Creating a Virtual Research Environment to build a research Community

Bruce, James; Faulkner, Dorothy and O'Dell, Lindsay (2014). Creating a Virtual Research Environment to build a research Community. In: UKCGE International Annual Conference, 2014, Dublin.



This paper describes The Open University’s Virtual Research Environment (VRE), our solution to training of the next generation of researchers. We also discuss how we have adapted the OU’s ‘supported open learning model’ to develop a new suite of on-line doctoral training modules referenced against the Vitae Researcher Development Framework. Traditionally the university has adopted a cohort approach, providing training in generic skills for full-time doctoral and MRes researchers through annual programmes of f2f workshops supported by online materials in year one, supplemented in subsequent years by career development and advanced skills workshops and web based exercises. Provision for the university’s part-time doctoral researchers (including those in its Affiliated Research Centres - ARCs), has been challenging. Responsibility here has traditionally rested with supervisors. Consequently, Key priorities for the University are to improve the quality of the research environment and tackle the fragmentation of resources and services offered to research students.

In 2011 the university invested in a two-year project to develop a Virtual Research Environment (VRE). This draws on its established track record in developing its undergraduate taught provision and its ‘supported open learning’ delivery model using world class virtual learning environments. The VRE offers a gateway to online training and development resources for all full and part-time research degree students and ARCs. It seeks to bring together this diverse body of researchers into an online community with parity of access to institutional support so that they can provide mutual support for each other and share best practice. The VRE was launched in October 2013 as a central point of access to research based information and support for doctoral researchers, supervisors and support staff. This on-going project is intended as a catalyst that will strengthen the doctoral research community through on-line networking, professional development, and on-line skills training.

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