Best Practices

Program makes case for more face-time education

Compliance is monitored electronically

All research institutions provide some ongoing education and training to staff, but these programs often are variable and dependent on which department is in charge. Any system-wide training might be a little light on instructor face time because electronic training and education is easier and less expensive to disseminate.

A better approach would be to build a coordinated education and training program that enhances professional development and has high performance standards, says Tony Onofrietti, MS, CRSS, director of research education at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, UT.

The University of Utah spent more than a year developing a coordinated education program called the Research Administration Training Series (RATS), which has resulted in high attendee satisfaction, high proficiency in educational materials, and has attracted interest both nationally and on the international research arena.

"We wanted to promote a culture of compliance and research integrity," Onofrietti says.

"We had subject matter experts in most of the topics right here on campus, so we felt there was a lot of training being done on campus in different areas," he adds. "But there wasn't one centralized, coordinated program."

Training was spread across different entities, including the IRB, the office of sponsored projects, the financial and business services, environmental health and safety, etc.

"But there was not one program where all content was available and cross-referenced and where experts could provide their talents to the program in a coordinated manner," Onofrietti says.

Onofrietti, the associate vice president for research integrity and the vice president for research put together a plan to centralize research education. The process took about a year to complete.

"We contacted the directors and the appropriate deans in the related departments and set the tone that this was an initiative that the vice president for research office was taking," he explains.

Then the institution created the office of research education. Onofrietti solicited support of the centralized concept from the various department heads and conducted needs assessments.

"During that process I also developed a software program called RosterTech™," he says. "We custom-developed that software to promote the research administration training series."

The electronic program can offer online registration and individual user profiles so that employees taking educational courses can track their progress and know when they are up-to-date on required educational units or certification.

"There are six different curriculum tracks," Onofrietti says. "We can contact people through email notifications and announcements of classes, online surveys, and platforms for online classes."

Here's how the coordinated education program was created:

• Work with department heads: As the research education program was being created, Onofrietti worked with department chairs to identify their research training classes and to include these in the software program.

"This took about a year," he says. "Basically, we did a needs assessment and analysis."

The analysis looked at these questions:

— What are the training sessions now being held?

— How are they being delivered?

— Are they meeting the needs of the constituents?

— What changes would they like to make to their content or delivery?

"We talked about outreach and who the target audiences were for this particular content," Onofrietti says. "We also spoke about how often training had to be taken and renewed and recertified."

• Assess what each department needs: The departments varied in their educational process. Some had well-defined programs with evaluation material, strong organization, and stated goals, he says.

"We were able to facilitate and help them meet those goals and bring their programs into the collaborative effort," he adds.

Other departments had no training at all, and they looked to the new office to lead them. They wanted assistance in developing content and offering training programs.

"Other departments were in the middle where they had some elements of training but were missing some of the other elements," Onofrietti says. "So we did a gap analysis to see what service was necessary to bring the program up to standardized quality."

• Address how live lectures would be handled: "Most of the departments that had educational content were providing live lecture classes and would continue doing those for us as part of the training series," Onofrietti says. "Coaching, instructional development, and design would come from my office."

The research education office would go through a department's content to review their live lecture educational sessions and to see how these could be improved.

Even when departments requested electronic training courses, the research education office started with live lectures.

"We feel the live lecture classes are valuable because you have the ability to have your senior colleagues mentor the junior colleagues in that format," Onofrietti says. "With live lectures, people who are relatively new to the university can network; it's a great networking opportunity."

Live classes provide social interaction where junior faculty and new administrators can meet the directors, senior administrators, and other colleagues for networking.

For these reasons, all of the certificate programs are set up so that the first certificate in any track must be completed through a live lecture class, Onofrietti says.

"When you recertify, which we recommend you do every two years, then you can do it through a hybrid of live lecture classes and online courses," he says. "You can take a majority of classes online to recertify."

• Include other types of educational formats: "Using interactive technology and keypads, we'd enrich that content with them," Onofrietti says. "And we'd collaborate and put together a presentation and utilize whatever tools were necessary to bring that up to the highest quality it could be."

In addition to adding instructional technologies like wireless keypads, they'd incorporate panel discussions and case studies in the courses.

"We offer between 50-70 classes each semester," Onofrietti says. "Some of these didn't need a lot of refinement, and we'd just bring it in to our research administration training series; with others we had to start from scratch and do entire curriculum development in the instructional design."

After a department has established live educational opportunities, then additional courses can be added in other formats, such as electronic courses. For instance, some of the live courses can be filmed, he adds.

"We filmed and critiqued live lecture classes and developed online classes based on the hard copy materials and live lecture, after sitting down to have a discussion with the experts," Onofrietti says.

"We can bring in another layer of instructional design to incorporate the online modules," he says. "It's not about just posting PowerPoint slides."

About three or four dozen filmed classes are available in an online format, and the institution has Webinars and Webcases for various classes.

While some individuals learn better in lecture format classes, other excel in online courses, Onofrietti notes.

The key for any research education program is to offer some variety in learning experiences, coupled with regular evaluations and assessment.

"Every class we've offered since August, 2005, has had written evaluations with a record kept, and we do electronic surveys every semester or annually," Onofrietti says. "We use surveys to gauge whether there are particular topics we are not covering and that need to be covered or to see if there are new classes that should be created."

Through a robust evaluation, records, and statistics process, which is kept in the RosterTech software, the research education office is able to track participation reports, attendance numbers, and other data, he adds.