February 12, 2019

Effective Scholarly Communication – Workshopping the Issues for PGRs

Effective communication is at the heart of everything we do as scholars. This is was why I was delighted last week to spend three hours running a workshop entitled Effective Scholarly Communication[1] for a post-graduate researcher audience. I’m lucky, because improving my own communication has always been an intrinsic aspect of my professional life. Partly, this is because I’ve benefited from quite a varied career trajectory, having been a participative interactive storyteller since before I was a teenager[2], and in the past decade a prolific produser[3] creator of videos and podcasts. That’s before we come to my doctoral studies specialising in emerging scholarly communication practices and the few hundred articles, reviews, chapters, reports, editorials and conference papers I’ve produced during my career(s)[4]. Despite, technically, currently being an early career researcher myself, I've successfully drawn on these scholarly and performance experiences to deliver communication workshops to professionals, scholars and the public alike for many years.

Consequently, when I was invited last August to put together a session for our Research Skills Programme (RSSP)[5] here at Warwick, I felt reliably confident in attempting to create an engaging three-hour workshop in this communicative domain. Or at least I was confident, when I originally pitched the session towards the tail end of a long hot summer. Pragmatically, finding the time to redevelop and enhance some of my earlier training into a bespoke and suitably polished researcher focussed session, absorbed rather more preparation time than I initially anticipated. Given researcher training isn’t my major focus here at Warwick, understandably this was perhaps an unsurprising conclusion to have reached.

As any experienced trainer will tell you, it’s a little difficult going in cold delivering a learning event to a new community for the first time. For myself, I wasn’t 100% sure what the intended audience would want, need or desire to get out of the workshop. I knew the kinds of material I’d have welcomed during my own doctoral training journey, but as noted, I’ve the benefit of being less a more mature scholar than many PhD candidates. Ideally, it would have been useful to get a group of PGRs together for a focus group some months ahead of the session, to workshop their skills needs more precisely[6]. Nevertheless, I toyed with making the entire session hands-on, being a kinaesthetic learner myself this would have been my personal learning preference. However, I really felt the session needed fleshing out with some elements of chalk-and-talk to provide illustrative and instructive context. I decided given the constraints of available workshop time that what would work best would be to offer the delegates a schmorgesborg of topics within the realms of written, verbal, non-verbal and digital academic communication. The intention being, no matter what delegates’ interests or personal learning expectations were, that ideally there’d be satisfactory learning elements for everyone.

Access the session slides via the image below, although without my narrative they might lose a certain clarity.

2019_feb_effective_comms_session.jpg

So it was that the Effective Scholarly Communication workshop version 1.0 received its premier performance last week to a, well, slightly smaller than was optimal audience. No matter! My teaching and public performance motto has long been ‘Just play the gig!’ Which means through embracing my customary passionate and entertaining teaching performance, hopefully I provided the handful of delegates with something useful to ponder, consider and reflect upon. I do feel structurally the low turnout worked against the desired delegate interaction levels I was hoping to engender. Certainly, I had to revise on the fly a number of the workshop elements as well, to accommodate for the low numbers. I’m not entirely convinced these rejigged versions quite delivered the learning outcomes for which I was aiming. The session was designed as much for the delegates to learn from one another’s varied practice and experience, as listen to the ‘great sage on the stage’. The low numbers, I personally believe, were detrimental to some of the value delegates received from their participation, which is regretful.

Nevertheless, from the delegates’ feedback, the workshop does seem to have been a very successful activity and they benefitted from their attendance. The worked exercises and interactivity came in for particular praise, which was deeply satisfying as a good workshop stands or falls on such activities. Undoubtedly, the degree of personal attention I was able to offer the audience likely contributed to their satisfaction too.

Like many academics, I remain somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to my teaching and communicative practice, being rarely entirely satisfied with my materials and performance. I went into delivering this workshop fully aware that the original flavour, 1.0 version likely had some ‘fat’ which could have been judiciously trimmed, along with some contextual material which received insufficient prominence. Partly, this is a consequence of available preparation time, but it’s also a result of exposing the workshop to live, breathing, scholarly delegates for the first time. Hence, I’ve spent a couple of hours today looking through the delegate feedback, alongside my personal critique of the session, to identify what worked well, what didn’t, and where the session was lacking content. Good, solid, self-critical, reflexive practice in action, which will come in useful should this session be prepared for a second outing.

Naturally, the question forms in my thoughts: what next for this workshop? I’d originally planned to run the session twice within the RSSP 18/19, although I had to cancel the original November ’18 premier due to my pressing, more urgently in need of addressing, work commitments. Currently, there are no concrete plans to run the session again, although I based on the feedback I’d anticipate being asked to offer it in RSSP 19/20. That aside, I’ve had an outline approach to run the workshop (or elements) with the IAS’ Accolade training programme for our research fellows. Given the delegate numbers we get to those events, I think the challenge would be making the session coherent as I don’t think upwards of twenty delegates would make for a viable session[7].

With the training written, field-tested and subjected to a little peer review (thank you delegates!!), I’m sure evolving the next iteration will be faster, although I’ve a few more communication texts I’d like to read in preparation! Then there’s the 3.0 version and perhaps taking the show on the road to consider. Certainly, this is one workshop I’ll be able to deliver repeatedly, albeit with subtle and suitable enhancements.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the RSSP Student Careers and Skills team for their administrative support and commissioning the session. Also the netizens of the air-l@listserv.aoir.org list for sharing their insights. Finally, thanks to the PGR delegates who attended, shared, participated and engaged, I hope the session was of value!



[1] Version 2.0 may revert to Effective Academic Communication as I Scholarly Communication tends semantically to be associated with publishing, and the session was broader in scope.

[2] Live action and table-top role-player variety, in non-academic speak.

[3] Portmanteau of ‘producer’ and ‘user’ indicating someone engaged in ‘peer productive’ creative activities, as a ‘professionalised amateur’. Something community media sharing platforms have enabled.

[4] Some of which people have even read!

[6] Might be something useful to conduct for a revised version. If any PGRs would like to take part, drop me a line.

[7] Ideally around 12-16 delegates, enough for interaction, but not too many to diminish individual attention.


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