Eleanor Colla is the Research Relationships Manager at The University of New England in Armidale New South Wales, Australia. In this role she works closely with the Research Office, Faculties, and Librarians to implement, improve, and align institution-wide research strategies to Library services. Their interests include Open Scholarship, research management, integrating and embedding library services into the research lifecycle, and library advocacy.
Kylie Burgess is the Research Data Librarian at The University of New England in Armidale New South Wales, Australia. Her professional interests include data management best practice, supporting researchers and promoting Open Data. Outside of the library, Kylie is a keen gamer – she runs Dungeon and Dragons games in settings she creates herself and can often be found basking in the blue glow of her computer monitors exploring virtual worlds.
In April, we wrote about our experiences in working on an across-institution project to support postgraduate students. We identified the gaps, spoke about the pitch process, and how we went about establishing a working group. Below we provide an update and seven reflective learnings in undertaking this project.
Significant changes since our last post
Since our last Library Parlor post in April, SOL:AR has undergone several challenges and changes. These include;
- We have updated ‘S’ in SOL:AR. Feedback indicated that “student” was preferable to “self-paced”
- SOL:AR has gone through three content edits and is about to be launched in draft version to undergo review from key stakeholders across the institution
- We have been working through a global health pandemic resulting in everyone working remotely, increased workload and stress, and, for many, increased family/caring commitments
Learning 1- Establishing project governance is an important element in ensuring longevity during and after the project
A large part of the implementation was deciding on the ‘business owner’ of SOL:AR. Whilst the development of the project and maintaining the resource we are creating is inherently collaborative, we needed to dedicate a business owner for bureaucratic and practical reasons. It was decided that, as this resource is for postgraduate students, the business owner position would be held by the Senior HDR Officer, a position on the working group. A memorandum of understanding was agreed upon by the Directors of each of the departments with a review system and clear delineation of which department was responsible for content.
Learning 2- Bringing in subject experts early builds a sense of ownership and investment in the project
We found that having this role as part of the working group from the beginning was a good decision as they were more aware and invested in the goals and visions of the overall project, thus allowing them to approach their work in a more informed way. For our project, having a learning designer on the working group proved invaluable. When it came to structuring content, they created an editing framework to review module content, structured the activities associated with the theory, and created a workbook that students can complete.
Learning 3- Having defined goals, clear plans, and flexibility allows for easier adaption to the unplanned
Dealing with disruptions
The most obvious disruption came in the form of COVID-19, which resulted in a shift to working from home in late March. While transitioning to a work from home model was disruptive, UNE has an established culture of online engagement with our meetings already held via Zoom to accommodate members who usually work off-campus. To maintain momentum, we prioritised keeping our usual meeting schedule. We had also been using Microsoft Teams effectively for most of our everyday communication and document sharing; this allowed us to keep moving forward, albeit at a slower pace while we adjusted to our ‘new normal’.
Innovating ‘on the go’
The learning designer pointed out that while we had some activities in the modules, the students would find the learning experience more cohesive and valuable if all the activities were put into a workbook that they could download, fill in, and refer back to throughout their candidature. The learning designer put together a workbook in addition to signposting activities, important information, links out to other resources, and HDR milestones discussed in the modules with icons. These icons made the modules easier to interact with and highlight important elements in each that students should engage with. The development of the workbook illustrates that while planning from the outset is important, much of the ‘good stuff’ comes later and is the result of trial and error, discussions and brainstorming, and bringing in people who can see the gaps in your project and have the skillset needed to address them.
Learning 4- Planning for the future in the present ensures continuity and improvement of the project
We took a structured approach to reviewing and quality assuring the modules before launching SOL:AR. The working group decided early on that we would adopt a review process for SOL:AR content before making it live. We created an editing framework and used the Microsoft Team’s Planner tool to create a review schedule and a way for the rest of the working group members to self assign several modules each.
Learning 5- Reviewing content will be more complex than expected. Allow time.
We naively thought this process would be quick, easy, and seamless. In practice, this wasn’t the case. Thoroughly looking over each module with a critical eye on content, tone, and style is a very time-consuming process, and not everyone will agree with the suggested changes. There were negotiations to be had and setbacks to work through with many of the modules – but in the end, this collaborative refinement of SOL:AR’s content has resulted in more cohesive modules. Additionally, the learning designer conducted their own review of the modules and found ways to use scaffolded learning and engaging infographics to summarise information.
Learning 6- Be prepared to learn new skills as the project develops
Undertaking this project required us both to upskill and learn along the way. Some of this was practical knowledge required directly for SOL:AR such as undertaking training for the Content Management System. Other areas of upskilling have prepared us for future collaborative projects.
Defining clear roles and expectations– Whilst discussions were initially had about the end goals, upon reflection, we could have had more clearly defined roles and expectations for the working group throughout the project. This includes conversations around rotating the chair and minute-taker in meetings, who does the small admin tasks, and processes in place if someone can’t complete a task.
Defining common terms as a team– The language that librarians use is not necessarily the language used elsewhere across campus. For example, when discussing the importance of including Open Scholarship in a module on publishing practices, colleagues from the Research Office were confused as to why the Library would be discussing scholarships and funding opportunities available to students.
Project Management– We learnt of various approaches to project management undertaking this work. Assigning clear roles and expectations for all stages of the project is critical, as is knowing ways to adjust to the unexpected impacting a project. Another learning in this area was using organisation and task allocation software such as Microsoft Teams and using a digital Gantt Chart creator so people could see tasks and timelines.
Learning 7- There is no start date, there is no end date
Before we had launched SOL:AR, conversations with stakeholders indicated that the resource would likely evolve beyond the original scope of the project. There is broad interest for making SOL:AR integrated into the UNE postgraduate student experience. As the implications of COVID-19 became apparent and a more online approach to learning is needed, the necessity of resources like SOL:AR became evident. UNE is planning to develop a centralised graduate research institute, and with SOL:AR’s broad applicability, we hope it will become a keystone resource.
Conversations have begun to turn to how we keep SOL:AR as a ‘living resource’. For now, the working group will continue to meet, albeit less frequently. We will discuss student feedback, any updates that are required, and ways to continue to develop SOL:AR.
SOL:AR is currently live and can be found at: https://www.une.edu.au/research/hdr/solar
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The expressions of the writer do not reflect anyone’s views but their own