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Blog Distance Learning Graduate Life

Is Virtual Learning the Future?

Image from: Virtual Learning for Teachers – BSD Education

We live in the computer age – one marked by technological advances and digital revolution. The global transformation brought about by this revolution continue to challenge the old ways of doing things. In education, examples abound where technologies have completely revitalized teaching and learning methods. The creation of online learning spaces has afforded many the opportunity to learn at a pace that works for them. For instance, distance education is now an option offered by most colleges and universities to accommodate individuals that juggle multiple responsibilities such as work, family, business etc. This was all before the corona virus pandemic. With the restrictions currently in place (given the present COVID 19 reality), in terms of social distancing and public gathering limits, more and more colleges and universities – including high schools, middle and elementary schools – have had to transition to a hybrid teaching model, with some of them moving entirely to online delivery.

I am currently enrolled in a world wide web program offered by the University of Northern British Columbia. Although I live in the city where the university is located, I can be situated anywhere in Canada and beyond and still connect with my professors and peers virtually while fulfilling the requirements of my courses, provided I have a stable internet connection. For individuals enrolled in an academic research program like me, although the ability to have an in-person contact with one’s program supervisor is certainly appealing, synchronous virtual interactions via application software like Zoom and Microsoft teams afford one the opportunity to stay connected. As with face-to-face interactions, live videoconferencing can allow for personal interactions and the provision of immediate feedback on any work submitted or issues discussed.

Generally, research students tend to have the desire to gain some research experience with professors affiliated with their university of study prior to embarking on their actual individual project. As such, one might be quick to conclude that this is not feasible with distance learning. To which, I can say with certainty that this is not the case at all – being a distance learner myself. I currently work remotely as a cognitive interviewer with the BC office of patient research. This job involves me conducting interviews with participants located in different parts of BC from the comfort of my home. The qualitative interview skill gleaned from this employment will definitely be useful as I engage in my own independent research project. There are other ways to gain research experience while working remotely; for instance, conducting literature reviews and scoping reviews for professors who are preparing for a large-scale study.

In the age of COVID 19, virtual learning certainly has its appeal as it makes education accessible in a time where the more traditional form of face-to-face learning might not be that feasible. The question of whether online learning will replace the classroom once the pandemic fizzles out is a highly debated topic in academia and beyond. While we cannot overemphasize the perks of virtual learning, we certainly cannot overlook its disadvantage. Humans are social creatures by nature; and, most people thrive in social environments. Learning loses its appeal in the absence of human interaction, that is, the ability to dialogue in person with fellow colleagues in real time. In spite of the argument that could be posited of synchronous learning proffering this same “real time” interaction, traditional classrooms offer students a level of intimacy that cannot be gotten through any virtual means. It behooves one to yet again reiterate the ultimate question: is virtual learning really the future? Only time will tell.

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Blog Student Researcher

Deciding on a Research Topic

“How do I decide on a research topic?” is a question that I’m sure many aspiring student researchers such as myself have pondered at one point in their academic journey. For an undergraduate or graduate student looking for opportunities to either work or volunteer in a research project, this may not be a pressing concern. This is because, for the most part, the goal of these students (as was my case), is to gain useful experience that can be transferable into their own research projects. As such, a candid advice to the group of students looking to gain research experience (either paid or volunteer) is to be open to any and every opportunity because the perfect fit might end up being the one you least expect.

Deciding on a research topic is not as easy as it seems. I often find myself advising new students to follow their passion, but the question becomes, what if my passion is not a “priority area”?. Priority area here relates to the fundability of one’s research project. My response to this concern is this – “so what?”. Conducting research is a long journey that requires dedication and commitment to complete. In my experience, you are less likely to get frustrated or bored if you are exploring a topic or an area that genuinely interests and excites you.

Although passion is a necessary ingredient when it comes to choosing a research topic, it is not the only component. Your passion must be guided by logic. Logic in this context relates to how researchable and achievable your chosen topic is. An advice I have received is to not be too ambitious – essentially, do something that play to your strengths. And just as important, be mindful of time and resource constraints. The best part about being a student is you do not have to do this alone – your supervisor, the librarian, even fellow colleagues are at your disposal. Talking things out with others is a super helpful way to refine your thoughts. These conversations can sometimes point out flaws in your thinking which can help orient you towards the right direction.

Another important piece that should be considered when deciding on a research topic is relevance. How relevant is your chosen topic to the field in which it is situated? For example, if you are enrolled in a psychology program, your research must relate in some way and be of importance to the field of psychology. In other words, you must be able to defend or justify why your chosen topic area is worth investigating (i.e., how will the data generated from your proposed topic be practically utilized?). The idea of novelty comes into play here – how original is your research topic? It therefore becomes important to do a quick scan of the existing literature to make sure your chosen topic is not an area that has been over-researched as identifying a gap might prove challenging.

These tips are based on my experience so far as a graduate student. I hope they prove beneficial to your respective situations.

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Blog Graduate Life Human and Health Sciences

Life as a Graduate Student: Second Year Edition

I started the fourth semester (2nd year) of my master’s degree program about three weeks ago (around the same time y’all resumed as well), and I must say, it’s been a long couple of weeks. Fortunately for me, the Master of Nursing Science program here at UNBC was initially developed to operate as a distance and online form of learning; as such, my enrolled courses for this semester have been relatively unaffected by the campus-wide switch to alternative mode of education delivery. I suppose it won’t be bold of me to claim to be something of a pro at online-learning.

https://makeameme.org/meme/you-can-call-qpvcpo

As part of the requirement of being enrolled in a thesis-based master’s program, I am required to embark on an independent research under the supervision of a knowledgeable professor. Since I am in the proposal development stage of my thesis, I have devoted uncountable hours of my time this summer doing a lot of reading, writing and editing. I must say, it’s the not-so fun part of research – in all honesty – but perhaps the most important stage as well. I will stop here so as not to bore you with the gory details of literature search, critiquing and research matrix. Nevertheless, I must needs say that diligent perseverance in the aforementioned stage makes for a smoother journey down the road (at least so I’ve been told).

As if full time graduate study is not enough, I work part-time as a Registered Nurse at one of the complex care facilities here in Prince George – a job I absolutely enjoy, although can be mentally and emotionally tasking at times. I also hold a casual position with the BC office of patient-centred measurement (BCPCM) as a cognitive testing interviewer (a recent but amazing development!). The office of BCPCM (https://www.bcpcm.ca/bc-patient-centred-measurement) deals with measurement of patient experiences and outcomes to enhance public accountability as well as facilitating the province’s progress towards providing care that is patient-centred. Prior to the launching of a full-scale survey study, cognitive testing is done to ensure that the survey successfully captures the scientific intent of the questions in a way that makes sense to the respondents. In this role, I get to cognitively test aspects of the developed survey by interviewing a small number of select respondents that is like the target population.

Say cheese 🙂

In a nutshell, this has been my semester so far; I look forward to what the coming months bring 😊