This example describes the design of an online dissertation module for final year undergraduate students. The unique pathway model used to teach research skills for final year projects allows staff to tailor the provision to the students’ individual learning needs.
The online education approach adopted
I have led the development of a new module called ‘Research Skills for your Dissertation’ for third-year undergraduate students. The module had specifically been designed to be online. To better meet students’ needs and reflect the range of methodological approaches students use, the team designed the module using a pathway model. The first four weeks of teaching will cover core topics that are relevant to all dissertations. This is the ‘core’ part of the module. The aim of this section of the module is to enable students to choose a topic, refine their focus, develop a set of research questions, search for relevant literature and have an overview of the different approaches they might choose to answer them.
In weeks three to four, students are asked to choose one of five pathways that best reflects the methodological approach they plan to use for their dissertation. The pathways start in week five and run alongside each other. The five pathways are: (1) qualitative data collection and analysis, (2) qualitative secondary data analysis, (3) quantitative secondary data analysis, (4) media analysis and (5) desk-based research. Each pathway covers a different methodological approach and is led by members of staff with expertise in these fields. Each pathway contains a coherent set of learning materials, structured into weekly chunks or learning units, that will guide students through the different methods they may decide to use within each pathway.
Within the pathway, each week involves some preparatory reading, two asynchronous video lectures approximately 10-20 minutes long, a self-directed learning activity and 60 minutes of online Q&A and reflection time to reflect on the task. Each pathway also has a dedicated discussion board and pathway staff will spend approximately 30 minutes responding to posts twice per week.
The positive impact on students’ educational experience:
As the module has only just started, it is difficult to answer this, but we are willing to share feedback when we have it. I have just run a Q&A session online with 120 students in attendance with a high level of engagement and students asking many insightful questions in the chat.
Please describe how your online education approach has impacted on your teaching practice, and your effectiveness as a teacher.
I feel the module is much more engaging compared to face-to-face lecturing. I have taken a much more creative approach to teaching and included many different forms of media. For example, I have included videos and recorded a discussion with members of staff to teach students about how to refine their research questions. I have been better able to meet students’ needs by providing much more content focused on developing practice skills in conducting a wide range of research.
By Joanne Greenhalgh, School of Sociology and Social Policy