what kind of research do I do?


Online learning
1. What are you researching?
When I began to research, about 11 years ago, the problem which intrigued me was how to use the online learning capabilities we suddenly had at our disposal in university. We were beginning at that time to use intranets with student and staff access and this made me rethink my teaching. I was deluged by questions – could we work online with large groups as well as small groups?, could we run discussions online which were as effective as classroom discussions?, were there things we could do online which were actually better than learning and teaching in the classroom? If we did this, how should we do it? At that time there was very little guidance about.
2. Why is it important?
For me, these questions were important to my role as a university teacher. I needed to find answers and I needed to find people who were as enthusiastic as I was about online learning so we could share ideas and learn ourselves. That took me into a doctorate study of students’ readiness for online learning – it seemed vital to me to work out whether some students might be better prepared for this kind of learning than others, and to see what we could do to support students as we began to require online learning activities.
3. What are the results?
In those intervening 11 years, e-learning and online learning have taken off in universities. Now we all have virtual learning environments and my research has helped me to understand and share ideas with other teachers on design of online learning and assessment. I am still experimenting, but our collective knowledge has informed the way HE courses are delivered, and has increased opportunities to offer students a blended learning experience – getting the most out of both online and face to face teaching.
2. But that isn’t all. My research activities led me to question issues around learning in a deeper way. That has led to ongoing research into graduate employability and reflective learning.
1. What are you researching?
graduate employability: We wanted to find out whether universities which made a point of developing so-called employability skills as part of their degree courses were actually helping their graduates get graduate-level jobs. Or whether there was a better way to help. We studied HESA data  graduate destinations – this is with my colleagues Asher and Tom, which involved using the statistics which graduates themselves supply about their jobs or lack of jobs after graduation.
2. Why is it important?
There has never been a more important time to look at graduate employability: the fees changes due in 2012 and the media focus on high graduate unemployment make this a vital area to research.
3. What are the results?
We are finding that universities have been making some assumptions about what employers want from graduates. Not necessarily very accurate ones. We have used the term “new vocationalism” to express what we think is the case based on our research, that what employers want is more about a willingness and ability to learn than specific skills or vocational content which will never quite fit the employer requirement, except for specific professions such as medicine or engineering where specific learning content is vital for careers. If you couple this with the increasing turbulence in labour markets, you find that university learning is much more about how to learn than about what you learn. On the back of this we need to research further to find better ways to develop that learning capability which will fit graduates for work in constantly changing knowledge jobs. Part of this is to improve the way students learn to reflect systematically on experience and unplanned learning, as well as their formal planned course study. Reflective learning is going through a revolution in universities – we are increasingly seeing assessment of reflective learning, but perhaps not enough is yet know about how and why this is helpful. There’s another research target ahead for me and for my colleagues.

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