Monday, November 27, 2017

Foucault on Writing; Making Time for Writing
From Clare O’Farrell’s Foucault site – reposted with commentary at her Refracted Input blog:
Does there exist a pleasure in writing? I don’t know. One thing is certain, that there is, I think, a very strong obligation to write. I don’t really know where this obligation to write comes from… You are made aware of it in a number of different ways. For example, by the fact that you feel extremely anxious and tense when you haven’t done your daily page of writing. In writing this page you give yourself and your existence a kind of absolution. This absolution is indispensable for the happiness of the day… How is it that that this gesture which is so vain, so fictitious, so narcissistic, so turned in on itself and which consists of sitting down every morning at one’s desk and scrawling over a certain number of blank pages can have this effect of benediction on the rest of the day?
You write so that the life you have around you, and outside, far from the sheet of paper, this life which is not much fun, but annoying and full of worries, exposed to others, can melt into the little rectangle before you and of which you are the master. But this absorption of swarming life into the immobile swarming of letters never happens.
Michel Foucault, (1969) ‘Interview with Claude Bonnefoy’, Unpublished typescript, IMEC B14, pp. 29-30; also available as Michel Foucault à Claude Bonnefoy – Entretien Interprété par Éric Ruf et Pierre Lamandé, Paris: Gallimard. CD
It’s a great quote, certainly. I definitely feel the same way if I’ve not been writing for a while. I’ve been asked more than a few times about writing – usually at the end of question sessions after papers, or when I’ve initiated a conversation with graduate students about publishing, or most often over dinner or in the pub. People are sometimes interested in more general questions about writing, but the most common one is ‘how do you write so much?’ The answer is pretty simple: I try to write every day.
When I’ve been at my most busy – as director of postgraduate students at Durham, while in the first year of editing Society and Space – I would schedule writing time, if not every day, then definitely into every week. I made ‘appointments with myself’ for other key tasks too. I would tell people who had access to my diary that they could move the writing or other task appointments, but not reduce them. So they could be at different times of the day or week to accommodate other things, but not disappear.
Clare links to a couple of reviews of books on academic writing that give similar advice – the way to write is to make time to write. Jo van Every says the same here, and links to this useful post on what you can do in thirty minutes. That last one is interesting as the numbers would change for different people, but the principle is good.
But what do you do if you’re not in the right frame of mind to write when that time comes around? This is a common follow-up question. Then you do the mechanical things that writing requires – you open up the notes file and tidy them up, you download journal articles, get shelfmarks for books you need to check out, fill out the inter-library loan forms or locate a library that has it, check the author guidelines for the target journal, print the last draft and read it over for grammar, maybe seeing a link or sparking an idea… You get the point. But it should be something that moves the writing on, however incrementally. Graham Harman has a good post on working on different bits of the project in parallel, so you can move to a different bit if you get tired of one part.
And while it isn’t counting words that matters, think of it this way: Take a 52 week year. Take four weeks holiday. Take three days per week with time set aside for writing. That’s 144 writing days. Write 500 words a day – about the length of this post, without the quote, or a page of a printed text. That’s 72,000 words. Two articles and half a book. So then a couple of articles a year and a book every two or three isn’t exactly Sartre-level words per day madness…

What Quaker Schools can Teach the Rest of the Class About Equality, Mutual Respect and Learning

by Nigel Newton, University of Bristol, The Conversation:

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The head of England’s schools inspectorate believes that British values, including tolerance, openness to new ideas and mutual respect, should form a central part of school education.

Amanda Spielman, the new Ofsted chief, said the education system has a “vital role in inculcating and upholding” these values. She went on to praise one school which promotes inclusiveness, and another where a “values-focused” thought each day informs teaching.

But the very subject of teaching values in school can be problematic. Whose values are really being taught? How will a school’s performance of this duty be measured? Others think we should step back from the question of “British” values and focus on helping children develop a “virtuous” character.

But what happens when an entire school culture is seen by its students as promoting equality, mutual respect and inclusiveness?

New research reveals a significant relationship between Quaker school values and their students’ engagement with learning opportunities. Quaker schools are not common (there are ten in the UK and Ireland, 100 in the US), but they exist in 15 countries around the world. Some are very well established and highly thought of – both the Clintons and the Obamas sent their children to a Quaker establishment, Sidwell Friends School, from the White House.

There are several things which make the English Quaker schools involved in the research distinctive. First, they all hold a “Meeting for Worship” which looks similar to a traditional school assembly in which the whole school gathers. Everyone sits in silence and all have the opportunity to address the room. This practice underscores another distinctive feature, which is that Quaker schools assert that everyone is equal. Schools try to reflect this in the way they listen to students and encourage positive relationships between year groups and between students and staff.

Although independent, Quaker schools rarely admit students based on academic selection. Quakers believe there is “something of God in everyone”. They actively encourage inclusiveness and stress that each student will grow and develop in their own way.

Yet counter-intuitively, students often perform very well in exams and the schools punch above their weight in academic results. So do aspects of the Quaker school culture contribute to students’ successful learning?

We found that students who were more likely to study without being told to and who enjoyed and took more interest in their subjects were the ones who also saw their schools as places characterised by friendliness, an equalitarian ethos and somewhere they rarely felt pressured. These students also tended to value the Quaker practice of silence and the weekly all-school Meeting for Worship, in which anyone can share a thought or express an opinion.

Interviews with students revealed how friendly relationships create strong bonds of trust, grounded in mutual respect and the Quaker belief in equality (perhaps surprising given that only 3% of students and 8% of teachers at the schools come from a Quaker background). 

Students recognise teachers as supportive and “on their side”, which leads to honest conversations about their studies and feeling of increased responsibility for their own learning.

One Year 10 boy said:
If you have a good relationship with the teacher or you are more friendly, then it is easier for you to get into the subject and learn more.
A girl from Year 9 told us:
I think the Quakerism influences us a lot. I think that’s what gives a lot of the friendly environment because you know that you’re equal whoever you are.
The Meeting for Worship was seen as providing an opportunity to reflect, contributing to the relaxed atmosphere of school. But it also confirmed the place of students’ voices and the importance of community. This helped students feel they can be themselves, and supported to do the best they can – although this “best” was not confined to examination performance.

A working relationship

According to one female student, the friendly atmosphere “helps you learn more, because you feel under less pressure to understand [the subject] straight away”.

Interviews with teachers confirmed the perspectives of students. They felt there was a focus on providing a wide and varied education, which was not defined principally in terms of exam grades. Many teachers referred to their sense of freedom to teach students as individuals, without feeling pressured by evaluations.
“The children are allowed to be themselves, but we are as well,” said one. “Everyone is welcomed and tolerated so it is a very accepting environment, and that makes for a very pleasant environment to teach in.”

Several factors linking back to the Quaker belief in equality and their practice of open worship, appear to help explain the relationship between students’ willingness to engage with learning and their lack of anxiety in relation to study, as well as their ability to make the most of the support offered by teachers. In particular, there seems to be a relationship between the inclusive ethos of the schools and an orientation towards educational engagement in students.

In seeking to explain these relationships, we’ve come to see that inclusiveness may be important to education because learning is really about being open to receive “the other”. Curriculum content is one of these “others”. Students who have been encouraged to practice inclusiveness towards fellow students – and have seen this role modelled in their teachers – become more disposed to receive the “otherness” of new learning opportunities.

The ConversationSpielman may be on to something in her desire to see values play an important role in school education. But the challenge will be to help schools adopt cultures where those values are authentically – and visibly – practised.

Nigel Newton, Assistant researcher, University of Bristol

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


Are you trying to get into the medical school of your dreams? Do you need an advantage over your competitors? Have you sat the GAMSAT exam previously only to bomb out in the essay section?

Dr Robert Muller has created a GAMSAT essay writing strategy that has been devised over the last 10 years in response to the main problems that candidates face in writing the GAMSAT essays.

This course, "GAMSAT Essay Secrets" provides a detailed essay writing strategy which is completely unique, but which the GAMSAT examiners respond to VERY positively when the strategy has been mastered and used well in the exam.

The rationale for this approach is that the overwhelming majority of GAMSAT essay writers construct their essays according to the overall theme of the five statements provided in the exam (for each essay).

Instead, Dr Robert's strategy is one of responding to ONE single statement, arguing/discussing VERY directly, and using examples skilfully.

The question is: If you want to put yourself above the majority of candidates, you need to take a different approach to your essay writing. If the examiners see that 95% of candidates are writing their essays in the same way, and then along comes your essay which has taken a completely different approach, this makes them sit up and take notice. If you master the strategy presented here, this will give you a significant advantage over your competitors.

Don't forget that in addition to the online course, you also get feedback and guidance on 10 GAMSAT practice essays at no additional cost (valued at $300).

Check out the course at:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The PhD: Notes to My Younger Self

As PhD students, we tend to live day-to-day while keeping in mind the potential of a future in academia. We leave little room to think about how we might frame today’s experiences when they become our past. Dr. David Whillock, who finished his doctoral research in 1986, reflects on the lessons he has learned after 30 years in Higher Education…
They say that hindsight is 20/20.  There is a lot of truth to that. As I get to the end of a long and wonderful career in higher education, there are several things I wish I had known while going through the Ph.D. process and things I wish I had known as an Assistant Professor attempting to gain a reputation and building a case for tenure. I’ll pass these along in hopes I may be able to tap into some of your concerns, frustrations, or hopes.
My best advice to those who are just entering into doctorate programs is to have a passion for and to focus on the subject for your dissertation. The first thing you need to do, I mean the first, is to find an advisor/supervisor that you identify with and will accept your premise and methods of your subject matter. You don’t want to start a program attempting to “change the mind” of your dissertation advisor. That is a long and losing battle you don’t need. Trust me, in defending your dissertation, you want to make certain your advisor is fully on board with your content, method, and findings. Then is not the time to argue a point, but to enlighten the life of the mind.
While in your program, use every opportunity to move your dissertation forward. Attempt to make every class/conference/journal paper an opportunity to use your content and/or methodology of your dissertation.
One more thing, remember you are writing a dissertation, keep that goal clearly in your head. The book will come later, if you can’t finish a dissertation, you won’t earn a Ph.D. Dissertation first, book later. Some colleges and universities won’t even count your dissertation toward tenure, even if it is in book form. So, focus, focus, focus.
When I served as Chair and Dean, many of my new hires were eager to make a name for themselves in their field of study and in the classroom. That level of energy is a good thing. I would suggest being strategic in this desire to make certain that, if you want tenure at your institution, you have a higher chance of getting it.  As Chair, I asked my “junior” faculty to resist volunteering for everything, or anything really that does not move you forward in your desire. Have the Chair help you be selective in the committees you serve on. You want to be known on campus outside of your department and college. Many serve on the University’s committee that will approve, or not, your bid for tenure. Choose wisely. The same applies as a Ph.D student: be strategic and selective.
Interestingly enough, I tell first year students the same thing I would tell my new faculty members: manage your time. It is imperative that you literally put on your calendar time to research and reflect. Take a walk… visit faculty from other departments outside of the building you are working in. Some of my better ideas come from faculty colleagues outside of my discipline. Indeed, several collaborative opportunities have come from these walks. But most important, a clear head and knowing the world will operate and be fine without you for a period of time is important.
One last thing, get balance in your own life. Anyone in any working environment who doesn’t have a hobby nor life beyond the academy, will eventually be lost. I have a lot of colleagues well into their 60’s who have no plans for life beyond the academy. I want to stress the importance to balance your life with people, events, and activities beyond the academy. Eventually even the best faculty realize it is time for a new generation of scholars to take the stage and push a new group of students to excellence. Stay relevant in your scholarship, but “get a life”.
Are there things you already wish you could tell your younger self? Have you been actively selective and strategic during your PhD Life? Tweet us your advice at @ResearchEx, email us, or leave a comment below.
Dr. David Whillock is the Associate Provost and Dean of the Academy of Tomorrow. He holds a Ph.D. in Critical Studies from the University of Missouri.  His specialization in teaching and research include History and its Depiction in Cinema, The American Vietnam Film, A Cultural Perspective on the Blues, and Ways of Knowing.  He is the guitarist for the South Moudy Blues Band.  He is published in the Journal of Film and Television, The Journal of Popular Culture, and Southern Communication Journal. He has contributed chapters in America Rediscovered: Critical Essays on Literature and Film of the Vietnam War, Hate Speech, and Vietnam War Films.

Demand for People Skills is Growing Faster Than Demand for STEM Skills

by Claire MasonCSIROAndrew ReesonCSIRO, and Todd SandersonCSIRO, The Conversation:

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High level interpersonal and problem solving skills are what will make you employable in a digital world. Shutterstock

Advances in digital technology are changing the world of work. It has been estimated that more than 40% of human workers will be replaced by robots. This probably overstates the scale of displacement, but developments in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning will affect all sectors of the economy.

However, the impacts of digital disruption will not be evenly distributed. Previous waves of technology had the greatest impacts for workers in routine jobs, but now a growing number of roles may be at risk.

Even so, workers whose skills complement but are not substituted for by technology can use the new technology to be more productive and command higher wages.

What types of skills will ensure you are employable in the world of human and robot workers?

Two recent reports, “The VET Era” and “Growing Opportunities in the Fraser Coast” challenge the rhetoric around the importance of STEM skills in the digital economy, by revealing how demand for skills has changed over time.

1. Increasing demand for highly skilled workers

These analyses show a major shift in the skills profile of the Australian workforce. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) classifies occupations into skill levels based on the amount of training and experience required to perform the job.

In 1986, the largest group of workers was in occupations classified as skill level 4 (roughly equivalent to a certificate II or III). Since then, demand for highly skilled workers has grown rapidly. Nowadays, the largest group of workers is in the highest (skill level 1) category - occupations requiring a bachelor degree or higher qualification.

Essentially, increased reliance on technology in the work environment raises demand for more highly skilled workers, because the more routine work is automated. While it is good that more of us are working in more rewarding jobs, not everyone has benefited from this shift. Nor can the current winners in the digital economy afford to be complacent. As the capability of digital technology increases, a growing range of tasks (such as data analysis and diagnosis) can be automated.

So what types of skills should we be developing when we invest in the higher qualifications that are now required in most jobs?

To answer this question, we linked Australian employment data with United States data on the skills and abilities associated with different occupations.

By linking these datasets, we could estimate (based on the changing occupational composition of the Australian workforce) which skills and abilities were becoming more or less important. For simplicity, we have grouped these skills and abilities into four categories: traditional Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills, communications skills, technical skills and generic STEM skills.

2. Communication and people skills are increasingly important

The analyses reveal that, despite all the hype about STEM skills, occupations requiring communication skills are actually growing fastest.

As our work becomes increasingly technologically enabled, human workers differentiate themselves from machine workers through their ability to connect, communicate, understand and build relationships. Most of us now work in the services sector. This is the sector that will continue to grow as the population becomes older and wealthier, as we up-skill and re-skill more often, and as the incidence of mental disorders, chronic diseases and obesity continues to rise. The delivery of these services requires people-focused skills such as active listening, empathy and teamwork.

3. Programming skills are less important than digital literacy

Given that coding is now part of the curriculum for Australian primary school children, it may be surprising to learn that growth in demand for communication skills actually outstrips growth in demand for STEM skills. More detailed analyses provides further insight into the way demand for STEM skills has been evolving.

What they reveal is that the STEM skills needed in a wide range of contexts and roles are those that involve working with (rather than programming) technology - skills such as the ability to think critically, analyse systems and interact with computers.

More traditional STEM skills (such as physics, mathematics, and programming) have been experiencing relatively low growth. In fact, recent research from the United States found that there has been a slight decline in the number of traditional STEM jobs since 2000.

Although traditional STEM skills are important, they are only needed by a relatively small number of highly skilled professionals - perhaps because programming work is itself able to be automated and sent offshore.

These STEM professionals also tend to achieve higher incomes if they combine their technical expertise with strong social skills, allowing them to make the connection between technological capability and social needs. While the most skilled coders will continue to have great opportunities, most of us will just need to be able to work with technology. People skills will continue to become more, not less, important.

As the capability of technology continues to develop, human workers need to focus on building skills that complement technology. High-level interpersonal and problem-solving skills are not so easily automated. Given that we will need to find new jobs to replace those lost to the robots, we also will need entrepreneurial skills to create and grow the new economic opportunities enabled by these developments.

The ConversationAs technological advances occur ever more rapidly, we will need to keep discovering new ways of using technology to perform our work. With strong communication, problem-solving and digital literacy skills, we can harness the power of digital technology to solve a customer’s problem, grow productivity and improve our world.

Claire Mason, Data61 Senior Social Scientist, CSIRO; Andrew Reeson, Economist, Data61, CSIRO, and Todd Sanderson, Research Scientist in Digital Economics, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tutors Are Key to Reducing Indigenous Student Drop Out Rates

by Lesley Neale, Curtin University, The Conversation:

There has been an increase in Australian Indigenous students enrolling in university in the past 10 years. While this is good news, there has also been a high drop out rate among first year Indigenous students.

How universities address retention rates

Universities address student drop-out rates through retention policy initiatives such as peer to peer mentoring programs. Faculties or schools develop further retention strategies appropriate to their cohort. One successful support strategy for Indigenous students that is already in place and effective according to students and higher education bodies, is the Indigenous Tertiary Assistance Scheme (ITAS).

ITAS has been around for 28 years, providing tutors for Indigenous students. I have worked as an ITAS tutor for 25 of those years, and have conducted interviews with many students who engage with the program. Working with the students and observing their progress suggests that ensuring all students have a tutor (especially in their first year) would lower the drop-out rate.

ITAS is funded directly from the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as part of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, introduced in 2014. The cost of extending ITAS would be absorbed by the Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and outweighed by higher student retention and an increase of university fees. A greater number of Indigenous students gaining degrees has the advantage of lowering Indigenous unemployment figures, since statistics show that graduates are able to find work very quickly.

The first year is challenging

University can be a daunting place at first for anyone. Many Indigenous students say university culture is like a foreign culture, and those from rural and remote communities in particular have difficulty adjusting to it. 44% of the students surveyed cited the reason for dropping out as financial. However, feedback suggests that stress, workloads and study/life balance, mentioned by the wider student cohort, need to be addressed. With appropriate support, the academic and personal challenges faced by students can become manageable. The current drop-out rate –twice that of other first years – disempowers both Indigenous communities and Australia as a whole.

Larger institutions such as Curtin University and the University of Western Australia, with cohorts of 400 to 600 Indigenous students, usually have 80 or more tutors available to work with students for two hours per academic unit per week. A larger number of tutors and more flexibility in how tutor hours are allotted would be beneficial.

Student experiences

Many students readily see the advantage of working with a tutor, but others attempt to go it alone. Students who come late to ITAS often regret not using the scheme earlier. One commented:
A good tutor can switch a student on to studying.
Students credit tutoring sessions with enhancing their ability to negotiate academia and successfully complete degrees. ITAS tutoring offers both academic assistance and mentoring. One student told me:
The feedback and support helps me feel more confident. It stops me from doubting myself.
Another explained:
I appreciated having someone to listen to my ideas, challenge me and support me.
Students may not have a clear understanding of exactly what is required of them. A student said he was exposed to skills he never knew he needed, and another commented on needing time-management skills, and help staying focused.

Students place importance on learning to “code switch”: having the ability to change between everyday speaking and writing, to academic language. Indigenous students may speak Aboriginal English, Kriol, and an Aboriginal language. Often they speak all three. Effective code switching bridges the gap and provides the student with the tools to understand the requirements of an assignment and how to complete them successfully.

An interview with Indigenous students from the Aboriginal Studies Students Program. Lesley Neale, Author provided (No reuse) 4.47 MB (download)

Working strategies

The learning environment provided by ITAS tutor sessions is quite different from that of a seminar or lecture, apart from the one-on-one aspect. ITAS tutors don’t teach course content. They facilitate strategy development, help assignment planning, and suggest ways of working. Sessions focus on a student’s area of need, and draw on their strengths such as verbal competence, creativity or life experiences.

Strategies such as “yarning” are effective when working with Indigenous students – and indeed, all students. Many tutors instinctively use these practices. The informality of yarning, or sharing information, establishes relationships and inspires collaboration. In tutor/student relationships, this leads to mutual respect and builds a learning space for discussing problems, sharing ideas and engaging with the intellectual rigours of a degree. One student said:
Spending time with my tutor provided time to question academic theories, practice critical thinking and work on my research skills.
Effective tutoring encourages students to challenge themselves. A Master’s student explained:
It’s not just about passing the units; I want to own the skill set. Own my work.
The yarning-style sessions, offer a learning space that fosters intellectual growth, benefiting students beyond the years at university. The Indigenous Advancement Strategy, states:
The positive impact that education has on the future success of individuals, families and communities is clear. Children who go to school have better life outcomes.
The ConversationWe need to ensure that Indigenous students who earn the right to be at university can take full advantage of the opportunity. Tutoring, if available to more students, especially first years, can play a vital role in preventing the drop out rate. ITAS tutors offer academic tuition and mentoring and, according to students, are uniquely positioned to help them reach their full potential.

Lesley Neale, Adjunct Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.