The Research Journey: getting the most out of your research

This week I attended a free, one-day conference for doctoral students and early career researchers at De Montfort University. The focus of the day was on getting the most out of your PhD.


The day began with a keynote from Dr Crispin Coombs, Taking the Elevator: Reflecting on the PhD journey, discussing the growing demand on PhD students to graduate with more than just a qualification. He stressed that academia is about products and identified 5 things that a PhD student should look to leave their research student experience with. These are viewed as important for any student embarking upon an academic career:

  • PhD – your thesis and the qualification itself are of course the main intended outcome of doctoral study.
  • Papers – Crispin noted that it is becoming more of an expectation that students will have published work during their PhD, or will have work ready to publish once they have graduated.
  • Networking – it is important to get your name out there, to be a part of the conversation in your research area and make connections with other academics in your field.
  • Funding – Dr Coombs highlighted the importance of understanding the funding process before completing your PhD, so as to prepare you for the beginning of your academic career.
  • Collegiality – as in many occupations, Universities want to know that a future employer works well with others. In an academic context, it can be harder to demonstrate these skills. Crispin suggested volunteering your time to University endeavors (such as student representation in boards and forums) that can be added to your CV.

Crispin’s keynote set the tone for the day, linking well with the following sessions. A range of topics were covered throughout the day, of which I attended:

  • How research is funded: a guide to the process
  • Increasing the visibility of your research through social media
  • Measuring the impact of your research
  • Writing for publication

The overall message of the day, at least from my perspective, was that it’s never too soon to start preparing yourself for life after your PhD – for the remainder of your academic career. So whilst I reflect over Crispin’s 5 areas and how I can develop my academic profile further, here’s a few interesting points/things I was left considering from the day.

*It’s useful to learn funding timescales within your discipline.

*How can you demonstrate collegiality? – allows you to set up searches in your discipline for when funding pots are available. – the Gateway to research presents information on all research funded by RCUK, providing a useful resource for understanding what kind of projects they like to fund.

Online Collaboration: Scientists and the social network – an interesting article from Nature about how scholars make use of social media.

Hootsuite – a social media management dashboard that allows you to maintain all of your social media profiles from one platform.

*Make records of everything that can be classed as impact – don’t rely on your memory. When using websites, take screenshots – don’t rely on pages still be being available either.

*When writing for publication – the ideas can be difficult, but the prose should be easy to follow.

*Learn from peer reviewer/editor feedback – grow a thick skin, keep on trying and accept that they will improve your work.

read, read, read and write, write, write!



Building effective CPD in schools

Last Thursday I attended a conference by the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) at the Learn Sheffield Hub. The day was very interesting and provided me with a number of opportunities to compare the views of staff at the conference to those of the schools I have conducted research with to date.

The New CPD Standards
As the standards have yet to be released David Weston, the chair of the government’s CPD expert group, was unable to give us any detail about the standards. He was, however, able to tell us that there will be 5 standards which focus on effective CPD as a relationship between 3 stakeholders: the teacher, the school and leadership, and the provider.

In my discussions with schools around CPD, the relationship between leadership visions for the whole school and individual CPD needs was raised on a number of occasions. Staff noted a preference for having a clear vision for whole school development that they could then build upon with their personal CPD. It was felt that this would provide them with a clearer idea of where they should be developing their professional practices – to make CPD a more coordinated effort across the school.

It had also been stressed that CPD delivered by external providers can often misunderstand the context and needs of the school and their pupils. Improved communication between these companies and the leadership and teachers with whom they are providing CPD, would not only create a more effective service for school staff, but also a better trained teaching body for our students.

The importance of staff buy-in

David discussed the Developing Great Teaching report by the TDT, a review of reviews around continuing professional development and learning to investigate what makes effective CPD. Weston noted that staff buy-in was found to be key to successful professional development opportunities:
‘All the reviews found that an essential element of successful CPDL is overt relevance of content to its participants and their day-to-day experiences and aspirations for pupils.’ (Cordingley et al 2015, p.5)
Relevance of CPD content has been a key concern for my research participants. In every session this has been highlighted as one of the most important factors in deciding if CPD has an impact on current teaching practice. Relevance seems to be a particular concern in relation to CPD for technology use, with many staff noting that often sessions focus solely on learning how to use a new piece of hardware/software that has been purchased by the school, without supporting staff in developing ideas for how it can be used for their own subject teaching. Staff reported a sense of apathy when faced with CPD that was not clearly relevant to their own teaching, and stressed that given their already heavy workloads, they do not have the time to take on new practices without some guidance on how they might be beneficial to their specific needs.
Doing better, not simply doing more
One of the afternoon’s presentations, entitled ‘Effective CPD in practice’, came from Michael Watson, deputy headteacher at a primary school in Sheffield. Michael’s school has been identified by the TDT as an exemplar for whole school CPD strategy and a particular comment Michael made caught my attention.
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Anyone who works in education, or studies the area, will know that time is regularly cited as the biggest barrier to teacher’s professional development. In a climate of increasing bureaucracy and accountability, school staff are losing valuable time to be reflective about their practice. Michael pointed out that instead of simply equipping staff with more and more information, we should instead be supporting them in identifying an area of their practice that isn’t working effectively for them and investigating new practices that could improve this.
Whilst time has come up frequently in the sessions that I have held with schools, and the need for more reflective practices, this notion of swapping out old strategies for new ones is an interesting approach and one that I would like to look into further.
Cordingley, P., Higgins, S., Greany, T., Buckler, N., Coles-Jordan, D., Crisp, B., Saunders, L. and Coe, R. (2015) Developing Great Teaching: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development. London: Teacher Development Trust.

PhD Note 15/2015

Image shared under a creative commons license by Roman Boed

Image shared under a creative commons license by Roman Boed

This week I have mostly been:

  • Locating new resources for my literature review. I am currently reading on teacher professionalism and am looking at resources which cover: how professionalism is interpreted, how professionalism has developed in recent history and how political intervention (such as the 1988 Education Reform Act and 1944 McNair Report which influenced the collaboration of universities and teacher training schools) has shaped professionalism in the UK.
  • Registering with The British Library so that I can go and visit soon!
  • Building content into Blackboard for the module I will start teaching from next week. This has been particularly exciting for me as I haven’t used Blackboard as an instructor before.
  • Writing on the four ages of professionalism.
  • Submitting a proposal to present at the 6th Annual TEAN Conference. I presented there last year on the findings of the 2013 DigiLit Leicester survey. This year, Richard Hall and I are proposing to discuss the key findings of the surveys from both 2013 and 2014 and their implications for teacher education.
  • Reading on the development of teacher professionalism. After an exhausted end to last year I feel like I’ve really got my academic mojo back – I’m getting excited about the papers I’m reading again and it’s all starting to fall into place (which is handy since I have a literature review to write).

Next week I will be teaching my first lesson in H.E (!), continuing my literature review work and finishing off my ethical approval application ready to get some feedback from my supervisors.

PhD Note 11/2014

This week I have mostly been:

Attending the final lecture of my first Doctoral Training Programme module – Research Designs in Health. As I have already studied research methods and design at a Masters level this course was a handy refresher. I also have an assignment to submit as part of the module, a research proposal. I have decided to use this assignment as a way to get further feedback on the proposal I am currently writing for my ethical approval.

Completing the RDP module in literature searching, through a final face-to-face component. Again the session was a useful recap of the search strategies I have learnt in the past, but it also introduced me to a number of tools that may come in handy over the next few years:

Library Search – a new service on the DMU library website that allows you to search all content in the library by keywords in one search. This could be used for testing out my search terms and also to give an indication of the amount of content available in my area of research.

Copac – identifies which universities hold the texts that you search for. As I have SCONUL membership I can use other university libraries but I hadn’t been sure how to know where else to look before.

Scopus and Web of Knowledge – both of these sites are citation trackers. This service can be used to check the quality of the paper you are reading and also look for later publications which refer to it that might be relevant to your study.

Zetoc – allows you to set up an alert for certain journals and keywords, this way whenever something new is published you are alerted to it – helping you to keep up to date with the literature in your field, throughout your thesis.

Getting inspired by this blog post from Dr Catherine Flick – discussing a new method she has developed for managing her notes, quotes and references from papers and chapters she has read. In my last supervisors meeting it was suggested that I look into management tools for helping me to do this (I’ve always manually typed out citations) and I have to admit I’m not familiar with the tools. I found this post quite interesting and I am definitely going to look into trying this method as I think it could be a really useful way of managing all my reading notes and citations.

Reading for my literature review. I am currently looking at texts which focus on teachers, their professional identity and the role of professional development.

Next week, I will be focusing mainly on more reading for my literature review, further writing of my proposal and I will also be volunteering some time to the graduate school to help trial a new service for postgrads that makes submitting of all our forms a little easier to manage.

DigiLit Leicester: 2014 Survey Results

The DigiLit Leicester project is a two year collaboration between Leicester City Council, De Montfort University and 23 secondary and SEN schools. Leicester’s secondary schools collectively support approximately 20,270 learners each year, the majority of which are between 11 and 16 years old. The project focuses on supporting secondary school teaching and teaching support staff in developing their digital literacy knowledge, skills and practice, and their effective use of digital tools, environments and approaches in their work with learners.

In consultation with participating schools, a Digital Literacy Framework was developed, linking digital literacy with secondary school practice. An online survey was developed, linked to the framework, designed to support staff in reflecting on their use of technology to support teaching and learning, and to provide individual staff members, schools and the Council with information to inform future planning around professional development.

This year’s findings!

The survey was opened for a second time between March and May 2014, seeing an increase in engagement from schools. 701 members of staff completed the survey in 2014, or 39 per cent of all eligible staff, with 209 returning from 2013. The headlines for the 2014 survey findings are:

  • Fifty six per cent of staff across the city who participated in the survey classified their skills and confidence at the highest level – Pioneer – in one or more of the six key digital literacy areas.
  • Twenty three per cent of all those who participated in the survey placed themselves at Entry level in one or more of the six key areas.
  • Staff rate their skills and confidence highest in the area of E-Safety and Online Identity, with 43.5 per cent of respondents scoring at Pioneer level.
  • Staff feel least confident in the area of Communication, Collaboration and Participation, with 9 per cent of staff rating themselves as Entry level and 38.7 per cent falling within the lower levels of the framework (at either Entry or Core level).
  • In Creating and Sharing , 42.1 per cent of staff rated their skills and confidence in the lower levels of the framework (Entry and Core levels).
  • Analysis comparing the survey data from 2013 and 2014 shows that a statistically significant change in staff confidence has occurred, with 21 per cent of participants noting an increase in their skills and confidence. Levels achieved increased in five of the six key areas (excluding E-Safety and Online Identity where levels were already high).

You can find out more by downloading a copy of the report here:

DigiLit Leicester 2014 Survey Report (Word)

DigiLit Leicester 2014 Survey Report (PDF)


Share and promote Pioneer practice

1. Ensure that the work being done by city Pioneers is promoted and shared more widely. Promote and support the use of open licences to enable wider discovery, use and reuse of educational resources produced by city staff.

2. Provide encouragement, opportunity and recognition to Pioneers who support Entry level colleagues.

Supporting entry-level staff

3. Provide supported opportunities and resources specifically designed for and accessible to Entry level staff, particularly in relation to Assessment and Feedback andCommunication, Collaboration and Participation.

Supporting self-directed staff development

4. Continue to provide support for self-directed staff development projects and activities. This approach is supported by the research literature, which has shown that professional development programmes that support staff in focusing on developing their own knowledge ‘are most likely to lead to transformative change’ (Fraser et al. 2007, p.167).

Encouraging contextual e-safety guidance

5. Continue to support work which supports schools in expanding the safe and effective use of social and collaborative technologies.

Increasing knowledge and use of Open Educational Resources (OERs)

6. Complete work on the project’s current Open Education schools project, and evaluate the benefit of continued focus on and additional work in this area.


To celebrate the release of the 2014 Survey Results, the DigiLit Leicester team worked with Infogr8 in order to create a simple and easy to read visual representation of the 2014 Headline data.

Leicester Gov

Further information and resources to support staff and schools in all framework strand areas can be found at: under ‘Digital Literacy Resources’

Open Badges lessons from October

BadgeMaker's badge wall
BadgeMaker’s badge wall

Over the last month I have had the pleasure of attending not one, but two Mozilla events: the Mozilla Summit, which ran from the 4th – 6th October, and MozFest which took place this weekend, from the 25th – 27th October. I was invited to attend because of the work that I have been doing around Open Badges in Leicester; supporting our schools, colleges, universities and educational organisations in developing their ideas around Open Badges.

The two events have been instrumental in moving my own understanding around Open Badges forward – giving me the opportunity to work with members of the badges team from the UK and America. I have learnt a lot this month, and below is a summary of the key tools and ideas I have taken away from these events.


I have found that often conversations around Open Badges are dominated by discussions of validity and the technical infrastructure. What is often underestimated is how difficult it can be to actually design your badge. Whilst it may only take two minutes to create a ‘Chopstick Ninja’ badge (awarded for mastering the skill of eating with chopsticks), to design badges that have true educational value and that fit well within their context can be much more complex. A badge may also be part of a larger eco-system of badges, meaning that learning progression needs to be considered too.

But fear not! There are tools available that can help with this process – that support an issuer in considering all of the necessary elements of a badge, and an eco-system if required:

The first are badge design principles – ‘The badges Design Principles Documentation Project studied the winners of MacArthur Foundation grants from the 2012 Digital Media & Learning competition, extracting general principles for badge system design from the contextual practices found among these diverse projects’ (DPD 2013).

These principles have been presented in a handy deck of cards, arranged into four groups:

  • Assessing learning with badges
  • Motivating learning with badges
  • Recognising learning with badges
  • Studying learning with badges
Badge Design Principles
Badge Design Principles


One way of working with the cards is to begin with your problem or challenge – what it is that you want to create a badge for – and then work through the principles to identify which would support a solution system. This can then help you in making the final decisions about the aspects of your badge/badge system.

With your chosen principles in mind – you can then use DigitalMe’s Badge Design Canvas to map out the different aspects of your badge. I think that the canvas is a great tool for structuring your ideas and making sure you have considered each element of your badge. I have talked about the canvas before (in my Open Badges Hands on Session post) but just wanted to reiterate how useful I think this tool is for designing Open Badges.


The next issue that many individuals and organisations face is finding the right tool to support them in issuing badges.

There are a few out there, and more being developed, which for busy educators can actually make the process of finding the right tool harder. From the ones I’ve tried, they all have their merits – I think the best way to choose is to think about what you want the system to do and then chose the tool which best matches your needs. Below I’ve tried to pull together a table of the tools I have experienced – as I find more I will add to it (feel free to point any out that I may have missed).

badge grid

Mozilla also announced at MozFest last weekend that they are working on a BadgeKit – an open badges tool stack that will support all of the aspects of badge design and issuing. This will be worked up from an existing collection of tools created for the Chicago Summer of Learning programme, which includes tools to:

  • Design – Badge Studio
  • Define – Open Badger
  • Assess – Aestimia
  • Issue – Open Badger
  • Collect & manage – Backpack
  • Share – Backpack
  • Discover – CSOL Backpack

For more information about why a BadgeKit, and why now, see Erin Knight’s post for the Open Badges Blog.


Validity and Verification

The issue of verification has been raised many times – both during the summit and in our interest group meetings. There is concern around how we can ensure the validity of badges – how can the credibility of the issuer be ensured? how do we encourage employers and other institutions to accept badges as valid proof of achievements?

During the Summit, Mozilla confirmed that Endorsement is an area they are currently looking into – where organisations/institutions could essentially ‘back a badge’ to give it further credit and weight. For example, if a school issued badges to accredit learning that falls outside of formal assessment – a local college could ‘endorse’ those badges, to show that they acknowledge them as valid accreditation for those skills/behaviours.

This is still in the early stages of investigation, but holds a great deal of potential for solving these issues around validity and verification.


Stakeholder Representation

At both events Grainne Hamilton ran sessions on ‘Developing an Open Badge Eco-system’ which introduced The Open Badges in Scottish Education Group. This group includes representatives from further and higher education and educational agencies including the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland. Grainne highlighted how having representation from all stakeholders helped to move conversations forward within the group.

During the Leicester Open Badges Interest Group meetings, we have begun to develop ideas around how Open Badges may be used across the City. In order to take these initial ideas forward, it may be useful to map the organisations who are currently represented within the group and identify if there are others who could be included – who we feel could help us to move forward.

3 Great Ideas I saw at MozFest

This weekend has been my first MozFest – my brain has been overloaded with cool new information and ideas. I think its safe to say I’m going to need to sleep on some of it before I can share my thoughts.

But I wanted to share some of the interesting things/ideas I’ve seen this weekend:


This is the Watercolorbot from Super Awesome Sylvia (@makersylvia). Sylvia is definitely deserving of her title, at 12 years old she has developed her own water colour painting robot and presented it at the White House Science Fair. I was never this cool or talented at 12.

What I really like about this project is that it shows that anyone can be a maker if they put their mind to it – and that we should always encourage learners (of any age) to reach for the stars.


I found this amongst a Web Literacy Standard display. Doug Belshaw (@dajbelshaw) had asked attendees to work up ideas for activities that aligned with the standard – and to match this to a minimum viable badge. I spotted this remix idea and loved it so much I had to take a photo.

I like it so much because despite being a fairly able family when it comes to technology, we’ve never had an opportunity to collaborate online together – and this is such an interesting way to bring generations together. I also like the notion of enriching a family tree with information and multimedia that is relevant to family milestones.


This is a prototype open badge from a wonderful display of over 100 badge ideas – an activity created by The Badge Maker Team . This particular badge from @urban_teacher really caught my attention.

What I liked was how the badge encourages people to support learners through social media – my only tweak would be to add that it could be rewarded for inspiring other educators too!

I have lots more to write about – namely open badges – so stayed tuned!