Journal December 15th 2010

Write a brief summary of any work-related activities undertaken on 15th December 2010 and/or your nearest working day . In posting your reply, you consent to the potential use of anonymised extracts from this material in resources that may in future be published by the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education (ALDinHE), for educational and professional development purposes only.


15th was a day off for babysitting duty (I work halftime officially – more in practice – but thats two survey days so far that have coincided with days off).
In intervals I was planning to finish marking electronic porfolios for our PgCert in Learning & Teaching in HE, and to review conference proposals for next ALDinHE conference in Belfast. Sadly internet connection at my daughters house was down so I had to use iphone/3G signal instead – OKish for reading docs online but not great for adding detailed commentary. Recent snow and increased working from home + various internet problems have really brought home how dependent we have become on online working. Even snowed-off f2f teaching sessions can (sometimes, and with enough forward planning) be replaced with web-based tools – but once the internet goes, most of the things I want to do are impossible or much much slowert.
By end of the day – apart from quality time with my 8 month old granddaughter – I had at least dealt with most of my emails. One was an invitation to become an external examiner for another PgCert for lecturers at a specialist HEI. A while since Ive accepted EE contracts as I’ve been too busy on my own courses at the relevant times of year, but it will be good to do this again. I’ve always loved the chance to root around in other people’s courses and discuss common problems with colleagues (and the surprisingly different solutions we all come up with).
The next working day was spent agreeing final grades for theose PgCert portfolios and discussing some planned changes to the way we manage the online element of the course. Also working out how many copies of the new Learning Development book I can reasonably order for our library!

Emily Danvers

06.30 Awoke for the 2nd day in my new house (after weeks of delays and sofas). The bowls and cups seem to have disappeared in the move so no breakfast for me! Ah but there is a 24hr bagel bakery around the corner!

08.30 Arrive at work and start setting up the room for our ‘all day Christmas drop-in’. This is just our normal drop-in really but with mince-pies and a little more cheer, especially as it is the last one before the end of term. We’ve also finalised our workshop timetable for the following year so we can start to publicise that.

11.00 Met with staff from one of our research institutes that have MSc students and are looking for us to help support them with research and statistical skills. It was great to engage with them for the first time and a joint session between me and the stats advisor on questionnaire design and one on referencing are scheduled along with a general desire to work more closely together. Very happy.

12.00 Return to the drop-in. Consume 1 mince pie.

4.00pm The drop-in is over. We’ve seen 17 students today since 10am which was a great turnout. Mostly there were issues to do with structure, grammar and referencing. In particular, one poor joint honours student was struggling to work out the slightly different referencing styles required in both her subjects and was therefore planning on taking out these references to sources altogether. It shouldn’t be made this confusing, especially among two very similar arts subjects! There were several students coming along with their feedback forms and wanted advice on how to interpret them and carry the advice forward so we came up with action plans which included signing them up to our writing courses next term.

4.30 Meeting with new educational developer, responsible for the PGCert qualification. Discussed what we both ‘do’. Talked about the Learning Development book  Think I might have sold it.

18.00 After a pile of student emails, off home.

Nicola West

The 15th of December was mostly spent helping MSc students write literature reviews. This proved to be a very challenging task for most of them, (and me) and at best the result was a descriptive overview of the subject with very little analysis. The majority of students were international and though their English was good their understanding of an academic literature review was none existent. Though I was involved in helping them write the article what I realised was that they had not used the correct type of sources, which meant it was difficult to write the review as expected. I realised that they needed help in identify the right type of sources, so this would involve the librarian at a much earlier stage in their research. I am now looking at ways to teach this process so that the students have more of a chance of being successful.

I also worked with a very weak student who finds theoretical concepts difficult to understand. Practically he is very good but when it comes to writing about the theory he might as well be trying to write in a different language. At times I feel that I have reached my limits of being able to help him; I don’t know what else I can do. I also find my self on that fine line between guiding him and doing it for him which is a really difficult dilemma as he wants to do well.

I also came across an interesting quote (whilst searching for examples of literature reviews), the quote made me sigh with frustration but at the same time there was an element of truth within it for me:
“In most cases existing support services are generic and tokenistic as opposed to being diverse and personalised, they are separate from teaching and learning instead of being embedded in them, they are reactive as opposed to proactive, they emphasise direct intervention by an expert as opposed to a peer, they are systemic as opposed to blended (people and tools) and managerial driven as opposed to learner driven” (Nikai, 2008. Literature Review on work-based Mobile Learning [online])

It is my dream to devise a programme where writing is truly integrated within the subject area. It is not an added extra; it is not a generic programme. Instead it is entwined with the subject, there are no boundaries. The students truly use writing and reading as a means to develop their subject knowledge rather than it being a last minute add on. However, I believe that this would mean a radical change in how modules are conceived and taught. And for me currently I have reached the boundaries of my knowledge and so I need to do more in-depth research into how we actually go about teaching writing in order to be able to do this.

John Cowan

December 15th
06.45: A typical multi-tasking day looms ahead as I rise to get coffee and toast for myself and my wife, after a quick browse over incoming e-mails from abroad (because of the time difference, not from night owls). As at yesterday evening, I had cleared my in-tray of significant tasks, so to speak, which reassures me. As a part-timer, I like to try to keep the festive season, like holidays, clear of commitments. So the in-tray is clear, apart from a promised book chapter to be written for February, and a paper which is a gleam in my eye, arising from reviewing a book on evaluating academic development. However I anticipate one or two draft WBL reports coming in any time now for formative comment, and perhaps a few postings from Taiwan, where a new task looks like being tabled by my Taiwanese collaborator. So let’s see what’s in the mail before the coffee boils. Just one festive season message from a student in Taiwan, and a “keeping up” message from a former student of 30 years ago, who has been working and marrying in Rumania, and usually keeps in touch at Christmas with his news. Replied to both, apologised to Scotland’s Futures Forum tonight in the Scottish Parliament building; pavements up here too icy and frozen for this old man to risk. Now let’s get coffee! (10 mins)
8.30: Breakfast eaten, paper read, time to work on the topping and tailing of this paper on impact analysis. While I respect what the New Zealanders have written in LS’s book, I cannot accept that it is impossible to inform judgments about impact with data which is objective, yet un-manageable in statistical analyses! I wonder how LM will feel when I show him what I am writing on our behalves, from three years ago. Is it possible to make a sufficiently reasoned case that it will be considered by Evaluation and Assessment in HE? (70 mins)
9.40: Problems with my visiting prof password. One of the problems of pt work. Trying to sort it out, then messaging postmaster from another location. (10 mins). Plan B for trip north. Packaging Secret Santa presents lest we cannot travel, given the present weather forecasts, and getting ready to post a “Montrose” parcel to my grand-daughter.
Well, I am part-time! (40 mins)
10.30: Multiple invitations from N on lifewide learning involvements. Looks most attractive, but I need time to think before Skype or phone call this pm, which is what he wants. Read attachments and decided I could do what he seeks. (40 mins).
11.10 Technician arrived with new TV, and agreed to inspect defective HiFi system. I undertook a brief training course in the new zappers. Then lunch. (2 hrs 05 mins)
13.15 Now back to work. Trying to access video on Taiwan website, which they want me to watch. No joy!
Back to the analysis of impact paper. Reading/noting editing points on hard copy. Sometimes I cannot manage this kind of task on screen.(45 mins)
14.00: Awaiting phone call from N. Re-read what he is asking. Spent half an hour discussing what he wants me to do, keynote, foreword and so on. Seems to be within my capabilities. Agreed on that. (30 mins)
14.30: Break to arrange grandchildren’s Christmas presents (Well, once again, I am part-time). (90 mins)
16.00: Now getting to grips with this impact paper. Not sure journals will wear it, but still feel it is an argument and example worth advancing. Working on the paper copy at the moment. For some editing and revising, I find that easier; although for most first writing, I find online better. (45 mins)
16.45: Assorted e-mails need ing attention, including one from last year’s Taiwanese group. Great when they want to keep in contact. How do I register that with evaluation of my tutorial support? (10 mins)
16.55: Back to that paper. Worked on it until tea-time (17.50) (55 mins)
19.30: Phone call with J at Trinity. Discussing Engineering philosophy, or philosophy in engineering. Not really my territory. (30 mins)
Tutorial podcast for Taiwan on critical thinking. (30 mins) Nearly time for “The Apprentice” End of the working day.

John Hilsdon

Today has been another whirl! Spent the morning re-drafting entries in our Directorate planning document. This is a report to be submitted to our Chief Exceutive Group which basically justifies our existence … we hope. The ‘we’ here is Learning Development. At the University of Plymouth that means a 2.5 person team working alongside colleagues in Educational Development, Technology Enhanced Learning, Careers, and Work-based Learning. We are a new directorate and this configuration seems a good one to me. We are getting used to talking to our ED and TEL colleagues in particular, as there is some overlap in what we do.

At lunchtime I walked Fletcher (c 14 yr old collie dog and football fanatic) in the sun and enjoyed a bit of a breather. Had some lovely Brahms on in the office courtesy of colleague Eloise this afternoon. My PM was, again, desk-based. I arranged a tutorial with a student, answered some of the more urgent of the 423 (last count) messgaes in my in-box and then had a meeting with Dr Neil Witt – our head of TEL. He and I are plotting a joint learning mentoring project for next year, amongst other things. During the rest of the afternoon I’ve been catching up on ALDinHE and LearnHigher business. A humorous interlude was provided by a friend ringing to offer me a half share in a load of logs being delivered tomorrow … why this is so funny is not readily apparent, even to me, but we talked of the state of our respective log sheds and chuckled away harmlessley to ourselves.

The last part of my working day (not yet finished, though the Archers is now on) has involved a re-read of an article I drafted about active learning for a forthcoming insituitional publication. It is always a bit of a shock to read one’s own work and not recognise it .. thought this has happened to me so many times in the past that I should not be surprised. Needless to say, the article needs a fair bit of re-working – but my reviewers were both reasonably positive. I want to make it more focussed .. my key point is that it is important to get students authentically and actively engaged in learning and avoid the easy slipping into routine teacherly behaviours such as talk, talk, talk …which of course our students will collude with because that’s what we’ve all come to expect! Well I want to offer a way to break to habit – to grab the moment and claim it for learning!!!

Well I am off to the swimming pool this evening. Have been sluggily unfit for far too long and my kilometre swim (40 lengths) is a new personal best … I want to try to do it a couple of times a week now … and then to the pub for a well-earned beer, of course!

Sandra Sinfield

LDU ethnoblog – 15th December 2010
A strange day. Following the issuing in November of the s188 notices to the whole LDU team, our Writing Centre and several colleagues in CAPD/TLTC – my co-coordinator and I are still trying to put together a case for our continued existence. Deadlines march past relentlessly as we try to craft that perfect word or phrase such that Senior Management slap their heads in awe shouting, “But of course, you are right! Why did I not see this before? We have the technology… We can rebuild you…”
Possibly mixing my myths and fantasies there!

KH sent a great piece across in re US Writing Centre responses to just these situations which I’ll include here – and may be post to the whole LDHEN list for this is something that will be happening to more and ore of us, I feel:

‘[The] point about adding a nominal fee to students’ tuition is a very good one – and one that has been used elsewhere to save writing centres and student-facing academic support. I quote from a paper by Emily Isaacs at Montclair State University, Published in the Writing Lab Newsletter, Nov 2008, “After the fall: rebuilding a writing centre”:

“Strategy 4: Address the Funding Problem
At a state institution that has recently undergone budget cuts, many were
sceptical that our grand plan would be adopted. From our research we found
that writing centres are raising money through various fees. Reviewing my
own university’s fee structure, I found rationale for this last approach –
by assessing a $10 per semester fee to all students, we could raise enough
money to pay for a large staff. Raising yet another fee on students never
feels great; however, the advantage of this fee is that it also holds the
new writing centre accountable to one of its most important goals, which
is to impact on every student on campus.” (p.4)’.

Do follow the link and read the paper there: it has useful tips and tricks for us all. I just hope that it is not too late to draw upon that as leverage within our own institution.

That accounts for about 36 hours of the last three days! What else?

I have recently been working with one Team within the Faculty of Computing to embed active and useful study and academic skills and practices within their first year HEO module. Thus I have been dashing in for teaching at nine every Wednesday morning this semester (very different to dashing in to respond to emails at 8.30 with a comforting cup of tea to hand!). This has been a really interesting project and I have been so impressed with the computer, multimedia and animation students and staff with whom I have been working – such creativity, energy and talent all round!

Over the course of the semester I have run sessions on active (pattern) notemaking, supported the running of a textmapping session (to build active reading strategies – and this was a fabulous session: first year computing students reading, wrestling with, thinking about and making notes upon some really challenging and relevant articles), run an academic writing workshop – with free writing built in such that students actually started drafting their final report in class – and a session on presentations and positive thinking.

Today was disappointing for I could not be at the class in person for their final group presentations, however, I was hoping to be there in Second Life – and to experience the SL versions of their presentations. So last night I managed to update the SL version on my laptop. I managed to update my avatar (funky new hair!) – and today I was all ready to be present and correct for the sessions. But somehow it did not all connect up. I did manage to wander around the objects that the students had built in our London Met SL space as part of their research project and I was really impressed with the pyramids, temples, sphinxes and masks that had been built there – oh – and an HMS Beagle that was lodged on a plinth high in the air…

Right – one last read through of the Don’t Make us Redundant Report – only a half hour after our very very very last deadline! Then I have to go through anonymised proposals for our next conference. Oh good grief!

Merry Christmas and much joy in 2011!
Sandra Sinfield

Helen Heywood

Arrived in College at 8am. The campus is set on a hill overlooking Plymouth Sound, and as it was a beautiful sunny and frosty morning the view was sensational-almost uplifting! Arrived in my office-surprisingly spacious considering the size of the academics’ offices-an area of much envy on their part-and switched on the computer. No emails from any students this morning, which is a rarity. Our e mail service is very popular, but we have a ‘strict’ set of guidelines which means that students cannot expect to send work to be proof read and corrected, under any circumstances. The service is used for very directed questions e.g. on referencing conventions or making appointments etc. I fired off a couple of e mails to staff in response to their queries, called in for a quick chat with the Learning Technologist and the computer services team-very useful people to know-and then headed off to the 24 hour computer room to do the Early Bird drop in which runs from 8.30-9.30 on Wednesday and Thursdays during term time. It has proved to be really popular with the students and popular with us as it often stops a small issue become a full blown crisis later in the day.
I saw 3 students, one of whom received a very low mark for an essay due to his really not understanding the conventions required for writing academically. He was accepted on to a foundation degree course with a BTEC and has not got a GCSE in English. I really wonder if it is fair to expect a student with so little grounding in basic writing to be able to cope with the demands of academic writing? I tried to explain to him the need to reference properly and why it is so important, but I feel that he lacks the confidence to grasp the process. Helped him as much as I could, but fear that it will not be enough. I constantly grapple with the fine line which divides supporting the students and ‘doing it for them’! Assisted another 2 students with general referencing queries-the bane of my life, mostly because the powers that be at the University refuse to have a ‘Marjon system of Harvard referencing’! Each tutor has their own little idiosyncracies with regard to punctuation when referencing etc. and woe betide any student of theirs who does not use it! The students, understandably, become very confused and tend to worry more about the referencing than the content of their work. Left the drop in at 9.45, back to the office to check e mails and do the necessary paperwork-I record everything both on the database and do a paper copy-the spectre of finacial cuts looms large here, and I like to have as much statistical evidence as possible to try to justify our existence.
Quick coffee in the Staff Club. I see it as an important networking activity as a lot of staff use the facility and I often chat informally with the academics over a cup of coffee which not only raises the profile of Study Skills, but also means that I am seen as very approachable and willing to help. Study Skills is based in the Student Support corridor, often referred to as ‘the corridor of shame’ by the students. I am very keen to get away from the ‘deficit model’ of academic skills support, and would much prefer to be under the banner of Learning Resources, but that is a battle for another day.
Spent an hour writing a dissertation literature review guide-not totally original, but fully acknowledged and referenced! Started to do some research on reflective writing which the students here are required to do on the majority of courses that we offer, but the academics seem quite reluctant to give any guidance to the students on how to actually write reflectively! I firmly believe that a disproportionate amount of Study Skills time is spent giving the students advice on areas that the academics could quite easily put in their module guides, but do not! I suppose I have to be grateful that they don’t, as if they did, I might be out of a job? Must remember not to say that too loudly within earshot of the senior management team.
Just back from the lunch time drop in session-we do this everyday and it is really well attended. The real advantage of drop in sessions per se, is that students know that they only have a limited time, and tend to be really focussed. This forces them to take responsibilty for their own learning which the appointment system is less succesful in achieving, as students tend to be less focussed and imagine that we are going to do all the work for them! Checked appointment calendar and have a 2pm with a husband and wife who are on different courses, both mature students. Not much information accompanying the appointment booking which is an issue I have with our receptionists in Student Support. One of them is really good and provides detailed background information so that I can prepare for the appointment, whereas the other one hates her job and therefore does the minimum she can to remain in post and no more! Never mind, as long as the students are not expecting me to proof read their work it should be ok.
Back up to the Staff Club for a 30 minute lunch with the Senior Librarian-I am allocated an hour, unpaid of course, but rarely get to take that. In fact during term time I probably do about 10 hours per week unpaid. I tend to have a much more relaxed approach to my hours out of term time in order to claim some of the hours back as we can only take up to 30 hours in any one year as TOIL.
Just finished seeing the 2 mature students-a married couple on different courses, but with the same issue. They are both struggling with the conventions of Academic Writing. A lot of students do not seem to realise that it is something which is developed over time and that they have to work hard to achieve it! I liken it to wanting to get fit, joining a gym, but not bothering to actually ‘work out’. It is not possible to get fit just buy shelling out £60 a month in membership fees-in my experience anyway. I also try to get them to realise that they will have to do a lot of work outside of the lectures and seminars, mostly reading and collecting academic evidence. It is not called ‘reading for a degree’ for no reason. I spent 1 hour and 30 minutes with them and they certainly went out of the meeting a lot more positive than when they came in. The male student was certainly talking about leaving the course at the start of the meeting, but much more positive and focussed by the time he left. It is trying to capture this part of the job in a ‘meaningful’ way in order to demonstrate what a positive impact the work that we do has, which is so difficult.
Checked my e mails and made an appointment to meet up with one of the lecturers to discuss the possibility of a setting up a workshop on reflective writing for his 2nd year students in the new year. It will ‘cost’ him a cup of coffee and a danish, but it will be worth it as he is so supportive of the work that we do, and always wants use to work alonside him as opposed to the attitude of many of the academics who see us as somewhere to send the weak students to so that they-the academics-don’t have to bother to explain the finer points of critical thinking, or even at its most basic level, how to format an essay! One of the hardest aspects of this job is the patronising attitude of some of the academics have towards Study Skills-it is a minority, but very annoying at that. I see it as a challenge to change that perception and slowly, but surely, I think we are heading in that direction.
Cup of tea in the newly refurbished dining room with the Volunteering coordinator. Quite a few students in there who come over and have an informal chat about the Christmas holidays, and to thank me for past support-bless. I make a point of having any coffee/tea in ‘public spaces’ as opposed to my office as it raises our profile and makes us seem like ‘normal people’! I always have my laptop with me so I can get on with work away from my desk and have a drink at the same time, if there is no one to talk to.
Back to the office, final check of all e mail folders, check tomorrow’s calendar to ensure that I have printed off all the necessary papers, tidy the desk, post this comment, turn off the computer, then lights, lock the door and catch the bus to the Park and Ride, deciding what to cook for dinner on the way!

Is that all? (Hee hee!) Just in response to your point about students not realising that academic writing happens over time, with practise – and as part of writing to learn the discipline. In my experience, many subject staff do not realise this either – and reinforce students in the belief that we need to learn to write – then we can write anything…
Best, Sandra

Carina Buckley

It’s the end of term so I’ve spent today trying to make the most of the peace and quiet. Have I succeeded? Probably not as well as I could have done!

This morning I spent an hour going through emails and sorting out a timetable of workshops which I’ll be running next term in conjunction with a team of librarians – how to find resources for your dissertation and what to do with them when you’ve found them. There are lots of librarians and one of me, so this has taken a lot of planning.

Then I spent an hour working on my end of term report – turning my database of student appointments into useful statistics and then writing about them. I broke off for a 20 minute tea break with some of the librarians because in the past three months this is the first opportunity I’ve had to get out of my office mid-morning and do so!

I carried on with my report for another hour before a decadent 1.5 hour lunch break, which was a departmental Christmas lunch consisting of me and the learning skills developer – together we comprise the learning skills department so we thought lunch was in order!

I came back to a 40 minute meeting with one of the librarians about a referencing workshop we are running at the start of term, and she was immediately followed by a student who needed help with understanding the requirements of an assignment. I also have an email from a student who’s putting the finishing touches to her dissertation – she has sent me the first two chapters and I said I would send her feedback in the next couple of days.

I am expecting a student at 4pm, to go through the final draft of her dissertation and put the finishing touches to the grammar (she’s Spanish). That should take about 30 minutes, I hope. Until then, and afterwards until 5pm, I will continue working on my report. It’s the first one I’ve written for this post, as I’ve only been here for 3 months, so I’m very conscious of including as much useful information as possible and making clear exactly what and how much I have done.

I’m leaving at 5 so I can go home, have some dinner and then head out again for another 2 hour class, teaching at another university – thankfully the last one of the term!

Maureen Preece, Academic Skills Tutor

Wednesday December 15th

I have delivered 3 one hour, one to one tutorials, tackling assignment writing related issues on students’ submitted and ‘about to be submitted’ assignments. Topics included referencing, analytical writing vs descriptive writing and clarity surrounding sentence structure, paragraph structure, etc.

I have dealt with queries from colleagues, face to face.

I am in the process of working through my emails – hence this reply!

This afternoon I will go round campus putting up publicity advertising my next series of Academic Skills Workshops, taking place in Semester 2, (they are already advertised on my webpages).

I will also liaise with the Head of Library Services re Academic Skills resources displayed on our stand in the Library.

At 5.15p.m. I will attend a 2 hour lecture put on by the Department of Media, with David Morrissey in attendance.

I also hope to catch up on reading some LDHEN emails which I haven’t had time to read during the semester!

Carol Elston

I’m not working on the 15th so here is what I did on the 14th. I am currently developing a resource for a JISC funded project called Life-Share. This e-learning resource will provide the knowledge required to digitise materials; papers, books, audio and video. I spent most of the day writing video scripts for the scenarios that form the main educational focus within the resource as well as liaising via email with the experts in the team who will be the ‘actors’.

I also attended a 1.5 hour team meeting over lunchtime where we discussed the launch of our revamped Lecturer webpages this Thursday. This resulted in minor changes to the website, PowerPoint and handouts. It’s just about the end of the day and I think we are ready for the launch; just hoping the snow stays away.

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