Wednesday, July 30, 2008

RDI Training the Trainers Summer School

Entry for 29 July 2008:

After months of planning our ESRC Researcher Development Initiative-funded week-long Summer School, at the University of Leicester, got underway this week. After staying up to 4am working getting the meta-analysis data set into shape in preparation for our month away in the US, I took the train down on Sunday afternoon. After the usual Sunday train delays (they are working on the West Coast Line through the Lake District so we got stuck on a bus between Carlisle and Lancaster), I arrived in Leicester about 7pm. Sue Wheeler picked me up from my hotel about half an hour later, and whisked me off to a classic english country pub. Summer had come, belatedly and all too brief to the UK, and it was a lovely warm evening, so we dined alfresco in the garden behind the pub, where we talked on as night fell.

Roman Ruins in Leicester. When Diane and visited Leicester last Autumn, we heard that there were a Roman Ruin near Vaughan College, the site of the Summer School. However, I was startled to discover that the college actually overlooks and is built around a major Roman historical site: the foundations of a large Roman bath complex, the social centre of the ancient Roman city, with a section of wall towering over the foundations. Underneath where the college is today were the furnaces that heated the whole thing, with a run of large hot baths, then a series of less hot baths stretching to the wall, which is marked by two large entrances that connected the baths to the gymnasium, which lies under the Church of St. Nicholas. The ground floor of the college, like the foundations of the ancient baths, is below street level; there is substantially-sized museum there describing life and Roman times and earlier. I was particularly taken by the half-size figures of the inhabitants, from Mesolithic (middle stone age) to Roman times, dressed in period clothing, which started out as rudimentary furred animal skins, and evolved through tanned leather (Neolithic) to increasingly sophisticated woven cloth (bronze age and later).

I didn’t have too much time to absorb this, because the two days kept me quite busy preparing, presenting and interacting with the 25 counselling trainers who were present. They represented a wide variety of theoretical orientations (a pleasant and stimulating variation on the mostly person-centred audiences I’m used to), counselling modalities, types of training course, personalities, etc.

I was helping Sue and Kaye Richards cover the first two (of 5) days. Sue and Kaye led off with an introduction to the week and the project. I did my Setting up Outcome-Process Monitoring/Introduction to Quantitative Research presentation, which I have presented enough times that it now works pretty well. The trainers really liked the format; and that really pleased me.

Multiple Training Needs. However, we immediately ran into a fundamental contradiction about the RDI project: Our grant is supposed to focus on training them in how to teach research more effectively, but the trainers themselves are hungry for more research training. As a result they kept wanting to move to the PhD level of discussion rather than the diploma (and masters) levels. This led to very interesting and challenging discussions, which periodically had to be directed back to the Matter at Hand. But really, much more is needed.

Qualitative Evaluation and Systematic Case Studies. The second day (today) turned out to more challenging for me, because I had two different inputs, both less honed than the Outcome Monitoring one. I stayed up until 2am completely revising both of them (including parallel Powerpoint and Word lecture note formats, as is my practice). In the end, the morning session on Qualitative Evaluation methods turned out quite well, but the temptation to pick my brains about a variety of qualitative research methods topics proved to be irresistible for the audience, so we spent quite a bit of time on that.

By this afternoon they had all the pieces they needed for Systematic Case Studies a la Robert/HSCED. I had made a valiant attempt to simplify HSCED (Hermeneutic Single Case Efficacy Design) to something approximating the diploma level; however, I did not entirely succeed: it became clear that this was way too complicated for the target audience, and many of the trainers struggled in places. As a result, I’ve spent a good part of this trip home revising the presentation while it is still fresh in my mind. I’m posting a version of the revised lecture notes as an entry on this blog.

Simplifying HSCED: The key is cut enough complicated bits to make it digestible, while still retaining enough of systematicness to make it worth doing. In the end, I think that it is a process of successive approximations from diploma through masters to PhD levels. At the diploma level, only one or two quantitative measures are used; the Affirmative and Skeptic processes and specific arguments are dropped in favour of a less systematic use of the data. The assembly and presentation of the rich case record is emphasized. And so on.

At the end of the day, before Sue whisked me away to the train station for the journey home, it became clear that these first two days had largely succeeded. There was a satisfying round of applause for how far we’d come. I’ve also been very impressed by Sue’s organizational skills (she runs a huge number of different counselling skills courses), and her skill as a trainer. She always seemed to know just when it was time for the participants to stop and break up into small groups of two, three, or 10 to discuss their process, needs, goals, plans etc. I really appreciated her sensitivity to the group process and her flexibility. John McLeod arrived tonight to continue the Research Methods Relay Race through the week. I’m not sure I could have handled more than the two days, but it was certainly intense, fun and productive.

Summer Research Workshops? In the course of the past two days it has become totally evident that there is a huge need and appetite for more training in research methods for these counselling trainers. I think what is needed is a series of summer research workshops modelled on the Clarion and other Writers’ Workshops that over the past 20 years have been so successful in nurturing new generations of science fiction writers. Counselling, like science fiction, is a marginalized discipline, regarded by mainstream academics as not particularly respectable. The solution called for is an alternate structure to provide support and nurturance to help early and even mid-level practitioners develop skills and identify opportunities. If we don't support and nurture ourselves, no one else is really going to be there to do it for us! And this has been a start.

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