Research development workshop: why do research?

I’m attending a research development workshop on campus for all staff members who are just beginning their PhD’s. I’ll post my notes here as we progress.

Why engage in research?

  • It’s expensive (manpower, finance, cost, equipement)
  • Dependent on motivation, commitment, hard work, ability, enthusiasm
  • BUT…
  • It enhances learning and intellectual development of staff
  • Keeps staff abreast of current developments
  • Allows interactions with peers from other institutions
  • Through collaborative programmes, it promotes institutional interactions, generating a source of funding
  • Promotes interaction with parastatal organisations e.g. NRF
  • Contributes to RDP of the country
  • Contributes to the development of a strong PG school
  • Transforms the approach to learning → allows you to engage in parallel thinking

Mechanics of the process

  1. Honours, or Basic Science degree → enthusiast with focus on higher education
  2. Masters → to get a Masters without going through to PhD is a “tragedy”
  3. PhD

Selecting a topic

  • Self choice by virtue of preference
  • Have a general idea of fields of interest e.g. curriculum development
  • No particular preference, explore what’s available
  • Theoretical or experimental / practical

Critical factors for success

  • Self motivation (since one is not driven by examination) → weekends and evenings
  • Choice of supervisor
    • Expert in the area
    • Must give guidance
    • Must inspire the student
    • There must be a relationship that goes beyond the research topic
    • Must be able to agree to regular meetings that have set objectives
  • Work consistently

Benefits of conducting research

  • Develops you as an academic
  • Allows you to engage with your peers more confidently
  • Allows you to rationalise research programmes
  • Promotes inter-departmental / institutional interaction
  • Harness internal and external funding for research, as well as for attending conferences
  • Research reward funds
education research technology

Reflections on improving teaching practice

Up until today, I was kind of maintaining 2 blogs…this one, and a reflective commentary that I included in my teaching portfolio wiki. The portfolio is something that our faculty suggests we keep for when we apply for promotion, etc. but I thought it could be something more. So when I started teaching in 2007, I thought about putting all of my teaching-related activities online in a public wiki, both for my own archiving purposes and for anyone else who might find it useful / interesting. Over time, it grew to become a portal to some of what I’m interested in. For example it’s also where I document my PhD progress, and my Open Textbook project. I’ve decided that since I was essentially doing the same thing in 2 places, albeit with subtle differences (evident only to me), it was time to post those reflections on teaching practice in one place, which from now on will be here.

One of the resources I enjoy most is the Tomorrow’s Professor blog, which is almost always a great starting point for a few minutes of reflection. I’ve just finished reading this post on improving the teaching of poor teachers, taken from the book A Guide to Faculty Development: Practical advice, Examples, and Resources by Ann F. Lucas.

One of the first points made is that poor teachers will often externalise the blame for underperforming students, often citing low student motivation or high teaching loads as the reasons for this. Effectively, this frees the lecturer from any responsibility to improve. When I first started teaching, I remember clearly how my tendency was also to look outside of myself for the problem, and it was only with a great deal of personal honesty that I could admit to myself that I wasn’t always doing a very good job. Having no teaching experience other than the teaching I was subjected to, I had taken on the role that had been modeled to me as a student, with most of my colleagues having the same viewpoint. There was no incentive to change teaching practice, especially not at the expense of research activities. This is changing at UWC though, with both grassroots programmes and upper management policies rewarding a scholarship of teaching and learning.

When you think about the misguided notion that knowledge of a subject conveys some kind of ability to teach it, you begin to understand how deeply entrenched is the centrality of content in a standard curriculum. What the universities are saying is that you don’t need to be able to teach in order to transmit content, an idea that is hardly ever challenged by our students, who seem to accept (and expect) that their experience of higher education will be a continuation of the previous 12 years of learning. Maybe that’s because the voice of the student is often missing from conversations on improving teaching practice? To address this issue in our department, we’ve taken steps to not only formalise our student feedback process, but to implement it in a way that facilitates engagement with that feedback by eliminating the more repetitive tasks associated with it e.g. data capture and analysis. I believe that if students are give the opportunity to be more involved in the teaching and learning process, to see their concerns addressed and suggestions valued, they may move to a space where the rewards for their participation are clear to them, and are no longer things that need to be externally motivated.

However, giving students an authentic voice means having to address them. I’ve had a few students openly reject the idea that they are at university to exercise their minds, and that instead, I should just pour forth the knowledge they require to be good physiotherapists. In these situations, it’s all too easy to throw your hands in the air and shout: “Why should I care if they don’t”? But isn’t the whole point of the job to guide students to a place where where their preconceived notions of education and the world are challenged? If we’re not up to the challenge, should we rather consider employment elsewhere?

twitter feed

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-09-21

  • ERN – Networks, CCK09, Memory, Google, Britannica, Location, Immediacy #
  • RT @jamesparks101: take a look at this wordle project #
  • Wordle – Beautiful Word Clouds. Might be useful to determine relative weighting in a document e.g. a CV, or abstract #
  • @pixlr Been playing with Firefox plugin. Very nice, especially screen capture and express editor. Looking forward to offline availability in reply to pixlr #
  • @pixlr I wasn’t aware that the processing takes place locally, that’s pretty cool. Can the software run in the browser when offline? in reply to pixlr #
  • “Laconica is now StatusNet « StatusNet – Open Source microblogging service” from #
  • New blog post: Public libraries on Mendeley #
  • “Share recommended readings using Mendeley’s Public Collections | Mendeley Blog” #
  • I just published Abstract – PhD Proposal (M Rowe) to Scribd #
  • International Collaborative Undergraduate Student Project 2010 – Physiopedia #
  • New blog post: International collaborative undergraduate student project #
  • I just published Abstract – Wikis and Collaborative Learning to Scribd #

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research social media technology

Public libraries on Mendeley

Mendeley just included a feature I’ve been waiting for for a while now…public collections of articles that you can manage from within the desktop client.  You can subscribe to the feed or embed code into your site to keep up to date with relevant articles of whatever public libraries you’re interested in.  This is potentially very useful for teachers who have reading lists that students need to be aware of.

In the spirit of a transparent research process, I’ve created and made public the library I’ll be using for my systematic review of the literature for my thesis.  It’s very limited right now, as I’ve only created it for this post.  Over time and together with my research assistant, I’ll obviously be adding new articles regularly.

education physiotherapy research

Proposal presentation

In our department, we’re required to present our research proposals for comment before submission to Higher Degrees.  This allows the group to give feedback before final corrections in the hope that the proposal is accepted without having to make major revisions.

I’ve just shared my proposal presentation that I gave a few days ago on Slideshare.  The feedback I received, although mainly editorial, means that the structure of this presentation is not the same as it will be in the final submission e.g. the Method has received another step in the process.

Would love any feedback.


Proposal coming along slowly

I’ve just shared a third draft of my PhD proposal with my supervisors, using Google Docs. Within a few hours, they’d both submitted feedback, and even though neither is finished reviewing the document, I can already start addressing their comments. Why would you not want to use this tool?

I’ll be presenting the proposal to my department in a few weeks, and aiming for submission to the Higher Degrees Committee on the 07th August. Hopefully there won’t be many corrections to be made.

twitter feed

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-07-06

  • Finalising funding proposal for PhD, didn’t realise how much work is involved. Will be terrible if it’s turned down #mrowephd #
  • Excited about SAAHE conference this weekend, will give feedback on blogging presentation and ethics workshop afterwards #
  • Using Google Docs 2 get proposal feedback from my supervisors. Considered using a closed wiki but they’d have to learn the syntax #mrowephd #
  • RT @JordanRaynor: @mpesce mentions Wikipedia’s “social contract”. The more you contribute the more power you have. #pdf09 #
  • RT @actualal Research Information Review (RIN) – “Communicating Research in the Digital Age” #
  • Just home from day 1, of SAAHE conference, useful and thought-provoking presentations and workshop, excited about tomorrow #
  • SAAHE conference ( finished today, interesting presentations, good keynotes, will blog thoughts and comments soon-ish #
  • The Machine is (Changing) Us: YouTube Culture and the Politics of Authenticity, @mwesch from #pdf09 #
  • Question: does anyone thank people on Twitter when they share something of value? #
  • Big delegation at SAAHE from Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research (FAIMER®) #
  • Going to apply for SAFRI fellowship ( and use to continue with physio textbook project ( #
  • @happydays2106 Hey man, great to see you again. How’s things? Where are you? in reply to happydays2106 #

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PhD progress

Things are finally starting to move on the proposal now that I’ve managed to catch up on a lot of other regular work that’s been outstanding.  I’ve had a few meetings with my two supervisors (one is a professor in my department and another is the head of the Directorate of Teaching and Learning at the university) and we’ve drawn up a timeline for submission of the proposal.

I’ve also been spending some time putting together a different proposal for funding, which I submitted today.  I had no idea how much time is involved in getting these things together.  On the one hand you spend a significant amount of time on something that may have zero pay-off.  On the other hand, it really serves to clarify your thinking around the project.  Through this process, I found that vague ideas are easy to have, but finding a workable methodology to take them forward is far more difficult.

I’m also beginning to understand what people mean when they say that research is a very lonely process (I recently spent hours on a few paragraphs, tweaking them so that they’re just right).  Oftentimes, people just won’t understand what the motivation is and it’s sometimes quite difficult to explain.  It’s like that saying: “If they get it, you don’t have to explain.  If they don’t get it, you can’t”.

Anyway, as I said previously, I’m going to try and make this research process as open as possible, in the hope that others in similar situations find some consolation in realising that they’re not alone.