06 Jun 2007

The Future of Post-Graduate research - Ice-Skating Penguins?

What do award-winning photographer Eamonn McCabe, Professor John Curtice, Ricky Gervais and an ice-skating penguin have in common?

They all feature in a new multimedia research training package being launched at the House of Commons on Tuesday June 19.

Doing Political Research – The DVD of PARLE (Politics Active Research Learning Environment project) has been produced by The Open University in collaboration with academics from 15 other universities, including the Universities of York, Huddersfield, Cardiff, Keele, Leeds and the University of West of England.

Dr David Middleton, Director for the project, said: "We are very proud of Doing Political Research and believe it to be an excellent resource with enormous potential.

"The DVD cost almost £100,000 to produce. No single university would invest that amount of money into a resource for postgraduates in one subject area. It is only by working together that we have managed to produce the DVD, and only by continuing to work together that we will be able to develop this work further.

"One of our main aims in producing Doing Political Research was to produce a teaching resource that was colourful and fun to use."

Doing Political Research is designed to engage its target audience by a mix of audio-visual material, software simulations and interactive text. More than 40 staff were involved with the production of the DVD and were always aware that research methods are often regarded as a ‘must do’ subject but still seen by many students as essentially boring.

Dr David Middleton says: "The subject of research methods is often low on the list of priorities for departments. This can mean bored students taught by bored lecturers.

"In the future funding councils are likely to demand more engagement with research methods than has been the case in the past. We want to equip postgraduate students with the ability to do their own research and to assess others research."

In 2001 the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) noted that: "We have become increasingly aware of a deficiency in the research skills of many of the UK’s social science disciplines. This concern is reflected to us not only in the applications submitted to ESRC for funding, but also in the difficulties institutions have experienced in recruiting suitably qualified staff, and by government departments that have also experienced serious recruitment problems."

And the ice skating penguins? These feature in one of the interfaces used to represent a journey of research. The ice skating penguin illustrates the dangers inherent in research of trying to say more than your data suggests.

Editor’s Notes

PARLE is a £250,000 HEFCE funded project. Launched to meet a perceived gap in the provision of good research training for postgraduate political science programmes, PARLE aims to fulfil this need for politics and international studies students. The production of the innovative and interactive DVD was completed in March 2007.

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