Dirt to Desktop: Digital Tools in the Field
Exploreabout Dirt to Desktop: Digital Tools in the Field
To tackle Australia’s biggest challenges, such as climate change, infectious diseases and radicalisation, today’s researchers must have the digital skills to collect, manage, analyse and manipulate data.
Yet the training community for digital research skills is often disconnected, time poor, siloed within research institutions, and unable to find best practice training materials.
Skills and workforce development around digital research skills have consistently been recognised as a key challenge for Australian research institutions and research organisations. The Australian Government’s 2021 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap highlighted digital skills and workforce development as areas of rich opportunity for researchers:
“An important driver for maintaining quality research output is Australia’s ability to generate and analyse data as well as improving the digital skills of researchers…
“Rapid advances in computing techniques and analysis, and management of large and complex datasets have resulted in researchers no longer having sufficient expertise in computational, data management and analysis techniques.”
To ensure Australia’s researchers remain globally competitive, the ARDC is leading the development of a national digital research skills agenda, in collaboration with training organisations, universities, research institutions, national research infrastructure facilities, government and peak bodies.
Our coordinated approach to national digital research capabilities, skills and workforce development has been recognised internationally, including a notable mention in the Elsevier report Research Futures 2.0 (2022).
Mark Leggott, Director of International Relations at Digital Research Alliance of Canada, said, “The Digital Research Alliance of Canada is crafting a national strategy for the provision of digital research infrastructure services across data management, research software and advanced research computing. The ARDC’s skills agenda is the only one I have discovered that includes all three, and is a coherent and robust national approach that accommodates the interests of all stakeholders.”
Our approach addresses 5 key areas. Fundamental to all is the Digital Research Capabilities and Skills Framework.
Working out what skills and capabilities researchers need is the first step. We consulted widely with the training community to understand how we can make the biggest impact for Australian researchers. Based on the outcomes of the consultation, we established a Capabilities and Skills Landscape, and began to develop the Digital Research Capabilities and Skills Framework.
We designed the framework to help the research sector understand the skills that researchers and research institutions need to work with research data, build capability, and improve training in digital research skills. It identifies the essential knowledge, skills, abilities and experience levels needed to work effectively in digital research, and the organisations currently best placed to develop and deliver skills training.
The framework also outlines roles, job profiles and learning pathways. For individual learners, it provides a toolkit to address specific skill needs. For organisations, it helps them to assess and resolve skills gaps, and target the design and delivery of training programs and resources that will enhance skills and career opportunities in a cost effective way. Organisations can also use it as a mechanism for workforce transformation and change management.
The Capabilities and Skills Framework will continue to evolve and grow. New skills will be added as emerging technologies, methods and tools come to the fore. We encourage all those involved in digital skills training and recruitment to help us expand and build upon the framework to ensure researchers and research support professionals have pathways to improve their digital skills.
Download the ARDC Digital Research Capabilities and Skills Framework [pdf].
Sharing best-practice training materials among providers and making sure they are discoverable by the research community is essential. The ARDC partnered with Pawsey Supercomputing Centre and 12 other research skills training providers to develop Digital Research Skills Australasia (DReSA), which launched in October 2021. DReSA is a portal – a one-stop shop – where researchers can discover digital research training events, materials, providers and trainers in Australia, New Zealand, and the region. It is free and open to all.
Through DReSA, researchers and trainers can also find colleagues to collaborate with.
DReSA already lists over 70 current events and 100 unique training materials for digital research skills, and the collection continues to grow. To ensure DReSA comprehensively covers skills offerings across the sector, there is an open invitation for training providers and trainers in Australia and our region to contribute to DReSA via dresa.org.au.
We are working with the digital research training community to coordinate a national approach to developing skills training materials.
To fill identified gaps, we are developing exemplar materials. As an example, our video “How can software containers help your research” has been viewed over 1000 times and used across Australia in training sessions on digital research tools. It also features in training materials for Münster University in Germany and The Carpentries, an international organisation.
While the ARDC has neither the scope nor scale to meet all of the digital research infrastructure skills needs of Australia’s researchers, we aim to be exemplars in ensuring our users and partners can fully exploit the digital infrastructure we provide and support. The ARDC’s Research Vocabularies Australia, Research Data Australia, the Nectar Research Cloud and our persistent identifier services are the backbone of FAIR research data management, data discoverability, and compute infrastructure across Australia, and are used by tens of thousands of researchers each year.
Ensuring researchers and infrastructure providers can effectively use these resources is critical for realising maximum national benefit. The ARDC is using the Capabilities and Skills Framework to identify areas of priority for training development to boost the ability of researchers and research support professionals to use our services to their full potential.
The ARDC draws on local and international networks to facilitate targeted and accessible pathways for researchers and research support professionals to attain research data skills.
Since 2019, we have been bringing together skills trainers at our annual Digital Research Skills Summit. Each summit sees 100 to 150 attendees tackle national skills challenges and share best practices in training, skills priorities and training materials.
We are an active participant in Research Bazaar (ResBaz) events across Australia, which promote digital skills and capabilities emerging at the centre of modern research. These events are designed for higher degree and early career researchers, and replicated across the world. In 2022, each ResBaz in Australia will showcase the ARDC Nectar Research Cloud, alongside training on how to use ARDC-supported research platforms and data assets from other NCRIS facilities. The Digital Research Skills Agenda supports regional coordination of ResBaz in Oceania, bringing organising teams together to strengthen sustainable skills communities.
In October 2021, we launched a partnership with The Carpentries for Australian research institutions to access high quality instructor training. The partnership gives research institutions of all sizes in Australia access to evidence-based pedagogical training at a competitive rate. The Carpentries is an international organisation that teaches foundational coding and data science skills to researchers worldwide. Today, 11 Australian research institutions are represented, including newcomers National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), the Burnet Institute, and the Australian Institute for Marine Science.
Instructors can be researchers, librarians, research support staff or research computing support staff.
David Groenewegen, Director of Academic Services at the Monash University Library, said, “The Carpentries are a great organisation and we have found their teaching model to be really useful. With this new partnership we are getting the flexibility we need to share and expand this model across the country, for the benefit of all. Big thanks go to the ARDC for making this happen.”
As technology continues to evolve and change the way we do research, the ARDC will continue to lead the skills community in Australia to ensure researchers are equipped with the skills they need to conduct world-leading research that addresses our biggest challenges.