Last month I was in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to facilitate a train-the-trainers workshop on teaching research writing online. I think that has to be the narrowest topic I’ve ever taught! But the workshop turned out to be more than that.
Towards the end of 2012, I facilitated two online courses in research writing over AuthorAID Moodle, our e-learning platform. These courses were taken by nearly 70 researchers from about 20 developing countries. The high completion rate (~85%) and participation (~300 forum posts in each course) assured us that online courses can work in our context.
Incidentally, 2012 was the year of a revolution in online learning. Look up online learning and very soon you’ll probably come across MOOCs (massive open online courses). In fact I’m going to write a series of blog posts here on my experience learning in a MOOC offered by HarvardX.
So it’s a good time for e-learning at AuthorAID. We have our own success to go by and we’re inspired by MOOCs. But our online courses are not MOOCs, at least for the time being. Our online courses are like our workshops: for a small audience of 25 to 40 researchers and intensively facilitated. As the course facilitator, I answer questions raised by participants, see how the participants are faring, and generally try to maintain a positive and active learning environment. I think it’s important for participants to learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives because research communication is changing rapidly. In most cases there is no single correct solution for a problem a researcher might face in communicating his or her work.
Coming to the train-the-trainers workshop in Colombo, the goal of the workshop was to enable a small group of experienced Sri Lankan researchers to introduce and teach courses in research writing at their institutions. Eleven participants from 4 institutions, including the universities of Colombo and Peradeniya, attended the workshop.
On the first day of the workshop, we looked at the existing AuthorAID online course and discussed how this course might be introduced and taught locally. The participants discussed their experiences in helping early-career researchers communicate their work, and they unanimously agreed that training on research writing is needed.
On the second day, it was time for me to learn from the participants: What is involved in introducing a course at a university? Are there any existing courses that were offered purely online? What’s the difference between for-credit and not-for-credit courses? I also gave the participants some updates from the AuthorAID annual project meeting, which took place between the first and second days of the workshop at the fabulous Galle Face Hotel (photo above).
The workshop was initially about how to teach research writing online, but the goal became broader during the workshop as the participants and I realized that the training medium isn’t as important as the pedagogy and eventual impact (namely, the learners’ success with publishing their work after undergoing training). In general, the participants felt that a blended or hybrid model of learning (classroom plus online) would work best.
I hope to keep in touch with the participants and work with some of them towards the goal of embedding courses in research writing and publication at their universities.