Recently Diane Hird, the Local Network Lead (LNL) Community Project Coordinator, met with LNL Dr James Steele to learn more about open research activities at Solent University.  This blog is the result of that conversation. Huge thanks to James for his time.

Dr James Steele is an Associate Professor in Sport and Exercise Science at Solent University in Southampton.  James first became interested in open research during his PhD, and has spent years encouraging colleagues to adopt open research practices. He took on the LNL role in summer 2023 continuing his open research activities but also trying to raise awareness of open research more widely across Solent University. The Vice Provost for Research and Knowledge Exchange, Professor Emma Wadsworth, has been very supportive of James taking on the LNL role.

Teaching and research support

James teaches research methods and runs research project and dissertation modules for undergraduate and postgraduate students. He is allocated time to provide research support for colleagues and this is reflected in a reduced teaching load. He introduces students to free open source quantitative and qualitative analysis programs, for example JASP, R and RStudio, and Taguette, because when they start work they may not have access to the licensed software such as SPSS or Nvivo often used in universities.

Building a local network

To build a local network James got a ReproducibiliTea club up and running at Solent. The first meetings covered some of the early replication crisis papers and he enjoyed introducing these to colleagues, watching them become ‘shocked and disgusted and then inspired’. To communicate with network members James uses an institutional Teams channel and a Research Hub within Teams to share upcoming ReproducibiliTea and UKRN events etc.

The Research Support Librarian, Nancy Beckett-Jones, is a key person in open research at Solent University and a valuable contact for James. Together they cross-post events to ensure different groups receive information on open research. Nancy and James also plan to create a central hub for open research resources.

As people take part in events they talk about them with colleagues and the local network grows. It currently has 20 – 30 members, mostly within the Department of Sport and Health. James is seen as a point of contact and receives emails from people asking for advice, for example on pre-registration.

Incorporating open research into undergraduate dissertation modules

Currently James is planning substantial changes to undergraduate dissertation modules which will incorporate open research practices. Final year students will sign up to a staff supervisor and a group research project that has already been developed, pre-registered and ethically approved. These staff will teach the module and hold weekly group tutorials/seminars throughout the year. During the first semester staff will set required reading, teach research methods, explain the pre-registration process, and train the students to be able to work on the project.  At end of the first semester students will give a presentation to their supervisor demonstrating their understanding of the project and how they plan to deliver it. Students then collect data during the second semester. Instead of a large dissertation write up, students will write a brief report (3000 words) covering the interim data collected so far, but the summative assessment will be an individual viva, thus reducing opportunities for plagiarism or collusion within the group.

These projects could run for several years – gathering a large sample size to meet the pre-registered requirements – and this multiyear approach could enable staff to gather sufficient data for a research publication. In fact, staff will be encouraged to prepare and submit a stage 1 Registered Report as their pre-registration thus effectively guaranteeing them and their students a publication from the process. It may also be possible to link Sports and Exercise Departments within other institutions to create an overarching project with students collecting data at multiple sites.

Over the next couple of years, James will work with the staff involved, helping them design the studies they want to run, obtaining ethical approval, and pre-registering the projects. Hopefully these staff will then go on to use open research practices in their own research.

This represents a radical change in how student projects are delivered and importantly there is buy-in from the Head of Department, Dr Dominic Cunliffe. Although not without its challenges (the words ‘herding cats’ and ‘academic staff’ were used in the same sentence), it is hoped this approach can be used as an exemplar for other modules. James discussed these plans with fellow LNLs at the recent UKRN meeting in Glasgow, some LNLs would like to see the module handbooks when they are ready.

Dream big – open research in 5 years’ time

When asked to dream big, James would like to see everyone using Octopus or similar platforms to work collaboratively, publishing individual units of work, with community peer review. Everything would be open and transparent, with publications based in a small handful of places rather than dotted around all over the place. ‘If everyone just started using Octopus – that would be great’.  Let’s see what the next 5 years bring.