Category Archives: research

Glossary, Websites and Further Reading: Student information and surveys

NSS: National Student Survey. UK survey of final year undergraduate survey undergraduates conducted annually since 2005. Results are published at institutional and disciplinary level within institutions is minimum threshold of 23 students and 50% response rate is met. http://www.thestudentsurvey.com/

PTES: (Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey) and PRES: (Postgraduate Research Experience Survey). Annual surveys of finishing taught and research postgraduate students run by the Higher Education Academy, though not every institution participates every year. Findings are confidential to the individual institutions though overall reports are published.  http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/student-experience-surveys

Key Information Set http://www.keyinformationsets.com/

“Key Information Sets (KIS) are comparable sets of information about full or part time undergraduate courses and are designed to meet the information needs of prospective students. From September 2012 all KIS information will be published on the Unistats web-site and will also be accessed via a small advert, or ‘widget’, on the course web pages of universities and colleges. Prospective students will be able to compare all the KIS data for each course with data for other courses on the Unistats web-site.” Source: HEFCE http://www.hefce.ac.uk/whatwedo/lt/publicinfo/kis/

Higher Education Academy http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/student-experience-surveys

Further reading

Canning, J. et al. (2011) Understanding the National Student Survey: Investigations in Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies. Southampton: Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies. Available from: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/197699/

Child, A. (2011) The perception of academic staff in traditional universities towards the National Student Survey: views on its role as a tool for enhancement. MA Dissertation, Department of Education, University of York. Available from: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/2424/1/Final_Thesis_Version.pdf

*Maringe, F. (2006). ‘University and Course Choice: Implications for Positioning, Recruitment and Marketing’. International Journal of Educational Management 20, 466–479.

Ramsden, P. et al. (2010) Enhancing and Developing the National Student Survey. London: Institute of Education. Available from: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/hefce/content/pubs/2010/rd1210/rd12_10a.pdf

Renfrew, K, et al. (2010) Understanding the Information Needs of Users of Public Information About Higher Education. Manchester: Oakleigh. Available from: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/hefce/content/pubs/2010/rd1210/rd12_10b.pdf

*Richardson, J .T. E. et al. (2007) The National Student Survey: development, findings and implications. Studies in Higher Education 32, 557-580.

*Richardson, J.T.E. (2005). Instruments for obtaining student feedback: a review of the literature. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 30, 387-415

Surridge, P. (2009) The National Student Survey three years on: What have we learned? York: Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/research/surveys/nss/NSS_three_years_on_surridge_02.06.09.pdf

Williams, J. et al. (2008) Exploring the National Student Survey: Assessment and Feedback Issues. York: Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/nss/NSS_assessment_and_feedback_issues.pdf

*Subscriptions may be required. Other items are open access

I have made a word version of this list available in humbox.

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Today a new era in UK higher education began

Today marked a new era in UK higher education.  Nothing to do with tuition fees, the Research Evaluation Framework (REF), league tables or funding. The University of Birmingham showed what must be an unprecedented step of leadership. They advertised a job as an Honorary (i.e. unpaid) Research Assistant. Working as an unpaid research assistant at the University of Birmingham includes perks such as a desk in the Psychology department, a library card and a refund for the petrol you use driving around in your own car to conduct the research.  Although Birmingham eventually withdrew the advertisement, the dam has been breached. Despite the moral and legal issues involved it is only a matter of time before another university advertises similar positions.

The tragedy of the Birmingham advert is that there would have been no shortage of applicants. This time ten years ago I sat my PhD viva. I had spent most of the previous nine months doing a data entry job, despondent that seven years of university had not yielded the rewards I had hoped for.  I was tempted to offer my services free to a nearby university to get some more teaching experience or research experience, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. My guess is that there are early career academics out there that not only thought the same thing, but actually offered their services. I also suspect that some universities that have accepted these offers.  As it happens my career has been a really interesting one, albeit very different from the one I expected to have. Things were tough then; now they are even harder. Talented PhD graduates and not so recent PhD graduates, world experts in their field doing any work which will pay, spending their evening writing books and articles, hoping not for the dream academic job, but any academic job. They would happily join a university as an unpaid research assistant just to get a foot in the door.

As an undergraduate I regarded academia as a higher calling. A university was a place where the highest moral and ethical standards were upheld. I saw universities as fair places, where ideas were exchanged freely and frankly and where people progressed in the careers because they were good people doing their teaching and research to the best of their abilities and being rewarded on the merits of their achievements.

I have few complaints in life but enough has happened in the past fifteen years or so to disabuse myself of any such notion. But I have always clung to the view that universities were somehow different to the banks, multinational corporations, the City. Today the University of Birmingham led us into a new era.

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The 5th issue of Debut: Thoughts and observations on undergraduate research

7 thoughts

I have spent this afternoon editing the next volume of Debut: the undergraduate journal of languages, linguistics and area studies. I am pleased that the journal has kept going and is now in its fifth edition.

Many colleagues complain that students do not like putting effort into work that does not count towards their degree. Much of the work submitted to Debut is based upon assessed work (I know this because they don’t always remove the lecturer name and course number). In most cases the student will have received a good mark (they often tell me this when they submit) and in some cases their lecturer has suggested they submit their work to Debut.

Their work is then reviewed by an academic in another institution who makes comments and recommends whether or not the work should be published in Debut. Few of these students, if any, will have experienced this double-blind review process. It is daunting enough for those of us with experience but for undergraduate students this is unknown territory. Last year I conducted a small-scale consultation on whether Debut should maintain the review process. I was fairly surprised that those who responded said that the review process should be kept.

 

After five issues I have the following thoughts and observations on Debut and undergraduate research in general.

  1. Undergraduate research publication completes the research cycle (Walkington and Jenkins) but only a very small number of students seek to get their work published.
  2. The review process not only prevents weak work from publication, but also good work on which the student is not willing or able to put in the necessary work to bring the work up to a publishable standard. In these cases I encourage students to persevere.
  3. What is the standard for publication in an undergraduate journal? This remains the critical question for me. Work on the linguistics of a ‘less-widely taught/ used language which received a first class mark on a general linguistics course often gets a harsh review from experts in the language itself. In retrospect I feel that many articles submitted in the first year of Debut did not make it to publication when they probably should have.
  4. Some reviewers think that certain topics should not be attempted by undergraduates (the subject of my editorial in this issue).
  5. Undergraduates do not necessarily know that multiple submission is not customary. On a couple of occasions it has been revealed by a student that their work has been accepted for publication in another journal and “is this a problem?” I don’t think that this means the student is a bad person—it merely shows that the student has not been told that this not considered the proper etiquette in most disciplines (I now mention this in the ‘Instructions for Authors’ page). It reminds me that undergraduates do not automatically know how academic publishing works, it does not automatically occur to them that this is something they should find out about and I suspect that few academics teach students about how academic work comes to be published.
  6. We allow students to submit up to a year after graduation. Sometimes reviewers suggest additional reading, sometimes from items to which the student no longer has access – another issue about closed access.
  7. As a journal of languages, linguistics and area studies Debut has a very broad remit. As editor I have to rely very heavily on advice from reviewers and it can be difficult to separate reasonable and unreasonable judgements.

In conclusion

I believe that discussions of academic publishing should be included in any undergraduate degree. Detractors might see it as ‘another thing to teach’, but surely an awareness of the process by which the articles and books they read came to be published must be seen as essential. Lecturers often complain about students citing unreliable sources in their essays and teaching them how to identify a good and bad source. However, a better, more detailed understanding of the process of academic publication may be a better way forward than teaching students to use context to discriminate between sources.

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Update on things

No blog post for a while now. I have been busy with work then the Christian conference Spring Harvest. I’ll be back in work on Wednesday in London at the Islamic Studies Network workshops on partnerships then Thursday at our annual new staff workshop at Aston University, so it’s a while before I get back to my Southampton office.

I have been working yazikopen.org.uk, my database of open access language teaching research. I’ve now produced a flyer which people can print out to give to their colleagues/ students. It’s not the highest quality flyer, but it gives the necessary information and life has been very busy recently. It is also available on humbox.

We bought our eldest son his first train-set for his sixth birthday a couple of weeks back. We are already thinking in terms of extending his layout and I am beginning to reacquaint myself with my Science GCSE as I think about building signals and lampposts with LEDs and resistors and things. We have also had some problems with the free sat which I seem to have sorted out now. I’m spending more time developing my practical side right now out in the garden and around the house.

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Are some topics off limits for undergraduate research?

This is a draft version of the my forthcoming editorial for Début: the undergraduate journal of languages, linguistics and area studies. I have published it here as I think it is of wider interest than the LLAS community. Are there some topics undergraduates should simply not attempt?

Are some topics intrinsically too difficult for undergraduate students to write about? This question has been raised in some form by two reviewers in the past few months where a student has submitted a paper to the undergraduate journal Début which either engages with very complex ideas or attempts to challenge a well-established theory and offer an alternative. Should scholars lay off trying to dismantle received wisdom and attempting to make theoretical breakthroughs during their undergraduate education? Can undergraduate researchers genuinely advance the discipline? One might argue that if an idea is really good enough to be taken seriously by the academic community it is good enough to be published in a journal which is not restricted to undergraduates.

One of the most memorable incidents of my own academic career took place as an undergraduate. I was in a tutorial with a professor and three other students. I can’t remember what the trigger was, but he turned to one of my fellow tutees and responded, “You may be cleverer than me, but I have been reading this stuff for the past fifteen years.” He pointed to the books by Marx on his bookshelf and told us how difficult it was to really understand Marx, notably because his output was so enormous. If you wish to really understand something you have to do a lot of reading – that takes time.

But should a lack of time to read the entire literature prevent publication in an undergraduate journal such as Début? When we ask people to review for Début we send them a form which reminds them that this is an undergraduate journal and that their expectations should take account of this.  Some reviewers feel that certain topics should not be attempted at all. Others suggest that well thought out and plausible arguments and theories developed by undergraduates should be published, irrespective of whether or not the arguments are fully polished or the writer does not have a full grasp of the existing literature or that their ideas would not make publication in a non-undergraduate journal.

Although undergraduate journals have become increasingly popular in recent years expectations remain unclear. In the first Début editorial in spring 2010 I conceived of the aims of the journal as follows:

Début not only aims to showcase existing research and scholarship — it is also a form of training for the aspiring academic. Whatever its advantages and limitations peer review forms an important part of the process by which academic knowledge comes into being – it is perhaps a matter of concern therefore that many students graduate unaware of how the articles which appear in journals came to be there. The articles in this first volume are “first class” essays made even better. (Canning 2010: ii).

Début is a fifth issue is a useful time to return to the aims and objectives of the journal, but equally importantly a good time to remind ourselves of what Début is not. Début was and still is an undergraduate journal. Undergraduate journals complete the research cycle for undergraduate students giving them an outlet for their work familiarising them with the (imperfect) peer review process (Walkington in Corbyn 2008). I hope that everyone who publishes in Début benefits from the process and that readers enjoy the articles.

I sincerely hope that some of today’s Début contributors will become academic stars of the future. What we see in Début today may be the beginnings of paradigm-shifting work for the future.

References

Canning, J. (2010) Editorial: Introducing Début: Début: the undergraduate journal of language linguistics and area studies 1.1 pp. i-ii

Corbyn, Z. (2008) Let students enjoy the power of print. Times Higher Education, 7 August 2008.

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It's not what you know, it's where you know.

Our brains respond differently to a painting if we are told it is genuine according to a study by academics at Oxford University.

Fourteen participants were placed in a brain scanner and shown images of works by 'Rembrandt' -- some were genuine, others were convincing imitations painted by different artists. Neither the participants nor their brain signals could distinguish between genuine and fake paintings. However, advice about whether or not an artwork is authentic alters the brain's response; this advice is equally effective, regardless of whether the artwork is genuine or not.

I wonder if academics’ brains would undergo the same process if told that an article was published in Nature (or whatever the ‘top’ journal in your discipline might be) as opposed to being posted on some random website or published in a low ranking journal (however defined). For the sake of argument I am assuming that the academics would only be looking at work which was good (the imitation Rembrandts were good paintings by all accounts.) I‘m not a scientist, but I know that Nature is good – at least that is where to publish if you want Radio 4 to notice your work.

Last week I attended a workshop for Islamic Studies PhD students in my capacity as Acting Academic for the HEA Network. A business academic told me about the Association for Business Schools’ journal guide. Each journal has been classified as 1 to 4 star (in parallel to the UK’s Research Evaluation Framework). It isn’t my place to comment on the policies of disciplines in which I do not have expertise, but this strikes me as a highly transparent way of assessing the quality of research—if you publish in a 4 star journal the article must be good, if a 3 star not so good etc. etc.  No arguments- the publication is the judge.

However this puts some topics off limits to academics wanting to publish in the top journals. I understand the top business journals publish little about Islamic Finance—if this is your topic then you cannot publish in the top journals. A humanities  academic from an Eastern European country recently informed me that research impact in his country involved publishing in ‘top journals’, in short journals written in English. Linguistic issues aside, one of the consequences is that he and his fellow academics have to write about the sorts of topic Anglophones (or more accurately Americans) think are important —therefore fewer academics are writing about their own country – they write about the USA.

In science PLOS One is an open access venue which is unrestricted by topic or by what editors think would be expedient to publish (important and popular not being the same thing).

This is one of the great advantages of the internet—we can have peer review, open access research which is not restricted to certain topics.

Under the current system the journal an article is published in is our equivalent of a genuine Rembrandt. It would be interesting if all inputs to the REF had to be submitted as plain text files to see if the efforts of the Rembrandts and artists of lesser reputation can really be distinguished. Brain responses might be the fairest method of evaluation we have available to us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How am I supposed to do my psychology essay when I can hardly access any Journals?! : Open access and John Rawl’s ‘Theory of Justice’

The question in the title was a friend’s facebook status earlier this week. My friend is a first year undergraduate at a UK university.  She is doing research for her essay and is finding some great articles which will help her as she writes her essay. The problem is her university does not subscribe to the journals in question. She knows the information she wants is there. It’s just that she can’t get it.  One day she might be your psychologist. Wouldn’t you like to think that had access to the best research and practice in whatever issue it was that had led you to need her services?

Open access has been in the (academic) news a lot in the past few days with the academic boycott of Elsevier gathering pace.  This boycott is about a range of issues, but most critically it is about the price of journals to subscribers and also the fees Elsevier charges to make open access possible ($4000 according to one article). Detractors will point out that all journals cost money to run and someone has to pay somewhere.  I am editor of the undergraduate journal Debut. There are no submission or access fees or print costs, but my time is paid for by my employer. If it wasn’t the journal might not happen or I might have to run it my ‘spare time’. Alternatively I could hand it over to someone else who would be operating under the same kinds of constraints.

Since I set up the open access language teaching research database YazikOpen I have been thinking more and more about what the right model should be for academic publishing. I have been drawn towards John Rawl’s Theory of Justice as a starting point. Rawls about what he called ‘the veil of ignorance’. The just society would be one which was agreed by people who did not know when or where they would be born, whether they would be black or white, a man or woman, rich or poor, intelligent or not, etc., etc. When applied to access to academic research I think along these lines.

  1. People should have access to research irrespective of where they live, how much money they have or where they work or study etc.
  2. People should be able to publish their research irrespective of where they live, how much money they have or where they work or study etc.  (This is big problem I have with author publication fees for open access—I suspect that they are a deterrent to many people who might otherwise submit to them).
  3. People should be able to know, in some way or another, whether the research meets certain standards of good quality. 1 and 2 are no use if the research is not good, or even worse, damaging. This is problem for those who might advocate the abolition of journals (and peer review) in favour of “just publish it on your website”.
  4. Researchers have a duty to ensure that their research reaches the people who might benefit most from it. This may involve writing it up in another form. (As an aside I’ve just finished reading Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science so I have a heightened sense of concern about the ways in which journalists ‘disseminate’ research findings).

At first glance it appears that these principles are in some degree of conflict. However, I am starting to think that the world’s universities have the resources and infrastructure to provide ‘a free at the point of access or contribution’ system which bypasses the traditional print publishers altogether. This would mean a substantial change in academic culture. You never know it might lead the publishers to rethink their mays. They might start selling my article for £1 for 20 pages instead of £25. It’s not free, but it is much more reasonable—someone might actually buy my work for £1. By the way I would want 20p of that plus a contribution to the editors and reviewers!

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Free open access research into teaching and learning languages

I am delighted to announce that my new website Yazikopen is now online. Yazikopen links to over 1000 articles into teaching and learning languages. All these articles are open access—in other words they are free to view wherever you are in the world.

Yazik open screenshot

Most academic articles online require a subscription to view or require the reader to purchase the articles individually (£25 for a 16 page pdf document is not unusual). I am fortunate to work at a large university which subscribes to a wide range of paid-for journals, but I hope that Yazikopen will be especially valuable to researchers who do not have access to subscription journals. The expense of most journals makes them out of reach of most school teachers as well as researchers and students working in smaller or poorer institutions, independent (or job-seeking) researchers and individuals in countries where library resources are very limited.

 

Open access logoSomeone has to pay for research somewhere along the line. In some cases the authors pay a publication fee so that their article can be made open access. In the case of other journals there is no fee—the people who run the journal donate their time freely, or their time is paid for by their employers. Yazikopen contains links to both sorts of open access materials. Most importantly Yazikopen helps the people who will benefit most to access research. It is a sorry state of affairs when teachers cannot access research which would help them to become better teachers and academics, researchers and students are unable to access research available to their peers.

Please take a look at the Yazikopen website. It is still a work ‘in progress’—not all the items are keyworded yet, though the free text research works quite well. Please email me admin@yazikopen.org your comments or send to @Yazikopen on Twitter.

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Leadership and role-play: A few thoughts on the LLAS Head of Departments’ event.

Our first event of the ‘new LLAS’, Thriving in the New World of Higher Education: a workshop for heads of department and leaders in languages, linguistics and area studies took place yesterday. We had an overview on the state of Modern Languages in the UK from Jim Coleman (Open University and Chair of UCML) and Pam Moores talked about the resources developed as part of Shaping the Future, a project set up in response to Michael Worton’s report into Modern Languages in English universities. Our Director Mike Kelly had some good tips on managing relationships with senior managers in the university, and on the importance of understanding your university’s mission and making sure you know who you should go to for what.

My own contribution was in the form of role-play exercise in which participants ‘played’ a Head of Languages meeting her/his Dean to discuss either a faculty reorganisation or a curriculum change programme. I enjoy role-play as a way of learning, but I realise that not everyone does. However, it seemed that most people enjoyed the exercise and benefitted putting themselves in the position of another person. Some of our HoD’s are very good actors it seems.

As the author of the role-play scenarios, it was interesting to observe the numerous directions in which a situation can play out. The briefs for each role included a section entitled ‘What is on your mind’. It was interesting to see the ways in which people used or did not use this information to their advantage (some of the items were put in as deliberate distractions, e.g. your feelings about other people). I will write more about using role-play in this context at a later date.

For me the key lesson from this event is on the importance of working relationships. In these uncertain times for higher education, how we manage our relationships is more important than ever.

 

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