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Essay writing style: clay or concrete aggregate?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 1 Oct 2014, 15:10
From River Ouse Low Tide

My tried and tested methodology, beyond the doomed 'winging it' is 'concrete aggregate'. Other weeks or months I accumulate a lot of stuff, much of it in a blog like this; not quite a relational database but the 'stuff' is here, tagged and of reasonable relevance. In a now defunct OU ePortfolio called 'MyStuff' or 'MyOU' - I forget, you could then shuffle and rank your gobbets of nonsense and so, discounting the volume of stuff, potentially, have a treatment that could then be turned into an essay.

Such stuff, if it contains, 10,000 words, often with chunks of verbatim passages, can be a hell of a task to hack into shape. You build in bold forms out of concrete and can only get it to look like a garden, or park sculpture, with a pneumatic drill and chisel. Sometimes it works. You get there. It is dry and workable. You'll more than pass. It depends on the subject, the module and the specific expectations of the assignment. Where you need to tick many boxes this approach may work well.

Clay is the better way forward in most situations. Here you build up your arguments in logical steps then refine them at the end. This, particularly in the social sciences, is where the tutor wants to see how you argue you case, drawing together arguments and facts, mostly those you've been exposed to in the module, though allowing for some reading beyond the module. You have to express your opinion, rather than listing the views of others. Get it right and this is the only way to reach the upper grades? Get it wrong, which is the risk, and you may end up with a hollow or limp structure with grades to match. 

 

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Design Museum

The right way and wrong way to assess

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 4 May 2014, 09:46

Looking back over four years can be revealing. In 2010 I was struggling with my third Tutor Marked Assignment (TMA03)  in the Master of Arts Open and Distance Education (MAODE). I queried the assignment process. In particular I felt as if it was akin to making a tapestry. Three years on I feel my last couple of TMAs and EMAs weren't simply making a tapestry - but doing so wearing roller-skates on a ship in a heavy sea.

Nothing would stitch together. I had far too much wool. 

The criteria, meant to be helpful, detailing paragraph, by paragraph if not sentence by sentence what the examiner is looking for ties my head in knots. 

I contrast this, favourably, with the MA I am doing with the University of Birmingham. Clunky but effective. I have a reading list. We attend lectures and take part in seminars and I write a 4000 word essay drawn from a list of 12 to 16 titles.

This allows me to be fluid, rather than the ground beneath my feet.

Throughout the MAODE I think the only module the regularly had this 'essay writing' approach was H809: Research practices in educational technology. 

I can be accused of over thinking and over preparing a TMA or EMA - yet this, too often, is how the things have been designed. Less would be more. Simpler would not be easier, writing is hard enough without having to second guess what a third party will be thinking as they read while running down a check list to give you a tick and therefore a mark and ultimately a grade.

Reflecting on four years I can see marks in TMAs, and EMAs especially, improve. I think TMAs in 60s, and 70s and the odd EMA in the 40s, then 50s give rise to TMAs of 80s, even in the 90s, though my best EMA was a 76. Of course, in their wisdom, my student grades for each module simply reads 'PASS'. I feel this rather diminishes the effort and evidence. There is certainly a different between a candidate scoring in the 40s and 50s between one scoring in the 60s and 70s and 80s. 

I met an MBA student who had achieved a distinction in every module. I was in awe. Not your usual OU student (are any from the Business School). She had a first in her first degree from Oxford: Classics. Some people have a mind for these things. Perhaps it is my head that sloshes around like the proverbial storm, rather than the system I have been part of?

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