Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Critical Thinking

Tomorrow I'll be seeing some of you for a lecture on critical thinking.
So in addition to the oh-so-lucky ones who are attending, I thought I'd give a general explanation as to what critical thinking is.

Put simply, it's about questioning everything and not assuming facts are unchanging. Because they're not.
Facts are transient, like opinions, countries, people and theories. So that's what tomorrow will partly be about. It'll also touch on how you can pick apart theories and research too. This is a tremendous skill to have in readiness for your dissertation, because the option to be more refined in your selection of materials is key in final year.

We have loads of books (both electronic and paper) which cover the skills required to be a critical thinker. The e-book I'd recommend as a starting point is this one by Aveyard but there's plenty of others on the shelves.

One more thing.
Any of you who've had sessions with me previously will know that I'm interested in engaging with you. Not just talking at you but having a proper two-way conversation. Tomorrow will be no different. However, there are times to speak and times to stay quiet and listen and I've recently been involved in conversations between students and lecturers on the thorny issue of classroom disruption.

In my lectures and training sessions you get one chance. If you continue to talk over me, use your phone or disrupt others I will ask you to leave. My time with students is too precious to be wasted.

That aside, I'm hoping that the lecture will confuse, bemuse and eventually inform you.

See you tomorrow, second years.

Monday, 24 November 2014

New report on poverty and social exclusion in the UK

Hello again.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has produced the latest in their series of excellent reports on poverty in the UK. Even compared to recent research in this area, it makes for grim reading. It states that the number of people trapped in low wage jobs are on the increase and 1 in 5 working age adults without children are living in poverty. The reasons for these conclusions are clearly complex, although JRF highlights low wages, higher rents and changes in the welfare system as key.

If you haven't heard me promote the JRF before it's a very good source of evidence-based research specialising in the links between poverty, housing and wages. They produce a vast range of reports which you can access by going here. It's all free and it's all fine to reference.

The latest report is available in full from here, or if you'd prefer the Guardian's summary on what was written then have a look here.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Credo vs Wikipedia

You know how using Wikipedia makes your lecturers really grumpy?
Well we have a huge online collection of encyclopedias and dictionaries which you can not only read without fear but reference without anyone getting upset too. It's called Credo and it looks like this.

You access it by just typing Credo into the normal library catalogue and follow the links. 

Use it to find detailed biographies of theorists, the origins of theories or specific topics. It's easy to use and you can reference it, save your articles and even produce mind maps of individual searches. 

A couple of things to remember in relation to using it; use "speech marks" to ensure accuracy and the subject option on the left to narrow down your options.

If you'd like me to arrange a session with you on using Credo (ideally a small group would be best) then contact me directly or ask via one of your lecturers.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

How many references do I need?

There are certain tricky questions I've developed stock answers for.
Questions like, do you write assignments, what's the point of post-modernism and how do I get crime statistics on left-handed burglars called Geoff in the UK?

But the big one is always 'how many references do I need?' The problem with the answer is the problem with the question. How do you quantify enough of anything? Enough to pass? Enough to get an 'A'? The question also presupposes that all references are equally good; they're not. So an assignment with 20 poor references probably won't be marked as highly as an assignment with 12 good quality ones. Put simply, the quantity is secondary, the quality is primary.

For dissertations this 'how many is enough' question is particularly difficult. For undergrads you're partly constrained by your word limit. You couldn't physically fit 300 references into a 6000 word dissertation even if you wanted to.
The best advice I can offer is this; look at how academics write journal articles, look at how they use referencing to construct and support their arguments and look at how often they do this. That should give you a pretty good idea of how often to reference whilst your writing, and in so doing you'll naturally end up with enough academic back up to write a decent piece of work.

Monday, 17 November 2014

A guide to sessions with dissertation supervisors

At present I can summarise the content of my email inbox like this: aaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrgggghhhhh, HEEEEEEEEELLLLPPP, aaaaargggh. This is typically followed by the sound of explosions or crying or wine bottles being opened. Welcome to the sound of final year students having the most enormous meltdown.

Why? Because it's that time of year when dissertation planning tends to reach a peak of anxiety.
My advice is very, very simple. Work through it steadily and you'll be absolutely fine. Don't binge-search because it isn't effective. Instead it leads to frustration and boredom.

You should also be having conversations and discussions with your supervisors by now too.

So here's my advice to get the best from these precious sessions...

1) Go back and read about the major 'isms'. By this I mean feminism, post-modernism, essentialism, functionalism and Marxism. A chapter on each would be fine to refamiliarise yourself with what they say. Alternatively use an online encyclopedia such as Credo to go back to basics. This is the Wikipedia that you can reference.

2) Don't turn up for meetings expecting to be told what to do. It's your dissertation so own it. That means do plenty of prep before you see supervisors and send them things in advance so that they know what's to be discussed.

3) Some supervisors will set deadlines and some won't so you may need to negotiate when things are done. My advice is to set mini-deadlines rather than fixate on the final one. That could take the form of 'this section finished in two weeks' or '500 words written by this date'. It'll take the pressure off as you go along.

4) Remember it's a negotiation. Be diplomatic. Knowing when to be firm and when to concede points comes from a position of knowledge. In other words, read and read and read. It's the only way and there's no short cuts. It's how you win arguments and it's how you write about things that interest you.

5) Finally, think about the methodology in detail. Don't leave it until the end. This is one of those things that drives supervisors crazy so make it clear in meetings that you're thinking about these issues now, because it won't wait until after Christmas.

Hopefully that will help keep you on track.
You know where I am if you need me. Just don't expect me to reply within 10 seconds of reading another message that begins, "aaaargggghhh...heeeeelp....."

Monday, 10 November 2014

Anna's thoughts on dissertation planning

As a visual learner I am constantly having to organise my thoughts! 
Examtime mind maps are an excellent way to elaborate on my understanding. Take a look at my working progress mind map on Social Research Methods, full of all that irritating terminology, but it becomes so much easier once I've visualised it, I can then go on to check it with others and edit whenever I need to, I can also print and put the latest installment into my ARC folder. (Expecting a lot of corrections thrown at me now that I've had the guts to put it out there.) This was a good way to exercise my brain and recheck all my notions in my social research books.
Alongside that I am communicating with my dissertation supervisor, throwing out my ideas and having them refined and channeled into good old fashioned hard work, but at least I can pat myself on the back!
So that's step 2 to for my third and final year of university - what have you done so far?

Friday, 17 October 2014

This year's workshops

Last year I ran fortnightly workshops which was open to all.

Apart from a few super-keen students who came along regularly, I saw neither hide nor hair of any of you.
This year will be different.
My plan is simply that I promote these things until you give in and come along.

This is what's going to happen; roughly every two week I'll sit in Training Room 1 waiting for you to turn up and ask me things. I'll then answer those things and you'll go away happier and more informed.

The pragmatic thinking behind this is quite simple; there's too many of you for me to fit into my working week as individual appointments. The workshops will allow me to answer similar inquiries and hopefully satisfy more students.

The more fluffy thinking is that I want you to feel more empowered by what you're studying.
That comes from knowing what you're doing, knowing the tricks (and they are tricks) to being a student and getting the most for WHAT YOU'VE PAYED FOR.

The first few workshops will run on the following days at 2pm in Training Room 1 in the LRC:

November 5th.

November 19th.

December 3rd.

December 17th.

It doesn't matter whether you're 2nd year undergrad or final year postgrad, just come along at any point between 2pm and 3pm and I'll do my best to answer your questions.

One final thing that'll be different from last year - I now regularly bake muffins so I promise a selection will be available for each workshop. See? Now you're interested...