Cofactor online courses are a hit!

10th Jun 2020

Well, it’s been an… interesting few months. I hope you are keeping well and have been coping with the lockdown, wherever you are. For me personally, this has been a period of getting to know my local nature and reading up about Covid-19, and the past couple of weeks have also involved a lot of learning about racism.

Going online

But for Cofactor this period has mainly been about converting our courses to online ones. So why not try our online courses?

I have been meaning to develop online courses for several years, but suddenly, in early March, it went right to the top of my to-do list. Together with Cofactor’s associate trainers, I have been very busy learning how to train online.

And the results have been pretty good, I think. We have now provided online courses for six institutions and are booked for quite a few more. These early courses have had very good feedback, in fact the word ‘superb’ was used by more than one person! The engagement of participants has been good, sometimes higher and sometimes slightly lower than we get at in-person workshops. We are learning all the time about how to get participants more engaged with the material.

How we train online

A screenshot of one of Cofactor's courses on Moodlecloud

A screenshot of one of Cofactor’s courses on Moodlecloud

We have learnt that presenting slides live over video is a waste of time, so we are providing pre-recorded presentations instead. Participants whose internet connections aren’t great can then watch the videos at their own speed and re-watch if necessary. We have been using Zoom for most in-person sessions (keeping a careful eye on security), and have made liberal use of the breakout rooms function for small group discussions. Zoom chat is also great for brainstorming or getting feedback from small group discussions – it is quicker and gets everyone involved.

Padlet screenshot

A screenshot of a Padlet for one of Cofactor’s course, about journals

We’ve also been learning about different learning management systems (LMSs) and other tools for getting people discussing. We are using Moodle a lot, including Cofactor’s own Moodlecloud site and those hosted by institutions We have also got used to Canvas, and are making sure we know enough about other LMSs to use them if clients wish. Padlet is also a great tool – participants to introduce themselves there,  ask questions, talk about journals they are interested and more. Some exercises, such as online research, are easier in online courses, while others that require working together in small groups are more challenging to convert from physical workshops. We are trying out different options, and by the autumn we will have a good idea what works best.

Advantages of virtual training

Online courses are the only option during lockdown, but even when things go back to the new normal and in-person courses can resume, we won’t stop providing training online. Cofactor aims to be an eco-friendly company, which means we don’t want to travel by air if we can possibly avoid it. But online training can reach people far away with no need for travel. Time zones may be an issue for courses with live video discussions, but solutions can be found that work for everyone. We are also offering asynchronous courses, in which participants can work through the material and discuss it at their own pace, and these can be taken from anywhere in the world.

Online courses can be more accessible for some participants, for example those who are less mobile or have social anxiety. We recognise that others find them less accessible, and we will do all we can to make them available to as many researchers as possible. On the whole, we have found that attendance rates have been slightly higher for our online courses than for in-person ones, which may be because there are no transport problems or because labs have been closed. Courses that use Zoom are split into short sessions, which should make it easier to concentrate and will perhaps help those with caring responsibilities.

Try it for yourselves

So, if you organise training for researchers in a university or scientific institute, do get in touch and book an online course. Our courses focus on writing and publishing research papers, but we are also developing one on grant writing, and can offer more specialist courses such as on being a peer reviewer, open access or open science. Our courses are for PhD students, postdocs and other research staff in all areas of science, technology, engineering and medicine. We have a team of associate trainers who ensure that we have the capacity to run several courses simultaneously, and they all bring relevant expertise too.

And if you are a researcher, tell your researcher development department (or graduate school or organisational development team, etc) about Cofactor’s training. We also hope to run open courses before long for which individual researchers can book.

I look forward to seeing you on Zoom soon!

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