Archive for February, 2007|Monthly archive page

Paper sent!

The ICEL paper is now winging its way to the conference organisers for reviewing. The names of the authors is removed from the paper and is blind reviewed by judges who decide if the paper is worth of inclusion. I’ve just checked the web site, and we will hear by the 19th April if the paper has been accepted.

Sharon has done a great job on this, taking an idea and less than half a paper sent to her a fortnight ago, and creating a well crafted piece. We ended up with version 11 of the paper, which shows the amount of collaboration there has been between us. It’s right that Sharon should get the ‘lead’ on the paper, even though I’ll be waving the UCE Birmingham flag (hopefully) at Columbia university.

I’ve updated my homepage to reflect the paper’s submission.



Last night was the first of just two tutorials for the OU course T324.  We had been placed in the largest room at Harborne, so hopes somewhere were high for a good attendance.

I have 33 students currently registered on the course.  around ten of them are working overseas or in the armed forces.

In total, I had five students attend.  This is a better ratio than I achieved last year, with twenty students I usually only got two to the tutorials, but stil disappointing.

Could it be that because I provide the handouts online through the tutor conference that students see this as a replacement for attendance? But if I don’t do this, then the people who genuinely can’t attend are disadvantaged.

I’ve had one note this morning from a student saying that they appreciated the time taken, which is nice (and rare, I don’t think I’ve ever thanked a tutor for a tutorial!), so those who turned up did seem to get something out of it.

The next tutorial isn’t until early September.  Looking at the timing I’ve got a chance to go through the final TMA as well as some examination preparation with them.  Those who were there yesterday were keen to drive the content of this tutorial, so hopefully it will be more student focussed.

Writing abstracts

I went to the inaugural lecture last night for a new professor who used to be part of the Business School, now moved onto better things. It was good to be able to go to these sorts of things and be at least on nodding and ‘small talk’ terms with a few people.

In the after-lecture buffet (something which I strongly agree with, maybe student attendance would improve if we fed them after the buffet), I was asked by my friend Beverley Maynard to come up with some tips for research students and others who are struggling to write abstracts to be accepted at conferences and journals. Here they are!

1)    Audience, Purpose, Medium. The abstract should be readable my anyone, not just a specialist in the field which you are writing. Avoid using abbreviations, in-jokes, and situations which are specific to your academic institution. Always imagine you’re trying to explain your research paper to a member of your family.
2)    Sell the paper. If you’re submitting an abstract in the hope it will be accepted by a conference, then you need to do a little selling of the paper. Ensure that your paper includes the latest ‘buzz words’ and hot topics. The first abstract for the paper recently written included the words FaceBook, MySpace and Web 2.0 – all ‘hot topics’ at the moment.
3)    Don’t hold anything back. This was an error I made originally when writing abstracts, I wanted the paper to have a ‘punch line’, which I didn’t want spoiled by anything that was in the abstract. This error was pointed out to me quite robustly at the time, and I’ve not forgotten it since. It’s true for PowerPoints presentations, report writing and abstracts – “Say what you’re going to say, say it, and say what you said”.
4)    Write to at least 90% of the word limit, but don’t go over. Some abstracts will be rejected because you exceed the word limit, even by one word. But you’ll be unable to make a persuading case if you only use half of the allocated words. Do the judges use the word limit to see if you can write succinctly?

    Some more general guidelines are available from the academic conferences site here, they do seem to reinforce the tips above.

    Ah, the irony!

    One of my colleagues cannot give his lecture today due to a crisis outside work.  I’m able to step into the breech with little hassle – I had already sent my apologies to an internal exam board, and was just sitting in on two Action Learning Set meetings this afternoon, whom I’ve asked to send me a summary of their meetings.

    Flexibility is all important, if you can help a colleague out then it can help you in the long run.  Over the last six months I’ve needed some help with various things, and now it’s my turn.

    I’m lucky that the lecture is about something I know a little about anyhow, and some reviewing and research, plus some notes mean I should be able to give a good presentation of myself.

    And the title of the lecture (you couldn’t make this up). Managing change!

    Paper developments

    The second blog of the weekend – so much for my long break!

    It has been really useful though, as Sharon and I have sorted out the bulk of the paper for ICEL 2007.  Sharon has a deadline of the 28th for completion, and whilst we have a little time beyond this, it suits me to get this sorted soon as Week 6 of teaching is looking very busy for me.

    We’re 7% over on the word count, and I’ve got to put the paper in the correct format for submission (at least there are no diagrams in the paper), but it hangs together well, with the two case studies (reflection from students I’ve taught, and this blog) tying back to other people’s research well, reinforcing our own experiences and hopefully providing some food for though for others.

    It hasn’t been all work and no play though.  I did manage to order my new car – delivery in three weeks.

    red mini cooper


    In my early morning surfing, I’ve just come across a neat site called TagCrowd – I’ve seen these crowds, or clouds on blogs and sites such as Flickr, but never one where you can enter a text file, and generate a crowd. I’m really interested in ways that documents can be represented visually.

    As an experiment I submitted my MA dissertation (submitted last week) to TagCrowd, and got the results below –

    Dissertation TagCrowd

    Given that the title of the dissertation is “Exploring the use of formal project management techniques to improve the learning experience of students in Higher Education”, it seems that I’ve hit most of the right notes!

    How to make the most of tutorials

    I’ve had four tutorials with students this morning, an average of twenty minutes each. Most of these have been final year project students who are due to hand in within the next six weeks.

    I offer these tips up to students regarding how to get the best out of time with their supervisors.

    1. Dont’ be late, or too early.  There’s nothing that’s more likely to annoy a supervisor than arriving late for a tutorial.  I schedule mine in half-hour slots, if you turn up after fifteen minutes you’re not going to get me at my best, and towards the end of the tutorial I’ll be unlikely to give you my full attention as I’ll be thinking about the next student, and whether I’m prepared for him/her.  At the same time, if you arrive too early, then I’ll not be ready… woe betide anyone who tries to see me before my first cup of coffee in the morning!
    2. Send stuff in advance.  This is especially true for project dissertations.  Towards the end of a project these can be large files, I had a 5Mb file land in my Inbox on Monday, and this was just one chapter!  Even if I don’t get chance to read through the work prior to submission, morally the student is on the much stronger ground, and I will act suitably chagrined that I’ve not had chance to read.
    3. Come with specific questions in mind.  This is important, please don’t come and say ‘what do you think of this?’ or ‘am I on the right lines’.  This shows a lack of preparation on your part, and the answers I can give are also limited.  I can say it looks ‘fine’, or that ‘this area needs some work’, and you can leave the tutorial without having gained any real benefit from the contact.  Specific questions, which I can give specific answers to, will always yield better interactions.
    4.  Make notes.  I am a fast talker, and odds are you won’t remember 10% of what I say.  Making notes is not a sign of rudeness, it’s a sign that you’re taking on board what I’m suggesting.  Some people use digital voice recorders or even their mobile phone to record the conversation – this is fine if you listen to them afterwards.  I tend to make my own notes especially if it’s an important meeting or I think the student is struggling, it’s very worrying when I make more notes than the student.

    Different tutors have different technqiues, but I don’t think there’s anything too contraversial in what I’ve said above.  I think it’s mostly common sense, but then again, doesn’t everyone think that what they say and do is common sense.

    A long weekend holiday for me, have a good one yourself.

    Tick, tick, tick…

    An administration day today, putting the coursework, exams, resit coursework and resit exams though our moderation system, as written about before.

    I’ve got a sheet of A4 in front of me, with five columns and six rows, and a full row of satisfying ticks in three of the columns. There’s a few blank spaces still, mostly (actually all) through waiting for other people to do their bits.

    If you’re in the right frame of mind, administration such as this can be satisfying, a nice feeling of completion, and knowing that it’s all been sorted early (the deadline for all this work to be completed is 7th March). But there’s also a sense of resentment that when writing the assignment and exams you’re expected to be innovative and creative, and creat stimulating questions and well structured marking schemes, then have to spend upwards of half an hour of admin, cutting/pasting etc.

    And as I’ve typed this, I’ve noticed that there’s some resit work which I need to do, so now have two new, blank, columns on my pad, grrr.

    Better get back to it.

    Less productive day

    An early start working from home, preparing lectures for next week – very last minute and not a way that I like to work.

    I did intend to do a second lecture, but I didn’t get very far, instead spending some time on the research paper, sending a very early draft to Sharon, though I know I’ll need to spend time on it the weekend.

    That, plus emails,  took up most of the rest of the day, but it wasn’t as productive as I had planned or hoped.

    This evening I’ve been OU focused, sorting out some queries and sorting out my tutorial next week.

    No teaching tomorrow, but lots of meetings with students and staff on various things.  Maybe I’ll get chance to do some ‘catch up’ then.

    Pomp and Circumstance

    Today was graduation day for our students. Two hundred and sixteen of them entered stage right, shook the chancellor’s hand, and exited stage left.

    There were some poignant moments. The parents of a student of mine on the MSc scheme who had died tragically during the summer flew over from India to receive his honorary degree.

    There were some 22 of us in the academic’s procession. Yes it is a fuss, and yes there are probably better things I could do on a Friday, but I was disappointed by the relatively low turnout of academic staff. It’s all really good natured, this is my fourth presentation, but I’m not bored yet, and will continue to be suited and booted (and gowned) as necessary.

    My top tip for the audience, and anyone else who has to clap every student is to strictly ration yourself… five claps and no more.

    Below is a picture taken by our roving reporter on the day… I am next to Barbara Chivers, another lecturer. My leaning was emphatically not due to any alcohol consumed.

    Graduation Picture

    Then back home, and making the final changes to my dissertation prior to submission, Paul kindly proof read it for me, and I’ve made a few more minor tweaks to ensure that it reads well.

    I’ve also sent some journals to Sharon to look at for the ICEL paper -Wednesday was a good day writing wise and I got a thousand words on paper (well, electronic paper anyhow). Sunday afternoon will be my next session. For all of you reading this whilst stuck at work on a Friday evening, I hope your’e home soon and have a great weekend.