Students gain research skills while working on TASCHA projects

During winter quarter 2015, TASCHA held a research seminar open to University of Washington students. The research seminar was originally designed to get students involved with our Information Strategies for Societies in Transition project. So many students registered for the seminar, though, that we expanded the seminar to include other TASCHA projects, like the current evaluation of library-like resource centers in Namibia and our recently launched MOOCs for development project.

Students from various schools and disciplines, such as the Information School, Evans School of Public Affairs, and computer science, gained practical research skills by working closely with TASCHA researchers. Each student developed an individual workplan for the quarter based on their interests, as well as project needs, after learning about the different opportunities this seminar offered. In addition to developing research skills, students also learned more about various topics related to information and communication technologies for development (ICTD), program measurement and evaluation, public access to ICTs, and information and digital literacy in low-resource settings.

Gennie Gebhart, a Masters of Library and Information Sciences student at the iSchool, explains the value of research seminars such as this one: “No other class that I know of encourages such a wide range of students to explore ICTD topics in this hands-on, tangible way. Taking this seminar was an important step in developing and confirming my own research ambitions. Seeing my work inform real TASCHA projects has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my degree program so far.”

Our researchers and projects also greatly benefited from the students’ work in this seminar. TASCHA’s Jessica Beyer, who led the class, notes: “The students were contributing to currently running TASCHA projects in very meaningful ways. In every case, I was impressed by their seriousness of purpose and the high quality work they produced for their research team — often, persevering through the type of two-steps-forward-one-step-back process that can characterize applied research experiences.”

The student contributions include:

  • Literature reviews on a variety of topics, including the use of MOOCs in the developing world, usability and user experience with online course, and how public access venues use mobile phones in their programs and services
  • Analysis of various research methodologies, such as the use panel studies in program evaluations
  • Evaluation of different models of information literacy and digital literacy curriculum
  • Recommendations based on their research that have already informed our research projects and will continue to do so as the research progresses

In addition to developing research skills through working on the seminar deliverables, Gennie notes that getting to work with researchers has helped her.”I’d say the most valuable part of the research seminar was being able to work directly with TASCHA researchers. Jessica (the instructor) made time to sit down with us individually for brainstorming, mentoring, or just acting as a sounding board for our ideas. In addition to Jessica, we got to interact with other TASCHA staff through our projects and through the weekly seminars.”

We hope to be able to offer more research seminars in the future, as we were all once students ourselves interested in research and developing research skills. See more information on how students can get involved with TASCHA.