Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Brownhills Brownhills, a wonderful town!

The Health Centre’s up and the Anchor pub’s down.

Brownhills Brownhills, it’s a hell of a town!


Anyone who talks to me for more than a minute will know that I am Midlands born and bred. Friends from down south call me “the Brummie Git”, and when abroad natives have looked at me frustratingly and said “I know you’re from England, but which part?” unable to work out quite where.

I am West Bromwich born, went to school in Wednesbury, and lived in Tipton and Darlaston (and a caravan in Shropshire for six months), before settling for fifteen years in what was always optimistically called the ‘village’ of Featherstone – let’s be honest it’s a huge housing estate the likes of which we rarely see built nowadays.

I knew my neighbours, and the local PCSO who helped me out a a few times with some anti-social behaviour (not mine, just to clarify). But I never felt part of the community, maybe the lack of any school runs, or local shops didn’t help. My only contact with the council was when there were plans to develop another large housing estate on the edge of the village – I was one of the few supporting it, mostly because it would have brought a pub within walking distance of my home.

Time moves on, the commute into Birmingham was becoming less and less feasible (a bus and two train journeys, or sitting on the M6 for three hours a day). And so I looked to move.

Even before I had committed to purchase my new home, I knew a lot about Brownhills and the surrounding area through the activity of Brownhills Bob, a local blogger who pulls no punches about what is great, and what isn’t, about the area. He has since turned into an online friend, and my first point of contact for anything local, much as in the past neighbours would have asked each other for advice.

Looking wider, and through ‘Bob’, local website the YamYam (which used to be a derogatory term for those from the Black Country, but is now a badge worn with pride by many) I’ve become much more informed about what’s happening locally.  I have also been able to request, and receive help from my local councillor, Mike Flower, who picked up on a tweet a couple of months back.

So whilst I still may know little about my neighbours apart from the nicknames I have given them due to their habits, endearing or otherwise, I feel more of a sense of community now than I have ever done where I have lived elsewhere – for me it makes no difference whether interaction takes place over a garden fence, or via Twitter.

The YamYam is to cease soon after some really great work,  and I will miss it’s RSS feed.


Writing Abstracts – Four Years On

Four years ago, I wrote a blog posting ‘Writing Abstracts‘.  This has been one of the most frequently accessed postings over the years, and as I put the finishing touches to another abstract, I thought this would be a good chance to review, and maybe provide more examples of extracts from my own experiences.

I know many people struggle condensing their carefully crafted paper down to a few words, and worry that the ‘essence’ of their report will be lost.  I guess that because I tend to write concisely anyhow, I seem to have a knack for this sort of thing.

One word of warning, do not try and use the ‘auto summarise’ function in Microsoft Word to help you produce the abstract.  I have tried this several times, and it simply does not work.  The computer cannot know the most important elements of your writing, and invariably focuses on the wrong part of the paper.

In my first posting, I focused on the ‘say what you’re going to say, say it, say what you’ve said’ approach.  I have changed my mind slightly on this, frequently the word count ‘allowed’ for an abstract is too tight to allow this.  It’s really important however to ensure that in the first sentence, that the reader is left in no doubt what the paper is about… this is particularly important if ‘key words’ are not allowed.

Here, I humbly offer three abstracts for work which I’ve written recently.  Number one –

“This small-scale project considers the motivation of students whilst studying for a professional doctorate within the UK Higher Education sector. The literature review notes that motivation can come either from intrinsic or extrinsic factors.  Primary research in the form of two semi-structured interviews support this view, and whilst the literature states that external factors are the primary drivers to many students, intrinsic factors hold substantial value to the interviewees within this study.  The use of Technology Enhanced Learning however has had no significant motivational impact on the interviewees. The research notes that internal motivation is a factor that may require consideration when professional doctorate programmes are promoted.”

This abstract must have worked, as the paper has been accepted for a conference in Edinburgh in April.  The first sentence does pretty well reflect the title of the paper – when I do research I have to admit that I don’t fully read the titles of some papers, but the abstract provides a good chance to reinforce what the paper really is about.

Secondly, a paper which is simply a literature review, with no primary research –

“International students are a valuable resource, providing both financial and cultural benefits to many Higher Education Institutions. The additional support needed by these students is counterbalanced by the significant income that they provide to the institution.
This literature review identifies in which ways, and to what extent Technology Enhanced Learning can support international students through the three phases (presage, process and product) of their learning journey at the institution. Regular and early contact with students, sympathetic support at the start and throughout the teaching programme, and flexibility (within the boundaries of institutional regulations) combined with appropriate preparation during the assessment period are all areas where TEL can support international students.”

One temptation, and a cause for contention in my PhD cohort, is whether references should be included in an abstract.  I strongly believe that they should not be included.  This abstract could have easily referred to the author of the ‘presage, process, product’ concept, but this will of course be referenced in the main body of the paper.  One thing I don’t like about this abstract is the over-use of brackets – I think these were added during the final revisions, and should have left them.  Note that I only use an abbreviation (TEL) after I have used the full version of the term (Technology Enhanced Learning).

And finally, my latest abstract, which is still a work in progress (for the next week anyhow) –

“This small-scale research project formatively evaluates Shareville, a bespoke virtual environment developed by a UK University. The literature review focused on the development of vocational higher education and the historical development of virtual environments. Desk-based research evaluates various frameworks used for the evaluation of technology enhanced learning. Primary research was carried out in the form of semi-structured interviews with three users of Shareville.
A number of aspects in the development and use of Shareville are identified which may be of benefit for others who are developing virtual environments. The specific aspect of the cost of developing virtual environments are also explored – concerns by the developer and content providers of the time and cost taken to develop rich video resources can be mitigated by considering the project over the longer time period that the resources are going to exist.”

This feels a little long at the moment, and I will have to lose a sentence from this prior to submission.  But hopefully this provides a good flavour of the paper, briefly mentions the research methods, and with my golden rule of ‘no surprises’, the conclusion of my paper is stated.

PhD – wise, I’m now 3/5 of the way through the ‘taught’ element, with just two traditional modules left before the proposal and thesis stage.  It is feeling very much like a marathon at the moment (let’s be honest, it’s the closest I’ll ever get to running a marathon).  But with the help of the rest of the cohort, we are getting there.  The next residential is in April, and will be a great opportunity to recharge and re-invigorate ourselves.

Radio 7 to become Radio 4 extra

Hidden away on the BBC Arts and Entertainment page a couple of days ago  was confirmation that BBC Radio 7 is to re-brand as Radio 4 extra.

It has also been announced that the amount of Children’s programming will be slashed from its current three hours a day to just one hour during weekdays by the looks of it.

Radio 7, or BBC 7 as I still think of it due to early branding decisions which have stuck like mental glue in my mind, is the station I listen to most often.  It’s not unusual for me to hear the ‘classic comedy’ half hour slot three times in a day, at 8am, 12pm lunchtime, then at 7pm (I’ve given up listening to The Archers live, it’s much easier to keep in sync with the podcasts).

We all fear change in our radio listening, so closely related that they are to other activities which we do whilst listening.  For years the Radio 4 comedy programme on Saturday lunchtime kept me company as I drove to visit my  gran, catching the tail end of the Radio 2 comedy slot on the way home.  And Chris Evans gets me out of bed very effectively in the mornings, if only because I would rather do anything than listen to his banal chat and gimmicky jingles.

Radio 7 has its problems.  Too-small a selection of comedies which are repeated too often (I can recite huge chunks of many episodes of After Henry, but there is absolutely no excuse for repeating any episode of King Street Junior, even once.  But it offers a unique place to listen to gems of the BBC that otherwise would not be heard.  It’s no use placing them in an online archive, accessible to all, if you don’t even know that they exist.  I was always very dismissive of Hancock’s Half Hour, but they were performing surreal humour before even the goons and monty python, all with a cast of just four.  I would never have selected an episode through choice though. ‘Push’ radio still has its place.

So, if the controller of the new Radio 4 Extra dropped me an email asking me what the new station should sound like, what would I say?

Firstly, don’t stream serials over five days – very few people listen at the same time each day, and missing a middle section of a drama or mystery makes it impossible to catch up.  Give us them in a chunk of 90 minutes, edited if need be, or with links between your underused presenters.

Keep the Saturday morning three hour comedy controller slots, but commission some new ones – many of the current batch are over five years old, and comedy moves on.

If you’re losing the children’s slot in the morning, make sure that there is something there which people can wake, drink their tea, and shower to.  So no Great Expectations or War and Peace readings,but repeats of ‘light’  books of the week, comedy quiz shows, and short sketch shows where if we miss the punchline racing from one room to the next.

Oh, and on the overnight repeats, which I know there has to be,make sure that the promotional links are quieter for those of us who are only half listening in bed.

I know there are much more pressing things that deserve our attention at the moment, but ensuring that ‘new’ Radio 4 Extra is as loved as ‘old’ Radio 7 will make a fair few of us sympathetic to the BBC – but please no more King Street Junior!