Writing a research proposal for T&L

Here are my notes from a presentation by Prof. Denise Wood on developing a research proposal for projects looking at T&L.

Image from Tony Duckle's Flickr photostreamUnderstanding the funding body is important when it comes to applying for funding. Disciplinary specific proposals may not be successful when it comes to T&L projects.

Local evidence of successful projects is important before applying for larger grants. Collaborative teamwork is a great way to build ideas and test concepts. Local resources help you get started and build a track record. Generating pilot data helps to begin publishing. When panels review research proposals, your previous experience in obtaining funding and successful proposals is highly emphasised.

Why are you undertaking the study? Knowing your goals will justify your design decisions. What are your goals:

  • Personal
  • Practical
  • Intellectual / theoretical

Writing proposals is closely tied to career trajectory

How are you using research and research projects to improve your teaching practice?

What conceptual framework are you using:

  • Research paradigm
  • Experiential knowledge
  • Existing theory and research
  • Pilot and exploratory studies

Interested in addressing a gap, bringing in personal reflections that guide and influence the research. If you only think of your conceptual framework as a literature review, then you limit the scope of your research to what others have done.

Research questions:

  • What is the relationship between the goals and the conceptual framework?
  • Help to guide the actual research design / methods
  • Used to connect the problem and practical concerns
  • Should be specific and focused on the study
  • Need to allow flexibility to reveal unanticipated phenomena (if the questions are too focused you may miss emergent ideas)
  • Need to avoid inherent assumptions as they bias the study

Find a balance in the number of questions (3-4 is usually adequate)

Begin with divergent thinking to allow yourself space to explore many possibilities. Mind mapping is useful to identify high-level ideas. Begin reading broadly and then begin narrowing the focus. You can’t answer all possible questions in one study.

Try to avoid getting too caught up in the details of the research methods. Only use methods that you understand.

Note that you will be informed by your own epistemological understanding of what knowledge is and how we come to know. Your methods (quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods)  will most likely mirror your understanding of how we come to know. This will in turn guide how you sample, gather and analyse data.

For local studies, it’s OK to use a pilot within a classroom. Use this to identify a single context. Larger proposals would be better to expand the scope of the study and test the outcome of the pilot. On the basis of the smaller studies, you can make an argument for the larger study. Think laterally about how you can collect data.

  • Validity: How might you be wrong?
  • Bias (what assumptions do you bring with you? Results and interpretation distorted by your own values and preconceptions)
  • Reactivity (quantitative researcher may try to control for the effect of the researcher influence; qualitative researcher looks at how they actually influence the outcomes)

How do you reduce bias and reactivity?

  • Studies should be intensive and long-term (not the same as longitudinal study)
  • Gather rich, thick data (less likely to get from surveys / questionnaires; rather use interviews or focus groups)
  • Respondent validation of outcomes (is what you heard the same as what they meant?)
  • Identifying discrepant cases or evidence (you should take outliers into account, but identify and reflect on them, not necessarily include in the main data and suggest reasons for the discrepancy)
  • Triangulation
  • Comparative data (look at different contexts and populations)

Proposal checklist:

  • Identify a funding body
  • Objectives of the funding body
  • Use the guidelines that the funding body provides
  • Previous funded research and see what has been accepted and / or rejected
  • Links with existing research that the body is involved with
  • Evidence of value, need and benefits (institutional, local, national, international)
  • Background / conceptual framework
  • Methodology
  • Evaluation strategies are valued in educational research
  • Engaged dissemination whereby you share your results as you go, using a variety of methods, including publications, conference presentations, social media and workshops
  • Budget: must meet funding body requirements, realistic, value for money, justify costs
  • Milestones: linked to objectives and outcomes
  • Researcher capabilities: ensure you can deliver what you say you can, track record, previous collaboration, strategic, roles and responsibilities, realistic within workload

Try to model your proposal on successful projects. Learn from the mistakes of others. Sit down with a colleague and ask for constructive feedback.

Explicitly make reference to important and contextually relevant policy documents.

Identify how your research is going to create systemic change.

How are you going to evaluate your process and outcomes?

  • Formative: should be ongoing and used to modify project
  • Summative: can be broad and can go beyond the stated outcomes

Design-based research: can use milestones that are linked to formative evaluation. Identify problems early on and adapt quickly.

How are you going to convince the funding body that the people you’re collaborating with are adding value to the project? You must justify the presence of every team member and highlight how they will contribute.

How are you plugging the holes that funding assessors are going to be looking for?

Differentiate between deliverables (the tangible products that will come from the project) and outcomes (the achievement of stated aims and objectives).

This was originally posted at /usr/space.

Privacy and public discussion when blogging

This post was originally written for the participants of the #pht402 Professional Ethics course and was published at /usr/space, but it is relevant for anyone who would like to develop their blogging skills. Many academics have little or no blogging experience, so this post is aims to suggest some resources that might be useful in terms of developing skills in online professional communication. It is part of a short series of articles on blogging that I will be posting here. You may also want to find additional resources on our Blogging page.

7557181168_91f4af2d99_zOne of the things I always notice in other people’s blogs is the use of images that show other people. We need to use caution when uploading pictures into online spaces, since they become circulated far more widely than was the original intention. Even if you did obtain the person’s permission to take the photo, did you get permission to share it with others? With the world? We often use pictures like that because it really does show people a part of ourselves that we want to share but we need to be mindful of the other people in the picture. When it comes to our own professional practice, there are different sets of rules that apply. Information shared with us during interactions with others (and photos are just visual information) are often assumed to be private and confidential and there is an expectation that it will not be shared beyond the scope of the original interaction.

What about discussing colleagues or anyone else who you interact with in the course of your employment? What is the difference between having those conversations with peers and students in the classroom, and having the same conversation online? Well, for one thing, online almost always equals in public. The rule of thumb I always use is to ask myself how (or if) I would say what I want to say if the person I was talking about was going to read my work? What if the person you’re talking about comes across your post one day when you apply for a job at their institution? Even if you’re not talking about them, will they want to hire someone who speaks poorly of a colleague in public?

The other thing that you need to think about is how you feel about sharing your own life online. Even though sharing your thoughts and feelings may be beneficial in terms of presenting an authentic personal point of view, you should never feel pressured or obligated to put online something that you’d prefer to keep private. You can be as public or private as you like. I personally share very little of my personal life online but write often about my feelings around my professional life. My emotional response to the professional context is something I’m very comfortable sharing. However, my emotional response to things that happen in my personal life is not for the public view. That’s just how I prefer to establish the boundaries of my online presence – you can choose what works for you.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we should always be mindful about what and how we share online. When something is discussed in an elevator, it’s ephemeral. When the same thing is discussed online, it will exist forever.

Strategic approaches to blogging

This post was originally written for the participants of the #pht402 Professional Ethics course and was first published at /usr/spacebut it is relevant for anyone who would like to take a more strategic approach to their blogging. By using a few strategies suggested here, you may find that it’s easier to make the best use of your time when preparing your posts. I will be posting a short series of articles on developing your skills as a blogger. You may also want to find additional resources on our Blogging page.

One of the difficulties you may come across when blogging regularly is finding the time to regularly reflect and write for this course. Since this module is allocated a slot on your timetables, I suggest that you use that time to work on the course. Even if you don’t have regular internet access, you could use the time to read content that you’ve downloaded, make notes, draft reflections, and discuss the topics with your peers on campus. The point is to put aside time in the week to focus on the module and then use that time effectively, even if you’re not actively blogging.

However, when you do sit down in front of the computer, you want to make sure that you spend your time writing, rather than trying to figure out how to use the platform. Remember that even though the course is designed so that you can progress through the topics at your own pace, there is still an endpoint and it doesn’t make sense for you to spend time on the technical aspects of blogging. There is no one keeping track of what you’ve done and when you did it so you will need to create your own schedule for working and then take responsibility for keeping to that schedule. The more familiar you are with using WordPress, the more likely it is that you can use your time effectively. Here is a screenshot of the Posts page, highlighting the common elements that you can use to manage your posts.

Posts ‹ -usr-space — WordPress - Mozilla Firefox_005

I strongly suggest that you begin drafting your reflective posts as soon as you can. Create draft posts for each topic (see image below) immediately and then work on those drafts over time. Every time you visit your blog, open your drafts and add new ideas, links to resources, links to other participants’ blog posts, images, etc. When you read something in the WordPress Reader and you want to incorporate it into your next post, copy the link to the post you want to reference and paste it into your draft. This way you can build up your reflective posts over time, rather than feel like you have to write it all overnight. You’ll also find that your thinking may change as you engage with others, and that something you wrote a weeks previously doesn’t feel quite right anymore. The Save Draft button is in the top right corner of the post.

Selection_008

Use the Quick Edit feature of WordPress to make simple edits to the elements of your post without having to load the whole page (see image below). This feature becomes visible when you move your cursor over the post title in the index of posts. You don’t have to click anything to make it appear, just hover your mouse over the text to bring up the menu, and then click on Quick Edit.

Screenshot showing the different post elements that can be edited using the Quick Edit feature.
Screenshot showing the different post elements that can be edited using the Quick Edit feature.

I often find that when I’m in a writing frame of mind I can get through two or three posts in one sitting. Or, I write the posts on the weekend or late at night, which is when most of the subscribers to my blog are probably away from their computers. Since I want to make sure that as many people as possible read my posts it doesn’t make sense to publish them at those irregular times. In cases like that, you may want to schedule your posts so that they’re published at certain times or on certain days.

Considering that you want as many people as possible to read your posts, you should consider linking a Twitter account to your blog. This would allow WordPress to automatically push your blog posts to your Twitter feed, which would increase the chances of the post being seen and read by your followers. It also means that your Twitter followers could Retweet the original tweet, thereby increasing exposure to your post.

Another aspect of the course that you may find is taking up a lot of time is interacting with other participants. When I comment on someone’s blog posts, I always tick the “Notify me of follow up comments” box. This means that when someone responds to something I’ve said, I get an email that lets me know. However, there’s another way to do it. There’s a notification icon in the top right hand area of your blog, which is coloured orange when you have notifications. See the screenshot below for an idea about how to quickly respond to comments.

Selection_001

That’s it. Just a few suggestions that may help you to be more productive with your blogging and to make effective use of your limited time.

Constructing an effective blog post

This post was originally written for the participants of the #pht402 Professional Ethics course and was first published at /usr/space but it is relevant for anyone who would like to develop their blogging skills. Many academics have little or no blogging experience, so this post is intended to provide some suggestions and resources that may be useful when learning how to write your own posts. It is part of a short series of articles on blogging that I will be posting here. You may also want to find additional resources on our Blogging page.

A reader will often decide in the first few seconds if they’re going to read your post, which gives you very little time to make a good first impression. One way to encourage them to continue is to begin with a bit of introductory text (like I’ve done above), or to ask a challenging question, or to come up with a controversial or interesting title for your post. I’m not saying that this post is perfect but in it I’ve tried to show some examples of the different elements that can help make your writing both contextually and visually interesting, and which will encourage others to engage with you.

First of all, you should be aware that blogging can help you to develop certain skills, which could have value in your professional life, above and beyond what you may learn in this course. Being aware of these skills and actively trying to develop them will show returns in your professional career in the future. Here are some good reasons to consider blogging:

Incorporating other elements into your post will help to create interest for the reader. Embedded videos and images are great to break up long passages of text, as well as to provide contextually rich multimedia content that supports your writing. Since one of the major aims of this course is to think about the concept of empathy, I’ve embedded one of my favourite TED Talks below in order to demonstrate what an embedded video looks like.

You should also use links in your posts, for two main reasons; they direct the reader to additional resources and they can be used to support claims that you make. If you write something that’s just your opinion it won’t carry much weight. But, if you add a link to another source that says the same thing that you do, it strengthens the argument you’re trying to make. In this way, linking is a form of in-text citation. Note that simply adding another source doesn’t automatically strengthen your argument, especially if that source isn’t credible. When your thinking around a topic has been influenced by someone else’s work, you should acknowledge them by linking to their post. You can do this by copying the URL of their post (note that this is different to the URL of their blog) and then using it when you create a link in your own post. Describing how your own thinking has been informed by others is a powerful form of reflection that is strongly encouraged during this course.

When it comes to design (look and feel), I like to have a clear, uncluttered interface, lots of white space, neutral colours and a crisp font. For these reasons, I love Google’s updated user interface guidelines across it’s various platforms, and especially the “card” interface. My point is that you should choose a template for your blog that reflects a little bit about who you are and what you like. Does simplicity say something about you? Or, lots of bright, vibrant colours? What about serif or sans-serif fonts?

When it comes to personalising your blog using your own photos not only adds an element of personal style, but also avoids issues with licensing the content of others. The images above are screenshots that I’ve taken myself, of my own online spaces. The picture below is one that I took myself and can therefore use in any way that I want. I’ve added it simply to show the effect of including a nice picture to get the attention of the reader. Adding a caption is a useful way to provide context for any media that you add to your post. Adding a personal touch to your blog is great but when you’re using content that you haven’t created yourself it’s important that you’re familiar with licensing. The search function at Creative Commons is a great resource for finding openly licensed content.

Always include a caption with your images so that the reader knows what it’s in relation to.

And that’s it! The first of what will hopefully be a short series of posts as part of this course, aimed at helping participants develop a set of skills that can be used beyond the boundaries of this short course on Professional Ethics. If you have any suggestions of other tips and tricks to enhance your posts, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Simon Barrie presentation on Graduate Attributes

“Curriculum renewal to achieve graduate learning outcomes: The challenge of assessment”
Prof Simon Barrie, Director of T&L, University of Sydney

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a presentation on graduate attributes and curriculum renewal by Prof Simon Barrie. The major point I took away from it was that we need to be thinking about how to change teaching and assessment practices to make sure that we’re graduating the kinds of students we say we want to. Here are the notes I took.

campuslife

Assessment is often a challenge when it comes to curriculum renewal. The things that are important (e.g. critical thinking) are hard to measure. Which is why we often don’t even try.

Curriculum is more powerful than simply looking at T&L, although bringing in T&L is an essential aspect of curriculum development. Is curriculum renewal just “busy bureaucracy”? It may begin with noble aims but it can degenerate into managerial traps. Curriculum renewal and graduate attributes (GA) should be seen as part of a transformative opportunity.

GA are complex “things” and need to be engaged with in complex ways

GA should be focused on checking that higher education is fulfilling it’s social role. UNESCO World Declaration on Higher Education: “higher education has given ample proof of it’s viability over the centuries and of its ability to change and induce change and progress in society”.

GA should be a starting point for a conversation about higher education. If they exist simply as a list of outcomes, then they haven’t achieved their purpose.

How is an institution’s mission embodied in the learning experiences of students and teaching experiences of teachers?

What is the “good” of university?

  • Personal benefit – work and living a rich and rewarding life
  • Public benefit – economy and prosperity, social good
  • The mix of intended “goods” can influence our descriptions of the sorts of graduates that universities should be producing and how they should be taught and assessed. But, the process of higher education is a “good” in itself. The act of learning can itself be a social good e.g. when students engage in collaborative projects that benefit the community.

Universities need to teach people how to think and to question the world we live in.

If you only talk to people like you about GA, you develop a very narrow perspective about what they are. Speaking to more varied people, you are exposed to multiple set of perspectives, which makes curriculum renewal much more powerful. We bring our own assumptions to the conversation. Don’t trust your assumptions. Engage with different stakeholders. Don’t have the discussion around outcomes, have it around the purpose and meaning of higher education.

A framework for thinking about GA: it is complex and not “one size fits all”. Not all GA are at the same “level”, there are different types of “understand”, which means different types of assessment and teaching methods.

  • Precursor: approach it as a remedial function, “if only we got the right students”
  • Complementary: everybody needs “complementary” skills that are useful but not integral to domain-specific knowledge
  • Translation: applied knowledge in an intentional way, should be able to use knowledge, translating classroom knowledge into real world application, changing the way we think about the discipline
  • Enabling: need to be able to work in conditions of uncertainty, the world is unknowable, how to navigate uncertainty, develop a way of being in the world, about openness, going beyond the discipline to enable new ways of learning (difficult to pin down and difficult to teach, and assess, hard to measure)

The above ways of “understanding” are all radically different, yet many are put on the same level and taught and assessed in the same way. Policies and implementation needs to acknowledge that GA are different.

Gibbons: knowledge brought into the world and made real

The way we talk about knowledge can make it more or less powerful. Having a certain stance or attitude towards knowledge will affect how you teach and assess.

What is the link, if any, between the discipline specific lists and institutional / national higher education lists?

The National GAP – Graduate Attribute Project

What are the assessment tasks in a range of disciplines that generate convincing evidence of the achievement of graduate learning outcomes? What are the assurance processes trusted by disciplines in relation to those assessment tasks and judgments? Assessing and assuring graduate learning outcomes (AAGLO project). Here are the summary findings of the project.

Assessment for learning and not assessment of learning.

Coherent development and assessment of programme-level graduate learning outcomes requires an institutional and discipline statement of outcomes. Foundation skills? Translation attributes? Enabling attributes and dispositions? Traditional or contemporary conceptions of knowledge?

Assessment not only drives learning but also drives teaching.

  • Communication skills – Privileged
  • Information literacy – Privileged
  • Research and inquiry – Privileged
  • Ethical social professional understandings – Ignored (present in the lists, but not assessed)
  • Personal intellectual autonomy – Ignored (present in the lists, but not assessed)

Features of effective assessment practices:

  • Assessment for learning
  • Interconnected, multi-component, connected to other assessment, staged, not isolated
  • Authentic (about the real world), relevant (personally to the student), roles of students and assessors
  • Standards-based with effective communication of criteria, assessment for GA can’t be norm-referenced, must be standards-based
  • Involve multiple decision makers – including students
  • Programme level coherence, not just an isolated assessment but exists in relation to the programme

The above only works as evidence to support learning if it is coupled with quality assurance

  • Quality of task
  • Quality of judgment (calibration prior to assessment, and consensus afterwards)
  • Confidence

There is a need for programme-level assessment. Assessment is usually focused at a module level. There’s no need to assess on a module level if your programme level is effective. You can then do things like have assessments that cross modules and are carried through different year levels.

How does a university curriculum, teaching and learning effectively measure the achievement of learning outcomes? In order to achieve certain types of outcomes, we need to give them certain types of learning experiences.

Peter Knights “wicked competencies”: you can’t fake wickedness – it’s got to be the real thing, messy, challenging and consequential problems.

The outcomes can’t be used to differentiate programmes, so use teaching and learning methods and experiences to differentiate.

Stop teaching content. Use content as a framework to teach other things e.g. critical thinking, communication, social responsibility

5 lessons:

  1. Set the right (wicked) goals collaboratively
  2. Make a signature pedagogy for complex GA part of the 5 year plan
  3. Develop policies and procedures to encourage and reward staff
  4. Identify and provide sources of data that support curriculum renewal, rather than shut down conversations about curriculum
  5. Provide resources and change strategies to support curriculum renewal conversations

Teaching GA is “not someone else’s problem”, it needs to be integrated into discipline-specific teaching.

Be aware that this conversation is very much focused on “university” or “academic” learning, and ignores the many different ways of being and thinking that exist outside the university. How is Higher Education connecting with the outside world? Is there a conversation between us and everyone else?

We try to shape students into a mold of what we imagine they should be. We don’t really acknowledge their unique characteristics and embrace their potential contribution to the learning relationship?

We (academics) are also often removed from where we want our students to be. Think about critical thinking, inquiry-based learning, collaboration, embracing multiple perspectives. Is that how we learn? Our organisational culture drives us away from the GA we say we want our students to have.

Resources

Originally posted at /usr/space.

Why I enjoy blogging and why students could too

*This post is also published on the UWC Writing Centre’s blog.*

I startedthis blog for the Writing Centre in April last year. I was very new to blogging at the time, and wanted to find a way of writing about what we do and who we are and the issues we are concerned about as a writing centre team that allowed us to connect to readers and interested people more immediately and more informally. I also wanted the tutors to begin to write some of the posts and find a less daunting way of thinking about some of the aspects of their work with students and as writers, and share these thoughts in this informal space.

Academic publishing is a tough field. In South Africa we are encouraged to publish in accredited journals, and many of these have high rejection rates and it can take more than a year for your work to appear in print. Many of these journals make papers available only to those with subscriptions, so your work is not available openly to all who may want to read it, for free. Writing for these journals and at this level is also challenging, takes time, needs to conform in specific ways more often than not, and is not always enjoyable, especially when a paper you hoped you were done with comes back with reviewers’ reports requesting significant rethinking, revising and rewriting in order to be publishable!

I love blogging for these reasons. It’s online, it’s free to read and anyone can sign up to follow your blog and read and think about what you have to say. There is a sense of a more immediate community in some ways, as people ‘like’ posts and can comment on them quite informally, and that is always encouraging. I don’t have to reference, and find lots of evidence for all the claims I make. I can wonder, conjecture, provoke and think in this space, and just leave questions out there without immediate answers. I don’t write just any old thing and I do think about what I want to say and the relevance it may have for readers interested in writing and academic literacy in education – as an academic it all comes from spaces in my head and work-life that have theory and thinking within and behind them. But this space feels freer than my other academic writing, and it takes less time to do. I can adopt a more relaxed and even humorous tone, and I can play with words and phrases in ways that academic publishing does not often allow.

I enjoy blogging because I enjoy being free to write without second-guessing what I write, and because it gives me a space in which to form ideas and think about things I am not quite ready to research and write full journal articles about. I gives me, and hopefully also my tutoring colleagues, a place to write about ideas we may never write formal articles about but which are still interesting to us, and hopefully others, and which should be put out there, perhaps for others to take up and carry further. Many academics ask students to blog now as part of ongoing assessment, as a way to get them to think about and reflect on what they are learning – not necessarily for lots of marks, but definitely for lots of learning. As a form of low stakes and formative assessment, I think blogs are an excellent teaching, learning and writing tool. And they make writing fun, which for students ( and academics) is always a good thing :).

Developing digital literacy and citizenship

This post was inspired by Teaching Respect and Responsibility – Even to Digital Natives, by Holly Korbey. It has been cross-posted at /usr/space.

1472187414_be2451c0cd_oWhen I talk to colleagues about the possibility of bringing computers and the internet into their classrooms, I often feel a sense of fear, uncertainty and doubt enter the conversation. They worry that their students, when allowed the opportunity to use computers, will be unable to avoid the distractions that come with them. I try to argue that, instead of distracting the students, we can use these as opportunities to teach them how to create their own boundaries and enhance their learning. Using computers as an integrated part of the lesson can help them learn how to trust and respect technology, and to use it responsibly.

While the basic tenets of digital citizenship attempt to protect kids from cyberbullying, misconduct, and harassment, Allen is also interested in teaching the positive behaviors that will make successful students and workers for the future: teaching students how to find and analyze reliable sources for research, how to verify whether information is biased and/or credible, and how to be a responsible user.

Let your students bring their devices into the classroom, and then show them how to use those devices to add value to their learning. Ask an ambiguous question and see who can find the most interesting answer. Create a shared Google Document and develop a policy or set of guidelines collaboratively. Ask them to use Twitter to create bite-sized summaries of the lesson. Have them record your lecture on their phones and upload it to a private channel on YouTube. There are many ways to have them enhance the time in the classroom in ways that add value to their learning, rather than being a distraction.

understand that a computer is a neutral object — it all depends on how students use it. A personal computer and smartphone are not to be taken lightly, and he said, “Mistakes have to happen, but patterns of mistakes are no longer mistakes, but habits.”

If your students are bored with the class and using their computers for purposes other than the learning activity, then you should ask why they’re distracted. If you want your students to pay attention to you, then you should be worth paying attention to. Banning computers in class isn’t the answer but using them creatively will not only make your classes more interesting, but will help students to develop a digital identity. Over time, you can use classroom activities to help them develop appropriate online practices and behaviours as they move towards being responsible digital citizens.

Bertrand Russell’s 10 Commandments of Teaching

Honourable_Bertrand_RussellA great post from Brainpickings, on Bertrand Russell’s 10 Commandments of Teaching:

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Note: this was first published at /usr/space and is cross-posted here.

Useful apps for writers

We all know we have to write – the adage of ‘publish or perish’ is well-known amongst academics. But we also know we have to teach, and manage increasingly large loads of administration, and spend time with our families and ourselves, and have lives outside of work. So where do we find the time to write? There just does not seem to be enough of this precious commodity to go around, and making time to write also means having to make time to read and think and be organised and this all sounds like a lot of hard work, the pleasures of writing notwithstanding. But, publishing the work we are doing is important, and it is something worth finding time for. Not just because it is required of us as part of our work as academics, but also because it is necessary for the growth and development of our fields, and because people will be able to use the work we publish to build and develop their own work. The expansion of knowledge, knowing and also related practice and doing through scholarship and sharing of knowledge and learning is something to take seriously, and also get excited about. But, it is work.So to help out, this link below will take you to some apps we have found for writers who struggle to make time to write and to keep at it; some of them we have used ourselves and find very helpful. You might also find this post on writing worth reading too. To borrow the words of a colleague who presented a paper on publishing in academia last year: it shouldn’t be publish or perish; we should make it publish and flourish!

http://www.appslick.com/useful-apps-writers/

Can we teach academic writing (and whose job is it anyway?)

On the face of it, the answer to the first part of this question looks like an easy ‘yes’ doesn’t it? In some ways, it is a yes; easy – well, I’m less sure about that. The answer to the second part of the question is perhaps less easy in practice.

Image from socialutions.co.uk
Image from socialutions.co.uk

A few years ago I was tutoring and teaching in courses in different faculties and this was my job: to teach students how to write academically (as in, in the forms and styles required of the disciplines within those faculties, according to their criteria and standards). But here’s the thing: it was actually a really tough job, and lots of my students really struggled to get what I was trying to tell them about how they should be writing.  We were teaching students to write their essays and paragraphs in courses that stood outside of the disciplines, were not embedded or integrated into these disciplines, and yet were expected to produce good student writers at the end of a semester-long ‘academic writing’ course. And often the content we chose to give students to read and write about was not as relevant as it could have been. So, it was tricky work.

In the writing centre we are often asked by lecturers if they can refer their students to us for help with their writing so that they can concentrate on ‘content’ and don’t have to worry about ‘the writing’, which implies that they don’t see this as their job. This is also tricky work because we work with a wide range of students, many from disciplines we have never studied. So, what I am asking here is:  can we actually ‘teach’ writing to students in a writing centre or writing course with whom we may and may not share disciplinary backgrounds? Whose job is this anyway?

In the Writing Centre we don’t ‘teach’ writing didactically or from a position of being experts with knowledge that we will fill empty student heads and pens with. We  advise, guide, support, converse with, prompt… but perhaps we do teach in a more gentle way, in the sense that there are things students are not sure of, or don’t know, that we help them with in our tutorials, like how to approach a literature review, or how to write a comprehensive introduction. Ideally, writing courses should also be more workshop-based rather than pitched as lectures. We learn to write by writing, and being given feedback we can use to keep working and improving, not by being told what good writing is. So, in some ways an answer would be, ‘yes, we can teach students some of the aspects of academic writing’. But we are all too aware that there are limits to what we can do in a writing centre or literacy course that sits outside of the disciplines students are writing in and for.  We cannot teach or advise on the subtleties of writing and knowing in their disciplines if we do not share this discourse.

So this brings me to the second question: whose job is this, then? I think the answer is both parties – those in the disciplines and those outside of it. I have written elsewhere about the important role people with a specialist interest in academic writing and literacies can play in helping academic lecturers talk and think about the kinds of writing their students need to do, and how to make the standards, criteria and also forms and styles more learnable, and teachable. Many others have written about this too. I think it’s easy to say that all lecturers need to be teaching writing in their disciplines, but this is harder to do from the inside where you know what good writing and poor writing look like, but don’t always have the ‘language’ to talk about this with your students in ways that are helpful to them. We become so immersed in our own discourses that the things that  flummox students look like common sense to us, and it’s not easy to step away without some help from someone who sees thing differently and can help you work it all out.

Partnerships between lecturers and writing tutors or academic literacy specialists can be useful in working out ways to teach students in higher education how to adjust to new ways of thinking, talking and writing about knowledge that are particular to higher education, and to particular disciplines. We can and must teach students how to write (and read and think and speak) about what they know, along with the content knowledge itself rather than in a separate space or course, and the job is that of the lecturers primarily, with the possibility of partnerships and collaborations with writing and literacy specialists. It’s a job for all who take student learning, access, inclusion and social justice in education seriously.

*This post first appeared on The Writing Centre @ UWC (uwcwritingcentre.wordpress.com).