Moving day

We recently had a bit of upheaval at the UGS as we moved offices.  We said goodbye to our big shared office in Aston Webb, and moved across campus to Ash House, right near the Guild of Students. You may have noticed more and more services being moved around (the student enquiries counter is now in the Main Library, for example). The reason for this is the redevelopment of C Block, with a new hub for student services and a lecture theatre planned.

This is obviously exciting but it does mean that our home for the next few years is a lot smaller than our old office, with a lot less storage space. I’ve been trying to condense my paperwork as much as possible. Most of what I have is paper copies of feedback forms, course registers and workshop handbooks, which are all now stored electronically.

I was looking for an alternative to storing my printed and annotated papers and journal articles, which tend to build up a lot on my desk. I’m an inveterate scribbler and doodler on pieces of paper – anything that stays still for long enough gets doodles added to it, and for me the act of annotating a piece is crucial in understanding and retaining  the information in it. This does prove a problem as I’m rapidly running out of space to store printed papers in the new office.

I decided to see if Diigo could potentially be an answer, or at least the beginning of one. I’d been using it to bookmark useful or interesting journal articles or webpages, and share them with colleagues inside and outside the university. The social aspect of the bookmarking is particularly useful to me as a researcher developer, as it’s a way of sharing ideas and examples of what did (and didn’t) work in terms of activities, and also in sharing the research and scholarly thought behind researcher development, which can be harder to filter. As Diigo also allows you to highlight and annotate webpages, I decided to see if it would work as replacement for printing out and annotating the article itself.

I found I could easily highlight pages and full text journal articles, but that the fact my comments and reflections on the content were hidden until I hovered over them meant that when I returned to the page it wasn’t always immediately obvious what my notes were. I found I missed the physical act of writing notes out by hand (something I already know works better for me, as anyone who has been to one of my speed reading workshops may remember me mentioning). However, having articles and webpages bookmarked and tagged meant they were easily filtered, so it was quicker for me to find something to refer to this way. Previously I would have had to sort through several folders worth of print outs, so this at least was an improvement.  You can see my Diigo bookmarks here  if you’re interested in what I’m reading!

Finding the best way to annotate on-screen, rather than on paper, is still a work in process. This week I’m looking at GoodReader for the iPad, which should allow me to draw and write directly on pdfs, which I’m hoping will be useful for journal papers that aren’t available as full text online.

What approaches to notetaking and annotating do you use? Share your good ideas below!

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Guest post: Starting to write for your PhD

I ran the first ‘Starting to Write for Your PhD’ workshop on Monday.  The participants were an enthusiastic and talkative group which made for a nice re-introduction to facilitating this workshop for me.

The reflective pre-course assignment and pre-course reading seemed well received.  It was certainly a useful source of information for me to help guide the discussion during the workshop.  I also think changing the Elbow and Moxley articles to pre- rather than post-course reading helped participants to begin thinking about improvements they could make to their writing strategy even before they came to the workshop.  It also helped to streamline the workshop from three to two hours (a response to last year’s participant feedback).   Even with such changes though it was a packed session and I need to be aware of this and the impact questions and extended participant discussion will have on the timings of the workshop.  It was a desire to accommodate productive conversations between participants and answer any questions raised during the workshop which prompted my decision to send an online feedback survey rather than asking participants to complete the usual UGS hardcopy feedback form at the end of the course.

In addition to covering the standard course material around the writing process, identifying challenges/barriers to writing and offering some techniques and approaches to overcome these, the group posed a series of additional and very interesting questions on the issue of constructing a ‘voice’ in their academic writing (how to do so, what is allowed/appropriate?) and the new Turnitin plagiarism checking process the University has introduced.

The latter question led to a discussion about the use of Turnitin as a formative tool which could help identify academic writing issues and areas of necessary development.  This discussion chimes quite nicely with the arguments made in a number of research papers I have recently read exploring the role of Turnitin in preventing plagiarism and helping students to improve their academic writing.  This is something I am keen to investigate further with interested colleagues from CLAD, EISU, the Colleges etc to ensure our postgraduate researchers are making the most of the tools available to them and are receiving the support they need when it comes to their writing.

I also look forward to seeing how our new ‘shut up and write’ sessions and pilot peer writing groups in Schools work out this year.  I was especially pleased to be approached by a participant at the end of the workshop about the peer writing group she plans to set up with some fellow PGRs in the School of Social Policy.  These are very exciting new initiatives at UoB!

Catherine Mills

23/10/2012