dream, but with the pace and demands of academic life it is one that can be difficult to make reality.

‘The Digitally Agile Researcher’ will bring together the thinking, approaches, and knowledge of a range of researchers and academics who are making the most of the opportunities provided by digital technology. Edited by Dr Natalia Kucirkova and Oliver Quinlan, the book will feature contributions from a range of fields, helping researchers keen to develop their use of digital media and communications to do so. It will provide discussion of the complex nature of digital engagement, practical advice as to how to both get started and develop use of digital tools, and analysis of the likely future directions such work will take. Balancing practical advice with more scholarly exploration, the book will be a starting point for developing a considered approach to digital tools as well as the practical activities. It will provide the starting points for digital agility for any researcher or academic.

As the project develops, we will be sharing influences and developing thinking on this blog. True to the spirit of the connected, digital world, we want to invite discussion, critique and collaboration as we go.

Digital technologies can create tensions when interacting with the well established world of academia. Where these tensions are addressed and the challenges met, there are huge possibilities for engagement, research practice and new ways of conducting academic work.

More on all of these themes soon…