Archive for the ‘Academic researchers’ Category

Where do you go to for your research?

May 20th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

I remember back in the mid 1990s, when I was first employed as a researcher at the University of Bremen, I used to travel every three months to Surrey university, whi9ch at the time had the easiest university library to reach from Bremen.I would run a series of searches on their computerised reference system, collect together a pile of journals and then buy a photocopying card to frantically copy all the articles i might need for the next couple of months. Fortunately this was in the days before airlines restricted baggage weight, so i could copy all I could carry.

Time have changed.  Most researchers I know rely on online sources these days. Despite attempts by some publishers to prevent open access, many authors place a pre-publication copy of their work online anyway. This is merely anecdotal. But  a new survey (pdf downland) by the UK Jisc covers a range of areas from how academics discover and stay abreast of research, to their teaching of undergraduates, how they choose research topics and publication channels, to their views on learned societies and university libraries, and their collections.

The survey comes up with some interesting findings. According to Jisc the “Overarching themes are an increasing reliance on the Internet for their research and publishing activities and the strong role that openness is playing in their work.” They go on to say key findings include:

  • Access limitations – While 86% of respondents report relying on their college or university library collections and subscriptions, 49% indicated that they would often like to use journal articles that are not in those collections.
  • Use of open resources – If researchers can’t find the resources or information they need through their university library, 90% of respondents often or occasionally look online for a freely available version.
  • The Internet as starting point – 40% of researchers surveyed said that when beginning a project they start by searching the Internet for relevant materials, with only 2% visiting the physical library as a first port of call.
  • Following one’s peers – The findings suggest that the majority of researchers track the work of colleagues and leading researchers as a way of keeping up to date with developments in their field.
  • Emergence of e-publications – The findings show that e-journals have largely replaced physical usage for research, but that contrasting views exist on replacement of print by e-publications, where print still holds importance within the Humanities and Social Sciences and for in-depth reading in general.

But these are just the headlines. it is well worth delving into the full report, based on over 3000 respondents.

Researchers were asked “Typically, when you are conducting academic research, which of these five starting points do you use to begin locating information for your research?”

Although there were variation between researchers form different disciplines (as noted above) some 40 per cent replied general purpose search engine on the internet or world wide web. About 25 per cent use a specific electronic research resource/computer database, up to 20 per cent their online library catalogue, 18 or so per cent a national or international catalogue or database, while less than 10 per cent physically visit their library.

That is a massive change in a relatively short time period. I will try to read the report thoroughl;y in the next few days and work out what it all means!

A new approach to conference reviewing

February 11th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Preparations for the 4th International PLE Conference 2013 being held in Berlin, Germany together with a parallel event in Melbourne, Australia are well underway. the conference will take place on July 11 and 12 and the deadline for the call for submission of abstracts is March 4.

The PLE Conference intends to create a space for researchers and practitioners to exchange ideas, experiences and research around the development and implementation of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) – including the design of environments and the sociological and educational issues that they raise.

More than that the PLe conference has always prided itself on innovatory approaches to design in terms of involving participants. This year will see the continuation of the unkeynotes, which Cristina Costa and myself discuss in the video above.

And this year sees another experiment in moving away from the traditional reviewing process to an approach based on ‘shepherding’ or mentoring.

The PLEconf web site explains the process.

1. The overall review process

The PLE 2013 review process is organised into three steps:

  • Step 1 (review before the conference): Submitted abstracts for full and short papers are peer-reviewed (double-blind peer-review) by screening their overall fit with the conference scope as well as the degree of innovation, technical quality, significance and clarity of contributions. As a guide, the extended abstract for a full paper should include the background of the study, the approach and methods employed in the work, the results and the conclusion, which should reflect on the successes and limitations of the work and future development.
  • Step 3 (shepherding) To enhance the participatory character of the PLE Conference the review process is based on the shepherding concept. This means that the authors of accepted abstracts are invited to submit full versions of their papers for the conference and are offered support by shepherds (mentors) in the process of writing final full versions. Upon author’s consent, depending on the overall paper maturity, a mentor may be assigned to a paper to guide the process of preparing the manuscript. Shepherds are experienced authors who, non-anonymously, help the submitters by making suggestions for improvement. The submitters incorporate these improvements into their work over a few iterations, usually three, though this may vary from case to case. The aim of shepherding is to enhance the quality of the submissions and help authors qualify for publication in the International Journal of Literacy and Technology (JLT).
  • Step 2 (review after the conference): After the conference, the final manuscripts of short and full papers are submitted and peer-reviewed (double-blind peer-review) again to assess their quality for publication in a special issue of the scientific journal. All submissions will be published in electronic conference proceedings under a Creative Commons Licence. However, only best-quality papers will be considered for the Special Issue of the International Journal of Literacy and Technology (JLT).

2. The shepherding concept


Where does shepherding come from? What is it about?
Shepherding for scientific reviewing started at Conferences on Pattern Languages of Programs (PLoP’s), a process aimed to help authors to improve their work using a non-anonymous reviewer (shepherd), guiding the author (sheep) on their way (report). The shepherds focus on the organization of the content and the format of articles. Shepherds therefore must be experts in their field and willing to help to improve the work of others. The focus of shepherding feedback is the text itself, there is no discussion of the projects or theories. The goal is to improve the papers for the second review after the shepherding process.

What is the value of shepherding?
Shepherding is now being used by several conference committees to help leverage the potential value of authors’ work by improving them considerably and thus better serving the community. This approach helps to develop more well-rounded articles. It is also an excellent opportunity for newer authors to improve their articles and to get in contact with the community.

What are the principles of shepherding?
Shepherds are experts in their field. The work is of the author. Shepherds advise authors during the process of writing. The person ultimately responsible for the article is the author (sheep). The underlying culture is a gift culture, so it is crucial that shepherds are willing to help authors to improve. The cycles of interaction between authors and shepherds based on Kelly (2008) are:

  • Author sends the first version of the manuscript to the shepherd and introduces the manuscript briefly in his/her own words;
  • Shepherds reply to authors, i.e. ask questions (e.g. What is the motivation for the paper? What do you want to achieve? Where can I help?) and provide initial feedback. Constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement are crucial for shepherding!
  • Authors improve the manuscript by answering the questions and incorporating the shepherd’s feedback.
  • Authors send improved manuscripts to shepherds and another cycle starts with the introduction of the new version (iterative cycle).

Testimonials from shepherds

“As a shepherd, I get great satisfaction helping authors communicate their ideas. A shepherd is not an editor. Shepherds don’t edit. Instead, through conversations, questions , and dialog a shepherd helps authors find their own voice and write compelling papers. I find shepherding to be a wonderful experience. That’s why I do it: to learn, to help grow communities, and to help people share their good ideas more clearly. It’s so rewarding!” Rebecca Wirfs-Brock (PLoP community)

“In my experience, when it is done well, shepherding results in an increased focus and clarity to the work. A good shepherd can help the sheep really bring out the important message of the work and make it much clearer to the reader. On occasion, the sheep gains additional insights into his own work. Note however, that I have seen some superficial shepherding, which resulted in only cosmetic improvements to the work. So it isn’t an automatic great improvement. It takes discipline to do a good job.” Neil Harrison (PLoP)

“Shepherds are individuals, with experience in writing, assigned to an author’s paper with the expressed interest in helping the author improve their paper or writing of any kind. The shepherding process is essentially a review process where the author gets to get feedback on how well the paper communicates the author’s ideas. The shepherd is able to then make suggestions on making the paper better or to assist with ways on helping the author clarify their ideas. Shepherding is about improving the paper itself, while the Shepherd maintains that the author is the one doing the writing. The shepherd can guide an author into a more mature understanding of his or her paper. The best shepherds are those that usually have a good understanding of the subject matter they are reviewing. The main goal of a shepherd is to help the author(s) to make the paper the best that it can be given the amount of “shepherding” time they have for the given venue the paper is to be presented at.” Joseph W. Yoder (PLoP community)

3. Shepherding at PLE 2013

Shepherding is an instrument to improve the quality of submissions, help authors connect with the scientific community and strengthen connections within the PLE community. Shepherds are mentors drawn from the Review Committee. Beside the intrinsic value and the insight into interesting papers, mentors will receive special recognition – shepherds will be featured on the special page and receive special badges rewarding their work. Also authors will vote for the best shepherd. The winners will be awarded at the PLE Conference 2013.


Where is European educational research heading?

September 25th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

My promised post on the European Conference on Education Research, held earlier this month at the Freie Universitat, Berlin.

The conference attracted some 2200 delegates with hundreds of presentations spanning the different networks which comprise the European Educational Research association. the Pontydysgu team were supporting ECER in amplifying the conference through the use of different social media and through producing a series of video interviews with network conveners. On the one hand this meant my attendance at conference sessions was very limited, on the other hand the interviews with eleven different network conveners gave us perhaps a unique overview of where European educational research is heading.

A number of common themes emerged.

First was that the networks themselves seem to be evolving into quite strong communities of practice, embracing not just conference attendees but with extended networks sometimes involving hundreds of members. And although some networks are stronger n one or another country, these networks tend to suggest a European community is emerging within educational research. Indeed, this may be seen as the major outcome of European funding and programmes for education. A number of network conveners suggested that the search to develop common meaning between different educational and cultural traditions was itself a driving force in developing innovation and new ideas.

Secondly, many of the networks were particularly focused on the development of research methodologies. One of the main issues here appeared to be the development of cross domain research and how such research could be nurtured and sustained. This also applied to those considering submitting proposals to future conferences (next year’s conference is in Seville) with many of the conveners emphasizing they were keen to encourage submissions from researchers from different areas and domains and emphasizing the importance of describing both the research methodology and the outcomes of the research in abstract submissions.

There was also an awareness of the need to bring research and practice closer together, with a seeming move towards more practitioner researchers in education.

The question of the relation between research and po9licy was more complex. Despite a formal commitment by many educational authorities to research driven policy, some network conveners felt the reverse was true in reality, especially given the financial crisis, with researchers being forced to ‘follow the money’ and thus tailor their research to follow policy agendas. This was compromising the independence of research institutions and practice.

I asked each of the interviewees to briefly outline what they considered were the major trends in educational research. A surprising number pointed to a contradictory development. On the one hand policy makers are increasingly obsessed by targets and by quantitative outcomes, be it numbers of students, qualification levels or cost per student. The Pisa exercise is one example of such a development.Whilst no-one was opposed to collecting such data, there was a general scepticism of its value, on its own, in developing education policy. Such policies were also seen as part of a trend towards centralising education policy making

On the other hand, network conveners pointed to a growing bottom up backlash against this reductionist approach with researchers, parents and students concerned that educatio0n is not merely a economic function and that quality cannot be measured by targets and number crunching alone. This movement is being expressed in different ways with small scale local movements looking at alternative forms of learning, a movement also facilitated by the use of new technologies for teaching and learning.

Writing plain English

June 15th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

For my sins I often am asked to review papers for conferences, books and journals. I think this is fair as a contribution to an emerging community of practice but i can’t say I enjoy the process. I find it very hard to decide what should be the standard and am worried that I am being fair to authors who have obviously invested a lot of time and effort into their research and writing. I struggle even more if the author is writing in a second or third language. How important is the standard of the English? And how much should style count towards the review?

One thing that does annoy me is the throwing around of unreferenced assertions. All these example are taken from papers I have reviewed recently:

“Many researchers say…… ”

“It is unquestionable that…..”

“Most students are…….”

“We have rapidly come to a point where….”

“There is a perception that….”

I like papers with attitude. And papers jammed full of references at the end of every sentence are extremely hard to read. Even so, I think that assertions of this kind need some evidence to back them up. Furthermore what does ‘most’ or ‘many’ mean.

In that respect I like the approach of the Welsh agency, Estyn. The purpose of Estyn is to inspect quality and standards in education and training in Wales. Estyn’s reports follow its guidance for the writing and editing of reports, which is available on the Estyn website ( Estyn also publish a table, reproduced below, in the introduction to their reports, showing the terms that Estyn uses and a broad idea of their meaning. Whilst such an approach may seem pedantic, it greatly helps in understanding what they are saying .

Integrating technology into researcher training

May 29th, 2010 by Cristina Costa
Two months ago or so I was challenged to submit a case study to the VITAE Integrating Technology in research training Workshop, which I did. It ended up being accepted and on Thursday I presented it. A shared space for research View more presentations from Cristina Costa. As it often happens, after presenting it I keep mulling over [...]

Stories of a dinosaur

May 7th, 2010 by Cristina Costa
I am still in Porto, at the Faculty of Engineering , in the University of Porto. Yesterday I did a short presentation about the use of Social Media in Higher Education for the eLearning @FEUP workshop. I mainly focused on some projects I have been developing at the University Salford, but everything went so quickly [...]

What’s the role of narrative inquiry in my research project?

April 8th, 2010 by Cristina Costa
Well, this is a question many people have been asking me. This is equally a question I ask myself. Simply because it is still hard to articulate my purpose and choices in such a way it becomes clear enough to those who ask. As Einstein once said, if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t [...]

It’s all in the connection!

March 16th, 2010 by Cristina Costa
This is what started to be a very short post where I aimed to share D’arcy’s really interesting video about ‘How do you connect to people online’?, which Irmeli Aro shared with me via FB.   But I ended up tying it with today’s session on social media to raise of researcher profile. How do you connect [...]

Reviews, quality and the development of communities of practice in academic networks

February 27th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I have just spent the morning reviewing proposals for the Vocational education and Training Network strand at the European Conference for Educational Research.

I have never enjoyed reviewing papers. I worry that my own knowledge of the subject is often too little, still more that I only have an abstract idea of what comprises quality.

However, as a community building process, I find it more interesting. I haver been involved with VETNET for fourteen years. In the early days nearly everything used to be accepted. But as time went on a discussion emerged over improving the quality of VETNET and a formal review procedure was developed.

VETNET remains a somewhat traditional academic conference with paper and sumposium presentations. I suspect that the community’s desire for Vocational Education and Training to be taken seriously as a part of mainstream education research has tended to make us somewhat conservative in our approaches to formats and quality.

Over time as a community we have started defining quality indicators – even though they may be contested. We have had long debates about the relation between research focused on a particular system or country and its relation to wider European agendas. We have discussed how important the quality of language (English) is in assessing a contribution? Should leeway be given to emerging researchers to encourage them to contribute to the community? How important is a clear methodology when considering a submission?

This years debate has been over work in progress. It started innocuously enough with one reviewer emailing that he was concerned that many submissions referred to research which was not yet finished. Should we only consider completed research with clear results, he suggested? This provoked a flurry of replies with major differences between the reviewers. Some agreed with the original email; others (including myself) saw presentations based on work in progress as a potentially useful contribution to the community and a means of researchers testing their ideas in front of a wider international audience. In the normal way of things this debate will be reviewed at the VETNET board meeting at this years conference and revised guidelines agreed for next years conference.

In this way I think the review process does work well. It allows community rules and standards to emerge over time.

The other big change in the review system has been the use of an electronic reviewing system ‘conftool‘. The major benefit is to support the management fo the review process. VETNET receives some 120 proposals each year. The use of the system ensures every paper receives at least two reviews. More interestingly it makes transparent where there are disagreements between reviewers, providing a view showing the overall score for each proposal and the span between reviewer’s scoring. I was allocated nine proposals to review. Four of them have already been reviewed by a second reviewer. And somewhat to my surprise the span between my score and the other reviewers was small (the highest of the four was 1.7 (however the other reviewer has recommended rejection of this proposal and I have recommended acceptance!).

I welcome that when we have finished our reviews we are able to see other reviews of the same submission. This provides for me an opportunity for reflection and learning – and strengthens the potential of the academic review  becoming part of the process of community emergence.

Message to the readers

January 26th, 2010 by Ilona Buchem

Hello everyone,

My name is Ilona Buchem and I will be writing here on how ICT is changing educational sciences and education research today. I titled this blog “Paradygmat” which is a Polish word for “paradigm”.  With Pontydysgu aiming at enhancing diversity and multilingualism, I will be writing here in Polish, my mother tongue. I hope that those of you, who can’t understand it, will be able to do so with the help of online translation services.

But let’s get back to the term “paradigm”. Based on the philosophy of Thomas Kuhn, “paradigm” refers to a set of practices, such as methods of observation and interpretation, which define a scientific discipline during a particular period of time. When limitations of basic assumptions in a particular field are recognized, a paradigm shift occurs. The existing paradigm is enlarged and frontiers of knowledge are pushed forward. For example, the printing press, Gutenberg’s invention and the making of books changed the culture and affected the scientific revolution. Similarly, information and communication technologies, such as social media or mobile devices, are driving a new paradigm shift today.

So in this blog, I would like to focus on how educational sciences are shifting towards more openness, interdisciplinary exchange and collaboration, discourse beyond traditional boarders, stronger interactions with practice etc. I would like to discuss with you the impact of scientific peer online communities, interdisciplinary research, collaborative scientific writing, new practices and formats of conferences and symposia, to name a few.

I am looking forward to discussing these interesting topics with speakers of Polish and speakers of other languages! Hope we will enjoy it and learn from each other!


Ilona Buchem

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    Sounds of the Bazaar LIVE from the OEB 2015

    We will broadcast from Berlin on the 3rd and the 4th of December. Both times it will start at 11.00 CET and will go on for about 45 minutes.

    Go here to listen to the radio stream: SoB Online EDUCA 2015 LIVE Radio.

    Or go to our new stream webpage: Sounds of the Bazaar Radio Stream Page

    News Bites

    Skills in Europe

    Cedefop is launching a new SKILLS PANORAMA website, online on 1 December at 11.00 (CET).

    Skills Panorama, they say,  turns labour market data and information into useful, accurate and timely intelligence that helps policy-makers decide on skills and jobs in Europe.

    The new website will provide with a more comprehensive and user-friendly central access point for information and intelligence on skill needs in occupations and sectors across Europe. You can register for the launch at Register now at

    Talking about ‘European’ MOOCs

    The European EMMA project is launching a  webinar series. The first is on Tuesday 17 November 2015 from 14:00 – 15:00 CET.

    They say: “In this first webinar we will explore new trends in European MOOCs. Rosanna de Rosa, from UNINA, will present the philosophy and challenges behind the EMMA EU project and MOOC platform developed with the idea of accommodating diversity through multilingualism. Darco Jansen, from EADTU (European Association of Distance Teaching Universities), will talk about Europe’s response to MOOC opportunities. His presentation will highlight the main difference with the U.S. and discuss the consequences for didactical and pedagogical approaches regarding the different contexts.

    OER – update 2

    Open Education Europa has compiled and is releasing today as open data the analytical list of European Repositories of Open Educational Resources (OER).

    It includes:

    • European OER Portals and Repositories
    • Educational material repositories/directories
    • Larger Repositories rather than very specific ones
    • Focus on those who include Creative Commons license and on National/public OER repositories
    • Focus on material for teachers  (for the classroom/schools) rather than on higher education
    • Collaborative OER production initiatives (LeMill, RVP.CZ Portal,, KlasCement”)

    OER – update 1

    From the Universidad a Distancia de Madrid (UDIMA) – Madrid Open University – we are pleased to present the European Research Network of Open Educational Resources (ERNOER), a collaborative space in which more than fifty internationally educational institutions and prestigious universities are involved which can be accessed through the following link:

    The entire educational community can benefit in this web repository of more than three hundred image banks, two hundred fifty audio file repositories, two hundred and fifty video resources and more than three hundred programs and applications that can be used in education.

    Other Pontydysgu Spaces

    • Pontydysgu on the Web

      Our Wikispace for teaching and learning
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      Join our Sounds of the Bazaar Facebook goup. Just click on the logo above.

      We will be at Online Educa Berlin 2015. See the info above. The stream URL to play in your application is Stream URL or go to our new stream webpage here SoB Stream Page.

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    @wolfl Not so full at moment - would be interesting to see at busy time. Not sure want to know that much that would hang around here though

    About 3 hours ago from Graham Attwell's Twitter via Twitter for Mac

  • @Fraser_96 me too but the class was scheduled f2f and don't seem to have gathered any Twitter interest to change it to online so far :-)

    About 2 hours ago from Cristina Costa's Twitter via Twitter for iPhone

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