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The Virtual Graduate School: an Approach to Embedding Open Educational Resources in Social Science Research Methods Teaching and Learning Dr Ester Ehiyazaryan -White, University Centre Doncaster. 6 th ESRC Research Methods Festival, St Catherine’s College, Oxford. Context.

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The Virtual Graduate School: an Approach to Embedding Open Educational Resources in Social Science Research Methods Teaching and LearningDr Ester Ehiyazaryan-White, University Centre Doncaster

6th ESRC Research Methods Festival, St Catherine’s College, Oxford



  • University Centre Doncaster – HE in FE provider in South Yorkshire.
  • The premise of the open learner and open education are fairly new and unfamiliar to staff .
  • Open learner: ‘the learner is positioned in a wider open world of free access’ (McAndrew, 2010)
  • Drivers for openness at UCD:
  • Move towards more flexible forms of provision (meeting the needs of mature learners, professionals with families) - open access resources help to develop quality flexible provision (Lane, 2010)
  • Expanding postgraduate study (due to HEFCE student number cap) – quality research methods resources needed to meet the needs of postgraduate learners; as compared to larger HE institutions - paucity of up to date resources available in the library.

Examples of flexible provision

In house

  • Fully distance learning BA Hons Top Up Early Childhood Studies, dissertation module:
  • Access to resources and support – entirely organised through the VLE
  • Utilises lecture capture material produced in-house (costly, labour intensive, becomes outdated fast in a dynamic area of study where policy changes rapidly)
  • Supplemented by video, audio and text based resources drawn from OER repositories (less costly, but similar issues with keeping the material up to date). Advantages – provide a richer learning environment



Examples of flexible provision

  • Communication is through a mixture of open and closed platforms
  • Formally: VLE discussion forums (Blackboard discussion forums, threads for each topic, applying Salmon’s five stage model (2011)
  • Informally: Facebook
  • Skype and – one to one tutorial support; very good for a verbal walkthrough as it allows screen sharing (in the absence of an institutional web conferencing tool)
  • Twitter – addresses some of the issues of currency of information which the video content presents

Examples of flexible provision

Salmon’s five stage model for collaborative online learning

Image courtesy of  International Forum of Educational Technology & Society


Learner needs and the benefits of openness

  • Engaging, media rich research methods learning resources
  • Pedagogy which addresses the challenges of research methods teaching:
    • procedural (applying technique)
    • theoretical knowledge (understanding of abstract epistemological terms)
    • Research methods constitute troublesome knowledge:
  • ‘when what is to be assessed lies outside their prior knowledge and experience’
  • (Land and Meyer, 2010, p. 62)
  • Platforms which facilitate access to such learning and conversation and idea exchange around the learning

Challenges of research methods teaching

  • How do OER and open academic practice address some of these challenges?
  • Open, real world data
  • Interactive content (procedural knowledge, for example – coding and analysing data)
  • Context free content (some OER are flexible enough to allow the tutor to introduce context specificity – the advantage of designing for reuse)

Open, real world data

  • Addresses troublesome knowledge – the data is subject specific and situates learning in context.
  • Statistical analyses return results which learners can relate to knowledge acquired in other modules (examples: social policy; child development)
  • For more on the value of secondary data (Smith, 2011):

Open, real world data

  • Growing Up in Scotland – large scale child development survey; similar to the Millennium Cohort Study
  • Openly accessible data through the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS)
  • SPSS format

Open, real world data

  • Learners explored:
  • Food and nutrition – formation of healthy eating habits
  • Neighbourhood and community – active citizenship; social policy
  • Activities with others – distributions of outdoor/ indoor play
  • Demographic factors – work, employment and income
  • How does this meet learners’ needs?
  • A way of introducing working with SPSS through examples relating to practice
  • The scale of real world data – daunting; students would have preferred to work with their own data
  • Learners needed to establish a personal connection with the study and a better understanding before analysing the ESDS data

Skills in SPSS use

Open, real world data

  • Understanding descriptive statistics


  • Why develop the Virtual Graduate School?
  • Capture, share and increase the impact of the work on developing resources for distance learning courses
  • Promote the presence of postgraduate study at University Centre Doncaster
  • Support the continuing professional development of postgraduate learners.
  • Access to resources in an HE in FE environment

Aims of the Virtual Graduate School

  • Providing resources on research methodologies aimed at postgraduate learners
  • Providing an idea of postgraduate study at UCD through case study examples of student project work
  • Involving students in open sharing
  • Involving research methods tutors in the development of OER through repurposing/ reuse.

What is the Virtual Graduate School?


Dissemination of research

Qualitative and quantitative research methods

Practice based research

Writing for publication

Acquiring and writing research bids

Reflective practice in research

Advanced literature searching

Presentation skills for researchers

Ethics guidance for research projects


What is the Virtual Graduate School?

  • Content sources
  • Open Learn
  • Economic and Social Data Service
  • East Midlands Research Support Group
  • Research methods YouTube channels: AIEMCA (Australian Institute of Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis)
  • HEA/JISC Open Educational Resources programme: Discovering collections project
  • University of Huddersfield Online QDA

Involving research methods tutors in reuse/ digital curation

  • Advantages of involving tutors:
  • Broader range of expertise (diverse disciplines – criminology, social science, education, arts, sports science, business and management)
  • Sense of ownership – tutors more likely to embed the VGS content in their research methods teaching.
  • Development of digital scholarship – digital curation is one of the key forms of digital scholarship for academics (Weller, 2010); open publishing relevant for staff in an HE institution aiming for taught degree awarding powers.
  • Challenges:
  • Promoting a sense of ownership
  • Digital scholarship not yet widespread in an institution where the emphasis is on scholarship of teaching and learning not on research.

Involving students in content creation

Changing the Learning Landscape HEA funding

Involvement of four students working on projects in their respective disciplines

Premise of the project – to develop digital literacy skills in students participating in the project, as defined by the Digital and Information Literacy Framework (OU)

Following the example of Graham Gibbs, national teaching fellowship project – Online QDA.


Involving students in content creation for the VGS

  • Advantages of involving students
  • Developing their digital scholarship
  • Developing the digital literacy skills for postgraduate students (Digital and Information Literacy Framework, Reedy and Goodfellow, 2012):
  • Applying digital techniques to conduct and share research
  • Develop ability to articulate the ways in which research information is generated and disseminated
  • Engage in critical appraisal, including judgements on reliability and validity, of own work and the work of others.
  • Demonstrate leadership in an online community – for example take the initiative to propose appropriate media and working methods
  • Provide evidence of engagement in online communities and professional subject groups using multiple technologies
  • Student voice
  • Challenges of involving students
  • (Very similar to those when involving tutors!)
  • Need to develop further confidence in digital scholarship practices
  • Need to develop a sense of ownership of the project.

Cloudworks – a support environment for students working on VGS content development


Challenges to address

  • Making the VGS sustainable – ongoing contributions from research methods tutors and postgraduate students
  • The need for staff and students to engage in developing their digital scholarship and higher level digital literacy skills
  • Ensuring accessibility of the materials shared
  • Ensuring the material selected reflects the needs of the students
  • Overcoming technical issues – much of the open content sits outside of the website system

Thank you

Dr Ester Ehiyazaryan-White, Lecturer in Professional and eLearning Development, University Centre Doncaster


Tel: 0130 255 3809

Twitter: @eehiyazaryan




Land R. and Meyer, J. (2010) Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge (5): Dynamics of Assessment. In Eds. Meyer, J., Land, R., Baillie, C., Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning. London: Sense Publishers.

McAndrew, P. (2010) Defining ‘Openness’: updating the concept of ‘open’ for a connected world. [Online]. Journal of Interactive Media in Education (JIME). Available from: 2010/10. [Accessed: 18 June 2014].

Reedy, K. and Goodfellow, R. (2012) Digital and information literacy framework. The Open University. [Online] Available from: Accessed: 18 June 2014.

Salmon, G. (2011) A model for collaborative online learning. In E-moderating: the key to teaching and learning online. 3d Ed. Oxon, Routledge.

Scottish Centre for Social Research (2012) Growing Up in Scotland Study: Providing Information to Help Develop Policies Affecting Children and their Families in Scotland. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 18 June 2014].

School of Human and Health Sciences (2013) Online QDA: Learning qualitative data analysis on the web. University of Huddersfield. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 18 June 2014].

Smith, E. (2011) Using numeric secondary data in educational research, British Educational Association online resource. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 18 June 2014].

Weller, M. (2011) The nature of scholarship. In The digital scholar: how technology is transforming scholarly practice. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.