Writing as … metaphors for loving writing

#Becomingeducational We’ve been thinking about writing…

Over the last few weeks we have been thinking about writing quite a lot: how best to scaffold student writing? How to help university staff help their students love writing? Tom’s also started a series of workshops: Creative Writing for Academic Success (well – you always have to pitch these things that way – you can’t just say: Hey – let’s try this – it’ll be fun and you never know, our writing might improve as well!)

So – in this heady writing atmosphere – it was great to spot this post from: Doctoral Writing – and what wonderful metaphors for writing…

DoctoralWriting SIG

By Claire Aitchison

Doctoral scholars, their supervisors and academics in general, all have intimate relations with writing. It’s our everyday world. Like any intimate relationship, this liaison has its ups and downs: there are times of love and hate, joy and bitterness, times when we resent writing and other times when it brings us comfort and delight.  Who hasn’t known what it’s like to fight and wrangle with writing late at night, exhausted, and wishing to cut the ties and run away forever?!

In this post – at the end of Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo) – I use metaphors to explore some of my relationships with writing.

Writing as tranceWriting can put me into a trance-like state so that I am totally unaware of the rest of the world. When I am deep in writing I am in an altered frame of mind, detached from time and…

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Too many papers

#Becomingeducational It’s Week 3 of our academic year

And what better time to celebrate THE SLOW ACADEMIC BLOG – and the idea of slow academia?

As our workloads get heavier and heavier – as they fill with more and more administrative tasks and less space for thinking and being an academic… HOW do we slow things down – to think – to feel – to be???

The Slow Academic

This is the final post in a trilogy following the 6th International Academic Identities Conference at the University of Hiroshima. In my first post, I described the conference, its location, theme and keynote presentations. In the second, I highlighted four presentations that stretched my thinking. In this post, I want to share the four papers I presented with colleagues, and issue a stern warning to myself to present fewer papers at future conferences.

Four papers is too many. Having co-authors made it possible (enjoyable even), but  I talked too much, and listened too little. When I was listening, I was too keyed up about my next paper to listen well. One of my papers was on slow academia; practice what you preach and other idioms apply.

  • The solace of slow academia (or breathing room)

This paper was a blend of theory, autoethnography and practical advice.

Theory: Judith Butler…

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The Three Domains of Critical Reading

#Becomingeducational It’s teaching week one!! It’s Academic Reading Time!

Yes – welcome back to the teaching!

What better time than this to explore the teaching of academic reading?

In this thoughtful post Helen Webster sketches in the issues that our students tend to have with academic reading…

And she discusses her ‘Three Domains of Academic Reading’ strategy…

If you’ve used this strategy yourself – do share with us how it went.

If you have other and also successful reading strategies – would you share them with us?

All best wishes – and good luck for a great year,

Sandra & Tom

rattus scholasticus

A couple of people have recently asked about a tool I developed to teach critical reading, so I thought I’d blog about it to add a bit of context to what is basically a workshop handout.

Working in a one to one context as a Learning Developer with students on assignments like literature reviews has allowed me to see behind the scenes of how students approach this task. What I’ve noticed is a mismatch between some of the feedback on the written product “Unfocussed! Doesn’t flow! Needs to be structured better! Too descriptive!” can actually be traced back to issues around reading and note-taking, not writing.

Students understandably find critiquing the work of far more experienced and authoritative scholars very daunting, and that’s the first thing I address. I fear sometimes that the message that students should only use ‘quality, peer-reviewed sources” is over-egged, and can disempower students – if…

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My questions now: preparing a thesis conclusion

#Becomingeducational Happy New Academic Year!!

Here’s a re-blog for any of our readers who are PhD students…

And in Conclusion…

No, seriously – do not forget that Conclusion – and make sure it tells the Reader (your examiner) that this is a valid, novel contribution to your field of knowledge:

? What is the relationship between the various studies? What is the most important idea to come out of Study 1a and out of 1b? And then what is the overall message from all that information and analysis?
?What did Study 2 then add to our understanding?

? What did we learn from Study 3 to add to that?
?Now that we know all of this, what does the world need to know about this topic overall?

?What is new about this thesis? What do we now know that we didn’t know when you started?

? Why is it important? And what policy recommendations do you want to make now that you know these new things?

? What excites you about what you have learnt during this research? What was surprising? What do you care about, and what do you want others to understand now?

Go on – read the whole blog post – it’s most excellent!

Sandra & Tom

DoctoralWriting SIG

By Cally Guerin

Conclusions continue to be a challenge for thesis writers, not least because they need to bring together a whole range of ideas and step back from the detail to look at the bigger picture of what all these words and findings mean. This is the moment when examiners are assessing whether the whole text has persuaded them that, yes, this thesis makes an original and significant contribution to knowledge in its field and is therefore worth a PhD. Yet, as Trafford, Lesham and Bitzer (2014) point out, a surprising number of theses fail to make a direct statement about the originality of the research and its contribution; in fact, some don’t even have a chapter labelled ‘Conclusion’. While it is still possible to succeed in exhibiting ‘doctorateness’ without fulfilling the standard requirements, my own approach is to make it as easy as possible for readers (here I…

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Universities as utopias

#Becomingeducational It’s still hotter than hot here in the UK…

But we thought that you would like this post on problematising the messy business of teaching – and the increasingly messy business of the peer observation of teaching.

What we do is messy. If we dare to be experimental with our practice – we may not always succeed; we may not always get the outcomes that we desire.

And yet there is a constant pressure to be perfect.

And yet, as engaged professionals, we want to experiemnt, develop, improve, change… and thus we will get things wrong from time to time.

This is a passionate and timely reminder.

Best wishes,
Sandra & Tom

The Slow Academic

My presentation at the recent HERDSA conference was entitled Peer review of teaching: A showcase of messy practice. My co-author Rod Lane and I are redeveloping this presentation as a book chapter, in which we will share our learning about the risks and complexities of ‘insider research’ or researching practices within our own institution. Presenting about an imperfect and unfinished project, rather than a retrospective narrative of excellence, was a conscious choice. It seemed well received by the audience:

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Near and Far Enemies in LD Practice

#Becomingeducational You’d think we’d let you relax…

Now that summer’s here – and oh so hot!!! – you might think that we at #becomingeducational might leave you alone – let you rest and recoup, regroup…

But no! We’ve just spotted this excellent blog post from Helen Webster (@scholastic_rat) on the ‘near and far’ enemies of Learning Development.

‘Far enemies’ are a Buddhist concept – and indicates those qualities that prevent us from living an harmonious life. Far enemies are easy to spot – with hatred very obviously far from charity or love.

Helen points out that ‘near enemies’ are worse – for they can be so so close to the quality that we want to develop: contempt is obviously an enemy of empathy – but ‘pity’? Hmmmmmm

Through an examination of near enemies Helen holds up a very clear and troubling lens to LD practice.

See what you think.

All the best,
Sandra & Tom

rattus scholasticus

Buddhism (unexpected opening, bear with me!) discusses four states or virtues known as the Brahma-viharas, the Four Immeasurables, cultivated through meditation: Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Empathetic Joy and Equanimity. Each of these has an antithesis, of course – a ‘far enemy‘. The far enemy of loving-kindness is hatred; that of compassion is cruelty.  Empathetic joy – joy in the joy of others – is opposed to jealousy, and equanimity is the inverse of craving. These are easy to spot. However, each of the Four Immeasurables also has a ‘near enemy’– something that looks so much like the quality we strive for, but really, really isn’t it. The near enemy of loving-kindness would be a possessive affection, that of compassion would be condescending pity. Empathetic joy’s near enemy is perhaps a conditional, sentimental pride, and indifference can be mistaken for true equanimity.

It’s a useful idea in the…

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why​ is writing a literature review such hard work? part two

#Becomingeducational Yes – it’s the summer – but…

We found this post on the difficulties of the Literature Review really helpful in the very practical way it helps PhD students unpack examiner comments and re-shape a Literature Review.

We especially like – her answers when examiners ask doctoral researchers to change their literature review to show how they are “located” in the text.

Specifically referring to:
What key concepts and interpretations you have taken from the literature to inform the design of the study.

What key concepts and interpretations from the literatures you will use to analyse your data.

What general approach to the topic that you have taken and where your work sits within the field.

One to share with all our PhD students.

Sandra & Tom


Yes, some examiners do ask doctoral researchers to change their literature review to show how they are “located” in the text.

OK, let’s pretend this is you. What do those pesky examiners mean exactly?

At one level this is a simple task. You are being asked to say

What key concepts and interpretations you have taken from the literature to inform the design of the study. Because no one does a project entirely from scratch – we all use other people’s work as building blocks – we have to specify exactly what wehaveborrowed. And you are also being asked to show how you have used concepts, approaches and/or interpretations. (This may well mean for instance that you have to refer back to the literatures when the methods are being explained. For instance, surveys almost always use literatures that have been introduced and explained earlier.)

What key concepts…

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