Psychology Research Data Management: The Results

On 7 June the TraD team carried out a feedback session on the training we’ve carried out for the professional doctorate students in educational psychology. The training consisted of introductory presentations and offering the MANTRA course material via the newly launched Moodle virtual learning environment at UEL. We wanted to find out their views on how well it went but also on the future design of the course: we’re building for the long term.

Valley Life Sciences Building, University of California, Berkeley, CA Image by Adam Fagan

Valley Life Sciences Building, University of California, Berkeley, CA
Image by Adam Fagan


First, we asked our students what they recalled about the nearly 2 hour long session/seminar on 1st February 2013.

The cases of Dirk Stapels and Dirk Smeesters, academics in the field of social psychology who had fabricated their data to produce research articles were well remembered and they were “reassured” that they were found out. One said they would be keener to look at  research which offered access to the data:

open data is good and openness engenders trust

What was pleasing to us was how the presentation had been remembered (“it stayed in the mind for quite a while” and interestingly “I knew what the data problem was with the story on the World Bank wrong data and global austerity measures”.  Most pleasing of all were the follow-up actions from the students as a result. One students went straight home and backed up her data; another started using a data stick (someone else stopped using a data stick entirely); another started using Dropbox as a means of storing and sharing their data; a further person stated that they now understood the fragility of backups so they began to email their data to themselves.

Online course

Following the introductory seminar the prof doc students were offered a reinforcing follow-up online course from MANTRA which we asked them to carry out in their own time. The modules we placed into Moodle were the following:

1. Research Data Explained
2. Organising Data 
3. Documentation and Metadata
4. Storage and Security
5. Data protection, rights & access

We then asked them them if they remembered the MANTRA course it; What worked; What didn’t work; and did they like using on-line courses for learning?

In short, the course was not widely accessed – only one from 12 students actually got up to the second module and the reason given was largely a question of timing (the students are part time on campus once a week with day jobs). The student who did the first two modules thought they were “too long”. A consensus opinion was that nothing could beat “face-to-face” meetings although they were familiar with on-line learning in local authorities. Some students thought it was good to have a combination of learning – to use MANTRA as a reference source in order to come back to things in more depth when it was more relevant to their programme of study (more on this below).

RDM Course for Psychology

We next asked the students the following questions:

How should the course be run in the future? Just presentations/workshops or shorter on-line modules? Spread out or a more concentrated focus and what else?

The answers we received were that the course should be smaller and “bite sized” – from half-hour to one hour sessions and to include discussions, similar to the ones we delivered in February’s event – so a possible seminar session. The on-line course should be made available directly after the face-to-face meetings for the course. It should also be a part of the curriculum and should also be compulsory for all the doctorate courses. There should be a session in each semester and one idea was that the RDM topic should be synchronised with a topic on their course – for example quantitative data and managing anonymisation of that data. One idea voiced was that these types of sessions should be repeated ever year of the degree programme in order to reinforce the message and particularly nearer the time when students would be collating and analysing their research data.

There were also feedback on assessments and the relevance of RDM to their professional roles outside of the University. For example they felt it was important to have an assessment on RDM which took their knowledge into their working environment and was a part of Continued Professional Development (CPD). The role of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), which is a regulator in standards for training, professional skills, behaviour and health was mentioned as playing an important role.

We also asked the students what topics and exercises/tasks should be included in any future course. They suggested scenarios-based learning – for example, how would you respond to a private psychologist retained by a parent who demands the raw data on their child? Or Booklets for assessment records and how the Freedom of Information Act or the Data Protection Act and indeed Ethics were involved. More generally it was seen as good to include a topic that covered the latest laws and trends relevant to their discipline. Our students also felt that there should be “take-home messages” on current issues/laws – and to have handouts to reinforce this.

Our students also wanted an in-depth discussion on topics such as sharing data with each other. Also suggested were practical demonstrations/instructions on Data Management Plans, TrueCrypt software and cloud storage services.

Taking away

This was a very worthwhile 90 minutes to get real feedback from students to whom we had brought research data management. We were delighted to have such positive feedback on the actual presentation itself but also that students had followed-up on the concepts and investigated things such as backing up their data. The feedback was essential to make any future course on RDM in Education Psychology a success and to be relevant to students – which they found it was: a number of students described the topic on first appearance as “dry” but were surprised to find that it wasn’t after all, but was in fact very useful to them. We hope to take this positive message and progress it further when we embed it into the curricula of the Psychology doctoral training programmes at UEL.


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