National Teaching Fellow 2006
Graham Gibbs is a Reader in Social Research Methods at the University of Huddersfield. He is sought out by students and colleagues using computers to improve argument, analytical skill and solve problems. “He finds ways of supporting both those who are high performing, challenging thinkers and students who struggle with core concepts and key skills,” comments Professor Susan Frost, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs at the University.
In 1996, funded by JISC, Graham started to develop his teaching ideas in what have become known as Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). He conducted research into how computers could be used to support learning in theoretical or philosophical subjects where there was no single agreed knowledge and where discussion and writing were key to learning. Software that simply presented information to students seemed inadequate to Graham – packages were needed that supported the exchange of ideas.
The result of this was coMentor. It uses ideas from a range of communication systems to support discussion online. It was innovative in implementing discussion through the World Wide Web, allowing students and teachers to challenge, question and debate. It opened up the system to all the other resources on the web and made it easy for tutors and students to include resources of their own. This is now the design that most VLEs such as Blackboard use, but at the time, such systems did not exist. coMentor has been used in several universities in the UK and the Czech Republic and has been central in prompting universities to invest in VLEs.
Graham has also been involved in developing a range of resource-based learning (RBL) modules. The material from one of these led to a commission from the Open University Press for a book on data analysis which became a bestseller. More recently, he was awarded a grant by the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics (C-SAP) to investigate a computer program that can emulate a human in conversation – a chatbot. It allows students and teachers to interact with theory in a new way: they could converse with a virtual Marx or Weber and challenge, question and argue using computers.
Reader in Social Research Methods
University of Huddersfield