Guide

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Read: Make it Stick

I guess I will put Make it Stick on my students’ recommended reading list. It is rather brief (though it may even be shorter), includes extensive literature references, and illustrates the sometimes abstract research on effective learning strategies with real life examples.

The authors mention several times that they do not want to be prescriptive. Nevertheless, they are. And this is a good thing. Students, instructors, self-directed learners need concrete advice – even if not all of it will apply.

Of course, there is some wisdom that we all know all along, e.g., that the successful student is characterized by:

  • Always does the reading prior to a lecture
  • Anticipates test questions and their answers as he reads
  • Answers rhetorical questions in his head during lectures to test his retention of the reading
  • Reviews study guides, finds terms he can’t recall or doesn’t know, and relearns those terms
  • Copies bolded terms and their definitions into a reading notebook, making sure that he understands them
  • Takes the practice test that is provided online by his professor; from this he discovers which concepts he doesn’t know and makes a point to learn them
  • Reorganizes the course information into a study guide of his design
  • Writes out concepts that are detailed or important, posts them above his bed, and tests himself on them from time to time
  • Spaces out his review and practice over the duration of the course

Unfortunately, few (of my) students seem to ‘get’ this — even if they are told. Hence, I cannot point out these simple learning strategies often enough. On the other hand, there are institutional constraints, too, that we need to overcome in order to provide a better learning environment. Shorter, more frequent class sessions may be substantially better for the long term learning outcome than few long and exhausting sessions.

Read: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The desire to improve one’s productivity also entails improving one’s (work) environment. I noticed, e.g., that for some tasks I would move out of my home office and use the free, uncluttered living room table. Hence, the challenge for this year is to unclutter. Finally moving in together showed that there is just too much stuff.

Marie Kondo’s advice is simple: Everything must go.

Ok, it’s not that extreme. Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is fascinating, insightful, I cannot take it (all) serious, and annoying at the same time.

The book is fascinating and insightful as her approach to tidying up, to unclutter is refreshingly different. Instead of choosing what to throw out she recommends choosing what to keep. This change of perspective quite radically changes the default and thus the amount of stuff that has to leave. The less stuff, the less clutter. The guiding question “Does it spark joy?” is also quite simple and easy to apply. Though I am not quite ready for that kind of radical uncluttering.

Due to this radical approach, it’s philosophy of extreme minimalism I also cannot take it all serious. There are things that do not spark joy but are necessary. And, I just do not want to throw anything into the trash that maybe someone else may still find useful. Therefore, the radical one-time weeding out of stuff seems just not feasible. Selling and giving away takes a surprisingly large amount of time. Further, thanking (earlier) possessions for a job well done and for fulfilling a purpose seems just plain silly. Finally, the continuous references to her, Kondo’s, youth (that is actually not that far in the past) and her early interest in tidying up and “better living” magazines do not necessarily spark confidence in her expertise.

Lastly, the book is annoying as Kondo is quite sexist, assuming only women would like to tidy up and unclutter their living and work environments. It is targeted specifically at women, thus reinforcing a stereotype that should not exist in an enlightened society.

Read: How Learning Works

“Research based principles for smart teaching”: sounds great. The authors even start with a quote from Herbert Simon. And yes, the authors’ advice is research based.

The “bridge” between learning research and practice, however, is a rather superficial one. The research is mostly discussed in a way I would do it if the referee asks to add an additional reference. It’s mentioned without assessing its merits, its contribution, what was done well, and what was not. X found that in context Y, full stop.

Nevertheless, the advice seems sound, at least reasonable. Only one chapter seems a bit lopsided. “Student Development and Course Climate” is a bit too much “cuddle pedagogy”, advocating for a soft, making everyone feel comfortable approach. I, and I guess others too, think a little discomfort goes hand in hand with a necessary challenge. Without a little challenge students would not see that they can still improve, that there is more to learn.

The most helpful part of the book is, however, the appendix. Here are examples of rubrics, peer review question templates, learnings objectives, self-assessment tests, and an exam wrapper. Nothing original, yet, all apt to give inspiration for applying this and that in one’s own course.

Read: Maximize Your Potential

While each individual chapter of Maximize Your Potential reads rather nicely the whole compilation does not add much. The articles do not build on each other so there is no logical progression, when they are based on research it’s not the author’s and more often than not it’s just one single older study that has been refuted since.

Bottom line: it would have been more reasonable just reading u99’s blog than buying this little book. I consider it a donation.

Read: Manage your day-to-day

I don’t know whether “Manage your day-to-day” is a best-of of the relevant articles on 99u but it certainly could be. So here is a small collection of articles by various authors on three productivity topics: finding focus, the use of tools, become productively creative.

If you have ever read a productivity blog there will be nothing new. Still, the little book was rather entertaining and a very quick read. Most of the advice is or should be common sense. Nevertheless, I had the feeling that there are also some inconsistencies. Of course, if you have several authors independently writing up some material on related topics and they start talking about their own personal experiences and try to come up with some general advice based on these they will contradict each other in some points. There is no one-size-fits all.

Read: Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals

Thomson and Kamler’s “Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for getting published” differs substantially from other guides with similar titles like “Writing your journal article in 12 weeks”. It has the same audience, the rather inexperienced doctoral and early career researcher.

Their approach is different. The writer is seen as an individual that (still) struggles with his or her identity as a writer. Thus, strategies for getting published also include finding one’s identity. Following a universal to-do-list and checking off item after item is not enough.

Thomson and Kamler take a “meta-perspective.” They analyse, they deconstruct, and they build a whole from the atomic parts. The different maturity stages of a (tiny) text are shown, exemplifying their advice. Of course, in a way they, too, share a list of tasks with their advisee, their reader. Yet, these tasks are not just exercises on how to write an academic text. They are indeed strategies for increasing the likelihood of getting published.

Hence, Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals is not just another practical guide for writing publishable articles, it is a valuable complement to other guides on academic writing. It focusses on different aspects of the writing process and parts of the text – like the abstract or the title – that are often neglected.

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