Data mindfulness: Teaching undergraduates data management skills

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In this post, Dr Bob Sanders, a member of the Library’s Research Data Support team, describes the development of the Undergraduate Data Management Skills project…

The Research Data Support team provide training and advocacy to promote best practice in research data management (RDM), predominately supporting research staff and postgraduate students across the University. The Undergraduate Data Management Skills Project, funded by the IS Innovation Fund, began with the aim of improving the student experience by providing our UG students with some of the basic data management skills they might need to carry out a dissertation project.

With this in mind, we planned to employ a PhD student to carry out the project and were pleased to be able to recruit Candela Sanchez, a current PhD student in the School of Health in Social Science, who demonstrated a keen interest and enthusiasm for the topic of RDM. From her own experience as a student, Candela knew how useful this training could be to other students preparing to carry out a research project for the first time.

Drawing on her own student experiences, Candela began developing the materials for the project which were structured around the dissertation journey. The resulting ‘Making the most of your dissertation’ handbook and accompanying workshops were designed to take UG students through all the stages of their dissertation project, from a high-level overview of what a dissertation involves, down to guidance and tips on working with data effectively at each stage of the process.

Candela’s reasoning for taking this approach was to encourage students to see data management as a key aspect of the whole process of preparing for and carrying out a research project. She decided the format would be to run a number of seminar-style sessions, to encourage interaction and discussion between students, many of whom may not yet have an idea of what their project might be.

Workshops were run in Spring and Autumn 2019, and Candela delivered training to around 100 attendees. Feedback from these sessions was consistently very good, with comments repeatedly confirming that attendees found the training useful, and that the peer-to-peer seminar-style delivery was appealing:

I liked being able to discuss things throughout the seminar, it made it a more relaxed and comfortable environment where I could ask any questions.

A repeated suggestion was to run subject-specific training, although this wasn’t possible within the time frame and scope of the project (which ran from January to December 2019).

Overall, the handbook and training was unique and particularly innovative as it was written by Candela from the perspective of a student, and placed data management tips within the broader experience of conducting a UG dissertation. Further, the enthusiasm she brought to the project encouraged us to go beyond the original scope of the project by shooting a series of training videos to accompany the handbook. All training resources developed in the project are made openly available under a CC:BY license and are free to download, adapt and re-use, and we encourage you to use them if you wish to develop your own UG data management training course.

You can download the ‘Data Mindfulness: Making the most of your dissertation’ handbook from the Research Data Service site from the University website.

The online version of the ‘Data Mindfulness: Making the most of your dissertation’ training course can be found hosted on YouTube

Bob Sanders

Dr Bob Sanders works as part of the Library’s Research Data Support team, providing guidance to research staff and students across the University on the principles of good research data management. In addition to this, his main responsibilities include supporting users of the University’s open research data repository DataShare, and delivering classroom-based training in conjunction with the Digital Skills team and the Institute for Academic Development. Finally, he is currently working on an update to MANTRA, the free online research data management training course.

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