Archive | May 2013

The LSU Top 5 #33

This is the 33rd of our weekly links to the top 5 bits and pieces we’ve found from around the internet. (Linking doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with these articles!) College & Critical Thinking – The Creativity Post This article might be better titled “Why can’t students think?” In it, the author, a philosopher, argues […]

Empty citations?

This article was originally posted at the beginning of 2012, but its content remains relevant. This is perhaps a good time to run the article again given that many university staff are now busy marking exactly the sort of assessment this post discusses. By Sam Graham Last week, I had lots of students coming in […]

The LSU Top 5 #32

This is the 32nd of our weekly links to the top 5 bits and pieces we’ve found from around the internet.

(Linking doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with these articles!)

My worst studentTimes Higher Education

This article tackles a topic that’s taboo to talk about publically: your worst student.

I know. You think that there’s no such thing as a worst student – only more or less challenging ones…. You’d be wrong, but the mistake is an honest one. In truth, academics who don’t care about their students or about teaching are generally the ones that never encounter a “worst” student. To their way of thinking, every student is a bothersome distraction and the best that one can do is ignore these distractions and stay on task.

This led to some Twitter contributions…

…which in turn led to the National Union of Students starting #mybestlecturer. (The power of turning the other cheek!)


‘Revision techniques – The good, the ok and the useless’BBC

Do you use a highlighter when you prepare for an exam? Do you know someone who tries to remember blocks of text when revising? This article explains how these two tactics may be useless or even harmful when it comes to effective revision of information. According to the article, only 2 out of the 10 methods they reviewed actually help people revise effectively!


When “big bosses” want to obtain master degrees – VietnamNet Bridge

Degrees provide a signal that the holder has demonstrated knowledge and ability in their field, and that they are capable of working hard and persevering. They also confer status on the degree holder. So what happens when you can get the status and signal without actually doing any work or learning anything?

Going to class for others has become a very popular service. A lecturer who asked to be anonymous, said that 1/3 of the learners at her class are not the real learners.

And why? Well, why not?

There are many reasons that make the real learners hesitate to go to class. The boss of the student, for example, does not want to go to class not because he is too busy with his works, but simply because he’d rather spend time on relax than on learning.


What Professors Can Learn From ‘Hard Core’ MOOC StudentsThe Chronicle

Six of the most prolific MOOCs students were asked to give their observations on how much they felt they were learning from their courses and compare the MOOCs learning experience with traditional courses. The article extracts four tips from the interviews that the MOOCs providers could learn from their hard-core students.


Commencement 2013 profile: Michael ForzanoInside Binghamton University

With the LSU starting to provide a disability support service, we thought we’d link to this story of a recently graduate from Binghamton University in the US who is blind and largely deaf. Now, he’s off to a programming job at Amazon.


We love hearing your thoughts on these articles, so feel free to comment below!

Want to remember? Don’t skim 100 times

The LSU blog turns 1 year old this month. So far we’ve posted over 90 articles, reached over 18,000 viewers  and have built our followers to over 300 in 93 countries.  Thanks for reading! In honor of this, we are going back to one of our first articles published on this blog – one from […]

The LSU Top 5 #31

This is the 31st of our weekly links to the top 5 bits and pieces we’ve found from around the internet. (Linking doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with these articles!) Policies, not funds, stymie development of universities – Thanh Nien While other countries in the region have top-ranked universities, Vietnam has none. The country is […]

Carrying Your Weight: Academic Style

By Sam Graham, LSU

In the LSU, we often help students with their essays, which is much the same as coaching weightlifting.

We refine students’ writing techniques so they can express their ideas in the clearest, most convincing way possible. We don’t write the essays for them, though.

Weightlifting coaches refine lifters’ lifting techniques so they can lift the most weight possible. They don’t lift the weights for them, though.

Reading A Theoretical Approach to the Coach’s Cue, I see that we face a lot of the same challenges as weightlifting coaches.

Weightlifting at the Maccabiah Village, from Government Press Office (GPO), under Creative Commons license

Weightlifting at the Maccabiah Village, from the Government Press Office (Israel), under Creative Commons license

Lost in translation

In the weight room

What a lifter hears might be quite different from what their coach says because they have different ideas, or models, of an ideal lift. The coach provides cues based on their model, formed by their education and experience as a lifter. The lifter has their own model, and cues are interpreted under this model. Where the models differ, a cue might mean something quite different. Sometimes, past training of the lifter can make their model quite different from the coach’s, and this can interfere with the coach’s cues.

In the LSU

Similarly, what a student hears might be quite different from what their advisor says because they have different models of an ideal essay. Also similar, past education can interfere with the advisor’s cues. With a less-than-ideal background in academic English or with academic experience only in a different tradition – common in Vietnam – other conceptions of academic writing can interfere with their understanding of our advice. On the other hand, If they’ve had good English teachers, this makes our job easy because we can provide short cues and they know what we’re suggesting (“Where’s the topic sentence?”).

Know your student/lifter

In the weight room

As a weightlifting coach and a lifter build a relationship, the coach develops an understanding of what the lifter understands. Meanwhile, the lifter’s lifting model aligns with the coach’s model, allowing them to more quickly and even reflexively understand each other.

In the LSU

I still see students I taught in the English programmes, where I worked before moving to the LSU. Knowing their background means I know the wider context of their writing issues. They also know what to look for in their writing if I say simply “Explanation?” and don’t need a full explanation of the importance of explicitly explaining the connection between evidence and a contention.

Speak softly and carry a big stick. Or don’t. It depends.

In the weight room

Some lifters like a calm space, others macho chest bumping.  Some like loud, sharp pointers, while others prefer quiet, technical pointers.

In the LSU

The ‘treatment’ for the same issue, and how I deliver it, is rarely the same for students I know.

Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

In the weight room

The coach and the lifter’s perspective is quite different. The coach watches while the lifter feels the weight. A good coach will use their own experience as a lifter to make cues that make sense from the perspective of being under a weight. Telling the lifter what the outcome should look like won’t always work since the feeling of the weight is far more immediate. Getting them to make small changes can help ‘trick’ the lifter into making far bigger ones.

In the LSU

It’s also easy to forget that our view as an advisor is quite different from the student’s. Without a cloud of facts from the research, it is easy to see how arguments might be rearranged or tightened. For the student, there are far more moving parts – both in the essay and in their notes – to consider.

We can also help our students write far better essays with small tricks. For example, I’ve had success getting students to link their supporting arguments to their thesis – a quite difficult concept – by telling them to simply make sure that the keywords from their thesis statements are in each paragraph. It’s easy to do this, but difficult for them to do it without linking the ideas.

The principles here are, I think, universal. I can’t think of teaching contexts where the following won’t make for better teaching and learning:

  • Know how your students see themselves
  • Know how your students see their work
  • Know how your students see you
  • Perspective matters
  • Small changes lead to big changes
  • Prioritise what needs to be changed
  • Speak their language
  • It isn’t just what you say, it’s how you say it.

The LSU Top 5 #30

This is the 30th of our weekly links to the top 5 bits and pieces we’ve found from around the internet.

(Linking doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with these articles!)

 The Slowest Distance Between Two PointsThis American Life

At the age of 23, Andrew Forsthoefel fails in keeping his job and is left without a job or a plan. He decides to walk across the U.S. and learns about learning in life. This podcast is his story and features interviews of people from all walks of life giving the advice they would tell the 23-year-old version of themselves. The advice here is likely to apply to university students as well, particularly when they’re not sure where they’re headed and whether they should keep going.


Are university lectures doomed?The Guardian

In this article, two academics (and lecturers!) debate the value of the lecture. Does learning require “students participate, interrupt, ask questions, disagree, [and] talk back” – best done somewhere other than the lecture theatre – or do lectures provide “50 minutes of pithy introduction from someone who has sorted the wheat from the chaff on the students’ behalf,” putting students “in a position to sit in class and have an informed discussion”?


Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a championTED

A 40 year veteran teacher talks about building connections with students and keeping it all in perspective (and changing it when need be!) in this inspiring TED talk. Although it’s about school kids, these aspects of learning are the same at all levels.


Autonomy needed for Vietnam to have world-class universitiesTuoi Tre

A retired French astrophysicist who taught in Vietnam for more than ten years has said that autonomy is prerequisite for Vietnam universities if they are to become world-class. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese government has been running a national project to upgrade its higher education system, including building partnerships with foreign governments such as Russia, Germany, France, the US and Japan. In the case of the Russian project to establish a technology university here, curriculum, books and lecturers will come from Russia.


Some Papers Are Uploaded to Bangalore to Be GradedThe Chronicle of Higher Education

Some US universities are outsourcing grading and feedback on student papers. The graders, mainly from India, Malaysia and Singapore and all holding master’s degrees, provide a level of feedback that simply wouldn’t be possible if the universities relied only on the lecturer and teaching assistants. Some, though, say that outsourced grading and feedback necessarily ignores the context of the essays:

“An outside grader has no insight into how classroom discussion may have played into what a student wrote in their paper,” says Marilyn Valentino, chair of the board of the Conference on College Composition and Communication and a veteran professor of English at Lorain County Community College. “Are they able to say, ‘Oh, I understand where that came from’ or ‘I understand why they thought that, because Mary said that in class’?”


We love hearing your thoughts on these articles, so feel free to comment below!

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