Virtual Research environments to support scientific trainings

Education in an interdisciplinary scenario is usually delivered through university courses, focussed training events and workshops provided by specialised scientific institutes. As a result, there can often be a gap in making the necessary technological support available to scientists, trainees and students.

All the steps in preparing courses and workshops require:


  • manual work, which is repeated each time a new course is held.
  • installation of complex software on the users’ computers to enable use of data processing services and models that usually come under heterogeneous programming languages.
  • an extensive phase of data preparation and powerful hardware installation to allow the execution of the data-intensive models.

In addition, the interaction between teachers and students is usually limited to the duration of the face-to-face part of the course.

A VRE can ease the process of communication, set-up and delivery of training, reducing the need for specific software, and facilitating learning.

The BlueBRIDGE best practice

BlueBRIDGE offers Virtual Research Environments (VREs) to set up and deliver training courses in a cost-effective way. The BlueBRIDGE VREs are collaborative, web-based applications which enable collaboration and integrated access to potentially unlimited digital research resources, as well as cross-disciplinary and cross-community tools and services.

 

The instructor with the support of the BlueBRIDGE consortium sets up the training environment for the course equipping it with the datasets and the data analytics tools that s/he needs. In addition, the file repository facilities available in the VRE, allows the trainer to upload all of the training material needed for the course (powerpoints, word and pdf files, etc.).

 

Once the environment is ready, the trainer invites all the trainees to register to the environment. From that moment, all of them have access to all the resources available in the VRE. Finally, by exploiting the social media features, the trainer can exchange communications with the course participants without spending time in setting up mailing lists and other dedicated tools.

 

Why this is considered a best practice   

Best Practice Analyis

Validation

The BlueBRIDGE VREs have been used to deliver a set of scientific trainings organised by ICES, UOA and FAO (See http://www.bluebridge-vres.eu/supporting-education). All the training courses have proceeded without hindrance, and with smooth use of the VRE. This can is further confirmed by the feedback collected on the course through the survey facility and from the course instructors.

Innovation

The usage of the VRE has allowed the trainers to focus on the preparation of the content of the training course instead of spending time and energy in setting up the tools to run the course. In addition, the usage of the training VRE, with the basic functionality of a cloud infrastructure encompassing data and services for a specific thematic sector, e.g. aquaculture, together with common services and data for the concurrent usage of all participants – trainees, conveys an innovative educational approach for both trainers and trainees in the academic sector.

Success Factors

A sufficient preparation period is required for the VRE education providers to advertise the efficiency and the innovative approach conveyed of the particular method, in addition to the usefulness and effectiveness of it, especially for the thematic educational domains that are unrelated to the information society world. Access to the platform hosting the VREs is required for every participant, and this may not be the case for organizations and universities not related to the ICT domain. For the use of a VRE in this context to be useful, the courses should foresee the usage of datsets and data analytics.

Sustainability

The conditions that are required, for this particular best practice to be sustainable, are:

  • Sufficient number of trainers to be continuously trained based on the VRE technological progress and results, in order to be easily transferred to the potential target groups.
  • Strategic roadmap of the VRE provider for a clear timetable of regular training activities.
  • Relevant manuals and videos have to be produced for the complete coverage of the training process.
  • 2-person weeks are required for the course preparation; 2-5 person-days are required for the trainers (1 per trainer) for the day of the training plus the travel and accommodation expenses, if the tutorial location is different to the VRE production place.

Replicability and/or up-scaling

The usage of the VREs as training environments is domain-agnostic therefore applicable to different sectors and domains.

Lessons Learnt

The usage of VREs to deliver scientific trainings has demonstrated that course instructors, course administrators and course participants have saved a huge amount of time as they didn’t have to deal with the set-up of different tools and environments for the course delivery. The course material documents and information were easily distributed and accessible. In addition, thanks to the computational resources made available by the underlying BlueBRIDGE infrastructure, the course participants were able to run experiments in parallel during the course.

Challenges in the application of the best practice include some hesitation from instructors to make full use of, and take advantage of the new tools/facilities which the VREs offer.  With the time constraints that we face, instructors and participants may be unwilling to spend the time to become familiar with the new interface, and tools, despite assurances that it will save time and effort in the long run.

Lessons learned include the importance of distribution of the VRE in good time prior to the course, to allow participants and instructors the possibility to become familiar with the interface. A good explanation of the options / facilities offered by the VRE is also very useful. That’s why a brochure dedicated to explain the different facilities offered by the VREs has been created and disseminated. See http://www.bluebridge-vres.eu/sites/default/files/flyer_bblueskills_17102017.pdf_brouchure_3.pdf