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Give Them What They Want: Graduate Student Workshops Focused on Skills, Not Theory Public Deposited

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  • Many libraries offer workshops on research topics such as data management and information organization for graduate students and faculty. We recommend that library workshops focus on teaching skills rather than principles or theories, especially if the goal is to improve data management practices. At Oregon State University Libraries, we have learned that workshops that are practical rather than theoretical have consistently higher registration and attendance. This trend is clear for workshops specifically designed to support researchers with managing their data. “Intro to Data Management” initially had moderately high registration, but registration plummeted in a few terms. However, the “Intro to Git”, “Intro to MATLAB,” and “Intro to Zotero” workshops have maintained high registration and attendance numbers. Many of the learning goals of our Intro to Data Management workshops are incorporated into these workshops, e.g., the importance of keeping documentation about your data, and the need to increase research reproducibility are key concepts in all of the practical workshops. Based on our experiences and drawing on best practices from andragogy and the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition, which accounts for the different ways that novices and experts learn, we recommend crafting workshop topics and curriculum based on demonstrably practical learning outcomes. Workshops must relate to learners’ immediate needs. Topics overly focused on abstract ideas or theoretical concepts should instead target a skill or tool connected to these concepts. Then the workshops can be used to ground data management principles in the context of practical skills.
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