Monday 21 August 2017

Spotlight on INASP - shortlisted for the 2017 ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing

Author Aid LogoIn the third of our series of interviews with ALPSP Awards 2017 Finalists we talk to Andy Nobes, Programme Officer in the Research Development and Support team at INASP the people behind Author AID.

Tell us a bit about the work of INASP

INASP is an international development organization with the vision of research and knowledge at the heart of development. We work with partners in Africa, Latin America and Asia to support individuals and institutions to produce, share and use research and knowledge, which can transform lives.

Most research is published in the global North but many of the world’s most urgent problems are found in the global South. Early-career researchers in low- and middle-income countries face many challenges in communicating their work. These include: lack of familiarity with the global scholarly publishing landscape; lack of experienced colleagues who can advise them about publishing their work; inexperience of scientific writing; and often inexperience of writing in English. Other common challenges for researchers are: understanding plagiarism; choosing a suitable journal; and knowing the basic structure of a paper. They face all these challenges in addition to inherent biases in the global scholarly system, as well as particular challenges for female researchers and those from minority backgrounds or in fragile or conflict states.

Our AuthorAID project was started a decade ago to address these challenges. We work with partner institutions in Africa and Asia to embed research writing and proposal writing training into their curricula. The AuthorAID website also provides a free service for all researchers -  a database of free resources, an online discussion list, and a mentoring and collaboration platform. Over the last decade, our training has evolved from face-to-face training to online and blended courses, and most recently into our recent Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs).

What is the project that you submitted for the Awards?

In 2015 AuthorAID launched a series of free research-writing MOOCs. These have been run twice-yearly on the Moodle open-source platform and have so far attracted nearly 7,500 researchers from over 100 developing countries. We have also run the course in Spanish in partnership with Latindex, training 3,000 researchers in Latin America. These courses are particularly good at supporting harder-to-reach groups, including female academics and those in fragile and conflict states. Such support is essential for ensuring equity in global research.

The course is six weeks long and covers four topics: literature review, research ethics, writing a paper and publishing in a journal.  Participants learn via text-based lessons, weekly quizzes, a facilitated discussion forum and peer-assessed writing activities, as well as optional short video content.



Tell us more about how it works and the team behind it

Caroline Koech, an environmental chemist in Kenya participating in the online course & carrying out laboratory analysis
Course participant Caroline Koech from Kenya
The AuthorAID team is small, and the MOOCs are run by just two core staff – I administrate and moderate the course from our Oxford office and my colleague Ravi Murugesan is the lead facilitator and Moodle expert, who is based in India. In order to manage groups of 1000+ course participants we rely on our team of volunteer ‘guest facilitators’. These are drawn from our global network of mentors and partner institutions, and we also promote ‘star’ participants to be facilitators on subsequent courses.

This facilitation model not only makes it possible to cater for large numbers of participants, across different time zones, but it also helps to pass on the skills to reduce the reliance on INASP. This is a key part of our sustainable development model.

Why do you think it demonstrates publishing innovation?

The innovation in our project is not so much in the technology – after all, MOOCs are becoming increasingly common in global education. Rather, it is the context, community and impact of the AuthorAID MOOCs that are uniquely innovative. Our courses are built on 10 years’ experience of training early-career researchers in developing countries, and our content is aimed at overcoming many of the practical problems that they face in publishing their research, such as writing skills and understanding the publishing process. The lessons are pitched at a basic, introductory level, presented in simple English.

The material is also designed to be used in low-bandwidth environments, as many of our audience have problems with access to reliable internet. The lessons are interactive text-based lessons rather than high-bandwidth video lectures which many participants find difficult to watch.  The strength of the course is in the interactive content and social interaction - the discussion forums, which are energised by our team of guest facilitators, are particularly active and we hear that many researchers make friends and research collaborators on the course.

The completion rate for the courses is around 50%, which is significantly higher than average MOOCs. Our courses include a high percentage (45%) of women researchers and we also reach participants in fragile and conflict-affected states, for example Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Yemen.

Follow-up surveys have found that at least 34% of course participants have published papers after the course. Feedback has also shown increased confidence to publish, and increased awareness of important ethical issues like plagiarism and ‘predatory’ journals. We hear again and again from researchers about the difference that participating in an AuthorAID research-writi
ng MOOC has made to them, their academic careers, their colleagues, and their ability to share their research findings clearly with a wider audience.

Global map showing the geographical spread of the course and the concentration in developing countries.
Global map showing the geographical spread of the course and the concentration in developing countries.

What are your plans for the future?

We want to improve both the scope and delivery of our MOOCs – for example, we are translating the course into French, and developing a social science version. We are also creating additional content that is important to researchers – for example training in communicating research to the public, practitioners and policymakers. It’s becoming increasingly important to make online courses mobile-friendly, particularly in developing countries, and we are further developing content to be fully mobile optimised, including downloadable lessons and exercises that can be completed offline.

In the long term, INASP is currently looking at opportunities for further funding for this work to ensure that more early-career researchers in the developing world can continue to receive the training and support that they need so that they – and their research – can contribute to global research conversations.

Our ultimate goal is to make this training truly sustainable – not only by growing our network of online facilitators, but also working with some of our partner institutions around the world to run online courses in their own institutions. This training has already started with partners in Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Vietnam. We have also helped grant winners to trial their own mini-MOOC version of the course.

Photo of Andy Nobes
Andy Nobes
Andy Nobes is Programme Officer in the Research Development and Support Team at INASP. This involves the management of the AuthorAID website, and the development of its online mentoring scheme and community forums. 
Before joining INASP, he worked for an academic publisher in journal e-marketing and library marketing.

Twitter:  @INASPinfo and  @authoraid
YouTube: INASP   

See the ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing Finalists lightning sessions at our Annual Conference on 13-15 September, where the winners will be announced. 

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