Tag Archives: writing

Technology and writing

I’ve bought, for my iPad, a rather lovely Belkin keyboard case. It is one of several tactics designed to get me writing more. I use my iPad all the time but if I want to write anything substantial I tend to use my laptop because of the keyboard. I don’t drive, but do travel for work, so writing on the move is an important part of my productivity and carrying the laptop, the iPad and my kindle (best for reading, particularly in sunshine, and I get rather stressed without a book to hand!) all start, not surprisingly, to weigh me down. The theory is that now I can just take the iPad and the kindle, and can, and will, write wherever I am (and my chiropractor will appreciate the care I am taking of my back!). I have a terrible fear though that this tactic is just another contemporary version of sharpening all my pencils!

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August 9, 2013 · 2:50 pm

Ramblings about reading and writing and learning

Interesting article about writing and speech: http://blog.oup.com/2013/02/academic-speech-patterns-linguistics/

I am always a fan of reading work aloud to rewrite it, which the author advocates. However, I’ve also marked a number of pieces of work in my life written by students using their spoken understanding of language, and their accents, and pronunciation can lead to some real confusion (‘being’ written as ‘been’ for example, because that’s how it is said in parts of the North East of England). So while I I am a strong advocate of making sense of writing through speech, and writing in far more straightforward ways than many academics seem to favour, I also believe that people also write better if they read. Many of the students who wrote ‘been’ were not readers. They would not normally read novels, or even read a newspaper regularly. They read, with some difficulty the academic texts they were directed towards. They often commented on how these texts and articles were difficult to understand, and in fact when writing an academic critique would sometimes comment on something being ‘badly written’ because they didn’t understand the conceptual thinking the author was expressing.

I would often find myself discussing with these students the challenge of writing about concepts and complex theoretical ideas in simple ways. I would also suggest that reading academic writing was like doing aerobics of the brain – if you practice and practice it gets easier and you get better at it, and your academic reading muscles become much more flexible. However, sometimes I probably agreed with the students assessment – some academic writers were not communicating their ideas very well.

I also admit to a real concern that these same students would learn how to write from these academic articles and from the feedback I and my colleagues provided on their written work. If that is all the input they have on what good writing is, what do they learn?

This seems to me to be an argument for getting students reading non-academic material – in the US some universities have ‘common reading programmes’ for all first year students, often with a book (usually fiction) agreed for all new students before they arrive. These are often novels which provoke discussion and thinking and students are provided with opportunities to discuss the book as a group. Admittedly USA degree programmes are more likely to be 4 years (in England, and much of Europe programmes are usually 3 year), which gives time for the first year to be about orientation and broader education. Whereas a 3 year programme means hitting the discipline ground running, making it hard to get agreement across an institution that taking the time for general reading would have value. But we also face ongoing frustrations from academics who teach about the writing abilities of the students. We can’t expect school (Pre-18) education to do everything, but should we expect them to get students’ reading and writing ready for HE? I’m not sure they do expect this in the USA, and if they do there is still room for ongoing engagement with reading, given their common reading programme. I wonder if we should learn something from this?

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Filed under assessment, books, Higher Education, Learning, reading, teaching, writing

Blogging to write

Just read a blog piece talking about why academics should blog, see http://www.alexburns.net/

What struck me most was the idea that blogging keeps the writing habit going, rather than interrupting other writing – I sort of knew that, and in fact it was part of the reason I decided to blog – but the reminder is still timely. It also promoted the idea of short response pieces. So that’s what this is!

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Writing with personality and passion

This is the kind of blog entry I wish I could write http://leavingcertenglish.net/2011/05/ict-in-education-conference/ It combines style, creativity, work and the personal. It has feeling as well as evoking feeling in the reader. The writer invites us into her learning world and into a sense of adventure. It also acknowledges weakness but not in a self-indulgent way. It is also interesting! It provokes the reader to go away and think about learning. I found myself thinking about the ways in which we make sense of new learning through the familiar and loved, through our own personal worlds. Mostly we don’t talk about that aspect of learning. This blog piece reminded me that learning is emotional and tangled up with life.

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Workflow reflections again

I said I would come back to the workflow issue again, and a pertinent factor in workflow thinking this last week has been the death of my home phone line. It died on Wednesday eve and we’ve been net-less ever since (suddenly I regret getting an iPad without 3G). As a consequence, however, my workflow has been somewhat interrupted. Everything is suddenly a little bit more tricky and is requiring more thought. It is more of a stutter than a flow in fact.

I am working on a chapter with a deadline for the end of the month, and in fairly typical fashion in my current workflow style, I have a folder of emails with links and notes I’ve accumulated on my work outlook account, which I suddenly can’t access so easily. I’ve put some bits in Evernote too, and can’t sync without the net. I know it’s not life threatening or really that much of a drama but it’s contributing to my ongoing thinking about workflow and learning.

I finished up spending half of Friday, which would have been a key writing day, thinking about my own development rather than about the chapter! I usually write as part of my development thinking and i didn’t even do that on computer or iPad but worked on paper. The time was really productive.

It was strangely timely too – I had met with my mentor earlier in the week and I took the unexpected personal development time to move forward with some of the things she and I discussed – in fact I spent a whole morning revisiting a 360° I’d done a couple of years ago and thinking about the changes I’d implemented and the ones I hadn’t and where I am now, and where I’m going next, scribbling notes all over the old feedback.

So, the stuttering effect of no net has actually given me unexpected time to really embed learning I’d put aside.

But I’ve still got to write the chapter …

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Reflections on workflow part one

I’ve been thinking about workflows this week. I recently ran a workshop for academic staff on using mobile technologies in teaching. Probably worth me saying that I didn’t run this alone – I am in no way a specialist with any kind of tech, but I am interested in how anything and everything relates to teaching and learning – I was working with a learning technologist. Anyway, in prepping for this session, I came across several different examples of people’s workflows in relation to the various kit in their lives, and in my typical ‘coming late to the table’ approach, I started to reflect on my own workflow practices.

I have an iPhone, iPad, laptop and work based desktop PC, so I’m seriously kitted out (I also have a kindle but I managed to break that last week, and just to show my workflow isn’t very effective, I haven’t yet sorted out arranging a replacement! Although I do have cover for it – so you can see I do some planning ahead, since I am famous for dropping things!!). Some of the kit is pretty new, and I’m still playing around with ‘software’, so I am really in the process of developing new workflow practices.

If I’m honest, I am often in search of better processes. Somewhere out there is the perfect time management tool for me, when I find it, life will be so much easier ; ) As an aside I am currently using an app called DailyWorkLog for work stuff and the iPad inbuilt reminders tool for home stuff, plus the inbuilt diary for an overview (yep, I can hear you groaning, it’s messy, but you should see my real world desk?!). I could go on about time management tools for ages, but I won’t because this entry is supposed to be about workflow reflections.

However, in some ways this digression to time management tools is relevant because it highlights one of the problems with thinking effectively about workflow – getting lost in the detail. How I manage the time, isn’t actually how I do the work. I’ve been talking with a colleague who is coming to grips with both beginning study for her phd and her relatively new iPad, and it’s amazing how much time we spent considering which storage tool would be best (Evernote, Dropbox, etc etc). This ‘time spent’ is important because the main aim of the discussion was to reduce the amount of time she spent on emailing documents to her supervisors, or even to herself to then upload to Dropbox. She, like me I guess, believes that somewhere out there is the perfect tool for making life easier. (I might come back to the issue of time spent and time wasted and reflection in a different blog entry)

So back to thinking about workflows. When I started my degree (in the early 1990s) I submitted hand-written essays, but by the end of my second year there was a growing expectation that they would be word processed, and by the end of my third year, it was a requirement. So in the process of learning about my subject and about myself, which was huge for me, I was also reinterpreting the notion of writing about what I was learning. It was an interesting journey that I have never really reflected on it that way. I did recognise at the time that writing directly onto a computer radically changed my writing (I didn’t write and then type up, from very early on I wrote straight onto the machine from my notes), and my search processes actually (I got into an index card approach), and liberated me enormously, but this was caught up with the dynamic experience of discovering my intellectual self (that sounds pompous, but it was a real life change) so I never thought it through as being shaped both by studying for a degree AND engaging with new technology.

But I guess we do learn in repeating an experience with our eyes opened a bit, as well as in doing something new, so here I am with a whole new set of technology thinking again about writing, research and learning. Am I going through another intellectual and personal step change? What a truly exciting thought – I hope so ..

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