Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Starting on a degree? Beware of false aspirations

 There are going to be many students venturing out into the first year of their degree very shortly.  For a number of years, I had the pleasure of teaching 'study skills' to these new students - trying to equip them (as best I could) for the challenges which lie ahead.

One of the most immediate challenges which I found myself having to address with the issue of confidence.  This may sound rather odd, as for some the image of a fresh undergraduate is of a person filled with a sense of promise and optimism - not one filled with self-doubt and anxiety.  However, many students - particularly those who are older, or studying in a second language - may find themselves having to first convince themselves that a Higher Education environment is one in which they belong.  That their presence is not a mistake.  That they are not about to be 'found out', and sent back to do their GCSE's again.

This sense of inadequacy may sometimes stem from certain assumed attitudes about 'intelligence'.  New students may eventually come to realise that their whole attitude to learning has been focused on a set of idealised images of what an 'intelligent person' looks like and sounds like.  The logical assumption is that to become 'intelligent' enough to be a successful academic, you need to become more like this image of an 'intelligent person' - and this can lead to a view of learning which is actually going to make it harder for you to succeed.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Change the colour temerature of your screen to reduce eyestrain

Following on from my blog about online marking, one reader raised the point about eye strain.  Of course eye strain can be a real problem if you are spending a lot of time working off a computer screen, and there are a number of practical steps you can take to reduce the problems this may create - For example, taking regular breaks and ensuring proper lighting.  Some sources suggest that the best kind of lighting for using a computer is about half the brightness of that which you find in most offices, and this would explain a lot about why so many people in bright offices are continually rubbing their eyes.

Another factor may be the brightness of your computer screen itself, and although I have absolutely no medical knowledge about this whatsoever (really, none at all) one discovery which has definitely made a huge difference to me is a computer program which changes the colour 'temperature' of the screen gradually according to the time of day.  In the mornings, the screen is brighter and more blueish, and as the day gets darker the screen becomes dimmer and uses warmer shades.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Winning the academic game: How studying in Higher Education is just another game

While undergoing one of my annual clear-outs of unused files, I discovered this rather good wee article I wrote with the help of two esteemed colleagues, David Arnaud and Alan Grundy - Lor' bless 'em both...

The easiest way to understand anything new is to see it in terms of something we already know. Imagine, for example, seeing a zebra for the first time. Perhaps the first thing that would occur to you is that you had just encountered a very strange looking horse! In the same way, someone coming new to the academic world of Higher Education can find it is useful to have something to compare it with – something we are already familiar with. Since everyone knows what is involved in playing a game, this seems to be a useful place to start.

Customising Comments: Using GradeMark for online marking


I have been using online marking for a couple of years now, using Turnitin's 'Grademark' system. This system seems to be increasingly ubiquitous, and although it has certainly helped to reduce the marking time it has taken quite a long time to get the hang of it.

Changing the way in which you mark can be rather traumatic.  Years of marking years that most teachers / lecturers will have a tried-and-tested system, and one of the first mistakes is in thinking that marking online involves having to develop an entirely new system, or dumping the ways in which you have worked in the past.  Of course one of the second mistakes is to then abandon those tried and trusted systems entirely, and think that they are no longer relevant.

As with any instance where computers become the tool for certain established tasks, we need to remember that the computer is just that - a tool.  It is not a system.  The trick is in getting this tool to reproduce (often more effectively) the same systems which we already know works.  In exploring this, we often find ways in which the tool can enable us to tweak the system and make it better still - but the tool can never (or should never) determine the system.

Anyway, although I do not claim the most expertise - or even to have come to the end of my explorations - I thought I might explain some of the ways I have developed the way I use the Grademark online marking system, in the hope that it might be useful for some, and that others might even be able to help me by offering some further suggestions.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The importance of starting well: How essays can benefit from a good opening line

Graham Gooch: A good opener

I have often emphasised to my students the importance of a really good opening sentence.

Beginning a piece of writing with a short, snappy opening line can grab attention. Beginning a piece of writing with a snappy opening that is at the same time provocative is even better. You not only grab attention, but you create questions in the mind of the reader that they will want to find out answers to.

Don’t believe me? Well, think about the opening lines of some of the most famous novels ever written.  Think about how they provoke questions, stimulate curiosity and arouse interest in what the rest of the story will say:

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Booking Tutorials Online: How to manage tutorial time effectively

Recently I have discovered what I hope will be the solution to my wish that student can book tutorials with me online, and for those tutorial bookings to be available for me to check wherever I am.

One of the problems of being an academic tutor, is that the amount of time you have for students is always infinitely less than the amount of time students would like from you.

I do not say this as a complaint.  Indeed, one of my biggest frustrations is failing to meet with students who could really benefit from some tutorial time, or from going through a draft essay with someone before submission.  The trouble is, when it gets nearer to submission time the demand for tutorials often outweighs the time I have to provide them, and this causes several problems:

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Dear Google: Why me?

It is hard not to feel a little paranoid that Google have not, quite simply, got it in for me.

I’ll tell you why you should vote for me

I’m a better person than you. Harsh, I know, but true. Just look at my suit, my cufflinks, hair, my Bertie Wooster aristocratic air, m...