This week (Feb 15-19), I’ll be taking over the Teaching@Leiden account on Twitter. Teaching@Leiden is the official Twitter account of the Leiden Teachers’ Academy, which I joined in September 2020. I’m looking forward to tweeting about the courses I teach, my teaching innovation projects and anything else that comes to mind.
Category Archives: Research Methods
Teaching@Leiden Twitter Take-Over
Research Ethics for Students #2: This Thing Called Judgment
By Natascha van der Zwan & Andrei Poama
We’re continuing our conversation on research ethics with Dr. Andrei Poama (Institute of Public Administration, Leiden University). Dr. Poama is an expert on the ethics of criminal justice. He is also a member of the Ethics Committee at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs. In our exchange with Dr. Poama, we discussed the ethical dilemmas confronting researchers in the social sciences, possible solutions to these dilemmas, and how the codes of conduct for Dutch researchers apply to graduate students. This is Part Two of two blog posts, in which we present the highlights from our conversation.
Please note: The guest talk has been modified to a question-and-answer format for easier reading. The spoken words have been edited for length and readability.*
Q: So, let’s have a look at some of the codes of conduct for Dutch researchers. We have, for instance, the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (2018) and the Code of Ethics for Research in the Social and Behavioural Sciences Involving Human Participants (2018).
A: The Code of Conduct for Research Integrity is the main document, which I think is quite clear and well done. It draws on the European equivalent. But the process is quite weird. So, when you open these codes, you see “oh, there are five leading principles for conducting ethical research.” And these principles are honesty, scrupulousness, transparency, independence and responsibility. And it’s like like “oh!”. You don’t really know where they are coming from and so on.
I’m not going to go through them, but I want you to know what – based on those principles – would count as research misconduct. One of them you already know and you have known about it since you were an undergrad. That’s plagiarism. But then the other two are fabrication and falsification. Fabrication is simply frauding, so fraudulent science, making up data. Falsification is when you have the data but you keep tweaking it, until the data says what you wanted to say. I think many – I wouldn’t say most – but many scientists, especially in the quantitative tradition, engage not necessarily in full falsification, but they keep chasing that p value: rearranging the data and massaging it, until they get statistical relevance. There are very interesting discussions about dropping the statistical significance level. Because the reason why we have the p value today is that you want genuine findings to be published. Now, what has happened because you have this standard [the p value] is that people keep chasing the standard and modifying the data, until the data fits the standard. But by doing so, they modify the data so much, that actually they end up falsifying it, at least to some extent.
Q: So what kind of solutions to these problems are there?
A: There are two things that are very interesting happening today and that are addressing the falsification problem. One of these things is pre-registration. Pre-registration means that you have these online platforms, typically hosted by universities. So, for instance, my colleague Dr. Honorata Mazepus and I have been doing a survey experiment on how the socio-economic status of criminal offenders (whether they are poor or not) affects people’s judgments about whether to blame and punish the offenders. Before you even run the experiment, you go [to the platform] and you submit a document with your hypothesis and with your theory. Then you’re committed to those hypotheses, before you run the experiment. And it’s a requirement, when you submit the findings of the experiment, that you also submit the link with your pre-registered hypotheses […]. And the other thing is the discussion about dropping the p value.
There is novelty or positive findings bias in the way science, and in particular social science but also in medical science, as it is practiced today. Your stuff is only going to get published, if you find something. If you manage to some degree to confirm the hypothesis you’re after. If you found no relationship, so the null hypothesis holds, then no one is interested. One thing happening right now is that you have a few null hypothesis or negative findings journals […].
So that’s also interesting and it’s being debated in the replication crisis that you might have heard of, especially in social psychology. You also find it in management studies. Basically, only about 30-40% of social psychology studies are being replicated. So the remaining 60-70 % is not being replicated.
Q: I think most of our students would probably either do a non-experimental survey or qualitative interviews rather than an experiment. So how would falsification play into [those methods]?
A: You can falsify anything, really. You could also falsify the findings of a survey. There are different ways of falsification. You can say, for instance, my sample is the students in the Masters or the undergraduate [program], but then you also make your Qualtrics survey link available to family and friends. So you might have people who are not part of the sample or population that will be part of [it], but you just don’t say it. And there are ways of checking that, but I don’t think [anyone] is realistically going to do that.
Q: What I find a little bit tricky with interviews is, when you want to use quotes from the interview and you have to polish the language a little bit, because you’re not going to type in all the ‘uhs’ and the ‘ahs’. So you would have to tweak it a little bit. I’m wondering what the fine line is between this acceptable editing on the one hand and then falsification on the other hand.
A: I mean, it’s hard to say. I think if you change the meaning, then then you’re clearly in the wrong. The way it happens with research misconduct, for example, is that there are always clearly cases of wrongdoing. So, for instance, this case would be a clear case of falsification. And there are of course very clear cases, where you would just simply report the data and the data is of high quality. There is no interview or no open-ended question, so then you don’t have to engage too much with the interpretation. There are other cases in-between. My metric there is that if you see yourself interpreting the data in a way that tends to confirm your hypothesis – if you’re too friendly to your hypothesis, to put it that way – then that’s a red light. You should try to be as uncharitable to your hypothesis as possible. Your job is to try to falsify the hypothesis.
Q: We have a question from a student, who is doing research on co-production. This involves sitting in on meetings with citizens. So how do you prevent, that you falsify or misinterpret the observations you make?
A: You can have a reflection on your interpretation, so you get at this meta-level where you basically say “well, this is what I’ve been doing and these are the weaknesses of my interpretation and these are the things that I’m not sure about.” Another thing that you should be doing is that you write after you have your observation moment. If you postpone it and do it two days later, you’ll have all sorts of memory deception effects that will be kicking in. That will be a problem. So just do it afterwards.
Q: A lot of the examples of ethical breaches are really big breaches. I think for a lot of us, who are trying to do our research as ethically as possible, these big examples are not always that useful. Because, you know, we are not going to fake respondents. But sometimes those smaller dilemmas are actually the most difficult ones. You’re on the Ethics Committee in our faculty, so I was wondering what are some of the most common issues that you observe and that we could learn from?
A: Well, they often have this kind of structure (see slide below). So this is a made-up example, which is partly based on my supervision experiences. You know, students would do stuff similar to this. Imagine that one of your colleagues wants to test five hypotheses about the impact of socio-economic inequalities on educational opportunities in the Netherlands. To test these hypotheses, he plans to interview three teachers from a low-income neighborhood in The Hague. He comes to you to ask for some research advice about how to proceed with the study. The question is, what do you advise him? Is there an ethical problem with his research?
Q: In the discussion, our students quickly noted some issues with this research design. The researcher only selects a low-income neighborhood as his case study, instead of selecting multiple neighborhood that vary in terms of average income levels. This constitutes selection bias. The researcher also aims to test five hypotheses, based on only three interviews. This is known as the ‘degrees of freedom’ problem. But these seem issues of research design, not of research ethics per se. So why should we question this study in terms of research ethics?
A: Many of the cases that individual researchers submit with us [the FGGA Ethics Committee] are like this, because of our The Hague mission […]. Put yourself in the shoes of either the teacher or the students [in the low-income neighborhood], who have given these interviews. Then, you know, the researcher is sending you the article and says “oh look, here are the findings.” So what does that does that do to you as a teacher or as a student?
Many of the problems that we receive on the Ethics Committee have this kind of structure. You know, we want to draw very general conclusions based on a very small sample, because we don’t have a lot of data. But I think that one thing that you can do as individual researchers is to be very critical about the scope and range of your conclusions. Be very critical about the fact that this is not going to apply to the whole population. If you, as a part of this population, are reading about this research, especially as a teacher, I would imagine that basically in encounters with other teachers you will feel lower, less important, kind of responsible for this happening. And so I think one of the frequent problems that we do have is this stigmatization effect or potential for stigmatization.
Q: So what can you do?
A: I think there are two things that we could also do as individuals. One is to take charge of the science communication process […]. It’s often not the scientists themselves or the researchers themselves who are doing the communication about the findings (unless you’re talking about Twitter or Facebook), it’s someone else. And I think one thing that we could do is to take hold of the communication process. So to actually present that data ourselves, because we have more nuance in the way which we present. Of course, to do that, we would need more time, and time is very scarce in academia today.
And the second thing is… I will just give this example. I have my second Masters in criminology and I had this amazing teacher who was doing participant observation on offenders convicted for domestic violence charges. The way she was doing it was through interviews and just sitting there and observing things. And then she wrote her article thing and used, you know, fancy nice academic language. But then before actually sending the article for publication, she did one very interesting thing: she took the manuscript and sent it back to the prisoners. So when the article got published, the title was “being a nosy bloody cow”, because that was the reaction of one of the inmates.
So one thing that you can do, especially if you see there is a potential for stigmatization, is to promise to give voice to your participants. And if you’re real about giving voice, you can do that in the actual content of your research products.
Q: To sum up?
A: So two things. One, you are not a student, you are the actual author of the research that you’re going to produce. And the participants that you’re going to work with are in some sense co-authors of that work. So don’t be shy about what you did. And two, if you already have a draft, you can send it back to the participants, to the people who have generated knowledge for you. Do it, especially if you are doing qualitative research, because that is a way of giving people some control over what you’re going to say about them.
There is nothing fixed about those five principles. Principles don’t apply in an obvious way across cases. Even between the principle and the case, there is this thing called judgment. You have to exert your judgment about a) whether the principle applies at all and b) how and to what extent the principle is going to apply. So one obvious principle that would apply [in the earlier example] is scrupulousness, that you show care in the way that you produce knowledge, gather knowledge and disseminate it.
Q: Thank you, Andrei, for sharing your thoughts on research ethics with us. And thank you to our students for their insightful questions!
*With thanks to Brecht, Edo, Meike-Yang and Nev for their insightful comments and questions.
Research Ethics for Students. Part 1: Doing the Real Thing
By Natascha van der Zwan & Andrei Poama
On February 24, 2020, Dr. Andrei Poama (Institute of Public Administration, Leiden University) visited our course on Research Methods (Master of Public Administration) for a guest talk on research ethics. Dr. Poama is a well-known expert on the ethics of criminal justice. He is also a member of the Ethics Committee at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs. In our conversation with Dr. Poama, we discussed the ethical dilemmas confronting researchers in the social sciences, possible solutions to these dilemmas, and how the codes of conduct for Dutch researchers apply to graduate students. This is Part One of two blog posts, in which we present the highlights from our conversation.
Please note: The guest talk has been modified to a question-and-answer format for easier reading. The spoken words have been edited for length and readability.*
Q: Andrei, you started our conversation today by asking students to what extent they thought of themselves as doing scientific research, on a scale from 0 to 7. Most students here gave themselves a 4, stating that they didn’t feel as if they were doing real research. They mentioned various reasons for this, for instance because they studied a limited number of cases or because they experienced a lack of data availability. This outcome surprised me, because these issues struck me as being normal parts of the research process, regardless of who the researcher is. I myself tend to view my thesis supervisees as actual researchers and I expect them to behave as such.
A: For me, it depends on the motivation that the student has. In terms of expectations, I would say something like a 6 or a 7. I don’t really draw any kind of distinction between what [students] are supposed to be doing and what we are doing. The questions that [students] have – problems with your database, you don’t find [particular sources], you don’t have enough material or data – those are recurring questions for actual researchers as well.
I think it’s important [for students] to understand that you’re not doing this other thing. It’s not about doing your homework or writing an essay for class or something, you’re actually producing knowledge. You are supposed to be doing research, even if you’re not in the classroom. And that’s the way I would see it. But, of course, [as students] you don’t legally fall under the standards from the codes of research ethics. So, if something goes wrong – plagiarism aside – then you’re not going to be sanctioned.
Q: So what do you tell your own supervisees, when they don’t see themselves as researchers?
One thing that I’m doing for the first time in my thesis capstone this year is a small workshop, where we just meet and everyone reads each other’s two-pager with a research question, the hypothesis and broadly the literature. Then we’re supposed to briefly give feedback to each other. And the reason I introduced that [element of peer review] was that I really did feel there was this kind of student-teacher relationship in some of the supervision processes. It really depends on the student. So you have very proactive students, who just draw on the literature. They have an idea, they have a method and they just go for it. Then there are students, who think they are doing their homework.
I guess what I’m going for is that when you’re going to do [research] and write your thesis, but also in other courses, you should be thinking about it as the real thing and not some kind of second-rate task.
Q: Andrei, you showed us a short video about a documentary called Three identical strangers (see trailer below). Can you tell us a little about what we just saw?
A: So yes, this happened in the 1960s. There were a series of so-called twin experiments. Sometimes they involved twins, sometimes they were triplets. This happened throughout the 1960s, when the ‘nature versus nurture’ hypothesis was at its peak. What happened was that an adoption agency – the Louise Wise adoption agency in New York – started a collaborative project with a couple of psychologists and psychiatrists at New York University (Peter Neubauer and Viola Bernard), who wanted to test the ‘nature versus nurture’ hypothesis.
So in this particular case, the mom had died at birth after having quadruplets. One of the kids had also died at birth, so then they were triplets and they were put up for adoption. Now, without telling the [adoptive] parents, one child was given to a blue-collar family, one to a middle-class family and one to an affluent family. Then the adoption agency, in collaboration with the researchers would just call up the adoptive family on regular meetings for check-ups, to see whether the kid was doing all right. But what they actually were doing is that they were measuring each of the triplets on these dimensions to be able to compare them.
Q: Was this a typical way of conducting these twin studies?
There were many other twin studies in the 1960s and the 1970s. But most of them were observational, in the sense that you had [children] who were up for adoption and then the [researchers] did a series of observations, interviews, personality tests and so on to see if being raised in a particular family with a particular socio-economic background made for different personality traits. This is one of the few actual experiments. So what happened in the 80s and up until the 90s, as you see in the trailer, is that it just blew up, because [the triplets] realized what had happened and that obviously became a big scandal.
And, you know, in a sense it was a happy moment for them, to find each other. But they also struggled with depression, identity problems and so on. What happened in the end is that one of the three guys committed suicide. So the question I’m posing here is what do you think is the problem with this? After all, you know, these kids had families that cared for them.
Q: Purely from a gut feeling response to seeing this video, I’d say this constitutes a very straightforward breach of research ethics. But you seem to hint that it’s more complicated.
A: You know, from the researchers’ perspective, everything was almost spot on. It was single-blind. You know the research design, research methods… perfect or almost perfect. So how is this worse than from, for instance, experiments in social psychology, where you go to a lab? Deception happens all the time, you’re being debriefed at the end of it. There is a sense [in this case], that the experiment was not over, when [the triplets] found out about it. You could imagine that they would have been debriefed after 20-30 years, because the experiment is a long one. So, we use deception all the time in experiments. This is different. So the question is: why is it different?
Q: One of our students said that this is different, because you are changing the lives that these people could have had. There is a status quo: there are triplets. You split them up and there can never be this status quo again.
A: Yes, it troubling, even the idea of watching it. There is something voyeuristic about it. It’s not like physical suffering, as in the case of a medical experiment. There were no substances involved. But there is a sense in which stopping the experiment, disclosing the experiment to the participants, is what is doing the harm. Because imagine that they would have never found out. All the depression and so on actually kicked in, when they found out what was happening. So what I find very troubling about this is that the bind of the blind experiment, if I may put it like this, is complete in a way. Once the experiment has started, there is a sense in which you can’t make it right again. All the options that you have at your disposal are wrong in some dimension. There is a sense in which minimizing the harm that it can do to participants in social science studies, especially when it comes to psychology, means that you try to keep the degree to which the participants take part in the experiment localized and limited. So don’t involve all of the person’s life into the project.
Q: What about studies that are not experiments? I think many of our students would instead do interviews or conduct surveys. How do research ethics apply to these kinds of studies?
A: There are many ways in which ethics is typically involved in our research activities. We have all these codes that we’re supposed to be reading and be aware of. And when we conduct research that actively involves human and non-human subjects, then we fill in these forms and we send them to the Ethics Committee. I’m also a member of the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs. And then the ethics committee looks at the project and the informing consent documents, using the codes of conduct as a standard. Then they say: well, you have a problem with your informed consent form. Or: everything is perfect and you’re good to go. These documents also apply to you as students. You are not on the payroll of the faculty, but you still count as individual researchers. So if you take anything out of [our conversation] take this idea, that you are actually doing research. You are not a student writing something for a course. You are a graduate student, who is also a researcher.
Stay tuned for Part 2…
*With thanks to Brecht, Edo, Meike-Yang and Nev for their insightful comments and questions.
Moving Our Courses Online
So it happened: we have been asked to move our courses completely online for the foreseeable future. For many of us, this is quite stressful, because we are venturing into unfamiliar terrain. Understandably, much of the focus now is on the technologies of online teaching. When teaching online, however, it is also important to consider how pedagogy is affected by moving our courses online.
Having acquired some experience with online and blended learning, I have received some questions from colleagues on how to best approach it. Below I have listed some of the available options to transfer F2F course content online. Each of these options, as I have experienced them, has pros and cons. Which technology is appropriate for your course depends on what you would like to achieve pedagogically. Please note that I don’t want to tell you what to do under these exceptional circumstances. It’s fairly simple. The best choice is whatever works for you and for your students.
Here’s a quick menu of 5 online teaching options that you may consider in the days or weeks to come:
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
1. Pre-recorded lecture: The most straightforward option is to simply record your lecture, as if you’re giving it face-to-face to a group of students. You can do this at home or even in an empty lecture hall. You can opt for a video or only record the audio. This option is attractive for its simplicity: it requires limited technological skills and preparation time, especially when you already have your lecture prepared.
That being said, I have never been much of a fan of pre-recorded lectures myself and I still find them quite time-consuming. I rarely write out F2F lectures, relying on improvisation instead. But I feel less comfortable improvising during a recorded lecture, so I still end up writing a full script. Then I start recording, inevitably fumbling half-way through. Then my perfectionism gets in the way, which usually makes me start the recording over again. For students, this is also a demanding format, because let’s face it: who can pay attention to a talking head on-screen for more than just a few minutes?*
Example of how to use this format: You pre-record your (already prepared) lecture, but in multiple short videos. For instance, you record six videos of 10 minutes each instead of one hour-long lecture. Making multiple, shorter videos makes it easier for your students to pay attention and digest the content. It also makes it easier for you to re-do part of your lecture, should something go wrong during the recording. To sum up: short pre-recorded videos are safer for you to do, and more enjoyable for your students.
*To me, this also applies to listening to podcasts, but I recognize this is a popular technology among academics and it is also reasonably accessible to students.
2. Slides with voice-over: You can avoid the ‘talking head’ situation of the pre-recorded lecture by adding slides (for instance, using a split screen) or by adding voice-over to your slides. Read about how to do this for Microsoft PowerPoint and for Google Slides. This teaching method has many benefits: we often already have slides available for our lectures, it doesn’t require sophisticated technological skills and it makes visualizations possible. This last point is important: it is simply much easier to pay attention to an online lecture, if there is something else to look at besides a talking head. One caveat: don’t fill the slides with text, which makes it easier to lose attention.
You may also want to think about how you will deliver the slides with voice-over to your students. The most common option is for you to upload the file to the course management system, which students then download and view. Since these files are quite large, students may encounter difficulties downloading the file. And you may not want them to have the possibility of downloading (and sharing!), especially if you are rushing to create the online lesson, as many of us currently are. In that case, you could save your slides in a video format. This will allow you to embed the slides-as-video in your course management system, making downloading impossible. We did this for our flipped classroom videos:
Example of how to use this format: You are using an existing slide presentation. Using your lecture notes, you decide to add voice-overs to each slide. You notice that your current slides are largely filled with text. You therefore decide to reduce some of the text and instead add a few images, which you discuss in the voice-over. You also embed a YouTube video into your slides. When you’re finished, you save your revised slides as a video and upload the video to the course management system.
3. Interactive video: Many of us worry about the lack of interaction with our students, when we move our courses online. Luckily, there are several ways to incorporate interactive features into pre-recorded videos. At Leiden University, our course management system gives us access to Kaltura, which allows you to record videos with interactive features. You could, for instance, pause the video and ask students a question, using the “video quiz” option in Kaltura. You can add different types of questions: multiple choice, true/false questions, reflection points and open-ended questions. It’s a good online alternative to tools such as Kahoot or Mentimeter, that we often use to test retention or to kickstart a discussion.
Example of how to use this format: You decide to replace your one-hour F2F lecture with four 15-minute videos, taking existing slides to which you then add voice-over and save as video file. You still find the 15-minute videos quite long to watch, especially since the material is quite complex. After each difficult point in the lecture, you therefore add a multiple-choice question that quizzes on what you have just discussed. At the end of the video lecture, you discuss a concrete example and ask students how the example speaks to the course material. You end the video lecture with an open-ended question, that allows students to type in their answer.
4. Live streams: Of course, interactive video still requires pre-recording rather than interacting with your students in real time. There are plenty of reasons to want to avoid online teaching in real time. Moving classroom discussions, for instance, to an online discussion board in your course management system gives you (and your students!) more flexibility to decide when to engage with the course content plus some time to reflect on what has already been discussed. That being said, I also find online discussion boards labor-intensive, because as the teacher/moderator I feel obligated to check them regularly and respond to students’ questions or comments.
If you prefer to stick to a fixed meeting time for your course, you may want to consider a live stream. Again, several course management systems provide this option. If they don’t, you can use open web conferencing platforms. In this case, you simply lecture online in real time. You may record your live stream, so students can re-watch later. You can add a chat feature, so students can ask questions or provide comments. Or you make students co-presenters in the live stream, so they can answer questions or give short presentations. Many platforms offer these options, allowing you to run your course almost the same way as you do a F2F seminar. Of course, this option requires time investment, especially if you still need to learn how these tools work.
Example of how to use this format: Say you normally teach a two-hour seminar. You don’t want to record a lecture beforehand, but instead meet with your students in real time. To make sure your students stay focused and engaged, you replace your seminar with two online meetings of one hour each, using a video conferencing platform. Each meeting starts with a short, live-streamed lecture on the assigned readings. Using the chat function, students ask you questions, which you answer during the live stream. You then switch the presenter’s role in the live stream to one of the students, who has prepared a few slides on a recent case. This is followed by a discussion among the entire group of students. If each component takes around 15 minutes, you have one hour of teaching right there.
5. Chat rooms: There are also web conferencing tools that do not only allow you to do a live stream with your students, but also to have your students work in small, break-out groups using chat rooms. Some of these tools can be incorporated into the learning management system [and it looks like Leiden University will make this option available to us soon]. This gives you the option of incorporating more elaborate active learning techniques into your online classes. Again, using these options requires some technological savvy and probably a few trial runs.
Example of how to use this format: You do a live stream lecture (supported by slides) for about 10 minutes, followed by a short assignment. You then divide the students into small groups and you give each group access to a chat room for a period of time, in which they can together work on the assignment. After the time has passed, you continue your live stream for the whole group. You use the web conferencing tool to switch the focus of the live stream to a representative from each group and you have them discuss their assignment. You conclude with an online discussion involving all students.
If you already have active learning exercises incorporated into your lesson plans, you may find out that it is easier to use the interactive features offered by most web conferencing tools than to translate your current lesson plan into a different kind of class format. If I think of the course I am currently teaching (Research Methods):
- My interview bingo activity can be done using web conferencing tools: two students play out a mock interview during a live stream, while others observe and play the bingo game. We can use a chat function to discuss our observations.
- Students can play a detective game, inspired by David Collier´s use of a Sherlock Holmes story in teaching process-tracing, in small groups using online chat rooms. I normally give students the available evidence on a printed hand-out, which they need to arrange and assess. I can now give them the same material on a slide or in a digital file. Students can discuss the different pieces of evidence amongst themselves in the chat rooms. I can enter each room to see what they are working on and to answer any questions they may have.
- Instead of giving my F2F ‘Working with Documents’ workshop, I can give students the exercise beforehand and ask them to present it during a live stream on a web conferencing platform. If the platform has a whiteboard option, students may be able to write or draw on the document that is projected on the screen.
To sum up, there are a lot of possibilities to take your F2F course online. Which option(s) work best for you depends on many variables, including what you already have prepared and how much time you are willing to invest. Keep in mind though: the most straightforward options are not always the least labor intensive!
Here are a few questions you may want to keep in the back of your mind, when re-organizing your courses:
- Can you divide a longer lecture into shorter recordings?
- Can you visualize content that is normally spoken or written down?
- Does your course material need to be downloaded or can it be embedded in the learning management system?
- Can you add interactive features to your videos or engage with students during a live stream using a chat function?
- Can you give students active learning exercises in between online class meetings (to do at home) or in real time (to do in online chat rooms)?
While I enjoy doing interviews, there are few research chores I dislike more than transcribing. Everything about it I find awful: never being able to type as fast I want to, having to listen to the same sentences over and over again, hearing my voice on the audio, you name it. It’s just such a drag.
My profound dislike of transcribing leaves me with dilemma, when teaching interviewing skills. On the one hand, I do find transcription an important step in the research process. Writing down the spoken words creates familiarity with the data and stimulates initial analysis. Even though transcribing is incredibly boring, it does have a way of getting the creativity flowing. On the other hand, I feel that I should not downplay these negatives to my students and I strongly emphasize the time investment that transcription requires. Students should know what they are getting themselves into, before deciding on interviewing as their method of choice.
Needless to say, when a colleague mentions new tools to make our lives as interviewers a bit easier, I am all ears. Now of course, for me it is possible to hire someone (a student assistant or a professional company) for this part of the research process. My students, however, do not have the resources available to do so. So I am always on the lookout for short cuts that are not just functional, but also accessible.
I recently stumbled on this thread that outlined a number of useful alternatives to professional transcription services. As it happens, I was just preparing my interviewing workshop for the following day, so I decided to make my experimentation with these transcription methods part of my lesson plan. When students were doing mock interviews as part of the workshop, they recorded the first few minutes on my cell phone. I then e-mailed the audio file to myself and downloaded the file on the classroom computer. I projected my computer screen onto the white board, so students could see what I was doing.
I decided to try out two recommendations from the online thread. [Sidenote: at home, I also tried the voice type option in Google Docs. This seemed to work, when I clearly spoke into my computer’s microphone. Unfortunately, when I played an interview recording from my laptop or cell phone, the software did not pick up on the spoken words. So I decided not to recommend this method to my students].
The first was to upload our audio file onto YouTube and to turn on the transcription option. You can find this option, when you click the three dots and select ‘open transcription’ (see also image below > small yellow circle). YouTube then automatically transcribes the audio and provides time stamps as well. You can copy-paste the text and enter it into a word file (see image > large yellow circle). The big advantage of this option is that it’s entirely free to use. You only need to create a YouTube channel. You can keep your channel private, so other people do not have access to your audio files. A downside is that YouTube does not make a distinction between different speakers, so you still need to specify who is saying what, after you copy-paste the transcription in your own text file. [Update March 3: after checking with the Information Manager at our faculty, it has been confirmed that uploading interview recordings to YouTube violates the EU GDPR]
The second option we tried was AmberScript. AmberScript is an online transcription service. It’s incredibly easy to use: you simply create an account, upload your audio file, you wait a few minutes and… voilà! There’s your transcript. Even though the transcript was not flawless in our classroom experiment, my students and I all agreed that the quality of the transcript still exceeded expectations. Since we only uploaded a few minutes of audio, AmberScript also worked incredibly fast. It did not take more than 5 minutes! Unfortunately, the service does come at a price. Users pay a fee per minute of uploaded audio. The first 30 minutes are free, but it can become expensive very quickly: Amber Script charges 90 euros for 10 hours of audio via Surfspot.nl (website that sells software at a discount to students at Dutch universities) and 15 euros per hour of audio via its own website. I asked my students if these prices would prevent them from using this service and their responses were mixed: some would, some wouldn’t.
All in all, I found this to be was a very useful classroom activity to introduce students to online solutions for transcribing interviewing. Transcribing parts of a practice interview that students had carried out only a few minutes prior was not just educational. It also added a bit of fun and suspense to the class, because nobody (myself included!) was sure how the experiment would play out. It was exhilarating to see how both online platforms created pretty decent texts in real time. Of course, both texts would still need to be improved before being able to use them for further analysis. However, even when taking editing time into account, this would still save you quite some time ,when compared to manual transcription.
A final word of caution: my colleague rightfully pointed out that uploading audio to online platforms such as YouTube and AmberScript might be problematic in light of the EU GDPR. On GDPR compliance by AmberScript, see this webpage. I’m going to ask our privacy officer at the university for additional feedback. To be continued…
Senior Kwalificatie Onderwijs
I’m very pleased to be one of the five faculty members of the Faculty of Governance of Global Affairs – and the first at the Institute of Public Administration! – to have been awarded the Senior Kwalificatie Onderwijs (senior teaching qualification, SKO) by Leiden University’s Executive Board. The SKO is the highest teaching qualification for academic educators in the Netherlands. It is awarded to academics, who ” play a role in the development and innovation of education at a higher level than that of their own discipline.” According to the SKO selection committee:
“Natascha van der Zwan pays a lot of attention to activating teaching methods in her courses. In recent years, she has been making frequent use of blended learning and flipped classrooms (clips)… She finds it is important that students dare to make mistakes and have the opportunity to do so. Students have freedom of choice in which methodological tools they use. This makes both broadening and deepening [of the course content] possible…”
“She also tries to enthuse other teachers for the forms of education that she experiments with and publishes on… She has developed her own online environment to promote transfer to other teachers.”
To read more about my teaching projects, see here.
Out Now: Activating the Research Methods Curriculum
For our course on social science research methods at the Institute of Public Administration (Leiden University), Alexandre Afonso and I have created a flipped classroom with blended learning, in which we reversed the traditional set-up of a university course. Basic knowledge transfer takes place via an online environment, where knowledge clips, reading materials and exercises are located. This has freed up class time for active learning exercises, through which students practice with new research methods and techniques. We have found that this course design improves students’ performance, because they gain a better experience of what it is like to do research.
We have described our experiences in the article “Activating the Research Methods Curriculum: The Blended Flipped Classroom,” which has now appeared in Vol. 52, No. 4 of PS: Political Science & Politics. When we designed this course four years ago, we were purposively looking for a form of education that was in line with our own experiences of the research process. And that was not the traditional way of teaching: listening to lectures, reading from a textbook. Our own experience as students-turned-scholars was that real-life learning is a matter of doing, which usually means muddling through, making mistakes along the way, and sharpening your skills accordingly. So we decided to design a course in which this type of learning-by-doing research is central, facilitated by the new possibilities that online educational resources bring to the university classroom: the blended flipped classroom.
We hope that our experience might inspire others to undertake similar projects, while also offering guidance on how to do this effectively and efficiently. Setting up a blended flipped classroom takes time, technical skills, and at times a thick skin when encountering resistance from students and colleagues. We describe how designed and implemented our blended flipped classroom, including the mistakes we have made along the way. We also share a few active learning exercises that we have used in our course and that other teachers may find useful as well.
Click here to learn more about our article, to receive extra information on how we experienced designing and teaching a blended flipped classroom, and to find some active-learning exercises that we have used in this course.
Upcoming Talks: Flipped Classroom Edition
I am back at the Institute of Public Administration as of this week, after an amazing stay at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study. And the new semester is immediately off to a good start: this week, I am giving two talks on the flipped classroom on research methods I have been developing and teaching with my colleague Alexandre Afonso.
On Wednesday, January 30, I will kick off the first of a series of upcoming LunchTalks on online education at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs (don’t believe the text posted on the university website, after the link; it won’t be boring).
And on Thursday, January 31, Alexandre and I will be presenting during the symposium “Best of both worlds: adding online experiences to on-campus education,” where we will be sharing our experiences with the flipped classroom format of teaching.
For more information on the flipped classroom, click here. Or otherwise, just enjoy this great “flipping” gif:
Lost and Found
When we designed our RM course, we very consciously included modules on finding primary and secondary sources. Of course, our students should already possess these skills. Nonetheless, we were often still surprised to read papers in which a student had missed a major author on a topic of interest or had used a wildly unreliable source as evidentiary basis for a research paper. While it’s quite easy for a university teacher to be appalled at reading such omissions or errors, we figured it would probably be more productive to offer students a refresher course in how to find high-quality and relevant primary and secondary sources.
Developing this curriculum meant also increasing our own understanding of how the current generation of students use the vast amount of online resources that are at our disposal. As someone who was introduced to the internet somewhat later in life (by which I mean, as a teenager) than my students were, I will find and use sources for my research in a much different way than many of my students – something I did not fully understand until watching videos like these. It’s a point that is also central to Andrew Abbott’s wonderful book Digital Paper, which translates the old skill of locating books in a brick-and-mortar library to the online environments in which we often work today. Celebrating the antiquated pastime of browsing through library stacks without being snobby or nostalgic about it, the book offers very practical advice on how to locate and use online resources. It’s a great book and I often assign chapters from it in my courses. It also shaped the development of some of the assignments I currently teach in Research Methods, one of which I will describe below.
Credit: Niki Odolphie from Frome, England (Longleat Maze) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
As part of the workshop for our module on “Working with documents,” students need to carry out an in-class assignment. The assignment is a simple one: go online and find primary sources that will help you write a research paper on a historic event. The students can find actual primary sources online or they may find the location of where these sources are kept (e.g. a historical archive). Seems easy, right? Here comes the catch: the historic event the students need to research predates the internet, reducing the odds that actual digital primary sources will be available. During the last few workshops, for instance, I chose the 1909 shirtwaist workers’ strike in New York City as topic for this assignment.
Students will need to do a focused search, using specialized search engines and databases to find the sources they need for this assignment. I don’t share this information with the students beforehand. After explaining the assignment, I give students some time (15 minutes or so) to find anything they deem relevant. I walk around the classroom, often a computer lab, looking at the students’ computer screens to see what they are searching for and how. The typical search looks something like this:
- The student googles the strike and reads basic information on Wikipedia.
- The student uses the university library’s catalogue and/or Google Scholar to search for secondary sources on the historic event.
- The student googles “skirtwaist workers’ strike 1909 sources” and checks the first few pages that come up.
This is a completely reasonable search strategy when your instructor confronts you with a historic event you have never heard of, you quickly need to find material related to this event, and you have no idea where to start. I do exactly the same when, for instance, I am asked to teach about a topic I know very little about (this happens sometimes unfortunately). The problem is that this search strategy very rarely results in sources, primary or secondary, that are relevant and reliable. In the case of the skirtwaist workers’ strike, for instance, most students will find a few photographs taken during the strike, a diary entry, and perhaps a New York Times article or two, but not enough sources to write an in-depth case study on the event.
Credit: Bain News Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Students generally reach this conclusion themselves. After their initial search, we discuss their findings with the entire group. I ask the students not only what they have found, but also how they found it. Since I have observed them doing the assignment, I can call on specific people to share specific search strategies. After discussing a few of these strategies, an inevitable question is raised: what could we have done better? We then spend the following 30 minutes or so discussing the alternatives. Often there is a student present during the workshop who has made good use of specialized databases. I often ask that student to show the others what they could have done better. On other occasions, I do this myself.
The central message of the assignment is this: 1) know which databases are available to use, for which purpose and what their limitations are; 2) know how to work with them. The graduate students in our program (a MSc in Public Administration) will be most familiar with LexisNexis, because it stores Dutch newspaper articles from the 1990s until today. Since our program is international in orientation and courses are taught in English, LexisNexis will not be of help for many of the cases we study. I therefore also make sure to mention other databases that Dutch students are often less familiar with, such as Delpher, ProQuest Historical or Factiva. Finally, we use WorldCat to locate archival collections around the world.
By the time students leave the workshop, we will have discussed a number of ways in which they could have found primary sources on the 1909 shirtwaist workers’ strike. I often carry out these searches on the instructor computer in the lab, which is connected to a projector and thus allows students to follow along. After the workshop, students need to repeat the skills we have practiced in class as part of a graded assignment.
While the in-class exercise has certainly been very useful to serve as a refresher course on one of the most basic academic skills students need to possess, it has also been incredibly useful for me as the course instructor. Seeing in class what students normally do at home has helped me better understand why some research papers draw ‘evidence’ from unreliable websites or grey literature and why others do not. It made me realize that simply dismissing students who produce such work as ‘incapable’ is doing them injustice. Ultimately, this is about habits and not about capacities, and that is something I can help them with.
If you would like to read more about this in-class exercise or use it for your courses, click here.
Dit werk valt onder een Creative Commons Naamsvermelding-NietCommercieel 4.0 Internationaal-licentie.
Full Blog Series Now Online
The final blog in our series on Flipping the Research Methods classroom is now online at activelearningps.com! We saved the best for last: what did students think of our new blended learning course? Find out here or read the entire series of blogs here. By Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil [CC BY 3.0 br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons