In this post Luke Sloan, Cardiff University (SloanLS@cardiff.ac.uk) discusses the project he carried out as part of the HEA Social Sciences strategic project 2012 - 13 - Teaching research methods.
Innovation in assessment is often hidden within institutions and certainly not often shared between them. As a result, many of us spend our time reinventing the wheel – coming up with assessment regimes and trying to stimulate and engage students with our own ideas. This is all well and good, but imagine how much time we could save by pooling our ideas and innovations and by working collaboratively rather than atomistically.
With this in mind, this project investigated how a diversification in the assessment of research methods in the Social Sciences can improve the student experience of a typically ‘unpopular’ subject and ensure that deep learning is taking place across the whole curriculum (qualitative and quantitative methods). The rationale for this project is an argument for the reorientation of research methods modules as learning environments in which students develop competencies as well as critical skills.
In this sense, models of research methods teaching should be seen as closer to the natural sciences than the humanities and we need to provide a curriculum in which students can explicitly practice and hone their ‘hard skills’ (i.e. in a lab session with computers). Such innovation in what and how we teach must be followed with remodelled and appropriate assessments to ensure constructive alignment within the curriculum.
What we did
An initial scoping study was conducted via an online survey to generate a snapshot of the types of research methods teaching (RMT) assessment regimes currently being used in UK higher education. The survey was an attempt to distil all of the good practice across UK HEIs in the assessment of social science research methods so that it could be shared with a wider academic audience. It provided educational innovators with a platform to shout about the good work they are doing and an opportunity for respondents to elect to be part of further work which would raise their national teaching profile.
The data from the survey was used to identify individuals involved in innovative assessment regimes who were then invited to present their ideas at a filming session at Cardiff University. These presentations were to be no longer than 10 mins and were to act as case studies for other colleagues interested in alternative assessment regimes. Some of the topics the speakers were asked to cover included: - the context of your teaching (subject, type of students, modes of delivery) - how the module used to be assessed (if appropriate) - the innovation that you have devised/used - how it's been received by students and staff.
What we produced
The videos and PowerPoint presentations below should be used as evidence that innovative assessment in research methods can be achieved and will be successful! For colleagues who are experiencing difficulty in changing curricula, these videos can be used to say “Look at that – it worked for them so why wouldn’t it work for us?”
- Heather Symonds (London College of Communication, University of the Arts London) discusses the use of oral assessment particularly in relation to issues of diversity and inclusivity.
- John Horton (University of Northampton) describes how a group field work can be integrated into assessment and findings fed back to policy maker in a useful and valuable way.
- Marion West (University of Wolverhampton) discusses the use of portfolio assessments and lab sessions, including mini-lectures and formative group work.
- Matteo Montecchi (London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London) explains how to frame primary data collection activities as a result of literature and secondary data analysis.
- Supachai Chuenjitwongsa (Cardiff University) talks about his experiences of teaching and assessing research methods during his time as a lecturer in Thailand.
Three colleagues were unable to attend the filiming session, but they very kindly recorded their own screencasts.
- Thomas Lancaster (Birmingham City University) discusses the use of action learning sets in research methods for computer sciences students, making reference to lessons that could be ported into the Social Sciences.
- Hazel Brown (University of Southampton) discusses the value of encouraging students to engage with the research process from their arrival at university, and providing students with opportunities to act as research participants and research assistants.
- Amos Channon (University of Southampton) discusses innovations in the assessment of a first year quantitative methods module that have resulted in improvements in student engagement
The data collected through the survey is extensive and provides a ‘state of the nation’ report on how we teach and assess research methods across the Social Sciences in UK Higher Education. This information will be disseminated over the next year and colleagues are encouraged to get in touch if they are interested in the findings. In addition to survey responses, informal conversations with colleagues about assessment in research methods at the HEA Social Sciences Conference 2013 highlighted the high level of anxiety around the subject including issues such as:
- Giving high marks in portfolio assessments
- Grounding research methods with substantive research questions
- Bridging the qualitative/quantitative divide
- Unpopularity of research methods leading to ‘dumbing down’ or loss of curriculum space
- Making a generic topic accessible and interesting to students from the wide range of Social Science disciplines
- Fear of making a mistake and thus not trying new (and risky) ideas
Perhaps it is precisely because we are trying to depart from the essay as an assessment medium that we find ourselves on unsteady ground. We should be brave and a set a course into the unknown (or at least the unfamiliar) and to do this we need to build a support network consisting of exemplars, testimonials, successes and failures in assessment. This project has demonstrated the value of seeking and sharing good practice and I would aspire to developing these ideas and resources further in collaboration with you and with the HEA. Let’s do the best we can for our students. Let’s make the change.
For further details please contact Dr Luke Sloan (SloanLS@cardiff.ac.uk) or follow me on Twitter: @drlukesloan