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What is academic writing???

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’In every day life we cheerfully use language as a blunt instrument for cudgelling our way through the cut and thrust of events around us. However, in academic writing language is meant to be used more like a scalpel, cutting precisely between closely related arguments, so that they can be prised apart and analysed in detail.’ Northridge (1990:29)

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H809 Reflecting on frameworks (Activity 3.8)

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 13 Nov 2014, 10:20

In the light of the podcast and this week’s work, consider how you might revise the way in which you are making notes on studies. Do the questions from Activity 1.4 need elaborating?

Look back at Reading 1 and consider the questions that were asked in that research. Do you think they represent a dominant ‘paradigm’ for research in any particular period? Are the research questions and methods still relevant today?

My response

Questions : what research questions are being addressed?
Setting : what is the sector and setting?
Concepts : what theories, concepts and key terms are being used?
Methods : what methods if data collection and analysis are used?
Findings : what did this research find out?
Limitations : what are the limitations of the methods used?
Implications : what are the implications (if any) for practice, policy or further education?

1) I will still ask, what was the problem? What is the hypothesis? I may ask why this research is being carried. I will certainly look at who the authors are, how the research is funded and the methods used.
2) There's more to setting than a name and an address for where and when something took place. It matters and helps to know the context, the time, people and environment.
3) They may only be noticed if they are unusual or controversial, but there will be reasons why a certain theory or concept is used. This will put a slant on the research, because of the choices made by the authors, the choices that are current and appropriate and whether they have been used before and what the conclusions were then. Activity Theory, for example, is going through changes, Diffusion of Innovation theory transmogrified with the idea of a ‘chasm’. Activity Theory is becoming ‘Cultural Historical’
4) Methods are taking advantage of computers to gather and analyse data, including 'big data' in new and revealing ways.
5) There is inertia of approaches and adopting new technologies, even a bias towards conformity and 'old ways' of doing things which is how and why the breakthroughs and disruption tends to come from outside.
6) The implications are for HE and schools to try to do what industry has been doing for the last 20 years – to embrace change as a constant to be embraced, rather than as a rare occurrence to be resisted. New ways of doing things, new ways if undertaking research, new ways of analysing and sharing the data and outcomes.
7) Keep an open mind. Have a set of questions that require a comprehensive view and be prepared to be a magpie - to think outside these parameters in terms of scope, depth and spread – so cross disciplinary, historic as well as the future.

I can see if you go in armed with a list of forensic questions you could get bogged down, in particular it is just another reason to lose the sense of narrative in a piece of research.

Which reminds me of an ancient OU Text called 'How to Read' or was it 'How to study?' Anyway, the idea from Richard Northridge (I think) was that you read a piece of text three times: skim read to get the gist of what is going on, the 'landscape' as it were, read a second time taking notes and then a third, more surgical read extracting what you want and being critical where criticism is due - in the light of your own interests.

Jo Neil (26th Feb, H809 Student Forum) suggested that when creating a framework for reviewing research papers thought should be given to:

  • Structure of the research - imposed or emergent
  • Existing research in this area
  • What is the methodology/philosophy background
  • What frameworks?
  • Terminology - are the questions relevant
  • Motives
  • What research does it build on/contribute to

And my response:

I am struck by the dichotomy between 'imposed or emergent'.

I wonder, my reading, if you are saying 'traditional' or 'emergent'. I don't supposed traditional or imposed are any the less valid, just choices alongside the 'emergent' that have to be made.

Just as the old structures are going into meltdown, becoming transparent, fluid and available to all courtesy of Web 2.0 so all manner of approaches need to change to keep up.

Further down the line the entire academic publishing route is under scrutiny: academics and those who ought to be influenced by these papers aren't reading them - they prefer to speak directly to experts/authors where they can; journals take too long to publish in a rapidly changing environment; institutions are fed up with paying academic publishers and authors are fed up of the current necessity of giving up copyrights/IP (varies), volunteering their content when it isn't necessarily adding to their reputation or career anyway.

This all comes back to your single word  - emergent.

In commercial e-learning at the micro scale real-time student analytics, monitoring progress, tailoring content, managing a learning 'career' is producing a new level of detail and immediacy to research while at the macro scale 'Big Data' is able to isolate factors that would have gone unnoticed with smaller student numbers. This in turn enables finer fine tuning of a module or course.

The old manufacturing paradigms of incremental and evolutionary change, where everything is bolted down and would have to be demolished in order to allow change and over. Modules created in a digital environment or ecosystem need to be seen to be growing and changing all the time and institutions should reflect this and come in like gardeners with bamboo canes (scaffolding), nutrients (social learning and student support) and pruning shears - cutting out the dead growth and guiding this 'organic thing' in the desirable direction.

Methodologies and Frameworks are were I need to do some work.

I need to get the terms, definitions and explanations firmly in my mind or in a table. Like a deck of cards, or a set of choices, or herbs in the kitchen from which I can make an informed choice. To use the cooking metaphor I am at the minute inclined to stick everything in because I know no better! Which is of course why I am on H809.

I don't question the importance of knowing what research has gone before and what research it contributes to - building on the shoulders of giants and all that, though, given this 'emergent' field we are entering a transitioning period.

Related to some thoughts above, the technology permits the author to cite far more that they feel has touched or is touching upon their thinking. This will influence how a report is written as we must all now have examples where in any sentence or paragraph more of the text might be taken up with references than it is with the line of thought. Whilst the references need to be there, within reason, there are other ways I've seen of doing it. For example, numbering references like footnotes and giving them in chronological rather than alphabetic order at the end of the text. This 'system' probably has a name.

Relevance of questions too - that they are pertinent, of the study, not imposed on it. My feeling is that considered choice of the questions is crucial. Knowing the right question(s) to ask is a fundamental technique or approach in business consultancy where intractable problems need to be resolved ... the answer does lie in asking the right question in the first place.

And 'motives' as well 'motivation'.

This isn't to be cynical, but research has to be funded and institutions look for academics who attract or can secure grants. The grant making bodies in turn have their own criteria and agendas. Are there no 'fads' here. There was something I was reading recently where the authors refer back to the requirements or stipulations of the funding body - not a negative view, just a statement or re-statement of the parameters that institution had set so that readers could decide ok a) there is further research to be done beyond these parameters c) the research was undertaken under these conditions.

As for motivation, it matters why we/they the authors are doing the research. I enjoy the opportunity to hear an academic present their findings as you then get a sense of what their motivations are ... because of a virtuous, altruistic love of the topic, to get a paper published - another one notched up, to move on (another institution is more suited, or attractive) ... and the commercial potential of going into an agency or client, or starting your own operation. Or because they like being centre stage.

Am I being unfairly cynical here? Everyone has a motive of some kind or another. Should these motives be apparent in the research - probably not, which is where, perhaps, fairly or unfairly, some of us may have been judgmental about the Hiltz paper (I was).

I keep finding myself reading article and books on e-learning and the Internet written by Journalists.

They are another breed entirely. Too often the desire to sensationalise to get an article and books sold produces a plausible package that convinces thousands but on close inspection is either highly dubious, 'thin' and speculative or has extracted only excerpts from research to support their hypothesis. Yet they get the message out in a way that must academics and institutions repeatedly fail to do.

From which I conclude - greater scrutiny is required over what I read. I've got to ditch an indulgence that was encourage two decades ago when I was studying Francois Truffaut the French filmmaker who argued that it was necessary and appropriate to read everything. This of course was in the context of writing fiction, but his reading list (he wrote letters and kept a diary of soughts) was eclectic to the extreme ends of pulp fiction to literary greats.

Still a valid approach if you want to nourish you mind with the unpredictable?

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Clashing swords and VLEs

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Inspired by Martin Weller's book on VLEs. Just read Chapter Seven - Standards and Specification and Chapter Eight - Learning Design. notes to follow.

Courtesy of the OU's 1990 book 'The Good Study Guide' I am trying to make my notes less a cut and paste and more a considered extraction of ideas, my agreements, disagreements and questions with a few notable quotes and references to follow up. These are probably then best catalogued and tagged in the OU ePortfolio MyStuff (for now).

Having read 'Standards and Specifications' I am wondering what role e-learning designers might play once a set of common approaches have been adopted? Once every learning design follows 'the script' the way a Hollywood screenplay has its three acts, various turning points, antagonists and protagonists, roles and events.

For every chapter I read, I read two chapters of a Bernard Cornwell Novel 'The Lords of the North' and a chapter of Norman Davies's history of the Isles (UK and the Republic of Ireland).

I won't be able to afford this luxury come September, a new season and a new moduel H808 'The Elearning Professional.'

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On Reading, Taking Notes, Thinking and reflecting. OU style 1990

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 28 Jan 2012, 15:21

On reading, taking notes and managing your feelings i.e how to study

There are notes, nothing more, which makes me wonder why I share them with the world. In this instance I am sharing notes on 'hot to study.' (I liked the typo so left it in.'

This 1990 OU's guide came into my possession by the most circuitous of routes. My father-in-law, a long retired Oxford Don, sent it to his 12 year old grand-daughter on seeing her end of term report sad

Problem is, not that she has read the book at all, if it appealed in any way then she might shun what her immediate future offers: GCSEs then A' Levels which requires a lot of learning, but not a great deal of thinking. (Or does it?)

Here are some notes for Chapter Two 'Reading and Note Taking'

In relation to 900 words or so we were asked to read as an activity:

This takes, we are advised to:

  • Skim read - 9 minutes
  • Read - 15 minutes
  • Read with care (and taking notes) - 27 minutes.

I read it in 3 mins.

Did I speed read? Did I take anything in?

I managed to make notes afterwards, indeed having been asked to answer some questions even more information came to mind. Perhaps this is how I should do it ... perhaps the important stuff is more likely to come to mind if I give it some thought rather than note taking at the same time. I may not have a photographic memory ... do I skate over things? Would it help if I slowed it down? I'd have to read more strategically though, to trust the choices made for me.

An OU IDEA 'Concept Cards'

To jot down concepts and ideas that you DON’T understand so that you can look them up at later, i.e. don’t only makes notes on the things that make sense.

Historically (last decade) I've used FileMaker Pro.

Whatever its short coming I am using the OU e-portfolio, expecting to be able to transfer/migrate the 500 pages of contents over to an off-the-shelf e-portfolio or anything new the OU comes up with in due course.

Taking the hint that ntoes shold be taken of ideas of interest, and value, rahter than taking notes on everything I picked out this:

Creating interest where there is none – when your enthusiasm for a topic wanes think how others think who have found something if interest.

That's useful.

Like a child, too often if a topic or activities doesn't appeal I make excuses and do something else, rather than finding a way to engage.

Questions make reading interesting.

You need to read with a couple of questions in the back of your mind so that you engage with the information.

My questions on the OU 1990 Study Guide?

  • What’s changed in 20 years?
  • How much is just the same?
  • How can I apply this in relation to e-learning in 2010?
  • What advice would others find useful that may be second nature to me? (That I take for granted).

I liken my approach to studying to the way I wandered across the South Downs for five hours yesterday.

I hadn’t even been sure if I’d walk a stretch of the South Downs Way from Newhaven when I dropped the car off for a service, but I had walking boots on and waterproofs in a rucksack. I had no map, but have walked half the route out of Newhaven towards Lewes, and half the route out of Lewes South. Having followede the River Ouse to Southease I then followed signs for the South Downs Way which took me way off any direct track to Lewes in a couple of huge loops. The mile along the road from Southease to Rodmell would have saved a three mile deviation up onto the Downs. But did I want to risk either the dog or me being run over?

I have a tendency to follow my nose (like the dog, her nose took her into a fresh cow pat). She rolled in it.

My reading takes me through a series of cascades as I pick first one reference to chase, then another in this article or essay and so on. Its as if, despite being given the road map through a Maize Maze I insist on looking down every avenue myself, so that I can find out for myself.

If I study in exactly the same way as my fellow students, reading strategically, only reading the course references as there isn’t apparently time to do much more … won’t we all come out the same? A goal for my studying is to have my own perspective eventually, not to project the opinions of another.

Elaborately Cautious Language

’In every day life we cheerfully use language as a blunt instrument for cudgelling our way through the cut and thrust of events around us. However, in academic writing language is meant to be used more like a scalpel, cutting precisely between closely related arguments, so that they can be prised apart and analysed in detail.’ Northridge (1990:29)

An academic text is not a narrative – it is an argument.

An academic text aims to be unemotional, detached and logical.

Whilst I can understand applying this to a TMA or ECA, this is surely not the required or desired approach in what is called a Blog? And for writing in a forum, should we reference everything? It doesn't half interrupt the flow of ideas. If talking over coffee or a glass of wine would we cite references we knowingly made? The lines distinguishing the spoken word to text or TXT or blogging and messaging are blurred if not broken.

Manage Feelings 2.6 Northridge (1990:31)

Find ways of:

  • building upon your enthusiasms
  • avoiding sinking into despair
  • making the topic interesting
  • accepting specialist language
  • accepting academic text styles
  • constructing valid criticisms

My preferred approach to reaching:

  • cafe
  • walk
  • pool
  • while travelling (trains, planes, ferries and yachts)

Though surely not

  • in bed
  • on the kitchen table in the middle of the night
  • in the pub
  • on holiday

(though this can be exactly what I do/have done)

IDEALLY

  • a room of my own

(married life, children and a modest home have left me with a cluttered shed or lock-up garage packed with the contents of our last house - we moved three years ago).


Reading Approaches

Skim paragraph ahead, then read more slowly using the ‘mile stones’ to guide you.

Skimming – about the text
Reading – follow the argument

Lighting skim – very fast.

I typically 'light skim' the last chapters of a Stephen King novel, as the plot becomes ludicrous yet I feel an obligation to have glanced across the page in case at some stage sanity returns (it never does). Though the story will reach a resolution.

Intensive Study – very slow

Something new, something I don’t understand. Something I need to understand or want to understand. But never the small print of a bank overdraft facility. Probably the diaries of Anais Nin and the novels of Henry Miller. Probably the history of WWI, as I need to glean info from it for my own writing. And of course the books and papers I read for H807 (Innovations in E-Learning) and will read for H808 (The eLearning Professional).

Is it making me think?

Am I getting a better grasp of the subject?

‘The underlying purpose of reading is to develop your thoughts; to weave new ideas and information into the understanding you already have and to give new angles to your thinking.’
Northridge, (1990:34)

My reading speed, 300 wpm? i.e. far to quick, but is a page a minute that fast? it does depend of course on the writing style and my familiarity or otherwise with the concepts.

The purpose of reading = 'rethinking' Northridge, (1990:34)

I like that 're-thinking.' So building on what you now already, whether or not you think you know much at all ... or know a great deal.

Rethinking:

  • To develop your thoughts
  • To weave new ideas and information into the understanding you already have
  • To give new angles to your thinking

The point of reading:


‘The point of reading is to be able to understand what you read and to be able to get back the ideas at some future point when you need them again.’
Northridge, (1990:38)

The point of taking notes:

‘Taking notes forces you to think; to ‘grapple’ with the ideas in the text as you read them, because you have to decide what to write down and how to say it.’ Northridge, (1990:44)

I don't grapple at the note taking stage, I find it more mundane than that, I do desire a tussle at some stage, which is why I can find the manner in which we engage asynchronously (its nature) somewhat tame. I don't recommend debating online either, or getting into an argument (or even a heavy discussion) ... when in Elluminate, messaging or anything else.

This is why the face-to-face tutorial at least, fellow students over a beer in the MCR or in a formal debating chamber ideas gain a voice, that becomes your Word, and your Voice.

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