Friday, November 28, 2014

Where’s This Going!? Metadiscourse for Readers and Writers

The cover page to Søren Kierkegaard's universi...
Søren Kierkegaard's thesis (Wikipedia)
by Claire Aitchison, Doctoral Writing:

We’ve all heard good teachers and orators lay out what they’re going to cover in their talk.

It usually happens early on, and when done well, it is unobtrusive and incredibly useful to help us ‘get’ what it is they are going to talk about.

Depending on the situation, this bit of chatter, may remind listeners of what was covered previously (where they’re coming from), of the scope and nature of their current talk, and indicate how they’re going to proceed (where they’re going).

This bit of talk ensures everyone is ‘on the same page’ and acts as a launching pad from which things can proceed.

It gives us a moment to collect ourselves mentally and it reduces cognitive load because we don’t have to second-guess where things are heading.

As an audience member, I appreciate this early orientation because I want to know upfront how my time is going to be spent.

Linguists call this chatter ‘metadiscourse’ - that is, talk about the talk, or “discourse about discourse” (Feak and Swales 2009, p. 38). Generally this discourse is empty of content - although it may include a position or argument statement.

Metadiscourse features a lot in academic writing - and especially in thesis writing. Generally speaking, the longer the manuscript, the greater the amount of metadiscourse. Feak and Swales (2009) say that expository texts have more of it than narrative texts.

Metadiscourse is most commonly found at the beginning and end of chapters and as a segué between different parts within chapters. At its most basic, it aims to foreshadow what is to come and how, and perhaps also connect backwardly to what has been covered/ argued. Metadiscourse is a feature of a reader-friendly text (Paltridge & Starfield, 2007).

Not surprisingly, we can expect to find a fair bit of metadiscourse in the average dissertation or thesis, although some disciplines favour it more than others. Hyland (1998) describes variations across disciplines. In my own experience, I’ve seen a lot of it in economics and theses that are heavily argument driven, and less in the pure sciences and humanities.

Evans and Gruba (2002) outline a useful structure for the beginnings of chapters: that is the three moves of backward reflection to the previous chapter, to state what’s in the current chapter and to foreshadow what follows.

The rendition of these steps or ‘rhetorical moves’ will vary - for example they might appear as three distinct paragraphs, or be combined in one paragraph, or even as one sentence.

Here are some examples of sentence structures or ‘skeletons’, as Kamler and Thomson (2013) call them, that may be located at the beginnings or endings of chapters or between segments of a text.

Current orientation

The focus of this chapter is ….

This chapter reviews the literature on … , beginning with an overview of the key disciplinary influence s…

Backwards orientation

This chapter follows from a detailed report of the findings that …

The previous chapter provided an historical review of the evolution of these models. To recap, the main …

Future orientation

Having established the central argument, the next chapter ….

… and thus, the next chapter explores the key themes …

Combination orientations

This chapter analyses the environmental drivers first identified in Chapter 4. It begins by …, and then …., thereby establishing the context for a more thorough discussion in Chapter 7.

Following from the discussion of key findings in Chapter 5, this chapter lays the ground for the resultant recommendations presented in the final chapter.

Isn’t metadiscourse just plain boring?

Some readers object to this kind of directional voice, finding it intrusive and simplistic, even insulting. Certainly if it is formulaic and repetitive, reoccurring at regular intervals when it simply isn’t necessary, it can become tedious.

Using metadiscourse as a writing tool

As a writer myself, and as a writing teacher, I make frequent use of metadiscourse as a writing tool. My early drafts often have lots of metadiscourse signalling for me what it is (I think!) I’m doing. Later, I remove most of this writing.

When working with others, I often ask them to include explicit metadiscursive text between new sections of writing because this forces writers to clearly articulate their intentions for any particular section - and how these relate to what has come before, and what will follow.

Sometimes, together, we read only the metadiscourse or sentence skeletons to gauge the logic and rhetorical integrity of the writing. Removing the ‘content’ in this way, can reveal the strength of the structure as articulated in this “discourse about the discourse”.
A final note: There are some excellent resources on thesis writing from the fields of applied linguistics and ESL written for those who have English as a second language.

Supervisors are not always aware of these resources and of their applicability for all kinds of writers - irrespective of language backgrounds. After all, isn’t academic English just another foreign language??!!

Does any one have a favourite resource they wish to alert us to?


Evans, D. & Gruba, P. (2002). How to write a better thesis (2nd ed.). Carlton: Melbourne University Press.

Feak, Christine B., & Swales, J. M. (2009). Telling a research story: writing the literature review (Vol. 2 of the revised and expanded edition of English in Today’s Research World). USA: University of Michigan Press.

Hyland, K. (1998). Persuasion and context: the pragmatics of academic metadiscourse. Journal of pragmatics, 30(4), 437-455.

Paltridge, B. & Starfield, S. (2007). Thesis and dissertation writing in a second language: A handbook for supervisors. Oxon: Routledge.

Thomson, P., & Kamler, B. (2013). Writing for peer-reviewed journals: strategies for getting published. Oxon: Routledge.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Best Two Books on Doing a Thesis

photoby :

I started my PhD at the University of Melbourne in early 2006 and finished in 2009.

I did well, collecting the John Grice Award for best thesis in my faculty and coming second for the university medal (dammit!). 

I attribute this success to two ‘how to’ books in particular: Evans and Gruba’s “How to write a better thesis” and Kamler and Thomson’s “Helping doctoral students write”, both of which recently went into their second edition.

I use both of these books in my teaching practice and refer to them often in my blog posts.

My old copies had been photocopied so often they had nearly fallen apart, so I was glad to get a brand new copy of each. Both of them have been substantially refreshed, so it seems like a good time to finally give them a proper review.

I picked up “How to write a better thesis” from the RMIT campus bookstore in June, 2004. I met this book at a particularly dark time in my first thesis journey. I did my masters by creative practice at RMIT, which meant I made a heap of stuff and then had to write about it. The making bit was fun, but the writing was agony.

My poor supervisors did their best to help me revise draft after draft, but I was terrible at it. Nothing in my previous study in architecture had prepared me for writing a proper essay, let alone a long thesis.

I had no idea what one should even look like. What sections should I have? What does each one do? In desperation, I visited the bookstore and “How to write a better thesis” jumped off the rack and into my arms.

I’ll admit, my choice was largely informed by its student friendly price point: at the time it was $21.95, it’s now gone up to around $36. In my opinion that’s a bit steep, given that the average student budget is still as constrained as it was a decade ago, but you do get a lot for your money.

David Evans sadly died some years ago, but Justin Zobel has ably stepped into his shoes for the revision. What I’ve always liked best about this book is the way it breaks the ‘standard thesis’ down into its various components: introduction, literature review, method etc, then treats the problems of each separately. This enables you to use it tactically to ‘spot check’ for problem areas in your thesis.

The new edition of the book has remained essentially the same, but with some useful additions that, I think, better reflect the complexity of the contemporary thesis landscape. It acknowledges a broader spread of difficulties with writing the thesis and includes worked examples which illustrate the various traps students can fall into.

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a review copy of Zobel and Gruba’s new collaboration: “How to write a better Minor Thesis”. This is a stripped down version of the original book, with some minor additions, but designed specifically for masters by course work and honours students who have to write a thesis between 15,000 and 30,000 in length.

It’s a brilliant idea as, to my knowledge, there hasn’t been much on the market for these students before. The majority of the book is relevant to the PhD and since it’s only $9.95 on Kindle you might want to start with this instead and upgrade to the more expensive paperback if you think you want more.

My introduction to Barbara Kamler and Pat Thomson’s “Helping doctoral students to write: pedagogies for supervision” was quite different. My colleague at the time, Dr Robyn Barnacle, handed me this book when I was in the first year of my PhD. By that time I was a much more confident writer and I was ready for the more complex writing journey this book offered.

And “Helping doctoral students to write” does tackle complicated issues - nominalisation, modality, theme/rheme analysis and so on - but not in a complicated way. This is largely because it’s full of practical exercises and suggestions, many of which I use in my workshops (for an example, see this slide deck on treating the zombie thesis).

Although “Helping doctoral students write” has more of a humanities bent than ‘how to write a thesis’, it steps through a broad range of thesis writing issues with a light touch that never makes you feel bored or frustrated. It argues that the thesis is a genre proposition - an amazingly powerful insight - and the chapter on grammar is simply a work of brilliance.

I’ve given this book to engineers, architects, biologists and musicologists, all of whom have told me it was useful - but I find total beginners react with fear to sub-headings like ‘modality: the goldilocks dilemma’. For that reason I usually save it for students near their final year, especially when they tell me their supervisor doesn’t like their writing, but can’t explain why.

“Helping doctoral students to write” is not explicitly written for PhD students (the authors are in the process of doing one). The new edition is an improvement on the old in many ways and well worth buying again if you happen to own it already.

The new edition is around $42, which is ok but I think the Kindle edition is over priced (why do publishers keep doing this when many people like to own both for convenience?). It’s a great book for the advanced student who is prepared to roll up their sleeves and do some serious work.

Not only will this work pay dividends, as my award attests, it will stand you in good stead for being a supervisor yourself later on as you will be able to diagnose and treat some of the most common - yet difficult to describe - writing problems.

Pat Thomson, is, of course, the author of the popular ‘Patter’ blog, so you can access her wisdom, for free, on a weekly basis. I should own up to the fact that Pat and I met on Twitter, as many bloggers do, and started to collaborate. I’m still in awe of Pat’s knowledge, experience and good humour.

I sometimes pinch myself that we have become friends (in fact, she gave me my new copy of the book when I last visited the UK), but I hope this isn’t the only reason the new edition mentions the Whisperer in one of the chapters (squee!).

If I hadn’t already had deep familiarity with this book before I met Pat I would definitely have to say I have a conflict of interest, but I can hand on my heart tell you I would recommend it anyway. Pat and Barbara have written another, truly fantastic, book “Writing for peer review journals: strategies for getting published” but that’s a review for another time :-)

Have you read these books? Or any others that you think have significantly helped you on your PhD journey? Love to hear about them in the comments.

Other book reviews on the Whisperer

How to write a lot
BITE: recipes for remarkable research
Study skills for international postgraduates
Doing your dissertation with Microsoft Word
How to fail your Viva
Mapping your thesis
Demystifying dissertation writing

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Five Steps To Writing a Thesis Proposal

English: Title page of Barry’s thesis.
Title page of Barry’s thesis (Wikipedia)
by , Finish Your Thesis:
I remember the time that I was in the process of writing a thesis proposal in my second year of graduate school. It had to be 10-20 pages long, which was short compared to the length of the  actual doctoral dissertation (close to 200 pages).

Yet, I found myself stuck because as a relatively young student I had to propose how to do an extensive research project that would take years to complete.

There was so much information in the literature and so many directions in which I could take my research, that it was challenging to nail down one project that would have a high chance of success.

After many discussions with my supervisor I finally selected a topic that was a great learning experience for me and also had a relatively high chance of success.

Through my years of helping graduate students finish their thesis on time, I realized that we always used the same process for writing a thesis proposal. This system is designed to help you draft a thesis proposal that can be completed on time and prepares you well for your ideal career.

Five Steps To Writing a Thesis Proposal 

Number 1: Choose an area of research that you are excited about

When you begin writing a thesis proposal, your advisor might give you a choice of dissertation topics. What criteria should you use to make this decision? The most important advice that former graduate students have given, is that your thesis topic should cover an area that you are truly passionate about.

Regardless your field, you will have good days and bad days. On good days you will be enthusiastic and motivated to work. On bad days, you might question whether your research makes any sense, and you might even doubt your ability to graduate.

If you pick a meaningful topic, the daily setbacks in your research will not bring you down. You will still be working in an important field, and you will be learning the skills and expertise necessary for your career. 

Number 2: Select a project which balances novelty with established research

Given that you want to finish your thesis within a reasonable amount of time, should you research a novel or “hot” area, or to go with a “safer”, better-understood topic? One way to answer this question is to visualize yourself at every stage of your thesis.

How will you make it happen? Can you gather the resources and complete the work by your proposed graduation date? Most likely your project will take longer than you anticipated, so allow some flexibility to account for contingencies. The general rule of thumb is that things take 2-4 times longer than predicted.

If you have little expertise, begin your work by exploring questions in well-understood areas. For example, you could learn the basics of your field, by extending the research projects of previous students, or trying to reproduce their data.

Starting your research in an area where the methodology has been established will teach you the necessary research skills for your field. Once you learn the basics, you can expand your research by exploring novel areas, and build your own unique niche. 

Number 3: Ask well-defined open-ended questions for your thesis

One of the mistakes that some PhD students make while writing a thesis proposal is that they ask “High-risk” questions. The most common type of high risk question is a “Yes/No” question, such as “Is this protein produced by cells under these conditions?” The reason that Yes/No questions can be “high-risk” is that sometimes the answers are only publishable if the answer is “Yes”.

Negative results are usually not interesting enough for publication and you could have spent months or years researching a question that has a high chance of not being published. For many students open-ended questions have a much higher likelihood of success.

In the case of one student in Biology, he thought about asking a question such as: “Do cells produce a particular protein under these conditions?” However, if the answer had been “No”, it would not have been publishable. Instead, he phrased his research question as follows: “What proteins do cell produce in these conditions”? or “How does XYZ influence the production of proteins”?

Be sure that your question is well-defined. In other words, when you ask your thesis question, think about the possible outcomes.

What results do you expect? Are they interesting and publishable? To summarize this key point, consider the following when constructing your thesis question: 1) Ask open-ended questions; and 2) Be sure that your possible outcomes are interesting and publishable. 

Number 4: Look for projects that are educational and incorporate marketable skills

Think about your progression through graduate school as a pyramid. As the years pass,  you become more and more specialized with fewer and fewer people being experts in your field. By the time you graduate you will be part of a small community of people who specialize in your particular area.

On the other hand, you will probably need a diverse skill set after graduation, so it is important to avoid the common mistake of narrowing your pyramid too quickly. It is not necessary to learn all the sub-specialties, but do familiarize yourself with the background literature and technical skills in your field.

Some students make the mistake of focusing only on finishing graduate school quickly, rather than taking advantage of the learning opportunities. One way to add marketable skills to your resume is to collaborate on a side-project.

For example, if you specialize in cell culture then it would be advantageous if you collaborated on a project that added a different but related skill set such as DNA/RNA work, liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry or imaging.

If you browse through job listings you will get an idea of which skill sets employers look for. Collaborating on complementary projects will help you to broaden your marketable skill sets, and also help you in deciding which career path is best suited for you. 

Number 5: Visualize your finished publication(s)

A physics PhD student I worked with had an advisor who outlined each paper even before the research was started. He wrote down what questions he wanted to be answered, and what each graph and table should show. This method was so helpful for the student, that he still designs his research papers in advance.

As you are in the process of writing your thesis proposal draft some preliminary answers to the following questions:
  • What is your central hypothesis or research goal?
  • What is the motivation for this study?
  • What have other groups contributed to this research?
  • What methods do you need to learn to complete this project?
  • What are the possible outcomes, or results, of this study?
  • What will your tables and graphs show?
  • How does this work contribute to your field of research?
Visualizing your publications while writing a thesis proposal will motivate you to work, because most graduate students feel a sense of pride when they hold their very first published paper in their hands.

Most likely, the answers to the above questions will change with time and you might have several setbacks or forks in the road. Fortunately, most students become more efficient as they progress through graduate school.

Your cumulative experience will pay off during your last year when you are racing to finish your research and your dissertation simultaneously.  In the meantime, work on defining your questions and methods meticulously, so that you will have a realistic plan to work with.

The last step in the process, “Visualizing your finished publications”, is probably the most important one in the 5-step process of writing a thesis proposal.  First, visualizing the end result of a major project is very motivating in itself. Second, publishing a paper is one of the most important steps towards earning your graduate degree.

Most PhD programs require at least one publication. When you structure your research, and the writing of a thesis proposal, by asking the right questions, you will be able to design a realistic project that can be completed in time and provides you with marketable job skills.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Top 3 Tips for Literature Review Success

Stockholm Port
Stockholm Port (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by PhD Talk:

Today I have the pleasure of hosting Dr. Ben Libberton, who shares his best advice for the literature review with us. 

Ben is a Postdoc at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. He’s a microbiologist with a degree from the University of Leeds and a PhD from the University of Liverpool. 

He currently manages two blogs. At Literature Review HQ he aims to guide students through what he found to be the most difficult part of the PhD - the Lit Review. Now, as a confused but enthusiastic postdoc, he aims to collect the advice and wisdom of experts and share it at the Postdoc Lounge.

The lit review can be tough. It’s a long and technical process and often we’re expected to just “pick it up as we go along”. To me this is like trying to learn how to drive a car without having any lessons. It's possible, but it’s going to take a long time and the chances are you’ll pick up some scrapes along the way.

I want to outline some quick tips in this article. I want to give you something that you can implement right now that will help you see a difference in your literature review writing and your productivity. However, before I begin, I think I must say the biggest thing that affected my progress as a writer was training and education.

For some reason, I never considered writing the literature review as a discreet skill that could be learned. Somehow I just filed it in my brain under “PhD stuff” and treated it exactly the same as doing lab work. This was a huge mistake. Academic writing was totally different from anything I’d ever done before.

What I should have done is started out trying to understand writing as a skill and learning how to do it. So whatever stage you are at now, commit to your academic education and find a way to learn about writing. Everyone is different and there isn’t a “one size fits all” answer, but you can start by going to your library and checking out a few books on writing the lit review.

So, if we want to play the piano, we have to take some piano lessons right? I think I’ve made my point so lets get into some tips.

The first major tip I would give is to alter your perspective.

For me this was so powerful that as soon as I heard it, my writing changed instantly. I read it in Pat Thomson’s book, “Helping Doctoral Students Write”. She outlines some useful metaphors to use when thinking about the literature review.

Whenever I thought about writing, I would think of climbing a huge mountain or drowning in a sea of literature. Pat says we should think about the literature review as more of a creative challenge.

A much more useful analogy for the literature review is trying to get an octopus into a jar. When you think about drowning in a sea of literature and putting an octopus into a jar you feel totally different.

The first invokes feelings of panic and fear. There is a sense of impending doom and the thought that the only way out is to swim for your life until your muscles give out. Drastic - I know, but this is how many of us feel.

The second analogy makes us think about and interesting problem to solve. There is no impending doom, just an outcome that we want and hurdle in our way. We are free to observe the entire problem before making judgments and we are free to step away and think.

The other thing that helps me get perspective on my writing is when I found out that you can pay people to write your literature review for you. I calculated on my blog that it would take one of these professionals 2.5 hours to write 250 words of your lit review (references and all). This was liberating for me (not because I could pay someone to write it - I really don’t recommend you do this).

I realized that there must be a “process” by which you can write, a process that these professions had worked out. I had the subject knowledge so all I had to do was figure out a bit of their process and I’d be able to do the same.

The next tip would be to plan more than you do now.

Seriously. Planning isn’t just an exercise that you have to get out of the way before you start writing. Planning IS writing. When it comes to the lit review, having a good plan is like having someone next to your telling you what to type. You just work away as fast as your fingers will go and the literature review magically appears.

While planning and writing are part of the same process it is very useful to separate them into two stages. I think doing this solves many problems with writers block.

Firstly you plan and work out exactly what it is you want to say. Then when you write, you simply decide how you are going to say it. The beauty is that doing it this way, before you sit down to type, you already know exactly what you are going to say.

The Third and final tip is about feedback.

Give, and Seek Feedback at every stage of your writing.

Seeking feedback is kind of obvious but in my experience, nobody does it enough. Remember to be respectful of people and their time but make sure that you seek feedback. Try not to just ask for comments either. If you have a particular problem, tell people what the problem is and what you are trying to do.

Giving feedback is possible one of the most underrated and quickest ways to improve your writing (and confidence). In your group, simply offer to critically read the work of your colleagues. You might not be confident at first but as soon as someone agrees, there is pressure on you to do a good job. In other words you have something to lose, you have a stake in the game.

As hard as it might be, critically read and comment on your friends work. Use reference books and papers if you have to. At the end of it you will have been exposed to a different style of writing and you’ll have spotted mistakes. If you do this a few times then you’ll be able to immediately translate this back to your own work when you are writing and editing.

So there are my three top tips. My aim for this was fast results. I think that implementing any of this will give a noticeable improvement within a week. Are they earth shattering? No, but if you're stuck and you commit to these (or all three) then you’ll see results within seven days.

What do you think? Do you agree or do you think I’ve missed something? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Writing in the Company of Others: ‘Shut Up and Write!’, AcWriMo, Boot Camps, Writing Retreats, and Other Fun Activities

DSC_0005by Claire Aitchison, Doctoral Writing:

I am watching the curious look inquisitively at this small group of people sitting outside in the sun tapping away at their keyboards.

It’s hard to tell those who are intentionally part of our new ‘Shut up and write!’ from those who just happened, accidentally, to lob here today. There’s the usual café sounds: orders being given and names being called out, cutlery clattering, cups meeting saucers and spoons.

Some people look askance, others quickly soften their voices and look away - as if they have walked in on someone in prayer.

It’s 9.15am and people continue to join us. We are now eight definites and four fringe-dwellers: perhaps the outliers are hedging their bets; not sure enough yet to sit with us.

At the break we talk. Everyone is a doctoral student and immediately there’s an exchange about thesis topics, stage of candidature, software programs, the recent Boot Camp and other group writing opportunities on campus. Everyone wants to make writing normal business. Everyone needs to build writing into their lives so they can get their PhD done.

Then we settle down again to write. Together. In silence. It’s magic.

We have written before about group writing for doctoral scholars and academics including online writing groups, retreats and so on.  In this blog I aim to give an overview of the group writing opportunities that I’m aware of - and to invite readers to tell us about others.

WRITING MARATHONS are productivity-focused events that usually involve measuring output (eg word counts) against time. Some examples include:

AcWriMo is perhaps the most widely known and popular. Started in 2011 by Charlotte Frost, AcWriMo is an annual online month-long ‘write-a-thon’ fashioned after the successful NaNoWriMo  (National Novel Writing Month). Writers participate via the host - PhD2Published; they determine their own writing goals and are supported by tonnes of social media including dedicated posts, twitter feeds and participant exchanges. You can read here about Cally’s experience with a more localised AcWriMo.

Boot camps work on a similar principle, except that those that I know of bring people together in the same physical space; they are mostly facilitated and very often centrally provisioned by University Grad schools or Writing Centres. Like AcrWriMo, participants set personal writing targets which they aim to meet in a set period of time, such as 2 or 3 days. This blog on the Thesis Whisperer gives a great account of how a Boot Camp works.


‘Shut up and write!’ is a mini-writing sprint, rather than a marathon, that usually runs over an hour on a regular basis (eg weekly) in a convivial place. This kind of writing event is popular with doctoral scholars and academics because it’s a relaxed arrangement without hard rules or long term commitment. Participants simply turn up and get on with their writing, in the company of others, for two lots of 25 minute bursts with a five minute break in the middle.

‘Meetup’ writing groups. ‘Meetup’ is a global social networking phenomenon and recently, when invited by a friend to accompany her, I discovered yet another vibrant social writing avenue. Her group meets weekly at a pub in central Sydney where participants write, eat and drink together for 2 hours under the ‘cone of silence’. Thereafter, people mix and socialise as they see fit. I was amazed to discover that these writers included professionals of all kinds, scriptwriters, bloggers - and doctoral students.

Writing retreats are another kind of extended writing together opportunity favoured by doctoral scholars and academics alike. Whether they are highly structured (as described by Rowena Murray) or more organic (see Barbara Grant’s Guide), there’s growing evidence of the value of being able to retreat from the everyday demands and routines of academic life, to spaces entirely dedicated to writing. Susan has written about the pros and cons of writing retreats.

Writing buddies and intimate circles of productivity - Finally I’d like to include a plug for the common, but undervalued, practice of hiding oneself away with a colleague/s to write. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent weekends away with doctoral scholars in which we have shared writing, cooking, walking and talking. Pat Thomson’s recent blogs on working with her co-author Barbara Kamler describes the joy (and productivity) of this kind of companionship.

But back at the University of New South Wales’ ‘Shut up and write!’ I overhear a passer-by say (I’m not kidding, I promise!): ‘This is really good. I saw the Research Office advertising … I want to do it - but I don’t have time’.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? - ‘Shut up and write!’ and these other group writing activities are booming because they work especially for those who don’t have time. The popularity of writing in groups is evident everywhere - so if you haven’t already; get yourself into some kind of group writing activity and you will reap the rewards.

And we’d love to know about your own group writing adventures.

Other references:

Aitchison, C., & Guerin, C. (Eds.). (2014). Writing Groups for Doctoral Education and Beyond: Innovations in Practice and Theory. London: Routledge.

Grant, B. (2008). Academic writing retreats: a facilitator’s guide. Sydney: Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australia (HERDSA).

Grant, B., & Knowles, S. (2000). Flights of imagination: Academic women be(com)ing writers. International Journal for Academic Development, 5(1), 6-9.

Grant, B. M. (2006). Writing in the company of other women: exceeding the boundaries. Studies in Higher Education, 31(4), 483-495. DOI: 10.1080/03075070600800624

BOOK REVIEW: "Reshaping the University: The Rise of the Regulated Market in Higher Education" by David Palfreyman and Ted Tapper

by Ron Johnston, Impact of Social Sciences: 

This book focuses on the policy of removing almost entirely public support for the payment of student fees. 

Although it goes into great detail regarding the emergence of the regulated market as a way of delivering higher education to growing numbers, it does so with little apparent appreciation for what that emergence has required within the universities and in the daily lives of their academics and administrators, finds Ron Johnston.

This review originally appeared on LSE Review of Books.

I applied to three universities in autumn 1958 (having already obtained three A-levels); I got a handwritten offer from the head of the relevant department at one of them within a week - and accepted it.

The education I received over the next three years was competently-delivered but rarely inspiring (much like the previous eight years at one of my home town’s two grammar schools), and certainly not demanding.

We had only five timetabled contact hours in the final year and, literally, read for our degrees (or probably, in some cases, didn’t: of the 48 students in the first year of the honours degree 12 were relegated to the pass degree after the year-end examinations, as were a further 9 a year later!); two of the seven papers in the final exams could not be revised for.

It is all so different now: in one university, departments have recently been told that staff should not recommend that students buy books and that ‘Reading and Skills Weeks’ should not be termed ‘Enrichment Weeks’.

But such aspects of how university life has been restructured - along with many others, such as the nature of an academic career - are, at best, only hinted at in Palfreyman and Tapper’s detailed, occasionally repetitive and in places tedious, discussion of their chosen subject matter - The Rise of the Regulated Market in Higher Education.

Even within that restricted canvass their focus is almost entirely on England - given the separate funding systems that have been introduced in Scotland and Wales post-devolution (Northern Ireland is ignored) - although US experience is drawn upon in some of the discussions, notably of for-profit degree providers.

The book’s key message - you can’t miss it, so often is it stressed - is that English higher education (which extends well beyond the institutions with the title university, although they get the bulk of the coverage) has been changed, by a combination of government decree, pressure and ‘nudge’.

Fifty years ago the university sector was a small-scale operation to which the Treasury allocated funds through what would now be termed a quango (the UGC), which had advised the government how much was needed and what for; it then distributed the money - on a quinquennial cycle - to the autonomous institutions to spend more or less as they wished (with some constraints).

Over the last three decades, a regulated market has been created, with an increasing portion of the money, covering the universities’ major activity - teaching - coming from the students, most of whom now (eventually; possibly?) pay the full cost of their undergraduate education through income-contingent government loans.

Or at least some of the students: Palfreyman and Tapper concentrate almost entirely on undergraduates, very largely ignoring the substantial numbers (many from overseas) on taught postgraduate courses and undertaking research degrees (currently some 22% of the total enrolment) for which the market is very largely unregulated.
Auckland student protest 16.10.97. Credit: SocialistWorkerNZ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
The book’s core theme is pursued through four main sections - ‘British Higher Education as a System: Shifting Perceptions, Changing Realities’ (three chapters); ‘The Pressures for Change: Internal and External’ (five chapters); ‘Responding to Change: Organizational Fragmentation’ (three chapters); and ‘Towards the Free Market: English Higher Education 2020’ (one chapter, more of which is about the past than the future).

It recounts the pressures for change (almost entirely financial plus the desire for universities to make a greater contribution to the country’s ‘economic development’), various government proposals and actions (including major commissioned reports, such as those chaired by Sir Ron Dearing and Lord Browne), and the universities’ responses - collective more than individual.

The coverage, within the book’s own parameters, is not comprehensive, however, although parts are very detailed and Reshaping the University will be a standard reference for that material (there is no discussion, for example, of the UFC’s attempt to introduce a market in 1990 when universities were required to bid for expansion in student numbers against ‘guide prices’).

Palfreyman and Tapper provide many useful insights into a complex, complicated story - there has never been an overall strategy for UK higher education, merely a continuing sequence of pragmatic responses to events and financial pressures. For those interested in likely future changes, some parts, such as the chapter on ‘the entry of the non-profits’, are particularly illuminating.

But this is not a disinterested history; the authors’ own value judgments are frequently paraded, sometimes in considerable (as in their dissection of the positions recently taken up by the Committee for the Defence of British Universities).

In general, they appear to approve of the move to the regulated market, with students as consumers, but when one university (Bristol) responded to the 2012 market changes (take as many students as you wish if they have grades AAB or better at A-level) they accuse it of ‘gorging’ on the additional income!

Similarly, universities are criticised for the ‘scandal’ that some still give staff sabbaticals although it is ‘difficult to show [they] are research-productive’ (no, it isn’t!), as well as for pursuing global rankings ‘based almost entirely on research output’ (again, not the case with many of those - admittedly flawed - league tables based at least partly on indicators that focus on the student experience).

They claim that it is ‘pretty nigh impossible for any university to demonstrate that the academic labour content in the delivery of the teaching for most undergraduate degree courses exceeds, say, half of the average fee’ and of that fee ‘so little at almost all HEIs is actually spent on the direct provision of undergraduate teaching’ - when their own university (Oxford) currently claims that the average cost of providing an undergraduate education is £16,000 but the maximum fee is only £9,000, requiring subsidies in the opposite direction to Palfreyman and Tapper’s claims that undergraduates are subsidising research!

These attacks on what the authors clearly identify as inefficient institutions take no account of the changes that have happened within them over recent decades. The average quality and quantity of the undergraduate teaching is much improved from that of students who experienced ‘take it or leave it’ offerings (albeit for free) as little as two-three decades ago, alongside which there has been an exponential growth in research productivity.

The student experience has changed markedly and so has the life of the academics who structure and deliver it - for relatively low pay in most cases and now threatened with a very significant reduction in their pensions.

The nature of the regulated market puts added pressure on them as administrators, involved in interminable form-filling and monitoring – in which they have been joined by armies of professional form-filling administrators (deteriorating student: (academic)staff ratios are frequently discussed, but has anybody every shown a trend line for student: (administrative) staff ratios?).

An increasing proportion of the universities’ income goes on such people and activity, and less on the roles for which they exist - storing, disseminating and advancing knowledge. To cater for such shifts in expenditure, many universities have undertaken frequent - time-consuming and academically hard-to-justify - internal restructurings.

Reshaping the University is thus a partial book - in every sense of that term. Although it goes into great detail regarding the emergence of the regulated market as a way of delivering higher education to growing numbers, it does so with little apparent appreciation for what that emergence has required within the universities and in the daily lives of their academics and administrators.

Those involved in universities’ higher managerial ranks might recognise much of the material as a picture of the emerging world they have to deal with; the vast majority of their academic staff will not since Palfreyman and Tapper seem dissociated from what they do, under increasing pressure and for declining relative rewards.

Ron Johnston is a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol; he was formerly a Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sheffield and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Essex.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Arts Students are Motivated More by Love of Subject Than Money or Future Careers

English: Motivation
Motivation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Anya Skatova, University of Nottingham

Science and engineering subjects are often presented as better career choices for students than the arts or humanities.

Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, recently said that STEM subjects - sciences, technology, engineering and maths - unlock doors to all sorts of careers and that pupils who study maths to A Level earn 10% more over their lifetime.

Previous research has shown that there are actually lots of factors including ability, personality, motivation as well as family and educational background which impact on what undergraduate degree people take and their ongoing career success. And our new research has shown that the importance of the different types of motivation varies depending on the subject a student chooses.

Importance of motivation

When we are excited about something, whether it is a hobby or an interesting work-related task, we tend to perform better and apply a variety of creative approaches. If we are focused on a particular goal, we might be more organised and use a more structured approach in delivering the expected result.

This focus on an external goal, such as financial success, is known as “extrinsic” motivation, while enjoyment is known as “intrinsic” motivation. Both are very important for career success but in different ways. Extrinsic motivation leads to better performance, while intrinsic motivation to a deeper, more thorough way of learning.

Our new research shows that students studying for different degrees differ in their level of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. We asked a sample of 896 prospective students who attended open days and 989 current students at two large UK universities in the Russell Group the reasons for their degree choice.

They were asked to rate how true statements such as: “I have chosen this degree because I was always interested in this subject” or: “I have chosen this degree because it provides good career options” were for them.

Different degrees, different reasons

We found differences in the reasons that students of certain subjects had for choosing their degrees. For example, current and prospective engineering students rated career options as a very important reason for their choice of degree, while interest in the subject was a low one.

Yet arts and humanities students showed the opposite: prospective students reported enjoyment factor as important in their degree choice, while career was not as important on the agenda.

Both types of motivation are important to success on the career path, both in a person’s degree and their future job. So it is necessary to have a goal to be successful in your career. It is also important to provide students with an opportunity to follow their intrinsic motivation to enjoy their studies because they will perform better at what they enjoy.

Restructure arts degrees

Careers are often judged by financial success - and not without a reason. And graduates from arts and humanities degrees seem to make less money than their STEM peers. For example, a 2011 report by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, puts most arts and humanities subjects at the bottom of the pay scale.

But perhaps the reason for that is not that those careers are a bad choice. If arts and humanities degrees attract people who are not career-driven, could that explain why they do not do as well financially in their career in the future? In order to make more money, you need to strive for that - it doesn’t just come by itself.

If it is the case that arts and humanities students do not do as well financially because of low career aspirations, should we discourage them from choosing arts and humanities? Probably not - these degrees are where they might do the best - because they enjoy it.

Instead, universities should provide them with more career focus in their undergraduate courses that can make those students more structured in achieving their career goals.

But we need to exercise caution in doing this. Previous research has shown that, in certain cases, external rewards such as being praised for being on top of your class actually undermine intrinsic motivation. This might lead to a “surface” type of learning where students are focusing on reproducing material accurately for a test without necessarily understanding it.

If people start the degree because it is enjoyable and then are made to focus too much on external achievements, it might paradoxically make them enjoy the process of study less.

And if people are not that keen on what they are doing and just do it for the pay, they may be less likely to do a good job - or they might drop out if better-paid work opportunities arise. So the key is to let people choose what they enjoy - and then help them to make it into a career.
The Conversation

Anya Skatova does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article

Sorry Minister, But Philistinism is Not an Educational Policy

Nicky Morgan (Joe Giddens/PA)
by Sarah Churchwell, University of East Anglia

In the same week in which I published a piece for Times Higher Education about why the humanities matter, Minister for Education Nicky Morgan gave the following advice to young people:
If you wanted to do something, or even if you didn’t know what you wanted to do, then the arts and humanities were [once] what you chose because they were useful for all kinds of jobs. Of course, we know now that couldn’t be further from the truth - that the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock the door to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering and maths].
I have several objections to the claim that the arts and humanities can’t help you get “all kinds of jobs”. First: Nicky Morgan has a humanities degree. So does George Osborne, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, and David Cameron.

I can’t see that it’s hurt their career prospects. Indeed, news reports regularly circulate that banks or consulting firms are seeking high-paid arts graduates to help them solve problems and resist linear thinking.

My second objection, though, is to this false dichotomy between the humanities and STEM, as if education were a zero-sum game and we are only permitted to know one thing. This divide-and-conquer mentality is destroying a precious tradition that promotes curiosity, independence of thought and pure research across the arts and the sciences.

What is outmoded is not the study of arts and humanities instead of the sciences: what is outmoded is the idea that educated people need to understand only one subject in a globalised world.

Our society urgently needs people who reflect on and can communicate about the ethical, moral, social and environmental consequences of the technologies they create, the antibiotics they discover, the houses they build.

How will we protect our justice system if we don’t know political or moral philosophy? How will we avoid repeating the mistakes of our past if we relinquish the study of history? How will we communicate with each other with precision and dismantle the messages and images that define our world without language and semiotics? How will we expand our imaginative horizons if we stop reading literature?

What kind of person advocates philistinism as an educational policy?

So to be clear: when I say we need to encourage young people to study the humanities I am not saying they shouldn’t study the sciences. We acutely need more people who understand both.

What we don’t need is this kind of limited, utilitarian thinking, which promises only to help people get jobs, as if the work that can be extracted from us is all that matters. This is precisely the struggle from which the Enlightenment tradition of the arts and sciences fought to liberate us.

By no coincidence, the people who invented the concept of the humanities to educate their citizens were also the people who invented the concept of citizens: the ancient Greeks, conceiving democracy.

The great Enlightenment philosopher-scientists developed our modern conception of the sciences - and of the humanities. Voltaire argued that the rule of law, the arts and sciences, religious tolerance, civil liberties and commercial prosperity were all necessary to a free society - not just commercial prosperity on its own.

The humanities are intimately tied with what it means to be independent citizens in a democracy - and it is no coincidence that, as we watch the middle classes shrinking, civil liberties being eroded, and democratic processes paralysing from corruption, the humanities are also being dismissed as irrelevant.

The humanities shore up democracy, civil liberties and the middle classes: they teach analysis, critical thinking, ethics, cultural comparison, and autonomous individual reflection; they teach history, languages, literature and the fine arts, which refine us and are one of the means by which we define human aspiration beyond material ambitions.

A narrow instrumentalism that judged art solely on the basis of its mechanical utility would conclude that Gordon Ramsay writes better books than Charles Dickens.

Education is not a smithy in which we forge workers to underpin the powerful. It is how we empower citizens, how we inform and apprehend what it means to be human - and that must include studying the humanities.

Every day we hear the rich and influential discouraging young people from exploring all that makes them human, drilling into them the idea that all they should think about is getting jobs, at the same time that these same so-called leaders won’t protect minimum wages or keep property values affordable.

I am an advocate of people exploring their own interests, whether those be arts, science, or a combination of the two. Everyone should be encouraged to seek ways of being productive and self-supporting that are consistent with those interests and beliefs. Certainly we need engineers, doctors, inventors and researchers.

But we also need experts in the humanities to think about imagination, consciousness, and communication in a digital age; to reflect on identity and ethics; to think creatively and problem-solve; to consider the consequences of past, present, and future actions.

We need artists to preserve beauty, to help us imagine redemption, to remind us of all that is possible for human beings to achieve beyond building better tools, which is all that technology means.

The humanities and the sciences are not opposed: the most interesting work today is bringing them together.

One of my fellow judges of the Man Booker prize, Daniel Glaser, directs the Science Gallery at King’s College London, an outreach centre teaching young people how “art and science collide”, bringing together artists, scientists, students, and communities “to stimulate fresh thinking”. The gallery will open in 2016 and as far as I’m concerned it can’t come soon enough.

A colleague of mine at UEA, Jenni Barclay, is a volcanologist working with local communities and social scientists to improve communication surrounding disasters; in her spare time she helped develop a volcano version of Top Trumps.

Scientists and artists are coming together to understand cognition, the digital world, our changing social and natural environment.

We don’t need new policy statements, or to dispense with ‘outmoded’ institutions: we need to empower research and innovation across all fields of creative human endeavour, and stop prioritising one over the other. It should be obvious to everyone that with the world in such a parlous state, we need all the help we can get.

Art and science will collide at the King’s College Science Gallery. King's College London

I’ve spent the past five years working on The Great Gatsby, one of the best-loved and most prophetic books in our tradition. In 1925, Scott Fitzgerald wrote a cautionary tale about what would happen to a person (Jay Gatsby), and the country he represented (America), if he took all of his romantic hopes and dreams and ideals and possibilities and channelled them into the reductive, materialistic aims of a corrupt society.

Fitzgerald concluded that human greatness lay in our “capacity for hope”, our “capacity for wonder”, “our romantic readiness” - and that settling for mere material comfort would destroy us.

All of us who were thrilled at the landing of the Philae spacecraft were responding to human ingenuity, technology, and engineering - and to a triumph of human inquiry, creativity and imagination.

That took science, it took art, and it took humanity. The humanities and the sciences are on the same side: the side of inspiration. The humanities and the sciences teach enlightenment: markets are blind.

In 1784, Immanuel Kant published an essay called What is Enlightenment? in which he declared:
If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on - then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me … It is more nearly possible, however, for the public to enlighten itself; indeed, if it is only given freedom, enlightenment is almost inevitable.
The reverse is also true: enlightenment and freedom are aligned.

“Enlightenment,” Kant wrote, “is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance … ‘Have the courage to use your own understanding,’ is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.”

Immanuel Kant needed no convincing on the value of the humanities. AndreasToerl, CC BY-SA

And it is surely therefore the motto of the arts, the sciences, and the humanities. It is not the motto of politicians who would do our thinking for us, so that we don’t challenge them. We must fight harder to protect our artistic and social heritage, to conserve our cultural as well as our natural environment.

The fight for the humanities is political. It is a fight for enlightenment principles of democracy, civil liberties, scepticism and rationalism, and evidenced-based conclusions in the struggle against propaganda and demagoguery.

It is the tradition of Bacon, Hume, Locke and Newton, it is the tradition of Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin. It is their legacy, and we have a duty to safeguard it.

In 1780, the American statesman John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail of his reluctant decision to join the revolution:
I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Painting and Poetry Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.
The magnificent hope of some day studying the arts was the ultimate goal, a revolutionary purpose.
Kant wrote:
Now I hear the cry from all sides: ‘Do not argue!’ The officer says: ‘Do not argue - drill!’ The tax collector: ‘Do not argue - pay!’ The pastor: ‘Do not argue - believe!’ … I reply: the public use of one’s reason must be free at all times, and this alone can bring enlightenment to mankind … Free thought gradually reacts back on the modes of thought of the people, and men become more and more capable of acting in freedom. At last free thought acts even on the fundamentals of government and the state finds it agreeable to treat man, who is now more than a machine, in accord with his dignity.
The humanities teach us to be more than machines, to learn the history of human achievement, to retrieve the dignity of our present existence and to imagine that a glorious future might still be possible if we protect the hard-won rights we have inherited.

It is in the humanities, the arts and the sciences together that we find meaning and any hope of beatitude in a secular age. This is grace, beauty, music and art. This is curing cancer, it is composing the St Matthew Passion and it is sitting at the Globe to watch the plays of Shakespeare.

How dare the education minister say that we need no longer teach young people this tradition? The humanities safeguard our higher nature, our higher ideals. This is our freedom: this is our enlightenment.

This is an edited version of a plenary address given at the Being Human Festival on November 15.
The Conversation

Sarah Churchwell does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

UK University Funding System ‘Worst of Both Worlds’

English: A march and rally organised by the UE...
A rally organised to protest against tuition fees (Wikipedia)
by , Schools Improvement Net:

The BBC is reporting that an independent study has suggested the funding system for England’s universities of tuition fees and repayments is the “worst of both worlds” …

The Higher Education Commission has cast doubt on the long-term financial sustainability of the current system. It warns students are paying more but the government is still writing off high levels of student debt.

“We have created a system where everybody feels like they are getting a bad deal,” says the study. The Higher Education Commission was set up to create a better informed debate on the university sector, with representatives from education, business and political parties.

This study from the commission has examined the sustainability of the financial arrangements for England’s universities, taking evidence from 60 expert witnesses. It has produced a highly critical report on the current arrangements - but admits there is no “magic bullet” in trying to design a better alternative.

The report says that the funding arrangements are unsatisfactory for students, universities and the government. “The current funding system represents the worst of both worlds. The government is funding higher education by writing off student debt, as opposed to directly investing in teaching grants,” says the study.

“Students feel like they are paying substantially more for their higher education, but are set to have a large proportion of their debt written off by the government. Universities are perceived to be ‘rolling in money’ in the eyes of students, as their income from tuition fees has tripled, yet the cuts to the teaching grant are not well understood by students and a fixed fee cap means an annual erosion of real terms income.

“We have created a system where everybody feels like they are getting a bad deal. This is not sustainable.”… The study suggests a range of alternative measures - and highlights that they would each have negative as well as positive consequences.
  • Lowering tuition fees to £6,000 would reduce student debt, but it would leave an estimated £1.72bn funding gap for universities
  • A graduate tax would require government to borrow £4bn to fill the gap between ending fees and the arrival of tax revenues - and such a tax would mean there was no clear link with the value of a particular course
  • Removing the £9,000 upper limit on fees would allow more money for universities and clearer competition, but higher fees would mean even higher levels of public subsidy for loans
  • Different charges for different universities or courses could also reduce the number graduates from expensive courses with high fees even if they were essential for the economy …
You can download the report at: Too Good To Fail
It does seem an odd system at the moment where students face huge loans and fees yet the government is apparently no better off than before fees were increased because of the huge amount now being written off. Your suggestions for a model moving forwards? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter …

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Online Learning at School Helps Prepare Teens for University

English: Online Learning
Online Learning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Martin Oliver, Institute of Education, University of London

Online learning has been around for more than 30 years, but recent excitement around Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has brought it fully into the public eye.

In schools, online learning used to be a remedial alternative to classroom teaching, particularly where learners were geographically dispersed.

But there is a growing belief that it might offer all students some distinct experiences that can prepare them for higher education.

There is a growing interest in the possibilities that different forms of virtual schooling can offer. This isn’t about whether online learning is better or worse than conventional teaching.

As a 2009 US Department for Education report demonstrated, decades of research on “media effects” still shows no conclusive evidence that either approach leads to improved learning outcomes.

There is evidence that learners who study both online and in schools benefit because they spend additional time learning and are given tasks and materials not received by pupils studying face-to-face. It is not simply because of the medium of study.

Confident and organised

So what are the benefits? A study by the Institute of Education explored the experiences of current university students who had completed the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). The IBDP includes online courses designed and delivered by Pamoja Education. There were 108 usable responses from students aged between 17 and 23, three-quarters of them women.

Students who had completed the online courses identified several benefits. Confidence with technology was one obvious advantage. Students who had studied online were familiar with technologies that formed an essential part of university life, such as virtual learning environments, discussion forums, Google tools, and audio-visual learning resources such as YouTube.

Of the students interviewed, 94% said finding academic resources on the internet was important to their success and 78% said being able to plan group tasks using online calendars, scheduling tools and discussion applications mattered. Another 71% found social networks useful for building relationships with other learners.

There were also cultural benefits. Online classes brought learners from other countries together: 36 countries were represented in the survey. Learners valued exposure to different perspectives on issues.

One student described how this experience online had helped them develop valuable skills and approaches: “I often use Google Docs and other Google tools to collaborate on group projects, including working with teams that are in different locations and time zones.”

Independent learning

Perhaps most importantly, students who had studied online described how important it was that they could learn independently. They were less likely than their peers to rely on tutors for help and more likely to set goals based on their own performance rather other students'. They had also developed better strategies for managing and pacing their studies. One 21-year old student said:
Studying online is different from attending regular classes. You have to be self-motivated to study on your own and set your own deadlines. Personally, I learned a lot from taking an online course because it helped me prepare myself in terms of scheduling and allocating time to finish each of the subjects that I am currently taking.
Interviewees also explained that online learning brought its own challenges. The structure of the online IBPD courses includes access to support staff within schools, as well as their online tutors, creating a supportive environment for the students.

The courses were taken alongside other conventionally taught courses, so that the unfamiliar experiences were part of a broader schooling experience, rather than an “all-or-nothing” alternative.

Challenges for teachers

Teachers interviewed as part of the study recognised the benefits and challenges that learners described. They also identified things that were less visible to learners, such as the way that postings in an online discussion forum meant that quieter learners were heard by tutors online in a way that doesn’t always happen in classrooms.

In the absence of traditional face-to-face communication, and recognising the diversity of their international students, the online teachers took care to ensure every step of the learning process was clear. They learnt to try and manage the levels of support each student received.

This is a stark contrast to the wider MOOC movement, in which there can often be little tutor engagement because courses are so massive. Retention is a major issue with this “sink-or-swim” MOOC model of student self-reliance.
I can’t imagine having an online classroom with 100 students because there’s simply not enough time in the day to do the kind of careful evaluation and feedback that is absolutely necessary to make the online environment work … If the teacher is not really focused and devoting a lot of time to the feedback process, it’s really easy for all but the most dedicated students to get lost.
Higher education is about more than passing exams: it involves taking responsibility and developing personal autonomy. Studying online alongside conventional school classes can provide a supportive rehearsal space where learners can develop their independence, giving them a head start when they progress to university.
The Conversation

Martin Oliver works for the Institute of Education, University of London, which received funding from Pamoja Education to undertake this study.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Where Can You Get Paid to Do a PhD?

I graduated from New York University in 2011 with a Master of Arts degree and spent some years on writing … writing articles, blogs, essays, academic papers, short stories. I’ve even tried to finish my first big novel.

But the more I wrote, the better I understood that my skills and knowledge were not enough to by a professional writer for authoritative magazines and newsletters.

The idea to get a PhD has come like a bolt from the blue. I was surprised at how many PhD scholarships there are in the world and how difficult it was to choose the one that would fit all my needs and expectations.

The more I searched, the more I became possessed with a new writing idea - to ease PhD searching for my fellow students and make a short list of the best PhD scholarships to choose in 2015.

So, here they are: 7 PhD scholarships, some of which you still have time to apply for, but if you miss out this year keep an eye on them because most are annual. They from all over the world and offer the chance to become and international student and study abroad.

Who: University of Southern Queensland
Where: Australia
Deadline to apply: 31 October 2014
This scholarship will be a perfect choice for you if you are an international student of Fraser Coast, Toowoomba or Springfield. Having a maximum value of $5,000, it considers applicants who have 80% or higher GPA and are enrolled in 4 study units minimum.
What do you need to apply for this scholarship? Complete two application forms (international student and scholarship ones) downloaded from the official website. You will also find all details on how to apply here.

Who: Canadian Government
Where: Canada
Deadline to apply: 5 November 2014
They award up to 167 scholarships annually for health, engineering, social or natural sciences, and humanities. This scholarship is worth $50, 000 per year, and it is generally awarded for 3 years. You do not have to be a Canadian citizen to apply for this scholarship, as they accept permanent residents and foreign students too. Check all application instructions at the official website of this scholarship and make sure you pursue a doctoral degree at some Canadian university, as it is an important condition for your eligibility.

Who: DFID (Department of International Development)
Where: United Kingdom
Deadline to apply: 3 December 2014
If you are a citizen of Developing Commonwealth Countries, you have a chance to get one of 300 scholarships DFID provides in all subject areas each year. Check all application instructions at their website, and keep in mind the fact you should not apply for this scholarship yourself: applications must be made through nominating agencies in your country. This is probably the only scholarship that does not make you write essays that work for application.

Who: Macquarie University
Where: Australia
Deadline to apply: 15 January 2015
This scholarship was developed for international students in particular; and if your fields of study are Education, Media, Human Science, Linguistics, Environment, or Engineering. Macquarie University does not specify a number of scholarships it will give annually. One and only pitfall here is the instruction that no citizens of Australia and New Zealand can apply for this scholarship. Check their website to find detailed information for application and access application forms to fill in.

Who: University of Otago
Where: New Zealand
Deadline to apply: ongoing
If you are seeking to obtain the first doctoral qualification, this scholarship might be a good choice for you. University of Otago accepts both domestic and international students, and it provides up to 180 scholarships per year. Your academic merit and potential will be a basis for your selection. Access the application form at their official website and fill it up to take part in competition. This scholarship has a maximum value of NZ$25,000.

Who: Japanese Government
Where: Japan
Deadline to apply: varies
This scholarship is available for those students whose countries have diplomatic relations with Japan. It has many benefits (check the list here), but you should be eligible on many conditions, including your age, nationality, knowledge of Japanese, and academic background. Application instructions may differ, depending on your home country. You should inquire at the Japanese embassy for details, because the deadline of applications may vary per country too.

Who: Norwegian Government
Where: Norway
Deadline to apply: 1 December 2014 (annual)
The complete list of countries eligible for this scholarship can be found by this link. 1,100 students get this scholarship annually, 800 of which are from developing countries and 300 are from Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Visit their official website for detailed information and all application instructions. Keep in mind the fact, that all inquiries should be sent directly to the International Office at the institution where you plan to apply.

The choice for me is Macquarie University. Thanks to my academic background and all networking strategies I used during my study at university, I hope to be eligible enough to get their scholarship and start getting my PhD in Australia.

Glad to hear you made a choice Alex! What about you? Why did you choose the place where you are doing a PhD? What advice do you offer for those considering where to apply?

And just in case you are thinking of joining me at ANU, here’s information on our scholarships.