Project Timeline

ALT ELESIG – Student online group experience supported through Slack: reflections on how to approach and research this area

Jim Turner

Richard Walker recently published Facilitating peer-led group research through virtual collaboration spaces: an exploratory research study with colleagues at York. The research looked at a particular type of group activity –  ‘Peer-led group learning’. This is  based on ‘small groups of students meeting regularly with a peer – one who has additional expertise in the subject matter – to work on problems collaboratively’. The study looked at the use of Slack to support this activity. 

Richard discussed the research at the recent ELESIG Webinar and in this blog I will cover some of the tips that jumped out of the presentation for me. 

No obligation to research in most TEL roles: Richard and many of us in TEL do not have research written into our job roles. Also academics can sometimes be unsupportive of professional services researching their practice. But this process is important to help us understand the effects of innovations and help support adoption.

Fig 1. Richard’s project timeline showing the major steps from Feb 2018 to published paper March 2021

When we do research, the journey has to be dynamic: It is not always clear from the outset where the focus of the research should be. It doesn’t always take 3 years, but because the research is a little more reactive to the situation it can take longer than you think (See fig 1). This can sometimes mean that the normal research process ends up dislocated, with the cart before the horse. This means the process takes longer as you join up the various research processes. 

Don’t have to have big participant numbers: You can do ‘rich picture’ types research with small groups and understand more about the experience through focus groups and interviews. 

Find a research tool that you can get familiar with: Richard has used similar analysis frameworks across studies (Fox & MacKeogh 2003), building on his knowledge each time. 

Your dissemination plan will be dynamic too: Richard started early with a poster at an internal conference, then wrote a case study report to share with university staff. He then presented at a conference, all the time using feedback from people to improve how to communicate the findings and which findings to focus on. 

Let’s tweet and write blogs about each other’s work: Richard received useful feedback and encouragement at conferences that helped him. Sonny Evans from the University of St Andrew’s wrote a blog about his presentation. Perhaps we should remember when attending conferences that this is an opportunity to help motivate presenters to publish and how to improve the way they are communicating those findings. 

Let’s hear it for longitudinal studies: Richard thinks, and I agree, that too many TEL studies will review an innovation over one period of time. What’s the hurry, the research findings will only improve if run over a number of years, longitudinal research can have greater impact and this aligns with Research in Learning Technology and other journals criteria 

Use of focus groups to get at the student experience: Depending on the research question you develop, will then help you select the right research methods to use. However, student experiences are always useful to capture, so focus groups are never going to be time wasted. 

Feedback from journal editors is just part of the process: The feedback will only make the work stronger, try to think about it differently, and expect it rather than think your paper is perfect when submitting it. 

Link to session recording

About Richard

Richard had been researching and publishing for many years and will share his experience on this project and others during this session. This will provide attendees with a space to hear and discuss how research moves from an idea to publication and the issues and rewards along the way.

Speaker: Richard Walker Head of Programme Design and Learning Technology at University of York


Fox, S. and MacKeogh, K. (2003) ‘Can eLearning Promote Higher-order Learning Without Tutor Overload?’, Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 18: 2, 121 — 134. Available at:

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