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Slippery Fish: An online resource to support the teaching and learning of theory in social research

This report covers the design, development and evaluation of a resource for the teaching and learning of social theory. It covers:

And on subsequent web pages:

What we set out to do

With support from IATL we set out to produce a resource to support the teaching and learning of theory in social research. This would be an open resource for research students in the faculty of social science but in the first instance aimed those undertaking DTC core training (n= 40) and training in individual departments, as an example Centre for Edcuational Studies has over 100 research students. Students were to be engaged through their participation in a design team, and by providing feedback on the resource itself. The resource was to be used and re-used in both self-supported and f2f contexts in successive years.

The topic of social theory was chosen as it a especially problematic for new researchers due to the many different associations made with it. Indeed theory is often refereed to as a threshold topic within the student research journey. The decision to produce an online resource was taken research students are a dispersed community and we wanted a resource that could be used flexibly in a blended or distance learning context.

What we did

We began by recruiting a team of six research degree students. Two were unable to work on the project for the entire year due to pressures in their own research timetable but they both remained supporters of the project throughout and their contribution was valued. Participants were recruited through an open process – we put out a call via an email list of research students supported by ESRC / DTC grants. We had an initial meeting in September 2015 and subsequent monthly meetings to monitor progress.

The outcome of the collaboration was a flexible online multi media resource [linked here]

The site contains four areas:

  • A ‘book group’: texts (readings and films clips) boxed by a brief introduction, focus questions and follow up questions.
  • ‘How theory has worked for me’: a series of interviews (films, sound and text files) with both academics and research students explaining the use of theory in their work.
  • ‘Community’: links to online networks where social theory is discussed.
  • An online discussion forum organised around six critical questions about social theory.

A fifth area provides users with a guide which contains a series of focus questions and signposts to relevant material.