Because good research needs good data

IDCC15 Demo Sessions: Do you know the MANTRA?

A summary of the session at IDCC15 in which the Research Data MANTRA Course was demonstrated.

Alex Ball | 10 February 2015

The University of Edinburgh’s Research Data MANTRA course was first developed in 2010–11 as part of the JISC Managing Research Data programme. Commendably, development of the course did not end with the conclusion of the project. Indeed, September 2014 saw the fourth release of this open, online training course in research data management, and it was this version that Edinburgh University Data Librarian Robin Rice demonstrated on Day One of IDCC15.

Release 4 of Research Data MANTRA

The front page of the course gives easy access to eight learning units and a set of data handling tutorials, but also prominently displays four roles at which the course is aimed: research students, career researchers, senior academics and information professionals. Robin explained that clicking on these did not restrict you in any way, but would recommend which unit to start with and suggest learning goals; in fact the main purpose was to steer people away from topics they were already well versed in!

The learning units use the open source Xerte platform under the hood, and were designed to be highly engaging: since there are no credits or certificates for completing them, the units have to be their own reward. The text is therefore interspersed with images, videos (with subtitles and transcripts) and quizzes. Even the summary at the end has been made interactive: participants fill in the blanks by dragging in the right words.

The course site also contains a set of four data handling tutorials, for SPSS, R, ArcGIS and NVivo respectively. While the materials are static, the learning experience remains interactive as you work through the exercises on the sample data on your own computer.

Finally, MANTRA comes with a ‘DIY Training Kit for Librarians’, which packages five of the learning units into a full course with supplementary materials. As a sort of final (self) assessment, the training kit suggests participants interview a researcher and draw up a Data Curation Profile using the toolkit developed by Purdue University Libraries. Examples written by previous participants have been posted on the site.

About half of the audience had seen earlier versions of MANTRA, so Robin pointed out some of the improvements that had been made. These included updated tutorials, new videos, smoother-running quizzes, and additional content on topics such as data citation, Big Data, and passwords.

Robin reassured us that, even though some units had an Edinburgh or UK slant, the majority of the content was universal, and this was backed up by members of the audience who had used the course in other countries. As the course is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license, there is no obstacle to creating a tweaked version if needed.

More information, and the course itself, is available from the MANTRA site.