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Developing Online Modules for Teaching Students Research Skills: Formative Student Focus Group Outcomes to inform Design and Content

Dr Yasmine Probst,
A/Prof Eleanor Beck, Dr Annabel Clancy, Ms Pheobe Starling, Dr Elizabeth Neale

University of Wollongong


A move toward technology enhanced learning can provide support for learner-led learning within a practice based subject. Within the Nutrition and Dietetic discipline students undertake theoretical learning the year prior to completion of a major research project. At a key stage of transition in a student’s learning, the method of learning in the final research subject is largely experiential and a culmination of learning across the course. Learning of research skills, however, cannot only be completed in a theoretical manner but should contextualised to practice. Research skills are key to Nutrition and Dietetics and many other science-based disciplines though the students are challenged when applying theoretical research concepts. This study forms the formative work for a larger project that is developing online learning modules for research skill development. The aim of this study was to explore student preferred methods of learning research skills as well as their confidence and perceptions of the skills needed. Past and current Nutrition and Dietetics students from the University of Wollongong were recruited to four semi-structured focus group sessions. Transcripts were coded in duplicate, and key themes identified. Students expressed a preference for a self-paced learning style encompassing interactive components. Learning through experience emerged as a dominant theme from the focus groups.

Difficulties were identified in relation to defining the research question, data cleaning and analysis as well as thesis writing. Student confidence was related to planning and preparation, supervisor support, existing resources, prior learning and previous experience. Addressing challenging areas of research in a form that enables students to feel con dent and prepared appears to be key in supporting Nutrition and Dietetic students. The outcomes of this study have formed the basis to the iterative development  of preliminary online modules for general research skills, statistics, data management, research communication, reflective practice and pastoral care which will be evaluated over time with upcoming students within the Nutrition and Dietetic courses.