Rethinking training and development in an online context #Vitaecon2020

Photo by Julia M Cameron on

At the Vitae International Researcher Development Conference in 2017, I gave a presentation about the Future Challenges of Doctoral Training. Fast forward three years and I am hosting a session at the Vitae Connections Week 2020 with colleagues from Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter Universities to explore where we are now. Back in 2017, I used multiple references to the Back to the Future movies and, whilst I don’t actually have a DeLorean Time Machine, I think I was close to the reality we face now.

It’s about three Cs – Curation, Community and Camera

Paul Spencer, September 2017
The Three Cs describing the future of doctoral training

We can now add a further C – Covid 19! This has brought about an accelerated change in practice amongst researcher development colleagues. Although it is quite a challenge to reorient to a new digital first approach, colleagues have noted positive outcomes from this also. As part of preparing for this session, my esteemed colleagues pre recorded their experiences in the following video.

Researcher developers share their experience on online training and development

Outcomes from the session

During the session on Thursday 17 September, we collated those perspectives in a padlet (one of the many tools that folks are now using to support learning!).

Click on this link to view the padlet or click on the image below

The good folks on twitter continued the conversation and shared examples of resources they find useful. Some examples below.

As ever I’m always happy to continue to share and bounce ideas around, why not leave a comment?

Developing the future postgraduate researcher

A neon sign spelling out the words The Future

image credit: future neon by Flickr user Russell Davies [CC BY-NC 2.0]

I’ve been asked to come along to a Research Supervisors’ Symposium being held at the University of Gloucestershire to talk about some of the challenges facing supervisors in developing the contemporary researcher. I’ve entitled my presentation “developing the postgraduate researcher of the future” and the slide deck I will be using is included here.

In this presentation I will be covering a few things, some of which I have been talking about most recently at the Vitae conference.

  1. How the focus has changed from being solely about developing the research to a balance of developing the individual.
  2. I’ve included some facts about the variety of career destinations for doctoral graduates, the majority of whom do not remain in academia which brings us back to the question of “What is a doctorate for?”
  3. Also included is some work from Rachael Pitt and Inger Mewburn about the competences (as mapped to the Vitae RDF) that are being sought in job descriptions for junior academic staff. This highlights the wider skill set that augments research specialism as being important for careers in the academy.
  4. There has been a lot of interest and research into the postgraduate research study space and Stan Taylor from Durham has curated a bibliography for doctoral supervisors via the UKCGE
  5. I’ll talk about the conceptual framework for doctoral supervision by Anne Lee which demonstrates the complex nature of that relationship and how many different roles are inherent to the development of a successful researcher.
  6. I think important to add to the framework is the idea that navigating the boundaries of those roles as the researcher progresses is neither easy nor comfortable for some because the identity formation that is occurring.
  7. I’ll delve into the practicalities of the identity formation because a lot of it happens as the researcher learns to write in their particular academic context. I really think that supporting postgraduate researchers as they develop their writing skills is a high impact activity.
  8. Then I’m going to look to how the environment is changing and how that is affecting the skills around developing the research – we are in a brave new open world and it does often expose the contrast between the old and new.
  9. I’ll finish up with a look into how I think the researcher development community are adapting and evolving to support postgraduate researchers for the future.

That’s it.

Social Media and the Science Communication Unit #digitalresearcher

Social media on electronic displayA few weeks back I gave a lunchtime presentation in a forum for those using/running social media channels at UWE. I was presenting the point of view of someone who supports the development of researchers and how social media is both part of my professional practice and something I think researchers should think about utilising to support their own career development.

Fast forward to today, when one of the research centres at UWE, the Science Communication Unit, invited me to attend one of their lunchtime meetings to discuss some of the opportunities and challenges for researchers.

In some ways, I thought it a bit daunting as I’d imagined that I wouldn’t be able to add a great deal to the existing knowledge base in the SCU. So I focussed discussion on what I think are the challenges and opportunities more widely. The slides I used to frame the discussion are embedded below.


Main points then from me:

  1. Some folks get bamboozled by the enormous number of tools available and often ask which one they should use. I reframed this by saying one has to remember the underlying process in all of this is people sharing things in a community so the question should be what do I want to share and with which community – then the right tool is the one that does that.
  2. I think there is a difference in the willingness to ‘have a go’ depending on experience, and as some evidence suggests, what age range you are in. Confidence in digital literacy I think is the best way to sum this up. I believe that some early career researchers are risk averse when it comes to using digital tools for a number of reasons.
  3. I can usually categorise these into three themes– concerns about information overload (or time to engage), concerns over digital identity (the blurring of professional vs private) and concerns of the misappropriation of ideas. Most of these can be mitigated against by making a point of using social media for the right purpose and perhaps displacing other activities.
  4. I don’t think everything to do with social media is wonderful, there are downsides. I read with some trepidation, Cal Newport‘s recent book on Deep Work where he argues that we have become addicted to distraction lowering our boredom thresholds to a point that it becomes very difficult to focus on cognitively difficult things for any length of time. Indeed, one of the chapters is entitled “Quit Social Media” although he is really advocating a proper consideration of the Return on Investment (ROI) of some digital tools– interesting stuff!
  5. I offered a few tips on making life easier by using short cuts to getting things done – aggregator tools, compartmentalisation and blogging to name a few.
  6. The main point is that researchers often associate social media with the dissemination of work but increasingly social media is playing its part in all of the research cycle.

Further Resources

Social Media – A Guide for Researchers

Vitae/Open University Handbook of Social Media

Vitae Digital Literacies survey report (2012)

The Ed Techie – Martin Weller blog on digital scholarship/open ed

Mark Carrigan – Social Media for Academics (2016)

The Thesis Whisperer blog

Patter – Prof. Pat Thomson’s blog

Thesis Boot Camp at UWE #tbc

Venue for Thesis Boot Camp

Over the weekend, the Graduate School at UWE finally managed to run a Thesis Boot Camp (TBC). I say finally as it has been something that I’ve felt we needed to do for over a year since reading the blog post about it on the Thesis Whisperer and suffering a major case of FOMO. So I got in touch with Dr Peta Freestone and set the train in motion.

We used the Students’ Union at UWE building as the venue and 28 late stage PhDers came along to get some writing done. It is a tough time in the PhD student journey, trying to push on to get the thesis written and submitted and I already know from experience that peer support at this point is a really important thing. Disillusionment is a prominent theme and it would be fair to say that some PhDers would prefer just to walk away from the whole thing rather than continue to battle on.

The whole idea behind TBC is to get late stage PhDers into a generative writing phase and keep them there for an extended period in order to push on toward getting a full first draft of the thesis. This is done in a supportive peer based environment which really helps with the productivity as anyone who has engaged in a Shut up and Write session will testify.

Dr Katherine Firth has a brilliant explanation of what happens when you don’t write enough toward a full draft before you start the editing process. It is something I am well familiar with, there are lots of barriers to writing– that inner voice that criticises your words as you write, the feelings of inadequacy (or imposter syndrome) that drive you to trying to ‘get it right first time’, the scrambled mess of thoughts you have about your work that are anything but linear and also the ol’ “I haven’t got the time to get into writing so it’s not worth sitting down to start” type of crippling procrastination.

So, this TBC is all about breaking some of that impasse. Participants get a little pre-work to do – meeting up with supervisors to clarify the thesis structures typical in the discipline, referring back to and updating a thesis outline and drilling down into the target chapters to create a road map to follow during the weekend.

During the TBC weekend, the “squad” of writers had input around how to approach writing – explaining the Perfect Sentence/paragraph vortex, how to visualise success, how to view the thesis writing process at this juncture, reminders that it’ll never be a perfect thing — it just needs to be good enough. There was also explanation of how to manage writing sprints using the Pomodoro technique and building in scheduled breaks for food and activity.

It sounds daft, but there was also a bit of a reward system recognising when milestones had been reached through the awarding of squidgy building blocks, green for 5k words, blue for 10k words, red for 15k words and gold (okay yellow) for the coveted 20k words.


Another brick in the wall

Also, really important, was the opportunity to talk things through with Peta and with others when it all seemed a bit off track. The squad came together and succeeded in reaching their personal goals and hopefully set up some habits that will work in the future as they push on toward submission.

I was glad to be part of it because what i witnessed was a revelation– folks who were on the point of quitting morphed into a state of rejuvenation and belief that this can be done, that finishing isn’t an impossible dream.

The final collective word tally for the weekend was an incredible

248,239 words


HR Excellence in Research – Does it work for you?

The logo for the European Commission HR Excellence in Research Award

HR Excellence in Research

HR Excellence in Research

In November, the UWE Researchers’ Forum tackled the subject of whether or not the HR Excellence in Research Award has improved things for the researchers employed at UWE, Bristol. At its heart are a number of policies that have been agreed by a number of stakeholders in higher education to improve the working conditions and attractiveness of research careers.

The purpose of the event was quite simple, to have a look at the confusing array of policies in this area and to pose the question “Does this change things for researchers themselves?”

To start things off we need to explore the policy landscape and recap recent history to illustrate how the different policies/agreements interact and shape things. Here is the presentation that we used to do that.

Key Documents

The key message is that there are lots of initiatives that overlap to impact on researchers and their career development. It’s perhaps not surprising that a good proportion of researchers are not aware of all of them.

I think that there are two key documents that are central to this.

  1. The European Charter and Code for Researchers
  2. The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers

The latter is the UK agreement to implement the former by setting out 7 key principles. These were also explored in the above presentation. This also has helped inform what UWE, Bristol should be doing in trying to ensure that researchers are supported appropriately.

It’s also worth noting that the UWE Researchers’ Forum has been following the Concordat since its introduction in 2008 and explored relevant topics along the way.

What do UWE Researchers say about their experience?

Having policies and making commitments to change and improve things is one thing but the real question is, “Has it made any difference?”. Asides the Researchers’ Forum, the other main instrument for answering this is to look at the results of the Careers in Research Online Survey (CROS) – a biennial survey conducted to gather the anonymous views of research staff in UK higher education institutions about their experiences, career aspirations and career development opportunities.

UWE, Bristol have participated in this survey since 2009. The following presentation highlights some of the key areas that give insight on the experience of UWE researchers.


There has been a lot going on with respect to factors affecting how researchers are supported in their career development – many policies have been launched in the past 15 years. At UWE, we have a relatively modest population of staff who are employed on research only contracts with a little over a quarter of them employed on an open ended type of contract.

One of the challenges as someone who supports the development of researchers is to connect them as a community, whether that be virtually or in a face to face meeting. The UWE Researchers’ Forum is one of those opportunities to meet with and engage in development opportunities with peers. It is now in its 11th year and one of the next steps is to review how it operates to see if we can do it better.

Another challenge is to provide appropriate development opportunities that meet the needs of an incredibly diverse research staff demographic in a way that is coherent and simple to engage with. This is something we are wrestling with all the time as resources (time, people and budget) are limited.

Despite the limitations faced, there is much to be positive about and the hope is that we can always improve things.

Copyright and the e-thesis

Photo of a pile of reference books, a laptop and a daunted woman.

How to get your thesis online?

Copyright and the e-thesis

This week the UWE Graduate School put on a workshop on the topic of using third party copyrighted material in a thesis. I enlisted the help of Bennet Jones, one of the research support librarians at UWE who has the responsibility for the UWE Research Repository to explore the issue.

Disclaimer: Neither myself or Bennet are experts in legal matters relating to intellectual property or copyright so the advice given here is our interpretation of how to comply with restrictions

The reason this workshop has come about is because UWE introduced a requirement for all postgraduate researchers to place a digital copy of their thesis on the UWE Research Repository and there have been lots of queries relating to the inclusion of third party copyrighted material. This isn’t an issue isolated to UWE, many other higher education institutions are publishing research outputs on repositories – University College London published results of a survey on this issue in 2010.

All submitted UK theses are in the public domain (except for those that have all or part of the thesis embargoed) and available to anyone who requests a copy via the British Library Ethos service. The proliferation of institutional repositories has made it easier than ever to access these materials. Data from UWE’s own repository illustrates this with doctoral theses being the most frequently accessed items.

This is a good thing for the exposure of the researcher and their work, especially in an era of open access research. The downside is that it is also easier for copyright owners to identify where breaches have occurred.

The slides that Bennet used are included here.

The key points are these:

  1. If you plan to use material that was not created by yourself in your thesis you should check the copyright status of the work
  2. Establish whether the work is available in the public domain, whether it is copyrighted, and is there a license for reuse
  3. It is better to ascertain these things as you go along rather than trying to retrospectively get permissions
  4. Where copyright is owned by a third party, consider whether using alternative materials would be suitable e.g. under a creative commons license
  5. If it is integral to your thesis then seek permission to use (usually a fairly straight forward process)
  6. Keep records of permissions granted
  7. Ensure that the material is appropriately attributed
  8. Seek help if unsure




Supervising Doctoral Students: Pedagogy & Practice

The UWE Graduate School run a course aimed at staff new to supervising postgraduate research students entitled “Supervising Doctoral Students: Pedagogy & Practice”. The aim of this course is to encourage supervisors to think about a research degree in terms of a journey, to consider the support required by the doctoral student at various points along the way.

We set some pre-course reading for the participants to bring up the ideas around the different approaches there are to supervision; these were the references supplied:

  • Lee, Anne (2008). How are doctoral students supervised? Concepts of doctoral research supervision,Studies in Higher Education (33(3) 267-281.
  • Deuchar, Ross (2008) Facilitator, director or critical friend? Contradiction and congruence in doctoral supervision styles, Teaching in Higher Education 13(4): 489-500.
  • Morrison-Saunders, A., Moore, S.A., Hughes, M. and Newsome, D. (2010) Coming to terms with research practice: riding the emotional rollercoaster of doctoral research studies, in M. Walker & P. Thomson (eds)The Routledge doctoral supervisor’s companion, London: Routledge.
  • Stanley Edward Taylor, (2012),”Changes in doctoral education”, International Journal for Researcher Development, Vol. 3 Iss 2 pp. 118 – 138

The programme for the two day course is included here:

Introductions and challenging assumptions

We started by talking about what our own doctoral journeys entailed, was it a good/bad/indifferent experience and what role did our supervisor(s) play in helping to navigate that journey. Perhaps predictably, there were some pretty diverse tales from all- but with the same sort of message resonating. Our own experiences of being supervised are formative in how we then supervise others.

There was an interesting discussion regarding the framework of supervision picked out from Dr Anne Lee’s work on research supervision as being intriguing. A full explanation can be found here:

This led onto the discussions about how supervisors are chosen. Expertise & experience were two characteristics that leapt out but it was recognised that a great many other factors can and do influence the choice.

A discussion about the difference between the role of the Director of Study (DoS) and second/third/fourth supervisors was also had. These are quite clear in terms of the regulatory framework at UWE.

Policy context for postgraduate research study

We also explored the context in which doctoral studies take place at UWE, what are the external/internal agendas and influences that shape what we do. The slides used to illustrate the complexity of this are here: A quick tour of the doctoral policy landscape

policy landscape for doctoral studies

policy landscape for doctoral studies

We ended Day 1 with a look at the progression examination arrangements we have here at UWE. The slides I used to support this are the same ones I use to inform doctoral students and are reproduced here:

Progression exam prezi

Progression exam prezi

It was a discursive day and it was great to have two things from the supervisors there, 1) a genuine enthusiasm for supporting doctoral students and 2) a wealth of experience that they bring to the table.


The second instalment of this course focussed on supporting doctoral students through the “middle years” (how do you maintain motivation?) and supporting students toward the finish. We began by talking about “doctorateness“, what is it, how do we define it and, probably more importantly, how do we encourage the development of it in others?

A good starting place was the Doctoral Descriptors, a set of criteria that research degrees are measured against by way of examination. The UWE descriptors are based on the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) publication “Doctoral Degree Characteristics” (Sept 2011). Most universities will have equivalent descriptors somewhere in their regulatory framework. The UWE Doctoral Descriptor and the separate MPhil descriptor can be found in Section K3 of the academic regulations.

It’s useful to compare the two together to help highlight the key characteristics that separate a PhD or Professional Doctorate or a DPhil from that of an MPhil.

It is important for supervisors to try to help their students understand what it is that they are aiming for, some say you should try and set out the stall from day 1. A light hearted but illustrative example from Matt Might (Assistant Professor from the University of Utah) about what a PhD is helps us to get out heads around the problem…

The Illustrated Guide to the Ph.D.

The second element of doctorateness is to consider the philosophy element of the endeavour. Perhaps research students and their supervisors spend too much time on the written output, the doctoral thesis without necessarily considering the other and perhaps more original meaning of thesis – “a proposition stated or put forward, especially one to be discussed and proved or to be maintained against objections”.

Maintaining momentum

The topic of maintaining motivation was discussed. Inevitably the phenomenon known as the “Second Year Slump” (a general loss of motivation caused by a virtuous cycle of lack of progress/lack of belief in ability to make progress).

Matt Might has some advice on this:

3 Qualities of Successful Ph.D Students

The group considered, discussed and debated what might constitute good hints and tips for helping research students to keep moving in the right direction. Here are those:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Health and wellbeing

There is a growing concern about the increase in postgraduate researchers experiencing mental health problems during their doctorates and it is often the supervisor that is the first point of contact when help is sought. We brought in Diane Zimmer, the head of the UWE Wellbeing Service to highlight some of the support on offer.

The road to completion

The last session of the day was around the final leg of the journey, how to help research students complete. Here’s is the prezi I used to illustrate the logistics:

Finally, here is a collection of some relevant materials (clearly not exhaustive) on the topic of supervision.




The Cook, the Chef and the Thesis

Cooking to a recipe

Following the recipe

In my office there has been a lot of discussion relating to The Great British Bake Off (GBBO for short) – for those who haven’t been exposed to this programme, it features a number of amateur bakers battling it out week by week to impress the judges with their creations.

All this talk of cooking reminds me of an issue that is bugging me in the world of doctoral research that I have been meaning to write about for some time. It’s around the  purpose of a thesis in demonstrating that a candidate has progressed from being an amateur to a competent researcher. This blog post is a work in progress…

In early 2015 the UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) published the results of a survey The Role of Publications and Other Artefacts in Submissions for the UK PhD – which looked at the diversity of doctoral theses and what elements go into the assessment of whether the candidate has demonstrated “doctorateness“.

I think this is a fascinating debate because the Arts and Humanities disciplines have long been grappling with how to demonstrate doctoral achievement in practice-based and practice-led research in the submission for examination.

But there are also worrying noises in this debate pertaining to the sciences questioning the need to write a thesis in the traditional sense that was summed up in this article from the Times Higher, PhD: is the doctoral thesis obsolete?

The debate is about inclusion of published papers as part of the thesis. Some scholars want the submission of published papers to constitute the entire thesis – dispensing with “the filler” that is viewed as wasted effort.

Why do I worry?

I think it’s a little too convenient for some supervisors to have doctoral researchers churn out papers rather than focussing on writing a thesis – it does no harm to the volume of research outputs attributable to them. I fear it reduces the researchers’ work to a formulaic approach of reportage of results without any real contextualisation of their work.

I am noticing that more doctoral researchers are being asked to resubmit at viva, and often this because of a lack of breadth in the thesis – the candidates cannot express how their work fits into the bigger picture because they don’t have enough knowledge of the foundations that their work is built upon.

It pushes researchers in the direction of being technically competent but lacking in wider understanding of their work.

I fear it pushes researchers to be like a cook – able to accurately reproduce a recipe as written – instead of a being like a chef who has the foundational knowledge to create recipes from first principles.

I’m still working on the analogy but let me know what you think.

Getting Published – strategies for successful researchers

Research journals on a shelf

Research journals on a shelf

This week UWE put on a workshop aimed at research students and staff on the topic of getting research published.

Setting the scene

We’ve run this particular workshop for the past 10 years in which time the landscape of scholarly publishing has changed (and is still). This time we invited a number of contributors to offer different perspectives on getting published. Richard Goodman, Leila Moore and Jo Billings from Taylor & Francis publishing group came along to give their perspectives as Managing Editors of a number of journal titles. Professor Andy Adamatzky and Professor Richard McClatchey, two experienced academics and journal editors gave their insights as academic researchers.

Challenging the publish or perish rhetoric

I also gave my perspective on this, being a former researcher who now supports the development of early career researchers and an advocate of open research.

Much of my presentation (below) was drawn from what Professor Pat Thomson has to say on writing for peer reviewed journals and the differences between that and writing a doctoral thesis. In particular I found elements of her book, co-authored with Barbara Kamler, Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for getting published really useful in framing this session.

Part of the research landscape is the obsession with metrics which many fear are driving the wrong sorts of behaviour in higher education. There are many people who share my unease about advice given to early career researchers – it goes along the lines of ‘find the highest status journal with the biggest impact factor in your field and publish there at all costs’. I think this doesn’t take into account of the changing face of scholarly publishing and makes it more difficult for researchers to start the process of getting their reputation out there. I believe that researchers need to disenthrall themselves with the idea that journal impact factors are a good indicator of research quality.

It can’t be ignored that a publication record is important in academia but I think the focus should come back to the purpose of scholarly writing and understanding who it is you are writing for. I talked about how difficult it can be to write for peer reviewed journals, it is hard because it requires a different approach to that of writing a thesis or writing an application for funding because the reader is different in all those cases. The context is the key thing here.


Here’s the slides I used on the day.

A publishers’ point of view

Richard Goodman then gave a publishers’ point of view on the publishing process giving an useful overview of the mechanics. There was recognition that the open access agenda is changing things and that publishers will have to adapt their practices to accommodate the shift. The slides he and his colleagues used are included here:

Many researchers fall at the first hurdle when submitting a manuscript to a journal simply by not understanding the scope and format that the journal accepts – reading and understanding the journal’s guidelines/instructions for authors is an essential step.

The changing landscape of scholarly publishing

Probably the easiest way (and my preferred way) of explaining the changing nature of research is through the medium of Piled Higher and Deeper Comics

It’s important to place scholarly publishing in the wider context of the drive to be more open and transparent with research – not just with removing barriers to the outputs of research but opening up the whole research process.

Funders of research in the UK have applied some pressure for this change by incorporating the requirements to be open into the conditions of funding but I think it is also worth pointing out that open research is good for the researcher themselves.

Using digital tools to boost your reputation

A key factor in the changing landscape is to use the tools at your disposal to promote your research, the outputs and indeed your interests as a researcher. There was some discussion about how you can do this (see the Taylor and Francis presentation) and I also run a further workshop on this entitled The Digital Researcher. The next one is in February.

Jorge Cham of PHDcomics helps explain the issue of communication.


Academics’ point of view on publishing

Richard McClatchey and Andy Adamatzky gave a short and valuable insight to how experienced academics approach publshing and indeed academic writing as part of their daily work. Their tips are summarised here.


Further resources and advice

1. Help and resources for authors from Taylor & Francis

2. Vitae Researcher Development Website on publishing your research (login required)

3. Why Open Research – new website for open researchers

4. JISC resources to help researchers with open access

5. Facilitate Open Science Training for European Researchers (FOSTER) – European-wide project supporting open research across Europe

First Steps to Small Group Teaching

Today teaching in front of classI ran a session for researchers entitled “First Steps to Small Group Teaching”. This is a workshop that hopes to serve as an introduction to the role of teaching assistant/demonstrator/seminar leader/stand-in lecturer. My first disclaimer is that I am not an expert in educational research and/or the politics of learning & teaching. What I do have though is 12 years experience of teaching in various guises, demonstrating, lecturing, training and facilitating – the latter have been my life for the last 10 years.

I set out to introduce some basic principles that I think are important to know. Mostly the participants in the session were either research students or early career research (only) staff who had some experience of teaching undergraduate and/or taught postgraduate students in one way or another. Some were keen to learn more about how to be a ‘better’ teacher with a view to securing an academic position.

I started out the session by gathering the experience of the folks attending and talking about the challenges that teaching presents. We also talked about what the opportunities might be from teaching, some clearly had an idea that it might be seen favourably if applying to be a member of academic staff with a mix of teaching and research – I did forewarn that the balance of teaching is heavy when more junior as more experienced academics seem to only want to offload their teaching to focus more on their research interests.

As it happens there was a relevant live chat about this topic on the Guardian Higher website . I believe there is an inherent problem in universities – academics are not generally rewarded with promotion for their success or otherwise in teaching – it is their research outputs that determine many things:- the papers, the grants won, the research students supervised etc etc that really count. Yet, there are those who continually perpetuate the idea that the more research intensive an institution, the better the quality of the teaching… something doesn’t quite add up there!

We also took a bit of a diversion into discussing Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI) and how awareness of ones own preferences might give us some food for thought about the relationship between student and teacher/lecturer and/or (perhaps more importantly) the relationship to ones own supervisors. UWE students and staff can access an MBTI test called “Profiling for Success” through the UWE Careers InfoHub.

There have been a few interesting articles about Introverts which (I personally have found) are somewhat controversial in their suggestion. This about Introverts in the academy is a case in point!

The main concern, I think, of many a researcher remains how to teach without looking the fool.

Here are the main themes of the day in the slides I used:

A couple of other resources to look at:-

I suppose the main points are these:

  • We all prefer to learn in different ways
  • There are lots of “theories” or models out there that try to describe that
  • Most of them are paper thin in terms of evidence
  • Students (especially undergraduates) tend to adopt strategies to learning
  • These strategies tend to override preferred styles (driven by motivation)
  • There is nothing inherently wrong with these strategies – perhaps we (as teachers) dislike “surface” learners the most though!

I’m a scientist by training so I don’t recognise the phrase “theory” as applied to the scenarios above, I found this site that explains my reticence and challenges the assumptions made in these models.

Learning Styles Don’t Matter

We talked a while about the use of visual aids, powerpoint as a tool that can be used and misused came up more than once and prompted me to show this video clip:

We also looked at a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, partly because of the perspectives he brings about education and partly it was a chance to see an engaging presentation style that uses humour, anecdote, poetry, insight yet no powerpoint….

His earlier TED talk from 2006 is just as engaging and personally relevant to me as a parent but as he says, aren’t we all interested in education?

I then moved on to talk more about the difference between teaching and being a trainer, facilitator and coach. The main difference for me is the latter require less telling but more asking and listening to the group. We spent a lot of time talking about “crowd control”, i.e. how do you manage a group of people in a learning environment. It brought back memories I had of the NUS run program “Training the Trainer” that was part of the National Student Learning Programme (NSLP) on which I both learned how to be a trainer and subsequently contributed to as a tutor. Within that program was a session entitled “Dealing with nightmare trainees” – somes tips to deal with disruptive/disengaged folks that we all come across from time to time.

We ended up by having just one more look at a TED talk, this time by Benjamin Zander. This is one of my favourite talks because it represents why enthusiasm and passion for what you do is so important to being able to enthrall others or to get them to think, do or feel something different as a result of your input as a teacher/trainer/facilitator. That, I think, is what we should be aiming for…