W22 #becomingeducational: The Essay – Our Essay

This week by popular demand we explored issues with essay writing. As we have all already had the: The Essay – what, why, how session; we chose a different approach. The lecture opened up with a quick investigation into current essay writing strengths (people did not want to admit to any of these) and weaknesses. With the weaknesses people were concerned about structure (which is important – good structure can take your mark up by 10 points) – and about being too definite (assertive) rather than argumentative (we need to give evidence for the points that we want to make). The biggest question was: but where am I in my writing?!

This sense of the loss of self in academic writing is really familiar to the course tutors. For many students, starting a University course can feel like being told: Shut up – listen – read – parrot it back; we are not interested in what you think! This is why we talk about finding your VOICE in the academic arena.

Finding your voice can mean finding ways of saying what you think and believe in a way that is appropriate for the academic subject that you are studying – or – in other words – using the appropriate epistemological practices of your discipline. And this can feel very frustrating – even more so when you are a mature student bringing with you a wealth of knowledge and experience.

Academia should not be about losing or hiding YOU – but hopefully it is about utilising a space in which we can stretch, challenge and extend ourselves.  It should be a place that allows us to develop our voice – and to use it! So we need to learn how to use the codes and genres and forms of academia to say what we want to say. At the same time, we should be prepared to change and adapt what we already think and ‘know’ in the face of the new arguments and evidence that we encounter as we study. A good tip here is to find your authors.

Find the people out there who argue for the things that you believe in. These will be the people you refer to and quote as you construct your own arguments. Of course – you also need to find those other authors – the ones you disagree with – so that you can argue against them… But, start collecting your authors now – and keep a record of all your reading – so that you build upon your thinking year on year – rather than every module feeling like you are starting over.


Blogging to find your voice

One thing that we have done on Becoming is to ask you to write a weekly blogpost on your learning – and this can include the reading that you are doing. In the blog you can be yourself: there can be humour, outrage, indignation, uproar – and joy. You can play with ideas in a semi-public space. You know that you are in dialogue with your readers – and that you are telling them stuff – or persuading them about stuff… This allows you to be all of you as you learn – and from this holistic nearly-academic you, you can then select the elements that you use in your more formal writing. As Winnicott (1971) might say – your blog is the play space where you are fiercely alive and wholly you – coping with the implicit threat of transition – and making the learning your own.

Even if you have not blogged before – start an academic blog now – and use that space to record your thoughts about the learning you are doing – the reading – the ideas… Take ownership of them in your friendly space… Find your voice.

Our essay

‘To what extent has the module ‘Becoming an Educationalist’ prepared you for the reality of becoming an educationalist? Justify your answer with reference to at least three aspects of or activities on the course.’

We brainstormed the question in the lecture – breaking it into component parts that would need to be addressed in a final essay:

The module – Becoming an educationalist

An educationalist

? Education

Three aspects/activities:




The trick with assignment questions is not to think you know the answer – but to break the question down into yet more questions… So – for each of the above you might ask yourself:

What is this?

When did it happen (why then)?

Why is it important?

Where does it happen (why there)?

Who writes about it?

How does it work?

What if (it were different)?

So what?

What next?

Struggling to find answers for these questions helps us to process the course itself – and our learning. This makes even more of the learning conscious to ourselves. Once we have rough ideas drafted out – we struggle to write – to shape – to refine. This takes TIME!

Next steps

In class we played with learning styles to take our thinking forward – so we drew, we free wrote, we made collages to develop our ideas for the essay… (No one took the option of interviewing another member of the class – to utilise audio learning styles – but next time.)

A little bit of theory

And right at the end we threw our theorists who we might want to read to help us make a really good case. And just in case you forget – do not ignore the reading list:

Academic phrasebank: http://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/

Burns, T & Sinfield, S (2012) Essential study skills: the complete guide to success at university, London; Sage

Burns and Sinfield resources (also see the Journal articles that accompany each chapter) http://www.uk.sagepub.com/burnsandsinfield3e/study/default.htm

Buzan, B. & Buzan, T. (1995) The Mind Map Book BBC

Elbow P : FREEWRITING by Peter Elbow Center for Learning  – mgunby


FREEWRITING by Peter Elbow. The most effective way I know to improve your writing is to do freewriting exercises regularly. At least three times a week.

Jeffers, S. (1997) Feel the Fear and do it Anyway London; Century

Last Refuge Blogspot: http://lastrefugelmu.blogspot.co.uk/

London Met Study Hub www.londonmet.ac.uk/studyhub

McIntosh, P (2010) Action Research and Reflective Practice: Creative and visual methods to facilitate reflection and learning London; Routledge 

McIntosh, P Postgraduate nursing students – drawing-only reflective log: http://qmul.academia.edu/paulmcintosh/Papers/731108/Creativity_and_reflection_An_approach_to_reflexivity_in_practice

McNiff, J Action Research in Education website http://jeanmcniff.com/

Malone, G The Choir episodes


Robinson, K. (2006) Ken Robinson says ‘Schools kill creativity’ (speech) ONLINE: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html accessed 10.12.10 

Robinson, K. (2009) ‘Changing Education Paradigms’ (speech) ONLINE:

http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/ accessed 10.12.10

Schmidt, Laurel. Great Teachers Don’t Take No (or Yes) for an Answer: Teaching by Asking Instead of Telling in Classroom Confidential: The 12 Secrets of Great Teachers . Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2004. 

Shuh, John Hennigar. Teaching Yourself to Teach With Objects in The Educational Role of the Museum: Second Edition . New York: Routledge, 2001, pgs. 80-91. 


Week 8: Analytical and Critical Thinking

Becoming an Educationalist is designed to get you exploring what it means to be an emancipatory, creative and inspiring educationalist for the 21st Century

An educationalist:

  • Helps you think for yourself
  • We are becoming… educationalists (see Deleuze).

This week

  • Simulations: 25 Moral dilemmas: read; draw; resolve; digitise
  • Notes: what, why, how
  • Academic writing: what, why, how
  • Practical writing – answering the mini-question
  • Peer mentor led activity

Embodied learning: Simulation#25 moral dilemmas: http://psychopixi.com/misc/25-moral-dilemmas/

Simulations and role plays invite whole-body learning. For this week’s simulation we shared out some of the 25 moral dilemmas collected by the Team.  We were asked to read our dilemma – then think it through via a drawing first and then discussion. We were also given links to various open source online resources so that we could represent our problem and our solution via an animation or some other more visual – or more audio – representation:

Voicethread: http://voicethread.com
Storify: http://storify.com/
Xtranormal: http://www.xtranormal.com/
Pixton: http://pixton.com/uk/
Issuu: http://issuu.com/
Storybird: http://storybird.com/
Weebly: http://www.weebly.com/
Animoto: http://animoto.com/
Prezi: http://prezi.com
GoAnimate: http://goanimate.com/
More ideas: ‘50+ web 2.0 ways to tell a story’: http://50ways.wikispaces.com/

We were shown one of Sandra’s Go-Animates as an example. This is a reflective ‘log’ on #edcmooc: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfx1_fVZbyI


One pair were brave enough to show their drawings and discuss their dilemma in the de-brief:

In 1842, a ship struck an iceberg and more than 30 survivors were crowded into a lifeboat intended to hold 7. As a storm threatened, it became obvious that the lifeboat would have to be lightened if anyone were to survive. The captain reasoned that the right thing to do in this situation was to force some individuals to go over the side and drown. Such an action, he reasoned, was not unjust to those thrown overboard, for they would have drowned anyway. If he did nothing, however, he would be responsible for the deaths of those whom he could have saved. Some people opposed the captain’s decision. They claimed that if nothing were done and everyone died as a result, no one would be responsible for these deaths. On the other hand, if the captain attempted to save some, he could do so only by killing others and their deaths would be his responsibility; this would be worse than doing nothing and letting all die. The captain rejected this reasoning. Since the only possibility for rescue required great efforts of rowing, the captain decided that the weakest would have to be sacrificed. In this situation it would be absurd, he thought, to decide by drawing lots who should be thrown overboard. As it turned out, after days of hard rowing, the survivors were rescued and the captain was tried for his action.

If you had been on the jury, how would you have decided?

They decided that the captain and the remaining crew were guilty of murder – not least because the captain had a duty of care to *all* his passengers and crew… It was interesting that discussing this allowed us to explore to what extent our solutions were context-dependent, and typically influenced by our emotions as well as our values; and how far they are dependent on our over-arching moral or ethical codes, and thus are more philosophical and independent of context.


This relates back to issues that we discussed W2: Kant and the moral imperative and Bentham and Utilitarianism. It also seeded thoughts about how far our perceived understanding of our ‘role’ in particular situations legitimises actions that in other circumstances would be counter to ourselves as *human* beings. For example, the prison guard and the prisoner, those that torture suspected terrorists… And given that we are becoming educationalists – how do we see ourselves in an educational role? This led on to discussion of the behaviour experiments of the late 20Cth:  Rosenthal and Jacobson and the self-fulfilling prophecy; the blue eye/brown eye class room experiment; the electric shock experiment…

In the Workshop

The workshops diverged slightly this week – one at least went on to continue discussing the moral dilemmas in  detail – and linking that to the way we need to use argument and evidence in our academic writing.

The others seems to have spent some time looking at active notemaking – and how that also prepares us to engage with ideas: to have a dialogue with the theories, concepts and case studies that we study – and come to our own conclusions…  See: http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/note.html Much was made of just how active we have to be to make our ideas memorable.

The workshops all covered Academic writing in a more formal way than in our first introductory Writing Workshop – that introduced us to free writing – and to Winnicott (1971)!!

The Essay: What; Why; How

…  with real writing:

To what extent is the response to the moral dilemma a question of values? To what extent does it rely on analytical and critical thinking?

We looked at the essay as the formal, discursive and more theoretical form of academic writing. It is the space where we wrestle with ideas – and struggle with them – and write to learn – as we organise our own thoughts – and discover what we think. See: http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/writing.html

We did think that essays were about finding our own voice – but obviously there is the dark side of academic writing! We write and it is measured, assessed and judged. Philosophically we may accept that any system that offers certification will measure and stamp progress… But awareness of being judged can inhibit our thinking and engagement.

We also thought of different ways to assess – by presentation and by the production of digital artefacts that ‘reflect’ on a part of a course. In #edcmooc (E-learning and Digital Cultures), assessment includes the production of a digital artefact PLUS the peer review of three other artefacts.

Here’s a Prezi Poster Presentation on Academic writing – critiquing institutional over-emphasis on ‘skills’ rather than ideas and knowledge-construction: http://prezi.com/essebcrx47jr/not-a-key-thought/

Talking of – #edcmooc: Just for the heck of it…

Here are a couple of blogpost reflections on learning from fellow students of ours from #edcmooc:

Glidden’s post reflecting on learning itself: http://morethanjustcontent.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/what-does-my-learning-look-like-octel/

And another on what it is to be human – which relates to our early discussions on our values and ethical behaviour: http://morethanjustcontent.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/what-is-a-human-edcmooc/