Tuesday, September 27, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach by Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie and Rebecca Frels

7 Steps to a Literature Review coverby Impact of Social Sciences: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2016/09/25/book-review-seven-steps-to-a-comprehensive-literature-review-a-multimodal-and-cultural-approach-by-anthony-j-onwuegbuzie-and-rebecca-frels/

In Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach, Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie and Rebecca Frels offer a new guide on how to produce a comprehensive literature review through seven key steps that incorporate rigour, validity and reliability.

Ana Raquel Nunes recommends this helpful, well-informed and well-organised book to those undertaking literature reviews as well as those reflecting on research methodologies more broadly.
This review originally appeared on LSE Review of Books.

Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach, by Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie and Rebecca Frels, offers a straightforward guide on how to conduct literature reviews, and is the successor to Onwuegbuzie’s numerous previous works on qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods research. 

The book is a source of in-depth understanding of the role that literature reviews play within the research process and its practices, and is a substantive contribution to social, behavioural and health sciences research. It aims at incorporating rigour, validity and reliability when conducting literature reviews and presents seven steps on how to achieve this.

According to the authors, literature reviews should be systematic, defined ‘as a set of rigorous routines, documentation of such routines, and the way the literature reviewer negotiates particular biases throughout these routines’ (10). The authors acknowledge that this definition differs from the definitions of systematic literature reviews used in the health sciences. 

Instead, this book defines a comprehensive literature review (CLR) as an integrative review, being the combination of narrative review (i.e. theoretical, historical, general and methodological reviews) and systematic review (i.e. meta-analysis, meta-summary, rapid review and meta-synthesis). 

Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review purposefully addresses CLR as ‘a methodological, culturally progressive approach involving the practice of documenting the process of inquiry into the current state of knowledge about a selected topic’ (18). Additionally, the authors’ approach to the CLR takes into account the researcher’s philosophical stance, research methods and practices which, when combined, create a framework for collecting, analysing and evaluating the information that will form the basis for conducting a literature review. 

The book thus presents five types of information - MODES: namely, Media; Observation(s); Documents; Experts(s); and Secondary Sources - that help the researcher in their journey through the literature review landscape, which in the end will produce either a separate output or inform primary research within a bigger research project. 

Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review is an effective tool for an iterative process denoting a structured and chronological approach to conducting literature reviews. The book covers a range of research topics and practical examples arising from the authors’ own research including education, counselling and health systems research. Through these, the authors report an in-depth model characterised by a series of qualitative, quantitative and mixed research approaches, methods and techniques used to collect, analyse and evaluate data/information for the creation of new knowledge.

As its title suggests, the book is organised around seven sequential steps within three phases: the Exploration Phase includes Steps 1-5 (Exploring Beliefs and Topics; Initiating the Search; Storing and Organising Information; Selecting/Deselecting Information; and Expanding the Search (MODES)); the Interpretation Phase includes Step 6 (Analysing and Synthesising Information); and the Communication Phase includes Step 7 (Presenting the CLR Report). 

As the argument of the book develops, the differences between traditional literature reviews and the CLR become evident as the seven steps are unveiled. Traditional literature reviews are encapsulated within Steps 1-4, whilst a CLR goes further through the addition of Steps 5-7.

One of the steps that was of particular interest to me was Step 6 on analysing and synthesising information. The book advances research methodology knowledge and practice on the different elements of empirical data and how both qualitative and quantitative information can be analysed and synthesised to inform a CLR.

In Step 6, the authors go to great lengths to explain and exemplify how users can perform qualitative and quantitative data analyses of information, as well as the level of integration that can be achieved when doing mixed methods analyses. 

Additionally, the authors explore the nature of data analysis and identify three levels or layers that need to be taken into consideration: namely, the research approach (e.g. grounded theory); the research method (e.g. measures if regression); and the research technique (e.g. content analysis) used. This is found to be essential as data analysis is considered to be a product of the research method used, which in turn is linked to the research approach. 

Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review is not merely intended for those conducting a literature review, but it also works as a research methodology book as it addresses an extensive number of research methodologies, methods and techniques. The book offers a theoretically and practically informed discussion of increased integration of research processes, practices and products, raising important quality standards assurances necessary for a CLR, but also for research more generally. 

This is a very well-organised book which cleverly and effectively uses tables, figures and boxes throughout to illustrate and help contextualise detailed examples of the different steps involved in conducting a literature review.

Accordingly, readers seeking a tool or a guide on conducting literature reviews will find this a very helpful book. It will also be of use to a broader readership interested in research methodology more generally as it encompasses the different research traditions (qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods) as well as the stages of the research process (the research problem, the literature review, research design, data collection, data analysis and interpretation and report writing). 

For the reasons above, it will appeal widely to students, academics and practitioners interested in conducting literature reviews within the social, behavioural and health sciences. It is suitable for different levels of experience in conducting literature reviews and doing research in general. Furthermore, this is a book that should be at-hand and used as a guide each time one decides to conduct a piece of research that includes a literature review as it will provide new ideas and directions depending on the topic and disciplinary perspective.

Dr Ana Raquel Nunes is a Research Fellow in the Division of Health Sciences at the Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, and a Research Methodologist and Adviser for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Research Design Service (RDS). She is an interdisciplinary and mixed methods researcher working at the interface between public health, environmental science and social science. Her active interests include human vulnerability, resilience and adaptation to stresses and threats (e.g. climate change), housing and health, and fuel poverty. You can find more about her research here. 

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

The Flipped Classroom Unplugged: Three Tech-Free Strategies for Engaging Students

active learningby , Faculty Focus: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/blended-flipped-learning/flipped-classroom-unplugged-three-tech-free-strategies-engaging-students/

Throughout this summer article series, we’ve addressed some of the most frequently asked questions about the flipped classroom in higher education.

We’ve shared ideas for student motivation, student engagement, time management, student resistance, and large classes. Since this is the final article in the series, I reviewed my notes and the findings from the Faculty Focus reader survey on flipped classroom trends (2015), and there’s one more topic we need to address:  creativity. 

“I don’t know if I’m creative enough to flip my class. How do you keep coming up with new teaching strategies and tools to engage students during class time?”

In almost every workshop I teach, at least one participant asks me this question. And, the findings from the Faculty Focus reader survey highlight the scope of this concern among educators. Almost 79% of the survey respondents indicated that “being creative and developing new strategies and ideas” was sometimes, often, or always a challenge when implementing the flipped classroom model.

By design, the flipped classroom model challenges you to plan activities and learning experiences where students focus on applying, analyzing, and evaluating course content during class time. It does take a certain amount of creativity to flip your classroom, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. You can flip your class using simple strategies that allow for students to interact with the material and engage with each other.

For example, lately, I’ve been exploring the idea of flipping moments in our classes without using technology. What would happen if we got back to the basics with some of our activities and used everyday tools to engage students in higher levels of thinking? Would this help some of us overcome some of these feelings of intimidation and inspire us to be more creative? To start the conversation and get the creative ideas flowing, here are three “unplugged” flipped strategies you can add to your class to engage students. 

Flipped Strategy: Adaptation of Muddiest Point
Tool: Index Cards

“Muddiest Point” is a classroom assessment technique that allows students the opportunity to tell you what they are still confused or unclear about from the lesson (Angelo and Cross, 1993). Ask students to write their “muddiest point” on an index card. You may want to specifically focus their attention on the material from today’s lecture, yesterday’s lab, last night’s homework, or any other learning experience you want them to examine.

After your students complete the task, divide them into groups and tell them to analyze the cards based on some set of criteria. Ask them to look for patterns, common themes, categories, or outliers. Note how this adaptation of the Muddiest Point activity challenges students to move beyond just explaining what they don’t understand and into the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. They are now summarizing, sorting, analyzing, and evaluating the cards while looking for connections and themes.

Bonus idea: After students sort the cards, challenge them to find the answers together. If you want to keep things “unplugged,” tell them they can only use their textbook, hand-written notes, or other printed materials. 

Flipped Strategy: Mind Mapping
Tools: Sticky Notes, Whiteboard, Markers

Give each pair or group of students a stack of sticky notes and ask them to go to the whiteboard or chalkboard. Assign a topic related to the course material and challenge students to create a mind map of the topic using only their sticky notes. Explain that they can only put one idea on each sticky note, but they can use as many sticky notes as they need. Encourage them to use markers or chalk to draw lines and make connections between the ideas/concepts so you can see how their mind map is organized. By using sticky notes, it’ll be easier for the students to change their maps based on new ways of thinking.

Bonus idea: If you assign all groups the same topic, then you can ask them to rotate around the room and compare and contrast the different mind maps. You could give each group a different colored sticky note so they can add to another group’s mind map, almost like a gallery walk but with sticky notes. 

Flipped Strategy: Brainstorming Challenge
Tools: Pair of Dice, Worksheet

Give students a case study, question, or problem that benefits from brainstorming. Then, divide students into groups and give each group a pair of six-sided dice. Tell students to roll the dice, and whatever number they roll represents the number of answers they need to generate.

For example, if they roll a four and a five, they need to brainstorm nine possible solutions. If they roll a pair of sixes, they need to brainstorm 12 possible solutions. Give them a worksheet to record their ideas. Once groups have completed their challenge, ask them to switch their worksheets with another group and review their lists. This could be the beginning of a class discussion, or you could go another round and see how many more ideas students can add to another group’s list.

Bonus idea: At the end of this activity, ask students to review all of the ideas, select the top two best solutions, and justify their decision.

Hopefully these unplugged flipped strategies will inspire you to be creative in your own way. Your flipped classroom may not look like your colleague’s flipped classroom, and that’s okay. It’s not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. There isn’t one “right” way to flip your class. The most important takeaway is to use the tools and strategies that make the flipped model work for you and your students.

Thank you for following the series this summer. I hope I have addressed many of your questions about the flipped model, and I look forward to hearing from you! 

Now it’s your turn! What “unplugged” flipped strategies have you used in your classes to enhance student engagement? 


Angelo, T. & Cross, P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. 2nd edition. Jossey-Bass.

Honeycutt, B. (July 7, 2016). Three ways you can use index cards to FLIP your class: Another “unplugged” flipped strategy. Published on LinkedIn. Available online: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/3-ways-you-can-use-index-cards-flip-your-class-barbi-honeycutt-ph-d-?trk=mp-author-card 

Barbi Honeycutt is the owner of FLIP It Consulting in Raleigh, N.C. and an adjunct assistant professor at NC State University. Her new book 101 Unplugged Flipped Strategies to Engage Your Students. Connect on Twitter @BarbiHoneycutt and on her blog.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Neoliberal Assault on Academia: The Neoliberal Sacking of the Universities Runs Much Deeper than Tuition Hikes and Budget Cuts

Students are increasingly unwilling to take on massive debt for jobs they have little confidence of getting [EPA]
Students unwilling to take on massive debt for jobs [EPA]
by Tarak Barkawi, Al Jazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/04/20134238284530760.html

Tarak Barkawi is Reader in the Department of International Relations, London School of Economics

Story highlights

The New York Times, Slate and Al Jazeera have recently drawn attention to the adjunctification of the professoriate in the US. Only 24% of university and college faculty are now tenured or tenure-track.

Much of the coverage has focused on the sub-poverty wages of adjunct faculty, their lack of job security and the growing legions of unemployed and under-employed PhDs. Elsewhere, the focus has been on web-based learning and the massive open online courses (MOOCs), with some commentators celebrating and others lamenting their arrival. 

The two developments are not unrelated. Harvard recently asked its alumni to volunteer their time as "online mentors" and "discussion group managers" for an online course. Fewer professors and fewer qualified - or even paid - teaching assistants will be required in higher education's New Order.

Lost amid the fetishisation of information technology and the pathos of the struggle over proper working conditions for adjunct faculty is the deeper crisis of the academic profession occasioned by neoliberalism. This crisis is connected to the economics of higher education but it is not primarily about that. The neoliberal sacking of the universities runs much deeper than tuition fee hikes and budget cuts.

Thatcherite budget-cutting exercise  

The professions are in part defined by the fact that they are self-governing and self-regulating. For many years now, the professoriate has not only been ceding power to a neoliberal managerial class, but has in many cases been actively collaborating with it.

As a dose of shock capitalism, the 2008 financial crisis accelerated processes already well underway. In successive waves, the crisis has hit each pillar of the American university system. The initial stock market crash blasted the endowments of the prestige private universities. Before long, neoliberal ideologues and their disastrous austerity policies undermined state and eventually federal funding for universities and their research.

Tuition soared and students turned even more to debt financing. Now that bubble is bursting and hitting all the institutions of higher education that depend on tuition. Students are increasingly unwilling to take on massive debt for jobs they have little confidence of getting.

The upshot is to soften the resistance of faculty to change, in part by making people fear for their jobs but mostly by creating a generalised sense of crisis. It becomes all the easier for some academic "leaders" to be drawn up into the recurrent task of "reinventing" the university.

Here is the intersection with neoliberal management culture. Neoliberal managers thrive not by bringing in new resources - since austerity is always the order of the day - but by constantly rearranging the deck chairs. Each manager seeks to reorganise and restructure in order to leave his or her mark. They depart for the next lucrative job before the ship goes under.

One consequence is the mania for mergers of departments and faculties in the US and the UK. In both the university and corporate world, mergers are not only demoralising for staff, but they also break up solidarities and destroy traditions and make staff much more amenable to control from above. Such projects have little to do with academic excellence or even purposes, and often are self-defeating as the managers and the quislings among the professoriate who assist them have little idea what they are doing.

One of the only things the University of Birmingham was ever known for in the wider world was its Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. In 2002, the Centre was shut down by fiat in an act of vandalism described as "restructuring". The justification given for this was yet another neoliberal exercise then known as the Research Assessment Exercise, or RAE. 

In US terms, post-tenure review is an imperfect analogy for the salutary and depressing tale of the RAE. Invented by Margaret Thatcher's government, the basic idea is to rank all the departments in any one discipline and channel funding to the "best" departments, while cutting funding to the rest. The RAE was an assault on the basic idea of a university - the universe of knowledge - since universities would lose poor performing departments.

In neoliberal speak, this may sound very sensible. But imagine what happens to, say, physics and biology students, when, as the University of Exeter did, the chemistry department is shut down. Who will teach them chemistry? More to the point, how do you judge which is "best"? For this, the RAE needed the willing and active collaboration of the professoriate.

When I first held a UK academic post in the relatively early days of the RAE in the late 1990s, academics talked about it as if it were just some form they had to fill out, an annoying bureaucratic exercise that would not really affect us. Others, academic "leaders", saw it as an opportunity to do down their colleagues in other universities and channel funds to their own departments. 

Neoliberal assault on the universities  

In this way, the professors themselves helped to administer and legitimate a Thatcherite budget-cutting exercise. Worse, they participated in what they know to be a fiction: that you can rank scholarly research like you can restaurants or hotels so as to determine which departments have the "best" faculty.

Little more than a decade later - and now known as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) - this five-yearly exercise completely dominates UK academic life. It determines hiring patterns, career progression, and status and duties within departments. It organises the research projects of individual scholars so as to meet arbitrary deadlines. It has created space for a whole class of paid consultants who rank scholarship and assist in putting together REF returns.

UK academics regularly talk about each other's work in terms of whether this or that book or article is "three star" or "four star". Again, for those attuned to neoliberal ways of thinking, this may appear natural. But remember that the entire point of university research is conversation and contestation over what is true and right. In the natural sciences, as in the social sciences and humanities, one person's truth is another person's tosh, and valid knowledge emerges from the clash of many different perspectives.

Somehow, UK professors have become intimately bound up in administering and legitimating a government-run exercise that now shapes more of university life than they themselves do. They have actively ceded their power. US faculty need to keep this travesty in mind.

Something as apparently innocuous as an accreditation agency demanding that syllabi be written in a particular format, or majors justified in a particular way, can wind up empowering university management to intimately regulate teaching. A meaningless buzzword in the mouth of a dean, such as "new majority student", might in practice help legitimate the hiring of less qualified faculty. After all, if "teacher ownership of content" is old fashioned, why do you need to hire a professor who can create his or her own course?

The bottom line of the neoliberal assault on the universities is the increasing power of management and the undermining of faculty self-governance. The real story behind MOOCs may be the ways in which they assist management restructuring efforts of core university practices, under the smiley-faced banner of "open access" and assisted in some cases by their "superstar", camera-ready professors.

Meanwhile, all those adjunct faculty are far more subject to managerial control and regulation than are tenured professors. Aside from their low cost, that is one of the principal reasons why they are so attractive to university managers. 

Tarak Barkawi is Associate Professor in the Department of Politics, New School for Social Research. 

Source: Al Jazeera.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Two-Thirds of College Students Think They’re Going to Change the World

C3 College Students
College Students (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Lisa Wade, PhD, Cross-posted at PolicyMic, Huffington Post, BlogHer, and Pacific Standard, Sociological Images: https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/05/20/college-students-aspirations-and-expectations/

Writer Peg Streep is writing a book about the Millennial generation and she routinely sprinkles great data into her posts at Psychology Today.

Recently she linked to at study by Net Impact that surveyed currently-enrolled college students and college-graduates across three generations Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers. The questions focused on life goals and work priorities. They found significant differences between students and college grads, as well as interesting generational differences.

First, students have generally higher demands on the world; they are as likely or more likely than workers to say that a wide range of accomplishments are “important or essential to [their] happiness”:

In particular, students are more likely than workers to say it is important or essential to have a prestigious career with which they can make an impact.  More than a third think that this will happen within the next five years:

Wealth is less important to students than prestige and impact.  Over a third say they would take a significant pay cut to work for a company committed to corporate social responsibility (CSR), almost half for a company that makes a positive social or environmental impact, and over half to align their values with their job:

Students stand out, then, in both the desire to be personally successful and to make a positive contribution to society.

At the same time, they’re cynical about other people’s priorities. Students and Millennials are far more likely than Gen Xers or Boomers to think that “people are just looking out for themselves.”

This data rings true to this college professor. Despite the recession, the students at my (rather elite, private, liberal arts) school surprise me with their high professional expectations (thinking that they should be wildly successful, even if they’re worried they won’t be) and their desire to change the world (many strongly identify as progressives who are concerned with social inequalities and political corruption).

Some call this entitlement, but I think it’s at least as true to say that today’s college youth (the self-esteem generation) have been promised these things. They’ve always been told to dream big, and so they do.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid that we’ve sold our young people a bill of goods. Their high expectations sound like a recipe for disappointment, even for my privileged population, especially if they expect it to happen before they exit their twenties!

Alternatively, what we’re seeing is the idealism of youth. It will be interesting to see if they downshift their expectations once they get into the workforce. Net Impact doesn’t address whether these are largely generational or age differences. It’s probably a combination of both. 

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Voicing Writing: Exploring the Link Between Body and Text

by Susan Carter, Doctoral Writing: https://doctoralwriting.wordpress.com/2016/09/07/voicing-writing-exploring-the-link-between-body-and-text/

During my own doctorate, I was troubled by voice and identity. As an undergraduate, I aspired to sounding like an academic; at doctoral level, it felt important to sound like myself. This post picks over some of the purposes of having doctoral students read their work aloud.

Most of us who support doctoral students with writing will repeat this handy bit of revision advice: ‘read the sentence out loud and you’ll hear when it is too long, or when the syntax is a bit skewy.’ It is the case that the process of voicing written prose will bring to light what’s going wrong in a way that helps revision.

Another ‘talking cure’ (to bounce of early psychoanalysis terminology) entails students talking through their research while someone writes down what they are hearing and asks questions when they don’t understand. Fairly commonly, students just can’t capture what is important in their research in their writing but can find it when they are talking to another human who probes them. I think it because authors expect that readers will see what’s important without them needing actual sentences spelling it out, whereas they often don’t.

We can advise, ‘remember your audience’s needs’, but with the talking cure, the audience (think ‘reader’) has become real. Their needs are real. The researcher is no longer groping round in thickets of big words but is back helping another human to grab hold of the significance of their work.

Again, quite commonly we all as writers find it hard to actually spell out a clear articulation of what our research means or why it matters. Being able to do so in simple language is hugely empowering - if we can help doctoral students to do it, we make their survival as researchers a lot more likely.

Usually, then, as a supervisor I’ll ask students to read their writing aloud for the reasons of enabling authorial clarity and to foster thinking by asking questions when I suspect that there is more to be said. But in this post, I also want to speculate more on the relationship between voice and identity.

The term ‘voice’ is used for the sense of authorial individuality captured in written prose. It is often hard to achieve, because on one hand it must demonstrate that the writer is aware of genre and discipline expectations, and on the other, that the writer has engaged with any contentions in their field and have positioned themselves defensibly in relation to them.

Claire Aitchison has posted on using voice recognition software that writes what you say so that you capture an embodied and voiced version of your thoughts. Claire finds that she likes the spoken-aloud version of her own writing better than the one produced by her fingers on the keyboard. There’s something going on with that.

I’m speculating that this is due to her sounding more like herself, like the Claire who talks in all kinds of situations, and in quite different roles with a range of people (observing many different genres). Maybe talking aloud serves another purpose: staying more true to the self that you are holistically, both in and out of academia.

Are others attracted by the possibility of developing a holistic voice that captures an author as they would be recognized by their friends and family outside of academia? Those people we live our lives with don’t hear us talking in abstract theory.

I want to suggest that talking also lets you hear when you are using theory in a way that is true or untrue to the ordinary talk of your background. For some of us, this alignment factor feels important, and /or it may be important because we are writing from a theoretical position, as a woman using feminist theory, say, or an indigenous author using post-colonial theory for the purpose of ‘decolonising’ (Smith 2012).

When I wrote my PhD, I was mature, with life and work behind me that gave me a self who was known by friends, neighbours, previous work mates and family. I wanted to become an academic, but I didn’t want to sound pompous. Pomposity can seem a real risk for doctoral writing. Ok, there is nothing ‘natural’ about written text, so that the idea of an authentic voice is naive, but the textual construct of academic persona, I felt, should be bear some recognition of the embodied writer.

In my case, I couldn’t chase after the feminist theory that attracted me to the extent that it wasn’t true to who I was, in this case, happily married to a bloke. I can’t remember the sentence, but I do remember reading one of my sentences aloud and recognizing I just could not use it. It was a well-written, theoretically-interesting academic sentence that took some ideas I believed in to their logical conclusion, but I would feel an idiot reading it to some of my mates. My own life as I had lived it wasn’t predicated on theory.

The sentence had to go, and I had to find a way to be sharp in academic terms, but within the scope of who I was as a whole person. This tangle with theory and voice induced one of those mini-identity crises that accompanies education learning that is transformative.

And I think that often doctoral students who are in the process of transition but have not actually found themselves an academic voice struggle with pulling their ordinary-world self into alignment with their academic voice. Perhaps that is what feels uncomfortable.prompts in the process of teaching and learning.

So I’m suggesting here another use for asking doctoral students to read their writing aloud. It can be empowering for doctoral writers who want to build an authorial voice that speaks their holistic self into being within academia.

Does your experience tell you that doctoral students commonly grapple with a comfortable good-fit academic voice?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Reflections: My PhD Experience

English: Magazine Square, showing the Leiceste...
Magazine Square and De Montfort University (Wikipedia)
by aspiringprofessionalshub: https://aspiringprofessionalshub.com/2015/05/21/reflections-my-phd-experience/

Studying for a PhD can be a lonely process, however the thoughts you have and the emotions you feel are shared by others in your ‘small’ PhD student community. 

In today’s ‘Reflections’, Miriam Madziga, a third year PhD candidate at the Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD), De Montfort University shares some thoughts on her PhD experience so far. 

My PhD journey started long before I made my application, it started in my mind, as I gave some thought to why I wanted to pursue a PhD.  I am curious and inquisitive by nature, always wanting to know ‘how’ and ‘why’ things worked the way they did. I also loved writing, which combined with a love for research would serve to my advantage.

I knew I wanted to pursue a PhD but did not know what my topic area would be or what doing a PhD entailed. There were more than a thousand questions that flooded my mind. So I did what I do best when trapped in a mentally overwhelming situation, I go on holiday!

I also knew I wanted my topic area to be connected to my previous academic background/ field of ‘Environmental Economics, Waste & Resources Management’ as well as relevant to the world and society at large.

I then decided to focus my research on ‘water.’ ‘What about water?’ was my next logical reasoning. I found tons of information and previous research conducted on water generation, production, treatment, supply and remediation; all from ground and surface water sources but very little on production of water from atmospheric water sources. So, I decided to look at the ‘unobvious’ aspect of water where there was very little attention and this was what gave birth to my research topic: Water from air! 

Another important factor is the relevance of my PhD research to society today, water is  an element in its abundance on the Earth and yet faces global persistent challenges around the world - this led me to asking the question ‘Why’ and then to ‘Finding out what I could do about this’. My research is investigating the use of condensations systems to extract clean drinking water from air’ and I have decided to apply this especially to poor communities. 

What has my PhD experience been like? It has been unlike any other thing I have ever experienced. When I first started, I felt like an octopus on skates trying to keep my balance while navigating through new territory. Nothing really prepares you fully for a PhD like doing one. Where I seemed lacking in skill or knowledge, I quickly sought assistance and applied myself.

The transition onto my PhD was made smoother because my University provided doctoral training courses which gave me a better understanding of what the process was like and what skills I needed to develop to succeed. 

My PhD journey has been one of self-discovery, especially of new skills and abilities I did not know I had. I have developed excellent organisational skills; planning is very crucial to enable me progress with my PhD as well as have a life outside of it! I set weekly and monthly goals for my research and look forward to rewarding myself with adventure trips such as: skydiving, scuba diving, hiking, or snowboarding.

My time keeping has significantly improved. As an undergraduate student, I recall being late so often to lectures that I was mandated to take a ‘time keeping’ session - to which I arrived late! However, the contrast between who I was then and now has been huge and I am pleased to see the transformation in my research as well. I can tell you to some degree of precision what my calendar is like from today even up to the end of the year - all a credit to planning management.

I suppose my mental preparation was what paved way to the resilient spirit which kept pushing me through tough times, challenges and setbacks. The biggest challenge of all for me was funding as I am self-funded. This meant that being a PhD candidate was akin to working a regular job with no income for a minimum of 3 years while simultaneously sourcing funds to enable me conduct my PhD research.

A sustaining factor was the desire within me to pursue a PhD despite all odds. Call it kismet, but suddenly opportunities began to emerge to aid me along the way. Assistance in form of business consulting opportunities, networking and monetization through my blogging platform and sales of products I had made and books I had published. I took advantage of every opportunity that came my way. This in turn opened up more connections and networking opportunities with people, industry and other Universities. 

My PhD journey has also been sustained by the self-motivation that I continue to generate within myself. When the going gets tough; I find comfort in the place of prayer and meditation, laughter and joy amongst friends. I build endurance, clarity and stamina at the gym and while playing roller derby with my team Roller Derby Leicester, and most importantly the love and support of my family and loved ones.

So, if you aspire to elevate yourself to the league of extraordinary researchers, develop new skills, make new connections and progress in your career, I will most definitely say ‘YES’! Go for a PhD!!

Students are Not Hard-Wired to Learn in Different Ways: We Need to Stop Using Unproven, Harmful Methods

English: Primary School in "open air"...
Primary school in open air in Bucharest, 1842 (Wikipedia)
by Stephen Dinham, University of Melbourne, The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/students-are-not-hard-wired-to-learn-in-different-ways-we-need-to-stop-using-unproven-harmful-methods-63715

In our series, Better Teachers, we’ll explore how to improve teacher education in Australia. We’ll look at what the evidence says on a range of themes including how to raise the status of the profession and measure and improve teacher quality.

In health there are well-established protocols that govern the introduction of any new drug or treatment. Of major consideration is the notion of doing no harm. In education there are no such controls and plenty of vested interests keen to see the adoption of new strategies and resources for a variety of ideological and financial reasons.

Teachers need to be critical consumers of research - as with medicine, lives are also at stake - yet with the best will in the world and without the knowledge and time to do so, decisions may be made to adopt new approaches that are not only ineffectual, but can actually do harm. A case in point is learning styles.

The notion of the existence of learning styles - that people are “hard-wired” to learn best in a certain way - has been around since the 1970s. There are now more than 70 extant models ranging from early childhood to higher education to business.

The theory is that if a teacher can provide learning activities and experiences that match a student’s supposed learning style, learning will be more effective. Probably the best known are the “auditory” (learning best by hearing), “visual” (learning best through images), and “kinesthetic” (learning best through touch and movement) typologies of learners.

Learning styles has become a vast, lucrative industry with inventories, manuals, video resources, in-service packages, websites, publications and workshops. Some schools have spent many thousands of dollars assessing students using the various inventories.

Lack of evidence

Psychologists and neuroscientists agree there is little efficacy for these models, which are based on dubious evidence. If learning styles exist at all, these are not “hard wired” and are at most simply preferences. What we prefer is neither fixed for all time nor always what is best for us. Education professor John Hattie has noted that:
It is hard not to be sceptical about these learning preference claims.
Professor of reading education Stephen Stahl has commented:
I work with a lot of different schools and listen to a lot of teachers talk. Nowhere have I seen a greater conflict between “craft knowledge” or what teachers know (or at least think they know) and “academic knowledge” or what researchers know (or at least think they know) than in the area of learning styles. … The whole notion seems fairly intuitive. People are different. Certainly different people might learn differently from each other. It makes sense.
However, there is a distinct lack of empirical support for the existence of learning styles. Stahl has noted:
The reason researchers roll their eyes at learning styles is the utter failure to find that assessing children’s learning styles and matching to instructional methods has any effect on their learning.
The authors of an extensive review of the research evidence for learning styles concluded:
Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis. We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general educational practice.
Yet as educational psychologist Catherine Scott has observed:
Failure to find evidence for the utility of tailoring instruction to individuals’ learning styles has not prevented this term from being a perennial inclusion in discussions about and recommendations on pedagogy.
References to learning styles still abound in many curriculum documents at system and school level, despite the lack of evidence for their efficacy.

When I have pointed this out to educators, the usual response is that “it doesn’t matter”. But it does matter because of the problems and harm that can be caused by the categorisation and labelling. These can lead to negative mindsets in students and limited learning experiences through the continued belief in and application of so-called learning styles, not to mention the time and money wasted. We might as well teach students according to their horoscopes.

By all means, let’s cater for individual differences in student learning. This is best achieved through knowing our students as learners and people, thorough on-going assessment, constructive feedback and targeted, evidence-based teaching strategies. In the world of manufacturing, a product found to be dangerous is generally recalled. The time has come for a general recall on the use of learning styles in teaching.

Stephen Dinham, Professor and Associate Dean Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne

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

Friday, September 2, 2016

Making the Most of Your PhD: Musings of a Nearly Completed PhD Candidate


America the Illiterate

  A dog-costume contest in 2008 (T Fineberg/AP)
by Chris Hedges, Truthdig: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20081110_america_the_illiterate/ 

Chris Hedges is on vacation and will return to writing his weekly Truthdig column on Sept. 5. While he is on break, we are republishing some of his past columns. This one originally ran on Nov. 10, 2008. 

Editor's Note: Could this be Australia as well? This article is a sign of the times rather than an anti-Obama treatise. Obama was simply part of the trend and the article was written when he ascended to power. Look at the current spin from the Clinton and Trump campaigns. The symptom has turned into reality, a reality that HAS spread to Australia and the rest of the "democratic" world.

We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. 

The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and clichés. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. 

This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.

There are over 42 million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate. And their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year. 

But even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence. A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school. Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book. 

The illiterate rarely vote, and when they do vote they do so without the ability to make decisions based on textual information. American political campaigns, which have learned to speak in the comforting epistemology of images, eschew real ideas and policy for cheap slogans and reassuring personal narratives. 

Political propaganda now masquerades as ideology. Political campaigns have become an experience. They do not require cognitive or self-critical skills. They are designed to ignite pseudo-religious feelings of euphoria, empowerment and collective salvation. Campaigns that succeed are carefully constructed psychological instruments that manipulate fickle public moods, emotions and impulses, many of which are subliminal. 

They create a public ecstasy that annuls individuality and fosters a state of mindlessness. They thrust us into an eternal present. They cater to a nation that now lives in a state of permanent amnesia. It is style and story, not content or history or reality, which inform our politics and our lives. 

We prefer happy illusions. And it works because so much of the American electorate, including those who should know better, blindly cast ballots for slogans, smiles, the cheerful family tableaux, narratives and the perceived sincerity and the attractiveness of candidates. We confuse how we feel with knowledge. 

The illiterate and semi-literate, once the campaigns are over, remain powerless. They still cannot protect their children from dysfunctional public schools. They still cannot understand predatory loan deals, the intricacies of mortgage papers, credit card agreements and equity lines of credit that drive them into foreclosures and bankruptcies. They still struggle with the most basic chores of daily life from reading instructions on medicine bottles to filling out bank forms, car loan documents and unemployment benefit and insurance papers. 

They watch helplessly and without comprehension as hundreds of thousands of jobs are shed. They are hostages to brands. Brands come with images and slogans. Images and slogans are all they understand. Many eat at fast food restaurants not only because it is cheap but because they can order from pictures rather than menus. And those who serve them, also semi-literate or illiterate, punch in orders on cash registers whose keys are marked with symbols and pictures. This is our brave new world.

Political leaders in our post-literate society no longer need to be competent, sincere or honest. They only need to appear to have these qualities. Most of all they need a story, a narrative. The reality of the narrative is irrelevant. It can be completely at odds with the facts. The consistency and emotional appeal of the story are paramount. The most essential skill in political theater and the consumer culture is artifice. Those who are best at artifice succeed. Those who have not mastered the art of artifice fail. 

In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we do not seek or want honesty. We ask to be indulged and entertained by clichés, stereotypes and mythic narratives that tell us we can be whomever we want to be, that we live in the greatest country on Earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities and that our glorious future is preordained, either because of our attributes as Americans or because we are blessed by God or both. 

The ability to magnify these simple and childish lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives these lies the aura of an uncontested truth. We are repeatedly fed words or phrases like yes we can, maverick, change, pro-life, hope  or war on terror. It feels good not to think. All we have to do is visualize what we want, believe in ourselves and summon those hidden inner resources, whether divine or national, that make the world conform to our desires. Reality is never an impediment to our advancement.

The Princeton Review analyzed the transcripts of the Gore-Bush debates, the Clinton-Bush-Perot debates of 1992, the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 and the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. It reviewed these transcripts using a standard vocabulary test that indicates the minimum educational standard needed for a reader to grasp the text. 

During the 2000 debates, George W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.7) and Al Gore at a seventh-grade level (7.6). In the 1992 debates, Bill Clinton spoke at a seventh-grade level (7.6), while George H.W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.8), as did H. Ross Perot (6.3). In the debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the candidates spoke in language used by 10th-graders. In the debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas the scores were respectively 11.2 and 12.0. 

In short, today’s political rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a 10-year-old child or an adult with a sixth-grade reading level. It is fitted to this level of comprehension because most Americans speak, think and are entertained at this level. This is why serious film and theater and other serious artistic expression, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins of American society. Voltaire was the most famous man of the 18th century. Today the most famous “person” is Mickey Mouse.

In our post-literate world, because ideas are inaccessible, there is a need for constant stimulus. News, political debate, theater, art and books are judged not on the power of their ideas but on their ability to entertain. Cultural products that force us to examine ourselves and our society are condemned as elitist and impenetrable.

Hannah Arendt warned that the marketization of culture leads to its degradation, that this marketization creates a new celebrity class of intellectuals who, although well read and informed themselves, see their role in society as persuading the masses that “Hamlet” can be as entertaining as “The Lion King” and perhaps as educational. “Culture,” she wrote, “is being destroyed in order to yield entertainment.”

“There are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect,” Arendt wrote, “but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say.”

The change from a print-based to an image-based society has transformed our nation. Huge segments of our population, especially those who live in the embrace of the Christian right and the consumer culture, are completely unmoored from reality. 

They lack the capacity to search for truth and cope rationally with our mounting social and economic ills. They seek clarity, entertainment and order. They are willing to use force to impose this clarity on others, especially those who do not speak as they speak and think as they think. All the traditional tools of democracies, including dispassionate scientific and historical truth, facts, news and rational debate, are useless instruments in a world that lacks the capacity to use them.

As we descend into a devastating economic crisis, one that Barack Obama cannot halt, there will be tens of millions of Americans who will be ruthlessly thrust aside. As their houses are foreclosed, as their jobs are lost, as they are forced to declare bankruptcy and watch their communities collapse, they will retreat even further into irrational fantasy. 

They will be led toward glittering and self-destructive illusions by our modern Pied Pipers - our corporate advertisers, our charlatan preachers, our television news celebrities, our self-help gurus, our entertainment industry and our political demagogues - who will offer increasingly absurd forms of escapism.

The core values of our open society, the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense indicate something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to understand historical facts, to separate truth from lies, to advocate for change and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable, are dying. 

Obama used hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds to appeal to and manipulate this illiteracy and irrationalism to his advantage, but these forces will prove to be his most deadly nemesis once they collide with the awful reality that awaits us.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

PhD Tips & Tricks pt 1: Starting Out and Planning Your PhD

The first PhD at the Royal School of Library a...
PhD presentation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Ramblings of a Struggling Academic: https://ahoakley.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/phd-tips-tricks-pt-1/

A PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. And, sometimes, the end goal of having a diploma in your hand and the signifier “Dr.” in front of your name can seem really, really far away. But, as with anything difficult, you need to take it one step at a time. I’ve recently been getting into doing Bullet Journaling, which is its own animal.

But I think it’s ultimately going to be really helpful for research and planning more generally. For current updates on my Bullet Journal, you can follow me on Instagram (@beautyisntperfect). For now, though, I want to talk about some of the first steps you should take as a new graduate student. 

1. Find out the specific requirements for the stages of your program

My program requires 84 credit hours for a PhD, but 30 of those hours are slotted for an MA, so if you come in with an MA already, you have 54 hours of classes you need to take. Then there are certain required courses. You can find out when those are commonly offered (usually some are only offered in the Fall and some are only offered in the Spring. Others might only be offered every other year, depending on the size of your program).

In addition to coursework, we have to pass 2 “portfolio papers” (papers that are of publishable quality, as decided upon by your committee), take a comprehensive exam, and write and defend a prospectus before we can begin dissertating. Whew, that’s a lot of steps!

Also for my program (unlike others), there isn’t a set timeline, just a general guideline. They generally expect you to be done with coursework by year two or three, pass portfolio papers in year three, and pass your comprehensive exam (comps) and defend your prospectus in year four. However, it’s my goal to be ABD (all but dissertation - that means done with coursework, portfolios, comps, and the prospectus) by the end of this year, my third year! 

2. Do some reverse engineering

Figure out when you want to be defending your dissertation. For me, that’s in the Spring of my 5th year. Then, reverse engineer a timeline to help you be done by your desired time. I’m hoping to be only doing revisions on my dissertation in the Fall of my 5th year so I can devote lots of time and energy to applying for jobs (that’s a whole different story, but I know some friends who applied to upwards of 150 jobs).

For me, there are a lot of things I needed to reverse engineer. When do I want to be finished with all of the steps described above? What courses do I want to take and when? While most departments don’t schedule more than one semester ahead of time, you can look at past semesters to see the types of classes offered. And, of course, you’ll need to plan when to take all of your required coursework.

In my first year, I created this spreadsheet to help me in my planning. It’s evolved since then into what I have today. It maps out the different types of coursework (core, electives, etc.) and then I simply color in the squares that correspond with the semester I took/plan to take them.

PhD Timeline Planning

As you can see, I’ve planned everything from when I plan to write my portfolio papers (in the summers… this actually did happen!) to when I plan to study for Comps (at the end of year two … this is happening now!). I also included conferences I’ve attending and conferences I’d like to go to. There are some conferences that happen biannually, such as RSA, a major one in my field. Others are kind of planned around it. All of this with the end goal of writing my dissertation in year four and defending it in year five.

If you’re interested, I’ve made this spreadsheet available on Google Drive. Download it and customize it to your own school/goals/timeline! Even if this spreadsheet doesn’t work out for you, having some kind of timeline that tracks all the moving parts of your PhD is a good idea. 

3. Find mentors early on

Academia runs on a mentorship system. Tenured, Assistant, and Associate professors help new students through writing theses and dissertations, but also with navigating the ins and outs of academia (publishing, applying for jobs, scholarship to read, etc.). The earlier you find a professor to work with, the better. Remember that only tenured faculty can head dissertation committees, but the chair of your committee doesn’t need to be the first mentor you find/look for.

For PhD programs, you often have to have a committee of 3-5 people who work intensively with you on your PhD. But, you don’t have to have all 3-5 people in your first year! Try to take some classes in subjects you are interested in. Try not to choose mentors just because they’re in your subject area. Make sure that their work and feedback style match with yours. This is especially important for the chair of your committee.

Maybe the person most qualified subject-wise has a feedback style that just rubs you the wrong way. It might not matter too much on a seminar paper, but when you’re in the throes of dissertation writing, this could make or break your sanity (really). Maybe that person is better suited to be a committee member, with someone who has a feedback style that suits you better is your chair.

We all need “huggers” on the committee (those are the professors who are very supportive and encouraging, essentially giving you a hug with their feedback!); imposter syndrome is real, ya’ll, and having a committee member who is affirming is really, really helpful. Decide if you want your hugger to be the chair or one of the other members of the committee.

Maybe you need your chair to give you strict deadlines, or maybe you prefer someone with a more hands-off approach to let you do your thing. Either way, it’s advisable to find a chair who works with you in the way you need, or is flexible and willing to give you deadlines and things when you need them.

Don’t forget about student mentors. The student organization in our department organizes a mentor program where experienced students are matched with incoming students. Grad student mentors can help you navigate basically everything I’ve talked about so far. Which brings us to … 


Join student organizations. Attend events on campus like talks, panels, study sessions, socials, and etc. Volunteer to help with conferences, events, and etc. Make scholarly friends. Make friends in your cohort, so that you can commiserate about classes and the first (second, third…) year struggle. Make friends in other cohorts. They have already been where you are and can likely offer advice when you’re feeling stuck or lost. Make friends in other departments. People from other departments are awesome, and they can offer different perspectives, and recommend scholarship to you that you might not have otherwise found.

I can’t stress the importance of socializing enough. Often enough we’re academics because we like to read, think, and be in our own brains. But this can often lead to what my friends and I call a “negative spiral” where one thing goes wrong and then you just can’t stop thinking about all of the things that have gone wrong and will go wrong. It can be rough. Friends who understand are really important (and as much as I love all of my friends, the ones who haven’t been to grad school just don’t understand).

On the other hand, don’t lose touch with friends outside of academia. Sometimes you just need a break from academia, or to talk about something that isn’t related to scholarship or teaching. Friends outside of academia help keep you balanced. 

5. Start building up your CV

When you’re a baby grad student, your CV looks pretty lean. At least, mine did. Keep on the look out for things that you can do that build your CV. This means not only publications and conferences, but volunteering to help with things in the department. Service to the department shows that you’re interested in the general well-being of the department and not just your own trajectory.

Things you might volunteer to do:
  • Write columns for the department newsletter.
  • Be a member of an organizing committee if there are conferences hosted by your department or on your campus. Often you can just commit to doing a single task like reading proposals, volunteering at the registration desk, putting together swag bags, folding programs, etc. There are a ton of things that need doing for conferences!
  • Chair panels at those conferences and offer to chair panels at conferences you attend (especially regional and graduate student conferences).
  • Organize a graduate student conference. My department hosts a graduate student conference every year, so last year I co-chaired the organization of the conference. This is a great line for your CV, and is good practice since many academics participate in organizing conferences in their professional lives.
  • Don’t be afraid to go to graduate student conferences. They often have a high acceptance rate and are good for getting your feet wet if you’ve not been to a conference before. Yes, national conferences are important, but graduate student and regional conferences are great networking opportunities and you might find students with like interests that you can collaborate with in the future!
  • Review travel grant applications for organizations that do funding (we have several student organizations that provide travel funding to grad students).
  • Be a board member for a student organization.
  • Contact the president of your student organizations to see if they need help with anything. They almost always do!
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

We all know that as graduate students and academics, everyone has a million things to do all the time! But don’t feel like you’re burdening others by asking for help in a time of need. I was very nervous to approach professors because I knew they were very busy, and I felt very insignificant. Many professors who work as mentors are happy to help you. Ask them for an appointment or even to meet you for coffee and chat. Talking with someone who has been through it all can be very helpful!

Not only that, but don’t be afraid to see a therapist. While it’s fine to vent to friends when you’re having a bad day or week, if  you have prolonged bouts of depression or anxiety, you should talk to a professional. Most schools have therapists on campus. While this isn’t a long term situation, it can help if you need to talk to someone Right Now.

They can also refer you to a therapist who will be able to see you long term. If you’re feeling nervous about it, ask someone to walk you to counseling services. I know friends who have been asked to walk someone and others who have asked someone to walk with them counseling services. It’s okay to need help. Feelings of depression and inadequacy are more common than you might think (again, Imposter syndrome is real, and it’s nasty and insidious). It’s okay to talk to someone about it.

I hope these tips have been helpful! If you want to chat, reach me at my ASU e-mail or on Twitter.

Three Ways to Stop Students Using Ghost Writers

Group work may be a solution (AstroStar/shutterstock.com)
by Bejan Analoui, University of Huddersfield, The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/three-ways-to-stop-students-using-ghost-writers-60678

You might not believe in ghosts but you should believe in ghost writers.

According to recent research, many students have only a sketchy understanding of what plagiarism actually is. Some engage in dishonest practices to get their work done.

A quick internet search reveals a number of opportunities to procure essays on a range of topics, and at reasonable prices. But when students take credit for work that is not their own it devalues academic qualifications and reduces the confidence we can have in the ability of graduates.

A 2010 study by the business lecturer Bob Perry examined the extent and reasons for academic misconduct among 355 undergraduate and 122 postgraduate students at one school in one academic institution. It found that 14% of undergraduates and 6% of postgraduates in the study admitted that they had looked for essays online, and seven students admitted purchasing and submitting these essays. While this was clear evidence of the use of ghost writers in one department, a sector wide examination would be necessary to determine the full extent of the problem.

I’m not convinced university lecturers can always detect the ghosts. Commonly used software such as Turnitin looks for similarities to other published sources and so cannot “catch” bespoke written pieces produced by someone who is not the credited author. The notion of a lecturer challenging a student who they suspect may have used a ghost writer is good at first glance, but it is not always practical.

It’s possible that the lecturer may judge a submitted piece to exceed a student’s capability or demonstrate a fluency in the English language that is not apparent in their verbal communications - and suspect them of plagiarism or employing a ghost writer. But when these concerns are communicated to a student, no matter how they are expressed, they may sound a lot like “I didn’t think you were that smart”, or worse “I thought you were stupid”. Those are not things I want to say to my students.

So if we believe some students use ghost writers but we can’t determine whether they have or not, then what can we realistically do about it? Here are three suggestions.

1. Preventative measures

First, adopt methods that help ensure the authorship of the work. The time-honoured tradition of the oral examination in which the student demonstrates their understanding of the content of their work may catch out those who have paid for an essay. But it would take a significant amount of time to organise and then mark the performance of hundreds of oral examinations, making this solution largely impractical for those who teach large cohorts.

Alternatively, as Perry suggested, university lecturers could design the ability to use a ghost writer out of their assessments. I can envisage this taking a number of forms. For example, greater use of practical projects could be made, in which students undertake relevant tasks, such as designing and running a charity event as part of a business module. But there may not always be sufficient time, opportunity or resources available for all taught material to be engaged with in this manner.

2. Do away with traditional essays

Second, stop using individual written assignments altogether and replace them with assessment methods that are less amenable to ghostly assistance. Group assignments in which students work collaboratively to produce an essay, report or other output may be a viable choice - the hope being that the social pressure to conform would discourage students from using ghost writers.

The students' goals also play a role. Research I have been involved in has found that students who said they were most interested in learning favoured being put into a group with students they did not know, while those who were primarily interested in getting high marks wanted to pick those they knew. With that in mind we might be able to dissuade students from using ghost writers by convincing them that the best way to learn and gain high marks is to work together in the production of their assignments.

Still, written examinations may be the best alternative to stop cheating - although some students struggle with exams, and research has shown that students’ performance in coursework can be significantly better than in unseen exams. So swapping coursework for exams may put some students at a disadvantage.

3. Student and teacher collaboration

Third, and this is my preferred option, teachers could take a more hands-on approach to the production of students’ work. They could design assessments so that students’ work is a collaborative co-construction of the student and educator.

A good example would be a final dissertation or research project that students produce under the supervision and guidance of their tutors. If lecturers spend time helping students to develop their ideas, construct their arguments, and direct their research then they can also have some assurance that the final piece is the result of a joint effort between the lecturer and student. The obvious difficulty would be finding the time to make this work.

These solutions aren’t perfect, and some may be more appropriate in different contexts than others. But the ghosts are already in the machine, and if universities want to be confident in the credibility of their graduates then they’re going to have to do something about it.

Bejan Analoui, Senior Lecturer in Leadership, People, Management and Organisations, The Business School, University of Huddersfield

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