Understanding Pedagogy in Online Doctoral Learning

Grant type: Developing Pedagogy and Practice 2009
Round: Pedagogy and Practice June 2010
Amount awarded £4,970.00
Completed: December 2011
Leader(s): Ms Sheena Banks
Organisation: University of Sheffield
Contact Email: s.b.banks@sheffield.ac.uk
Contact phone: 0114 222 8155
Dr Chris Jones, Reader, c.r.jones@open.ac.uk
Institute of Educational Technology (IET) The Open University, Walton, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA
Start Date: 1 September 2010
End Date: 31 October 2011
Interim report received: 3 May 2011
Final report received: 28 November 2011

This project has been important to us at Sheffield because it builds on our academic and professional practice and addresses issues that we already know to be of importance from the experience of our doctoral students when they use technology to develop as researchers. It is the usual scenario: technology being able to offer huge potential for online doctoral learning but educational practice lagging behind – so there is a knowledge and practice gap on this issue. To address this challenge, we have evaluated learner experiences of online doctoral learning by trialling exemplar online content with doctoral students and academic staff in order to elicit feedback. This data has helped to determine whether the online content was meeting the needs of its users and given us a greater understanding of what is involved in developing online content for doctoral students. The evaluation methods we used were an online questionnaire, classroom observation, focus group discussion and individual participant interviews. We also ran four staff development workshops to gain feedback from academic staff. We have had an overwhelmingly positive  response to the online content and key findings of this project show that:

· Doctoral students have a need for online content that helps them develop their research practice that is currently not being met.
· Online content developed for doctoral students can also be used by other groups
– including Masters students and staff who teach and support research students
· The pedagogic requirements of online content for doctoral students are that it should be relevant, high quality and authoritative but also have the potential for transformative and emotional impact and relate to ‘doctorateness’.
· Video case studies of researchers were the most popular feature of the online
· Accessibility and inclusivity are key requirements. The functionality of the
technology should include fast access, key word searching and coherent
navigation that supports the ‘learning journey’ of the doctoral student.
· As much of the content is of a generic nature, there is huge potential for
collaboration across universities to jointly develop and share online content.

However, a model for collaboration needs to be developed. An important
consideration is the removal of technical and copyright barriers to collaboration. These issues need further investigation.