Ready to Learn – Taking the First Step

Oh I was just wondering have you got a moment, I just want to ask you about something‘ she had arrived at NCI reception and they suggested I might meet with her. ‘No problem at all‘ I assured her while thinking how much I had to do that afternoon. Five minutes later she sat in my office. She was very nervous and I thought I noticed a slight trembling in her voice. Her name was Susan. ‘It’s like this‘ she said ‘I was thinking of doing a course here but I am not sure if I’d be able for it‘. She went on to tell me her story. She left school at sixteen without a Leaving Cert. She worked in the retail sector for the last twenty five years and now she is a manager. She is married with three kids and two of them are in college. She reads a lot and is well liked by her colleagues. Generally, she’s happy. But there’s always been a niggle. An unease and sense of being often left out, ignored and taken-for-granted. ‘Sure what would Susan know‘ she once overheard a younger colleague remark. Susan explained that she has been thinking about Read More …

Getting to Grips with Academic Writing

Yikes ! I can’t write this assignment! Some students find it difficult to get to grips with academic writing tasks. Whereas they often understand key concepts associated with an assignment or task they find it very difficult to express these in writing. The problem can lead to stress and frustration on all sides as written assessments may not be seen as a fair measure of student learning outcomes. Of course every person is unique and it is not always easy to provide good advice for all situations; that said, I have noticed similarities in the challenges students face and so I hope the advice I provide below can be of help. Technical versus Mindset There are two types of barriers to writing ability. The first is ‘technical’, by this I mean literally the skills of grammar, vocabulary and composition – the kind of stuff you should learn in school. For a various reasons, students often miss out on these skills and need to work on their basic literacy and writing technique. Thankfully, this is not a common problem in higher education but it is important to be mindful that people can get very far in the system by avoiding situations Read More …

Ten Tips for Writing Academic Papers

Completing academic writing assignments is one of the most important skills you will need to develop as a student.  This is true regardless of your subject or discipline. Based on my own experience writing and correcting papers and discussions with students I have compiled these ten tips to help you get going.  I have used these at the Academic Writing Club we set up in National College of Ireland to support students through the challenges of this process. 1 Read the task Spend time reading and analysing the task you have been assigned.  Look for action words such as ‘discuss’, ‘compare’, ‘critique’ and so on.  Check if you need to provide examples or to analyse or deal with a particular context.   Write the task at the head of your essay and make sure you address every component of the assignment. 2 Get on with it! Start writing straight away – don’t keep putting it off.  Many students say they need to read first and write later.  It is better to read and write at the same time (see tip 4 below).   3 Use the opening paragraph as your plan Start with something like “In this assignment I will….” Read More …

From marks to Marx: Shifting your mindset for learning

We all like to achieve and when it comes to doing a course or gaining a qualification we want to achieve the best result possible. Naturally we want to get an A+ or a First Class Honour in whatever subject we study.  Striving to get a good mark – a Distinction, Merit or Commendation – is a useful approach to learning and for many people it is the driving force guiding their learning effort. We all like to achieve in learning but what should we really aim for? (My picture of Doo Lough, County Mayo) However, it is worthwhile to ask if it the ‘best’ approach?  Is there a better, more fruitful and, in the long-term more rewarding target to aim for? I argue that there is and want to make a case for moving beyond a simple focus on marks and assessment to the more expansive idea of growing your mind through ideological critique and praxis. If you are an active participant on a course you will likely have learning goals.  These are implicit and explicit statements of what you wish to achieve.  How you approach different topics and learning challenges, where you apply effort and how you measure Read More …

How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation

Writing a Literature Review Writing a dissertation is one of the great learning tasks of college education. However, many students find it a daunting process. One of the first challenges you face is writing a literature review and the purpose of this post is to help you get started with the process, to keep you on track as you proceed and to provide a means of self-reviewing your outputs when you (think you) have completed. Let’s start with a simple set of questions: What constitutes a literature review? What is it used for? and What distinguishes a good literature review from a poor one? As the name implies, a literature review is a review of other people’s work in a particular field of scholarship. Such a review is always directed and informed by the research question to be addressed. For example, if your research question is related to adult literacy then you will need to provide a review of other works, be they theoretical models, research reports or practice studies, that relate to adult literacy. Most importantly, a literature review cannot be of any value unless it is referenced to some form of research question or problem. It is a common mistake for students to misunderstand the purpose of a literature review – Read More …

Dissertation Writing

This is a busy time for many students who are working to complete their dissertations.  Having supervised and examined submissions over the years I appreciate the investment of effort that students make when completing their research dissertation. For many Master’s degree students this is their first truly self-directed learning project and the experience of carrying out primary research transforms their outlook on knowledge of the world. I would like to offer my top tips for Master’s dissertation writers, here they are: When you write a dissertation, even a scientific work you are telling a story – it’s important to unfold the plot in manner that will engage the reader. The research question is the crux of the narrative – you need to articulate this question clearly, concisely and frequently throughout the thesis and use it to connect all the parts together. A good research question has three characteristics (i) it arouses curiosity in both writer and reader (ii) it contributes significant and useful insights and (iii) it is suitable for investigation by means of an established research method. The purpose of a literature review is to establish a conceptual framework for the research question and to discuss other relevant or Read More …

Ssshhh!!! Exams in Progress!

This is a quiet but busy time in National College of Ireland semester one exams are now in progress.  We are encouraged to keep as quiet as possible as each room on the campus is now used to its fullest extent to facilitate the process. There is always tension associated with exams.  Students of all ages and all backgrounds find the prospect of being tested daunting. This is very understandable we live in a culture of measurement and accountability and education is an expensive process.  So, especially for the self-motivated,  we all want to see how much we know and how well we have progressed. As discussed previously, there is a useful distinction between goals and achievements that are measured by independent criteria such as exams or tests and other achievements that are socially referenced such as how other people regard performance.   For many students the exam results provide important feedback on how they have coped with the learning challenges associated with a course.  At some point in the future the result–put simply as a number–will be revealed.   However, this will only be a very small part of the story.  The student, and the student alone, will know how to Read More …

What are New Year’s resolutions and why they seldom work

New Year’s Celebration fireworks at Carton House, Maynooth Happy New Year! It’s the start of 2011 and last night we celebrated as we said goodbye to 2010 and welcomed the turn over to a New Year. At New Year and perhaps birthdays or other recurring significant dates we often conduct a self-appraisal and make decisions about our future behaviour. This is typically framed as a New Year’s Resolution: I will go to the gym and loose weight;I will give up smoking;I will do a course;I will complete an unfinished project (I know someone who has resolved to complete her master’s dissertation). So what’s really happening–why do we make such self-resolutions?  How likely are we to succeed in changing our own behaviour as a result of such public and private utterances? Last night I had an idea (my first of 2011) that is to develop a Theory of Resolutions.  Like many good theories will build extensively on the work of others.  Don’t worry that I state my goal in such grand terms as ‘a theory’ – I am simply attempting to provide a new perspective on the familiar, a framework for understanding and making sense of an aspect of our life.  Read More …