Research Writing

I never did honours. Or masters. And my undergraduate degree was in sculpture. I received a scholarship to do a PhD, almost entirely on the merit of my practice based research as a sculptor and media producer, but I had developed little to none of the academic writing skills required to get by. A couple of books were of monumental assistance:

The Craft of Research

By Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams


Style, Toward Clarity and Grace 

also by Joseph M. Williams and Gregory G. Colomb.



An anthropological study undertaken at Boise State University provides some interesting Data on WHAT PROFESSORS DO ALL DAY?

While giving an insight into the actual hours worked, an interesting break down of how its it allocated, the key finding for me was the extraordinary amount of time spent in meetings (See graph below). While meetings are a crucial aspect of any effective group enterprise, they are so often inefficient. But they don’t need to be, and can be significantly improved, as I have discussed earlier.



JohnCage_teaching rules

Avant-garde composer John Cage started out as a disciple of Arnold Schoenberg. He greatly looked up to the exiled Austrian as a model of how a true artist ought to live. Cage, in turn, inspired generations of artists and composers both through his work – which incorporated elements of chance into his music – and through his teaching.

One of those whom he inspired was Sister Corita Kent. An unlikely fixture in the Los Angeles art scene, the nun was an instructor at Immaculate Heart College and a celebrated artist who considered Saul BassBuckminster Fuller and Cage to be personal friends.

In 1968, she crafted the lovely, touching Ten Rules for Students and Teachers for a class project. While Cage was quoted directly in Rule 10, he didn’t come up with the list, as many website sites claim. By all accounts, though, he was delighted with it and did everything he could to popularize the list. Cage’s lover and life partner Merce Cunningham reportedly kept a copy of it posted in his studio until his dying days. You can check the list out below:

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.


Taken from OpenCulture.org


Currently, my lectures are recorded automatically and are posted online for the students to watch. I don’t really have to do a thing. The downside of this is that there is no flexibility to affect them.
Ideally I would like to see them chopped up into shorter sections, and perhaps edited down too. This is of course more work and expense, but I think the payoff is worth it as the same video lectures material can be either really boring or completely engaging, for purely technical reasons.
Addressing this in relate to courser, Debbie Morrison over at Online Learning Insights has written a great article discussing how to create engaging video lectures.



In this magnificent presentation, Art Historian Jennifer L. Roberts, avoids all the standard patter and cliches of so many conference education speakers and clearly articulates the importance of teaching students deceleration, patience and in deep attention, skills she identifies as rarely found instructed elsewhere today. Towards this, she opens by underscoring the “disciplinary texture that defines all teaching”. Such brilliantly unpopular ideas spoken so well. She then goes on to describe how she requires that her students, spend “a painfully long time looking at the work”.

Its so mind-blowingly obvious and yet overlooked that students of art should observe a work of art for an extended period, just as the work was intended to be seen. Only by doing so does the work reveal itself.

“Say a student wanted to explore the work popularly known as Boy with a Squirrel, painted in Boston in 1765 by the young artist John Singleton Copley. Before doing any research in books or online, the student would first be expected to go to the Museum of Fine Arts, where it hangs, and spend three full hours looking at the painting, noting down his or her evolving observations as well as the questions and speculations that arise from those observations. The time span is explicitly designed to seem excessive. Also crucial to the exercise is the museum or archive setting, which removes the student from his or her everyday surroundings and distractions.

At first many of the students resist being subjected to such a remedial exercise. How can there possibly be three hours’ worth of incident and information on this small surface? How can there possibly be three hours’ worth of things to see and think about in a single work of art? But after doing the assignment, students repeatedly tell me that they have been astonished by the potentials this process unlocked.”



One of the realities of current education models is that sessional staff and tutors are regularly required to whip together new subject and course material, sadly sometimes within days. As I’m currently enjoying full time employment as a senior lecturer, this situation is one I no longer suffer from, but having operated as a sessional lecturer for several years, its a panicy scramble I’m all too familiar with.

While I’m loath to support this system as it stands, I’m also sympathetic to those who’s income depends upon being able to throw together a course ASAP, and who have the integrity to keep it academically rigorous, student focused and flexibly delivered. I recently game some advice to a friend who now finds herself in this situation. Here’s what I offered:

You have to have a subject template and outline. Whoever is asking you to create the courseware will have this, or the course won’t have been approved. Once you have this document, you will have a helicopter view of what the course is about, how it is being assessed and what the outcomes should be. Its still pretty scary how little you have to work with, but this freak-out moment is a great opportunity to brainstorm and jot down some ideas for the course themes and delivery. Break it down into what you need to teach by working back from the intended outcomes. Also look at what the related opportunities could be: guest speakers, related events, etc.

Now you need to develop some assessable tasks and collate the content.

While I don’t condone and certainly don’t recommend cutting and pasting a course from another uni, seeing what else is around at some of the high rankers and ivy leagues is pretty useful and inspiring.

For the areas I teach, my first port of call is typically the MIT open courseware material.

here you can search the key words to best describe the subject/course you are about to run and you usually get pretty solid syllabus structure and readings. Most of what I teach is practice-focused, so MIT works for me, but more theory related stuff is available at Yale’s open courses. There’s a full list of universities with freely available course content here. You might find some sweet lecture ideas, tute plans, and course trajectories, but it will need to be heavily customised and remixed for your own purposes.

You will need to forge out your own distinctive offering.

To do this, Google Scholar is a great resource for searching recent texts for reading material and it can handle stacks of key words to really specify the content. Depending on your subject, you might also find some interesting and relevant support material a places like the Khan Academy, and by searching though videos, podcasts and even games.

These can really help you flesh out class plans and structure weeks, themes and subjects. This all comes together in a word doc.


Once I have put together a week-to-week breakdown of the lectures and tutorials, I put it into a spreadsheet, and then drop it all in a blog. This not only plans everything out, but also provides access to all of the lectures, tutorials, assessable material, readings, terminology, and supporting content to your students once the course starts. Here are some examples:




Now when a student says, “did I miss anything in this weeks tute”, I can just say: “as I said in week one, check the blog!”

You will probably still be writing the tutorials and lectures the night before, but you at least have a structure that can be followed, a whole bunch of resources that can support your students, and a class based on some of the better international



Too often I see university staff unsupported in their transition into flexible and online delivery. They are shuffled into meetings and events and hear nonsense jargon about how the “future is here”, are bamboozled with terms like “e-delivery” and are admonished that if they are not integrating new technology, they are not engaging.

The leave fearing for their careers, but are offered no tangible way ahead.

Im so relieved to see that COFA has put together a set of train-the-trainer resources to help their own teachers, and anyone else that is interested develop a practical and applicable skill set, right from scratch. Its really good stuff too. Just watching a couple of the video’s, I was so impressed to hear someone actually say “pedagogy before technology” in this one, I almost broke down and wept.




I used to love TED. Today, not so much.

I think it was when I realised I was coming away happier, but not smarter.


My suspicions toward it grew gradually in about 2008 and by 2011 I really saw it as a forum focused not so much toward how to fix problems, but how to foolishly create and propagate them. Increasingly, I recognised a streamlined design based storytelling that promotes simple quick fixes for symptoms of problems, but not problems themselves.

It was the youtubification of the Californian Ideology.

One of the difficult problems of TED is that what is wrong with it is not always easily explained. This is why I’m so happy and relieved to see the TED talk presented by Benjamin Bretton transcript available here‘s critique on TED over at Readwrite and Megan Garber’s How Ted Makes Ideas Smaller.

This popular backlash against TED is as predictable as it is required.



Im investigating possibilities for online assessment. Currently my students mail me the url’s to blog posts with their submittable work. It gets rid of all the paper but the amount of emailing to confirm submission and then send out results and feedback is a bit ridiculous. There has to be a better way.

So far what I’ve found around online assessment seems to revolve around software tools:
26 Teacher Tools To Create Online Assessments
Software for online testing and quizzes
Online Assessment Resources

And tips of the trade:

How To Create Online Assessment – Three Golden Rules
Create an online assessment
Online assessment options