Oh My Gosh: My Essay Was Boring!

The grades from my project proposal came back, and they we’re well, but less than what I had hoped for.

The feedback I received was that the essay was thickly written and difficult reading. I just compared my essay with one of a fellow student and I can see the difference. After a page of my own, I was gazing at the screen howling ‘this is boring!’

Which makes me ask the question: what broke?

I am a perfectionist. I am a deep analytical thinker. That gives me a wealth of conscientiousness and attention to detail, but it creates unnecessary hoops to jump when it comes to writing.

As I recall, my strategy with this essay was to spend the lions share of my time reading research papers – having the goal of one per day. And perhaps missing the forest for the trees, the operation of connecting them with a musical flow was foregone.

I like to believe that we live in a world where everything can be done exactly right. That I can do all my course reading quickly but detailed, and that I can be the expert of all the related literature before I plan my essays. But more and more I am being forced to accept that part of the academic technique is being smart with the time and material I have.

It look’s like it really is no good compelling oneself to read deeply through papers in an order of topics. Is the better way then to brainstorm out the ideas that bounce around easily? With a simple end in mind and find papers to fit?

It’s always an academic challenge matching the existing available research base with your hypothesis, and it looks like a purely bottom up ideal isn’t the solution either.

Achim’s razor, commonly called the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) clearly applies here.

A 2:1 in..?

I got my grades back from this year, and I’m very interested to look not at the scores, but at the standard deviation of those scores. Out of 100 percent, 3.279 is a very narrow variance, which would show that my weighted mean is a fair representation of my scores.
Grade Analysis

Blue: Subjects where I scores 63 & 64%
Green: The most fantastic module where we made giant posters and presented them in a poster conference, then had online discussions about the content of said posters, which was graded. Followed by a multiple choice exam.
Orange: A coursework assignment, followed by a final exam, with multiple choice questions and short essay questions.
Yellow: Completely unimaginative final exam, with multiple choice questions and short essay questions.

And it falls into the 2:1 classification category. Good.

This summer, 70% of students across the nation (and my sister is one of them) will graduate with a 2:1 degree or higher. Those who don’t will either be sent to an old poly to do a masters degree, or to do a PGCE, or to work in the HR department at Tesco. Because we’ve created a stigma to go along with our degree classifications, that if you don’t get your 2:1 you’ve basically failed, the universities are doing everything they can to ensure that the 70% statistic holds.

My solid 65.25% could mean that the grading system is an accurate measure, confirmed by test-retest reliability across time. But what exactly is 62.25% is a score of? Recall? How much of a neuro-psychologist I am? Or a developmental psychologist I am? Or a psycholinguist? Or a researcher? Or a computer scientist?

Wait?! Computer scientist? That has very little to do with psychology. Yet my different modules are also quite unrelated to one another, they talk about different paradigms, different topics, different research methods, some more exciting, some less. Yet even so, my grades are reliably steady. I reckon I could get a 2:1 in absolutely anything. I believe in me!

That’s why I’ve used colour coding in the table above, to try connect the different teaching methods and spot trends in the data. And again, there’s a very random spread among the different levels of the independent variable. For the ‘coursework and typical final exam’ subjects, I got 70%, with subsequent scores regressing to the mean, and for the very ordinary ‘typical exam’ subjects I got my lowest score, as well as one in line with the mean. Most interestingly, the subject which I enjoyed the most, Personality and Individual Differences* was right on the mode average and just one percent above the median. Also very interesting is that the two research methods modules, (RMIII & RMIV), both measured identically, scored a time consistent 60%, despite me thinking I was improving.

This tells us that these results do not conclusively argue for the class results being an accurate measure merely of memory under exam conditions. However they could argue that the system is designed to produce lots and lots of 2:1’s, since across a whole array of different subjects, teaching methods and assessment methods, the results are steady.

I don’t think that the current system allows for the genuine expression of student’s novel thought and intellectual talents at undergraduate level. There’s enough hoop jumping and invalid measures to ensure that students who are at least obedient will get their ordinary degree, without demonstrating much beyond content memorisation.

*Personality and Individual Differences was assessed very uniquely, with class groups making posters, and then subsequent graded online discussion using social media.

Writing Politicians: A Revision Strategy?

One of the modules we have covered this semester is social psychology. I am going to say straight up that I consider a lot of the things we learn in social psychology steeped in propaganda  and believe that if I was taught the same module in Russia, China or America it would be vastly different. 

I believe it was very subjective in the definitions and conclusions drawn about discrimination and group activities, and as a person who politically finds myself towards the right I feel a degree of skepticism towards some of the course content. But not all of it. 

If you live in Britain and haven’t heard of UKIP’s recent surge of popularity, you must have had your head in the sand, and certainly academia would rather see UKIP packing. I’m told that this is because academics think about things more than the rest of us. So I’ve had a good think and frankly don’t see how merely holding a more nationalist position than most to be justification for the blanket rejection of a political party. Certainly we live in a world which has a lot similar to the 1930’s, and you only need to look at Greece, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and perhaps soon France to see there’s a trend of European economies becomeing very desperate indeed. We must avoid the results of the 1930’s political situation, but even so, Europe’s political balance desperately needs changing.

So what does this have to do with revision? Simple: I will put the social psychology theory to use and write a letter to the leader of UKIP, explaining the research and academic basis for what cautions ought to be taken to ensure that a more independent britain doesn’t fall to a level of dehumanising views of people of other countries, and still seeks to have superordinate goals, that is, goals to be achieved in common with other nations, which protects from excessive nationalism. 

One of the reasons we come to university is to learn higher order skills. We should be learning to act out of intrinsic motivation, and we should be seeking the betterment of society. One of the duties of being a good citizen is to play an active part in democracy, which takes place through raising your voice. It’s very rich of people to say that organisations such as UKIP are racist, yet has anyone tried to influence them for better? Institutionally they are not racist, however for disenfranchised citizens who are primarily concerned with the challenges in their own lives and the deprivation they face, social psychology theory explains why they might start to foster ill feelings towards other groups. The answer is not to silence their views, but to educate people on how it is not the people that are to blame, but mismanaged systems that can be changed, to protect our nations own interests without needing to have an all-or-nothing fight against other powers. 

The research and the politics need to meet, and I can play my part in that, and strengten my real understanding of social psychology while doing it. Image

Second Semester So Far

I’ve talked a lot about twitter recently. A lot about twitter and something about George A. Kelly. But what I want to do here is have a brief analysis of what the wiki and the tweeting is doing for my revision. I’ll mainly be considering the wiki.

Lectures are passive, and my present logic is that to benefit the most, I need to write the lecture content up in the wiki in my own words, using the textbook for extra reading. But it’s still a struggle to do that properly.

As far as time goes, I struggle to do things that seem to have no application, and so much of the time I am looking at the content of the lecture slides, reading it up in the book, and then suddenly finding that what I see in the lecture slide is the exact summary I would have written from the book. I don’t grow from just reading the slides, and I waste too much time using the slides, book and wiki together.

The principle of metacognition is thinking about thinking. It’s application to learning is that it is foolish to learn what we already know.

The topics in the slides are really well explained, and if they were my own notes, I would have a great understanding of them.

Well this is how I see it. The slides contain:

  • Simple definitions
  • Explanations
  • Evidence

What I should do first is quickly trawl the slides, produce my own notes, and then use the book for the things I need further information on. It’s time to stop wasting time trailing through the slides followed by the book. And one other thing, if you write an essay or a piece of work on a topic, that is just as good as a revision tool or a set of notes…

What Ruling the World Did to British Education

Image Credit: Blast Media

Image Credit: Blast Media

I’ve recently just finished reading the book: ‘Empire – what ruling the world did to the British’ by Jeremy Paxman. There’s a few ideas in there that I think apply all too well to todays education system.

I see education as a means to an end. There is utterly no need for me to learn advanced statistics if I will never, ever need to use them. It’s just a waste. With that principle in mind, I want you to consider the question, what are we educating people to do?

By and large, we all think our career will take us into some type of service based job, which could be at a lower level, for example working in a call centre, or if we do better, a professional job, where we could be doing anything, from head hunting to architecture.

And while we’re all talking about equality and getting out of class systems in Britain, we have an incredibly tiered system as far as academic achievement goes. There’s not a lot between being a professional, and minimum wage jobs. One example would be my house mate, who works in a care home, and who earns less than I do at Morrisons.

And that is what Britain’s job scene and economy have become built around. We have strayed away from factories and manufacturing to professional services. That is to what our education system has been geared. So when Carol Vorderman comes doing the rounds telling us all the kids need to learn better numeracy, that’s what she’s talking about.

Why is it then that we have this system? Why is it that there’s nothing in between the top and the bottom?

We call ourselves ‘Great Britain’. Let’s examine where that name came from. In case you had your head in the ground for the last three centuries, we British used to rule the world. Our empire covered about a quarter of it. And it made us a lot of money, and created a lot of jobs, and so, for a while we wanted to keep it that way.

Where did todays education system come from then? Well, it doesn’t really look any different from the victorian school rooms of the 19th century. There’s still classes of about 30, desks, a teacher leading the lesson, and the teacher is the one relaying information for children to return to him/her during the exam. Those who didn’t seem to be academic left at 14 and went into a manual job, while those with wealthier parents and/or more academic capability stayed on and learnt some theoretical stuff. They were trained to run the empire.

So Britain carried on in this way till something bad happened in Ireland, and something worse in Singapore, when before long, everybody very actively wanted independence.

What to do now? Our income was gone! Britain’s income had come through effective capitalism. Keeping the money at home and the labour abroad. But with no empire, there was no economically productive empire leading jobs anymore. The only thing left would be to work with our hands. Heaven forbid, we might have to do manual labour! This didn’t go down so well, as the 70’s and 80’s showed us, which is why now your iPhone is made in China, but designed by Apple in California. We were war heroes, and nobly civilised people, who had granted the rights of freedom to our colonial brethren. Those job’s just weren’t for us. We still considered ourselves better than them.

Fortunately, we were able to find a new distinction between ourselves and others across the world: academia. So for the last half a century, there has been a huge rise in the number of people going to University. Tony Blair decreed in 1997 that everybody should have a University education. And that view is still touted today. Nick Clegg, and the Vice Chancellor of my University sing the same thing. And it is a lovely ideal, but to what end?

Money comes from adding value to things. If I take a tree, and turn it into a chair, I have added value to it. I have literally made money. You don’t need a university education to make a chair. Sure, it plays a role in the innovation and design of the chair, even in the industrialisation thereof. All those things when used in correct moderation are economically productive, but a University education does not produce chairs.

It doesn’t take lots of people to design chairs, it takes a small handful. You only design the chair once. Production on the other hand (which we western snobs consider an unskilled job) is ongoing. The problem we have is that everybody wants to design chairs, but nobody want’s to make them. Nobody in Britain at least.

We have spent the last 50 years doing as little economically productive work as we can, and since the 1990’s we have taken on copious national debt to finance that lifestyle. Now we live in the world where we have to pay back that debt, and where we have to make redundant those whose jobs do not contribute to our GDP. This is why many people do degree’s to find that there is no gold lined job waiting for them at the end.

The answer is simple: we are not too good to work hard or do work that is uncomfortable and inconvenient. Before there was a dole, that’s what we did. Money is a representation of somebody’s work. We have been borrowing work that we now have to pay back. We need to make lot’s of chairs. The time is come to face the music, and embrace reality. Our education system needs to produce more chair manufacturers, and less chair designers, analysts,  accountants and salesmen.

‘It’s Fast Enough to Kill You…’

Meme’s are a common thing on the internet today. Indeed they make a lot of mischief, so I thought today I would use them to draw a paralel from the 1976 film ‘The Gumball Rally’ where the academic in the film draws a point that I admire about speed. As you will see below, I think the exact same principle applies to education.

Gumball Rally


Lecture Theatres


Science of Education

Further to what I posted last week about the idea of using twitter as a means of social learning; that is recording notes, seeing other peoples’ perspectives and creating discussion, my project supervisor introduced me to Storfiy.com, which can take all the tweets of a given hash tag and put them into chronoligical order. I tried it in said supervisors science of education lecture, and this was the output.
  1. @jm60 Tweeting Jesse Martins one and only education lecture under #jm60
  2. It’s fun for me, since you guys get to do all the work. #jm60
  3. Anybody who is satisfied with their teaching has low expectations #jm60
  4. Start pending on the guy who needs to press record. #jm60
  5. Education today, I give you the information, then you give it back to me in your own words with a little bit more… #jm60
  6. It doesn’t matter since you’re going to cram anyway #jm60
  7. Evidence tells us it doesn’t Foster engagement. Plus, it’s boring #jm60
  8. I empower you to go and find what you want to find. #jm60
  9. Once upon a time, school is where the information was #jm60
  10. In the last 15 years we have moved from information scarcity to information abundance. #jm60
  11. You have it all on your iPhone, so why do we keep on lecturing? #jm60
  12. understanding is not transmitted, only information. #jm60
  13. Information is that tomato is a fruit. Understanding is that you don’t put it in a fruit salad. #jm60
  14. Universities haven’t adapted to there being too much information to cover. #jm60
  15. Children stop asking why after they enter formal education. How terrible to quash that curiosity? #jm60
  16. Asked students to produce a mock election of their own #jm60
  17. 90 kids dressed up and did it. The teacher didn’t need to do anything #jm60
  18. Ask them and take the time to listen. Extraordinary #jm60
  19. Must allow kids to fail as part of the learning process #jm60
  20. Spend an hour talking about the learning process. Key word: create #jm60
  21. Ill walk off some place and do something inappropriate and you’ll have it on camera. #IfItComesOutYourMouthItsGame #jm60