Alan Dix - research topics

Research and Innovation Techniques

Alan Dix
Lancaster University


abstracts and PPT of my keynote talks on teaching innovation, e-learning etc. at Excellence in Education and Training convention. Singapore, May 2002

Some years ago, while at Huddersfield University, I was timetabled to give a lecture to final year undergraduate students as part of the preparation for their final year projects. The title of the lecture was to be "Research Methods". At first this sounds easy, after all I was clearly doing plenty of research so I must know about it... But, of course doing something and knowing about doing it are far from the same thing! Anyway after much sweat I produced the following material. Note however that the title changed to "Research Techniques". Teaching techniques for doing research is one thing - a method!!!!

Since then I have used the basic material with some variations to undergraduate, masters and PhD students. So, although these notes were written with the original audience in mind, I hope that some of the ideas will also be of use students elsewhere including those undertaking MSc projects, PhD studies or doing research in general.

You can read the complete notes on-line or download the OHPs and notes in various formats:

new OHP slides ... coming bit by bit
what is research - PDF (37K) PPT (27K)
gathering information - PDF (70K) PPT (48K)
analysing existing work - PDF (141K) PPT (105K)
presenting literature - PDF (33K) PPT (23K)
original notes (1995):
full copy of notes as web pages
OHP slides: PDF (177K), RTF (23K), Word (19K), Postscript (582K)
full notes, formatted for 2 sided printing: PDF (206K), RTF (71K), Word (58K), Postscript (666K)

The notes were originally produced on Word 5.1 for the Macintosh, so when rtf or .doc files are used different versions of Word pagination may change and so the page numbers in the table of contents may need to be corrected. The PDF and Postscript version will not suffer this problem.

I ran a session on silly ideas at our lancaster CSEG group annual away day in December 2000
see my notes about silly/bad ideas and how to use them in research and some of the bad ideas the groups there thought up!
driving lesson - fearless play
- a short story about enabling learning

Please let me know if you find my own or Mike's notes useful or if you know of other useful material that I should link to.

I have various other things that I keep meaning to write down in this area. If enough people badger me I'll get round to it! In the mean time look at my home page, my statistics tutorial pages or even at MagiSoft.

Other useful links:

Referencing style guides:
APA Referencing - at Online Writing Lab, Purdue University
Harvard Referencing - at University of Southampton Library
MLA Referencing - at Online Writing Lab, Purdue University
Footnotes (Chicago Style) - at Madison Writing Center, University of Wisconsin
Vancouver Referencing - at University of Southampton Library
Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University
loads of resoures for writing, referencing, etc.
FirstModay have down-to-earth writing tips and style guide in their Guidelines for Authors
The (LTSN) Centre for Information and Computer Sciences (LTSN-ICS) Research Techniques page
This has links to resources on Effective Study, Project Management (manage data, problem solving, structure an argument, use of feedback),
Research Methods (quantitative, qualitative, interviewing, questionnaires, statistical analysis, strategies) and Referencing/citation
Research Methods Resources on the WWW
Extensive resource pages produced The School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, University of British Columbia
Targtted at Library and Information Science students and professionals, but a broad list of resources.
The slides from Trevor Wood-Harper's talk Reflections on the PhD Process at the 1998 UKAIS conference College
The LOGO foundation
The LOGO language was popularised in Seymour Papert's book Mindstorms. Even in the early '60s Papert saw computers as tools to enable children to learn and think. One of the key features of his use of LOGO was that 'error' became experiment enabling a more adventurous approach to learning.
The issues of reducing fear of doing things wrong is crucial in both learning and research. See my driving lesson story for an example of this.
Turtle graphics were a central part of LOGO as they make the hidden internal procedures of the computer visible - you don't just tell the computer what to do, you see it do it. The fact that unintended outputs are still interesting ones is a centralpart of the non-judgemental use of LOGO.
Some years ago a colleague at York University, worked with me to produce a prototype Turtle Prolog. This was designed to expose the internals of Prolog. It consisited of a set of turtle graphics operations that drew lines just like LOGO, when Prolog backtracked the lines were undrawn, but left a residual mark.. It was this possible to see both the final successful path and also see others being explored.
"the journalist is stimulated by a deadline. He writes worse if he has time" Karl Krauss
translation by Verb Volant other quites on time and deadines
Kibbitzers: Discourse - Connecting Ideas in Writing - from University of Birmingham (UK)
aid for writing style, aimed at second-language English speakers, but I think useful for many native English speakers too. It has examples of cpmments, rewordings and discussions about writing that have arisen form on-to-one sessions with students at Birmingham. Do be a little careful though. The advice is every useful, but in a few cases the expalnation of exactly why a correction is the correct one are not perfect - the experts seem great and knowjng what is right, but perhaps less so at understadng why ... a not uncommon pheonomena.
According to the site, the word Kibbitzer / Kibitzer (def) comes from those who watched (and learnt from) experts playing in the chess cafe's of eastern europe, although some dictionaries have broader definitions.
Over-The Shoulder Learning (Mike Twidale, University of Illinois )
Following the Kibbitzing theme the general idea of learning form experts at work by observing is taken up by Mike's work. Of course over-shoulder learning does not engage the learner directly, but is often a side effect of an expert coming in and solving the suers problems, so the 'leaner' who is the 'problem owner' has an very direct attachment to the problem and may well have tried alternatives and experimented already. A variant of this is when you have paired programming where the weaker programmer is at the keyboard and learns through being the 'hands' of the expert.

Alan Dix 28/7/99 last updated 8/2/2004