Guide

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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.

Read: Style -- The Art of Writing Well

I have to admit that I am not able to fully appreciate Lucas’ Style – The Art of Writing Well. Imagine, I lack the necessary education: in the French language, in classical English literature. And I am not the only one.

Style is not a practical guide to hone one’s English writing. It is about Writing Well in a much more general sense. It is not about how to achieve a certain effect. It is rather to show the importance of a few general principles that are likely to improve any text. Lucas summarizes these as “pursue clarity, brevity, and courtesy to readers; to be, if not gay, at least good-humoured, never to write a line without considering whether it is really true, whether you have not exaggerated your statement, or its evidence; to shun dead images, and cherish living ones; and to revise unremittingly…” There are other books than Lucas’, textbooks that will better help in putting these principles into action.

Still, Lucas also gives some practical advice. In the last chapter on the Methods of Writing he urges the writer to think but not to over-think, to revise but to know when to let go or else the text becomes too constructed, too cold. I think this is the most important lesson.

Lucas considers French a language that allows good style more easily than English (which, in turn, has the advantage over German), hence all the French, all the long French, examples to illustrate his points. I can understand the despair of the many readers who were denied a translation in the first edition 1955. These readers are mentioned in the preface to this, the third edition of Style. The translations are now provided in many, many footnotes – I would have preferred to put the English translation next to the French –; yet they cannot do justice to the original as they lack the elegance and melody of the French excerpts. Hence my feeling of a lack of proper appreciation.

Finally, there was also a moment of confirmation of a personal conviction. Endnotes en lieu of footnotes are a terrible obstacle. They are just rude. Already footnotes disrupt the reading and comprehension process. Now, with endnotes you have to flip through the pages of the book: First to find the endnote, then to find the reference to the endnote again that send you away from reading the actual text. If there are endnotes, I usually don’t bother to look at them. The author obviously does not want me to. If an author should limit his use of footnotes – sometimes they are adding to the clarity and brevity of the text and are thus beneficial – endnotes should not be used at all! Never.

Read: Leading Dynamic Seminars

Always on the look for ideas for improving my teaching I stumbled upon Anderson and Bellenkes’ Practical Handbook for University Educators.

It is only practical in the sense that it does not fall in the Pure Theory category. It is, however, rather generic and in an attempt to avoid describing specific tools that may not be available in the future it avoids describing any practical implementations at all. No, that is wrong. It is offering some specific phrases the seminar leader should avoid or use for obtaining the best results, taking care of the potential diversity of his seminar participants. I do not think anyone should learn these specific phrases in order to repeat them in the seminar room.

Bottom line is the little handbook was a bit of a downer. The authors define their audience in the beginning of their text rather broad, from the novice teacher to the seasoned department chair and university administrator. That definition is too broad. The generic directions are of use mainly for the novice. After only a few years of teaching all the mentioned points should be obvious and intuitively part of the seminar leader’s repertoire.

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