The call for open and transparent research is getting louder, but researchers have often not been trained to do open research, says Assistant Professor Xavier Pouwels. 'In my field, health economics, we use simulation models to calculate the costs and benefits of medical technology. The outcomes contribute to the development of healthcare policy. It is important that those models are described transparently.' Pouwels wants to teach students, the future researchers and professionals, an Open Science Mindset and Skills. How does he go about that?
To realize his innovative educational plan, Pouwels applied for a Comenius Teaching Fellow grant. In May, he heard that the application had been awarded. Pouwels: 'This grant of around €50,000 will enable me to implement my proposal to develop a number of Open Science (OS) teaching activities for 'Advanced Simulation for Health Economic Analysis'. This course offers excellent opportunities to apply OS skills. Students will learn how to develop a simulation model. I will ask them to create a transparent model and to explain how and why they did what.'
Openness about simulation models is very important, as is evident in the current nitrogen crisis, Pouwels explains. 'The general public want to know how scientists arrive at the outcomes on which policies are based. In health economics, the outcomes may determine whether or not technology is funded, for example. I am currently developing the OS teaching activities for this subject in the Master's programme in Health Care Technology & Management, but I aim to make it usable for other programmes as well.'
How will Open Science affect our field?
What will the OS teaching activities be like? 'The course will consist of four weeks of lectures and tutorials and four weeks during which students will work on their own project assignment in groups. In the first weeks, I will give a lecture on ‘What is Open Science, and how does it affect our field?’ I will cover different aspects: from conducting open and reproducible research, Open Access publishing, and FAIR data management to Public Outreach. I will also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of Open Science. My impression is that students are still largely unaware of these new science developments, despite there being a Students Initiative for Open Science (SIOS Twente) at UT.’
Applying Open Science in a project
During the tutorials and seminars regarding the project, Pouwels will give an introduction and practical assignments enabling students to apply Open Science in their project. He will cover such topics as: how to code a simulation model openly, transparently and reproducibly; how to ensure version control, or share and archive code. He also has the students peer review each other's work, so that they can learn from each other. 'For example, I get them to work on a question like: how can you make your code more readable and reproducible? I ask them to look at each other's work and give each other tips.' Learning from one another is an important aspect of Open Science, Pouwels stresses. 'Researchers should not do everything alone, they should help one another.'
There will also be teaching activities in the middle and at the end of the course, but these are still under development, says Pouwels. 'I want to conclude by evaluating with the students and reflecting on what they have learned about Open Science. We have not yet decided how to do that. We are considering some form of Public Outreach. In the assessment, we will also look at how the students have applied the principles of OS.'
More online resources on Open Science
Pouwels had no Open Science training during his studies. So, like his colleagues, he has to find out for himself how to practice open science. So how do you learn that? 'More and more resources about Open Science can be found online. These are aimed at researchers rather than students. TU Delft, for example, offers the MOOC Open Science: Sharing Your Research with the World.’ Pouwels recently joined FORRT: the Framework for Open and Reproducible Research Training. 'Their website features many resources and didactic tools designed to support the teaching of open and reproducible science. The e-learning platform FOSTER also has a lot of training material on Open Science.'
Thematic sessions of UT’s Digital Competence Centre
In addition, Pouwels takes part in Open Science Community Twente activities, where UT researchers from different disciplines come together to share their knowledge of and experiences with Open Science. Pouwels also considers the DCC-newsletter and the thematic sessions of UT’s Digital Competence Centre (DCC), to be valuable sources of information. 'The DCC provides information on a wide range of Open Science topics: from FAIR data management and Open Access publishing to data management, (open) software, Open Education, and Recognition and Valuation. I learned about the UT data archive Areda through the DCC, for example.’
Help from Data Steward
The BMS Data Steward, Qian Zhang, one of the specialists of the Digital Competence Centre network, also helps me, Pouwels continues. 'Zhang helped me write a guideline for our department describing how we use simulation models. That guideline enables us to assess and make better re-use of each other's work, with the intention of making our work more efficient. It's very nice to have someone to brainstorm on that with.'
Survey among colleagues and former students
Pouwels wants the OS education he is developing to be in line with what students need later in professional practice. That is why he recently sent out two surveys. 'In the first one, I ask colleagues which OS skills they consider most important to teach our students. I sent the second survey to former students who took the course 'Advanced Simulation for Health Economic Analysis' and are now working in professional practice. I ask them what skills they did not develop during their curriculum, but which would be useful for their careers.’ Pouwels would also like student assistants to test the teaching material for comprehensibility and feasibility. Unfortunately, he has yet to find any participants: 'the invitation is still open for students who want to participate!’
Collaboration with other assistant professors at UT
The biggest challenge for Pouwels now is to fit OS teaching activities into the course: 'because there are also other learning objectives to be achieved; the time available for OS teaching is limited. It's good that in this way students at least become briefly acquainted with Open Science. For this to be effective, we really need to include Open Science in more courses, as in each course you could highlight a different aspect of OS that matches the specific learning objectives. This requires management per faculty, per curriculum, and university-wide. This is something I would like to work on with other UT lecturers.'
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