Planning your critique/mini-essay

external image dont-get-it.jpgSpend a few minutes on planning your writing. Here's an example of you might plan a research critique/mini-essay. It's a bit cursory, but you'll get the picture, I hope.

Topic: Digital literacy
Word limit: 800 - 1200 words. That's about 5 paras for 800, 6-7 paras for 1000 and 8-9 paras for 1200.
This example: 1000 words

Intro (para 1): see tip below
Para 2: Background: various definitions of digital literacy -- similarities and differences
Para 3: More useful definition breaks this up into three 'tiers': functional, network, critical (network is often overlooked)
Para 4: Need for digital literacy A: helps young people navigate digital world safely
Para 5: Need for digital literacy B: increases opportunities for participation
Conclusion (para 6): see tip below

Writing an introduction

external image probably.jpgThere are four ‘moves’ to an introduction to an academic piece; you can use them to introduce your research analyses.
  1. Lay out the field or context
  2. Describe the current thinking and/or research in the area
  3. Identify a problem, i.e., something that hasn’t been looked at, ‘solved,’ or examined fully. Use words such as ‘however,’ ‘despite this,’ ‘nevertheless.’
  4. Describe the current work by taking a position on the topic.

Here’s an example, just to give you a sense of how to use the above principles in your own writing:

“As schools increasingly embrace digital technologies in their day-to-day teaching and learning activities, students’ digital literacy has recently become the focus of much academic attention [MOVE 1]. Smith (2008), Brown (2009) and Jones (2010) have all argued that being digitally literate is essential if young people are to confidently, critically, and safely navigate the online world [MOVE 2]. However, having a ‘functional’ literacy — that is, simply knowing where to click on a screen to make things happen — is not enough [MOVE 3]. This analysis demonstrates that there are three main ‘tiers’ to digital literacy: functional, network, and critical literacy. I argue that if students are to be truly digitally literate in the digital world, then they must be able to operate across all three tiers [MOVE 4].”

If you’re interested in these ‘three tiers,’ then visit my blog post on my website. Also check out the info below on ‘moves’ to a conclusion.
Start looking out for these ‘moves’ as you read academic journal articles — most academics are making them without even knowing, so now you know more than them external image icon_wink.gif?m=1300158406g
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Writing a conclusion

external image vitamin-c-cures-scurvy.jpgJust as there are ‘moves’ to an introduction, so are there ‘moves’ to a conclusion:
  1. Make a generalisation about what you’ve just written or presented
  2. Draw out any implications
  3. Point to directions for future research or study

Here’s an example — it’s a bit lengthy, and I’ve had lots of practice, but there’s no reason you couldn’t write something similar:

“This analysis as demonstrated that digital literacy is not simply a case of knowing how to find material on the internet. I have argued that being digitally literate means also providing students with an understanding of how to manage their online profiles and identities, and ensuring that they know what happens to their data once it goes online. I have also argued that developing students’ critical digital literacy is key to helping them find, validate, interpret, communicate, analyse, critique, evaluate, synthesise, and transform information, and how to then use these skills as fully networked citizens [MOVE 1]. The implications of this for teachers are clear: we ourselves must be digitally literate across all three areas (functional, network and critical digital literacy) if we are to fulfill our responsibilities as those who guide young people through the world in which they live [MOVE 2]. Our next steps should be in the direction of ensuring that teachers receive the necessary professional development opportunities to get them ‘teched up’ [MOVE 3].”

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What your markers are looking for

external image classy.jpgYou may have been given assessment rubrics to guide your assignments, but there are four fundamentals when it comes to what markers are looking for in your work:
  1. Focus. You should deal with the central concerns of the topic and not veer into irrelevancies.
  2. Wide and critical reading. You should refer to a variety of sources, authors, perspectives and will analyse, synthesise, evaluate those sources.
  3. Reasoned argument. Logic and reasoning should structure your work and you must use evidence to support ideas and claims that will persuade your reader to accept your line of argument.
  4. Competent style and presentation. You should pay attention to spelling, sentence structure, expression, grammar, punctuation, and referencing. This will focus your reader’s attention on the real concerns of your work – the quality of the ideas and arguments you are presenting.

Source: Adapted from J. Clanchy and B. Ballard. 1989. Essay Writing for Students. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire.

Effective written communication

Whether it's a blog entry, a scientific report, or an essay, the principles are the same:

Common problems in your research journal entries (DRAFT -- I'm still working on this)

Understanding of issues
  • Most of you had a good go at getting across some difficult concepts for this assignment. There were some misunderstandings of the material, though, so, if you’re not clear about something, then feel free to ask me and I’ll try to help.
  • The digital divide topic was the one done most poorly because some of you relied on sources that were just too old and that only talked about one dimension of the digital divide, i.e., access to hardware. The issue is rather bigger than that, these days.
  • Definitions. Define terms only if they are likely to be controversial or unfamiliar. If you must define a term or concept, then leave it for a background post or section: don’t stuff definitions arbitrarily into your first post or your intro.
Critical engagement with issues
  • Again, many of you tried really hard with this — thanks. The standard of critique, though, was occasionally wanting, not least because you are relying on low-level sources that you find on the web. You will do better if you find and engage with peer-reviewed, scholarly material -- see the tip below on finding scholarly material. This means you have to improve your search skills and not rely so heavily on guh-guh-Google.
  • You might also consider developing a more coherent, focused ‘angle’ into your entries and work from there. You will likely interrogate and critique the material more thoroughly if you are developing a scholarly position on it.
  • Develop your points. Don’t just ‘hit and run’, i.e., don’t just make a statement or claim and leave it at that. If you make a general assertion you then need to provide the reader with enough information about it to evaluate it.
Technical and pedagogical knowledge of ICTs appropriate for educational purposes
  • This was mostly OK, but some of you lost sight of the education issues. Always strive to link your work back to an educational/schools focus. It’s good to explore ICT and social issues generally, but they should always connect to educational implications in the end.
  • Higher grades were given to those who explored these debates in terms of theoretical, pedagogical, and/or philosophical frameworks.
Communication and style
  • Clear writing is essential to good scholarship and this is where many of you let yourselves down. In fact, a lot of your work really suffered, here. Many entries read like a series of Facebook updates or wall comments, i.e., short sentences that don’t have any coherence or linking thread. If you can’t get your point across in a coherent fashion, then you can’t communicate your ideas; if your reader can’t understand your ideas, then your grade will suffer — no matter how great those ideas are.
  • Paragraph unity was a problem for many of you. If your paragraph has a number of different topics in it, then it is not ‘unified’. Stick to one topic per paragraph, only.
  • Paragraph coherence was also a problem. Your sentences don’t relate logically to one another throughout your paragraphs, meaning that the reader can’t follow a ‘thread’ to your ideas.
  • You also need to develop your ideas more carefully. If your points don’t ‘hang together’ then you can’t move your thinking and writing forwards.
  • Grammar and punctuation. Common problems included fused sentences, comma splices, mixed constructions, faulty predication, and misuse of the semi-colon. And what ever happened to the poor hyphen? What have hyphens ever done to you? If your grammer and speling and that ain’t rite pepul dont no what u on about.
  • Semi-colons. Don’t use the semi-colon unless you know how it works. Just don’t, OK?
  • Style. Many of you could afford to relax a bit with your style: you’re trying to hard to sound ‘scholarly’ and it’s just not working. Instead, write in Standard English, but don’t try to push yourself into language you don’t understand or can’t handle. Similarly, considerations under issues impede comprehension for attaining questions about the integration of style and concerning expression. OK, so I didn’t get that sentence from anyone in particular, but it’s an example of what can go wrong when you think you’re writing formally. Sadly, you just make a hash of things, instead.
And finally,
  • If you read scholarly, peer-reviewed material, you will have proper models of academic writing to work from. But, hey, many of you aren’t looking at that stuff, so you’re having to make it up as you go along. Read the real stuff and you’ll get more of a sense of how to put together scholarly analyses of your topic.

Now, go forth and be a huge success on the next assignment.

Tips: Early feedback on your journal entries

external image that-nineopus-is-a-hypocrite.jpgI’ve already had a look at a few student journal entries, and here are some common problems that you may need to address:
  • Keep your posts focused. Blogging is its own genre of writing, so don't try to write a mini-essay for each post: one point per post is a good rule of thumb. If you feel you need to make several points, then think about splitting the entry up into a number of different posts. Of course, occasionally you may want or need to write a longer post – but as a rule, keep it short. See the 'opinion' posts on my own blog for examples of focused, coherent, precise blog entries.
  • Interrogate and critique your sources. Sure, you might get a Pass if you just put in a 150-word summary of the resource you’ve looked at for the entry (e.g., a summary of a YouTube video, a summary of a website or journal article), but you will get more marks if you interrogate the source. e.g., “I looked at X YouTube video and it said Y [that's your summary]; however, it neglected to mention ABC associated issues which have PQR bearing on the topic [that's your interrogation, analysis or critique].” Aim high, li’l dudes!
  • It's a research journal, not a reflective one. I'm not asking you to write an entry that refers to a journal article and say that you find it interesting because you are studying ICT in education. I need more than that. Aim for proper analytical engagement with the topics being examined, present arguments and opinions based on the research and
    try to relate the material to different contexts. Look at different sources, and if there are any inconsistencies or differing
    positions or approaches, try to account for them. See the assessment rubrics at the end of the assessments page to guide you.
  • Make sure you embed hyperlinks properly. Too many of you are just whacking in the whole web address and leaving it at that. A web address is not a hyperlink. See the notes at Tutorial A.09 or the Tech Help pages for more info, so do yourselves and me a favour and check it out if you haven’t already.
  • Give your posts interesting titles. Don't just call them things like, 'ELPC G1 ICT Research Journal Topic #1, Entry #1'. Just looking at such a title is likely to turn readers off. If you have tagged each entry correctly, then there is no need to be so explicit about the title of your posts -- instead, use the title to grab your readers and tell them something interesting about what they're about to read.
  • Attend to grammar and spelling. Although your journal entries can be a little more casual in tone than your research critiques/mini-essays (which are expected to be scholarly in style and tone), you should shouldn’t let your grammar or and/or spelling slide. You might want to give your blog address to a future employer as part of your employment portfolio, and poor grammar and spelling won’t necessarily reflect well on you.
  • Attend to punctuation. Know how to use the possessive apostrophe, the semi-colon and other punctuation marks. There are plenty of grammar and punctuation guides available on the web or at your friendly local bookshop.

Today’s tip brought to you by nataliedee. Spot (and name) the punctuation errors.

Tip: How to read informational texts

external image ha-ha-i-am-so-funny.jpgI went over this in tutes, but here it is again.
Don’t read informational texts (e.g., journal articles and monographs) as if you are reading texts with a narrative or a storyline (e.g., novels). Informational texts are about ideas and concepts, so you should read for understanding, not for the words or a story. Use the 4-S system of reading to focus your reading:
  1. Scan the text. To get a sense of what is in the text, as well as what the main ideas are, do the following: read and think about the title — what does it tell you about the content of the text?; look for sub-headings; read and understand the abstract; check out the table of contents and/or the index to see how much coverage is given to a topic, and where.
  2. Skim the text. This is a very specific technique: a) read the introduction to get a sense of the main argument and content, b) read the conclusion to see what the findings were, c) read the topic sentences (i.e., the first sentence in each paragraph) to get a sense of the structure and content of the text.
  3. Select the key material. From your scan and skim, you should be in a position to choose just that material that relates to your current reading task. If you have a study guide, then use it to help you select the key material; otherwise, check out the unit outline to see what the theme for the week is and direct your reading towards that.
  4. Study the key material. Just study that stuff that is important to your current reading task. Read for understanding, ideas and concepts — not for words.

This style of reading will take some getting used to, because your present reading habits are so ingrained. But stick with it and go back to it if you ‘relapse’ external image icon_wink.gif?m=1278716733g

Hope this helps.
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Tips: Keeping track of all the unit info

external image carrots-gonna-eat-ya.jpgThere will be a lot of information coming your way in a very short space of time in this unit. Here are some tips to help you manage the things:
  • Seach the wiki using the search bar in the top of the left-hand menu. D’oh!
  • Consult your unit outline. D'oh!
  • Visit the wiki on a daily basis. It will be easier to keep up with the latest developments that way.
  • Check your UC email on a daily basis. This is a major way that the University communicates with you — and if we need to get in touch with you individually, then this is the email address we will use, too, because we don’t know what your hotmail address is external image icon_wink.gif?m=1255548783g
  • Keep up with the Twitter feed for latest announcements. Only the most recent tweets are shown. If you think you’ve missed some tweets, you should visit the ELPC G1 Twitter feed on Twitter itself to see all the tweets.
  • Display the ELPC G1 Twitter feed in your own blog, so that it’s always there for reference. I’ll show you in a tute how to do this via RSS if you’re not sure — just ask.
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Research critiques: Examples with comments

external image richard_feedback.jpgHere are some model research analyses (with commentary) for you to look at — one from Louise and one from Amy in the graduate group from last year. They are each a little different, but both demonstrate exactly what I am looking for, and as described in my assessment rubric for the task. I’ve handed these out in class, but if you missed out, here they are.

Amy takes a ‘direct critique’ approach in that she tracks her thinking and engagement with the topic through a description of her journal entries. Louise, on the other hand, presents a more ‘traditional,’ essay-style piece of work. Both formats are acceptable.

Thanks to both Amy and Louise for permission to share these with you — I think that demonstrates great collegiality and generosity.
external image smallpdficon.jpg?w=30&h=30&h=30Critique 1, Amy
external image smallpdficon.jpg?w=30&h=30&h=30Critique 1, Louise

Tip: Finding scholarly material

external image guard-your-markers.jpgAlthough it’s (kind of) OK to use websites and videos as sources for your study for this unit, you will move into the higher grades if you engage with the academic research and literature on your topic. That means reading, discussing and referencing peer-reviewed work, i.e., work that has been published in academic journals or by academic publishing houses and that has gone through a formal process of assessment by fellow scholars.

How can you find this material? Answer: Library, Library, Library. Yes, the UC Library should be your first stop for finding scholarly materials. Here are some tips:

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Tip: Avoiding plagiarism

external image ok-todays-lesson-is-over-class-dismissed.jpgYou may be reported for plagiarism if you have not cited your sources correctly; if you have not used quote marks and page numbers to indicate that you’ve used a paragraph, sentence or part of a sentence that someone else has written; and/or if you have simply copied over large chunks of text from Wikipedia or elsewhere and pasted them into your blog as is (or close enough to ‘as is’). Some tips:
  • Your ICT research journal entries must be original. Do not copy and paste huge chunks of text and insert them into a blog post and expect that that will count as an entry into your journal. You must compose original posts.
  • Integrate others’ work into your own. You cannot simply put in a string of others’ sentences and expect to have the work classed as your own and to therefore count as a journal entry. If you are using others’ work to back up an argument or point or observation that you are making, then that is OK — but the entry must still be your own work. I am grading your understanding of the material, not someone else’s.
  • You must use quote marks and page numbers to indicate where you got an idea or quote from. Again, if you are using a direct quote, or if you are using a specific idea, then you must include quote marks and page numbers. If you are just referring to a site or idea more generally in your regular journal entries, then I am OK with a link out to the source. But for anything more specific, quote marks and page numbers are essential.
  • View the Academic misconduct and plagiarism page on this wiki. I have advised you to view the Voicethread slideshow on those pages, I have advised you to seek help from the Academic Skills Program if you’re unsure about acceptable scholarly practice, I have gone through this info in tutes and in lectures, and it is on the blog. There will be little excuse for your not understanding issues surrounding misconduct when you hand in your work. Please note that I am obliged to report any cases of suspected misconduct that I find.

You do not want to be found guilty of misconduct. Apart from the stress and anxiety it will cause you, your name will go onto the Academic Misconduct Register or you will be expelled from the university. More info is available on the Academic misconduct and plagiarism page.

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Tip: If you’re researching cyberbullying …

external image brush-your-teeth-tooth.jpgCyberbullying is a very emotive issue because of the destructive nature of bullying. However, you must be extremely careful to treat the issue with a scholarly eye; that means you need to carefully interrogate your sources and critique the approach they have taken to the topic of cyberbullying. This is a very difficult topic to do well, so ask questions about the purpose of the video or website or whatever you are exploring and question the source’s motives or methods.

For example, if you’re watching a YouTube video of an article from Today Tonight, there is, sadly, every chance that the video will present an alarmist view of cyberbullying based on scaremongering tactics (so that TT gets more viewers). Do not approach or present these sources uncritically — seek to understand why they have a particular ‘take’ on the issue.
If you’re dealing with the research on the issue, then you might want to similarly critique and interrogate the research. For example, how have the researchers defined cyberbullying? In other words, what counts as cyberbullying in this research? Is it being embarrassed? offended? intimidated? Is it being sworn at via text? sharing private information? name-calling? abusive messages? threats?

Similarly, some of the research refers to (the potential for) ‘long-term’ effects. How is this measured? What does ‘long-term’ mean? i.e., Will being cyberbullied when you are 12 still have a psychological effect on you when you are 35? Do we have the longitudinal data yet to make any sure statements about such effects?

You might want to also consider ethics-based approaches to the problem of cyberbullying. For example, you might want to explore how taking a virtue-ethical or civics education approach to cyberbullying might circumvent its occurring in the first place. Or you might want to explore how a restorative justice model might be of benefit — i.e., where we talk with the bullies (when identified) about the effect of their behaviour on others and seek understanding that way.

Or perhaps you want to ask if there’s a moral panic around cyberbullying? Why isn’t cyberbullying seen as a normal part of childhood?
Like I say, this is a tough topic for a number of reasons. Try to be objective about it. I have already posted the lecture for this topic on the Lectures page of the LWT blog, so you might want to check it out.

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