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Mar Martínez: "Researchers have to be able to communicate"

Mar Martínez
Marian Antón
Education and ICT (E-learning) doctoral student and finalist in the Present Your Thesis in 4 Minutes competition

These days, Mar Martínez Ricart is busy preparing. On Thursday 25 June, she will be representing the UOC in the Present Your Thesis in 4 Minutes competition. With a degree in Psychology and a master's degree in neuroscience research, she began working as a research assistant in the Quantitative Psychology Department at the University of Barcelona, where she trained in data analysis and neuroimage analysis. After two years there, with a brief stint in a psychological therapy company using virtual reality, she started working as a data analyst with the Feed2Learn research group, where she is now working on her thesis. 

What is your thesis about?

The subject of my thesis is feedback, more specifically feedback literacy, which is the ability to be able to use and benefit from the information provided by feedback. In the thesis, I try to find out what the data are telling us about students' involvement with the feedback and which ones can be used to promote it to favour and improve learning.

What role do data play?

E-learning has a great advantage. Thanks to data science and technologies such as learning analytics and big data, it's now possible to measure data almost immediately, analysing and processing them so that this information can be offered to students in the most accurate way possible, allowing them to use it to their own benefit. This way, they become the key actor in their own learning. That's why it's important to find out what the relevant data are and what they tell us about the students, so we know how we can make sure they get the most out of them'

Why did you choose this subject?

Even though I'm a psychologist, data have always played an important part in my career, not to mention that computing is one of my passions. That's why in my thesis I wanted to bring together these two sciences that I love. I've always found predicting human behaviour fascinating, and, in particular, I think that the data that the students leave on the Virtual Campus are a great source of information that we can use carefully to help foster their learning. 

In what research group are you doing your thesis?

In the Feed2Learn research group, a group that specializes in education and knowledge building in online environments. My tutors are Teresa Guasch and Anna Espasa, experts in assessment and feedback in online environments, and they are also the group coordinators. Their careers and the fact that the group is coordinated by women are among the reasons why I decided to do my thesis with them. From a feminist point of view, science needs a greater female presence.

What was it that most attracted you to the Present Your Thesis in 4 Minutes competition?

At university, I remember trying to tell my friends what I was learning in class. The only way to share it was to tell it in a way that they could understand. That's where my love of explaining things simply came about, so when I saw the competition announcement, I didn't hesitate for a second about submitting.

This year, it wasn't possible to do the first phase in person, so you recorded a video. Was it easier or harder to do it virtually? 

At first, I thought it would be much easier on video, but I ended up recording it five times to get the final version that I submitted to the competition. I thought that without an audience and with the option of doing as many repeats as I needed, it would be incredibly easy, but once I started recording, I realized that it was more complicated to situate myself and get the right tone and intensity, as you had to image an audience and a stage that just weren't there in my living room.

How did you find out that you were going to be the UOC representative in the 2020 final?

I got an email from the Doctoral School thanking me for taking part and congratulating me on winning. Both the Doctoral School and my classmates have been really kind and have sent me lots of congratulatory emails.

How are you preparing yourself for the 25th?

At the moment, I'm resting for a few days and spending time on getting on with my thesis, as there's still a lot to do. Although I think that for the 25th I'm going to have to take a lot more care over the staging, as it will be in person with the jury in front of me, but no audience, at the Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation (FCRi).

What are the main objectives of your presentation?

The idea is for everyone to understand the possibilities that exist with good data processing, making sure you follow the ethical protocols at all times. Right now, there's a lot of debate about this subject, as the algorithms are created by people, and just like people they can also be biased. That's why I think it's important to link data analysis to learning theories so we make responsible and accurate use of them.

Why is it important for a researcher to be very good at explaining their work?

Part of our work is being able to communicate and disseminate our research: it's no use making a good discovery if you can't get the rest of the world to understand its usefulness. Also, thanks to dissemination, we can reach other research groups with common interests and create cooperation networks that benefit everyone.

What general piece of advice would you give to students giving presentations?

To enjoy doing it. It's very obvious when someone telling something really feels it. When you see someone explaining something and they say it's very interesting but their body language is saying something else, you always focus on the second message, as it's harder to fake body language. So you need to really enjoy it!

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