Starting Out

As a follow up to my first post, I thought I’d look back at some of the first things I did in my then new role at the Wales DTC. It’s a bit late – after a well-intentioned first post, I have neglected almost another year – but I shall be delving into history anyway…

The first and most urgent thing was overhauling our main (and, then, only) website. My job title is ‘e-learning officer’ but we are a small team (just four of us in the office, and not all there full time) so we all have multiple responsibilities. Mine include several aspects of communication, including the website (which I felt could host our elearning material) and social media channels.

I’ll do another post on the detail of how I rejigged the site (using some custom posts and taxonomies) but essentially it came down to adopting the well designed WordPress standard theme Twenty Eleven (crucially making the site mobile device friendly), and then getting it to look how we wanted with a simple child theme. It was a simple strategy, but effective enough that I was invited to share with the directors of the other DTCs what I’d done at their next meeting. I also set about building up a presence on Twitter and Facebook, and developed a Mailchimp newsletter that we (well, actually my colleague does all that work now!) send out each month.

A second strand of my work is about connecting & collaborating. Our communications are part of this – but it goes beyond that, into developing among the Wales DTC cohort a sense of identity and belonging to more than just a department or institution. A community. A simple word, so very difficult to realise! I feel there is also a link with e-learning here: web-based tools are essential in working across the geography of Wales. Developing strong digital literacies is already important for early career researchers, but I think its an important element of being a connected DTC student too. In the early months, I took the opportunity to meet with a group of our students from all over Wales to talk about how they currently worked. Many felt they did not want to use external web tools (such as Facebook groups) to discuss research (this was six months before the Snowden revelations) but they wanted simplicity and something frictionless. This led me to start to look at how the VLEs at our four institutions might work together, and I started investigating what other DTCs did… again, something perhaps for a future post. It was a useful discussion, and it led me to feel I needed more opportunities to hear from students. We established a student rep system (to feed into all aspects of the running of the DTC) which in itself is perhaps the development that has promoted the greatest sense of community among Wales DTC students, thanks to our reps’ hard work arranging coffee mornings and the like at their institutions (not everything is best done with technology!)

A third strand is developing learning materials – working with academics and subject specialists to produce ‘learning objects’ that can be accessed online. The first thing I produced I worked on with Professor Mick Bloor, who was due to retire from the school of Social Sciences at Cardiff. He had run a workshop on researcher safety, and so we designed an online equivalent of the workshop, shooting some video, using some of his interviews and adapting some of the interactive exercises from the fact to face event. I used the open-source Xerte Online Toolkits to build this HTML5 learning object (yet another topic for another post) and you can find the finished Researcher Safety materials here. We’ve tried to make the our materials open access as far as possible, both out of a pragmatic desire to minimise administrative effort in controlling access as well and a more philosophical inclination towards the ideal.

In many ways, and despite the extensive overlaps, those three strands (communication, community, and creating learning materials) still describe the day to day work and projects I do in my role here, almost three years on.

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