ISSN 2050-9995 (Online)
Journal Marâ€“May 2007 This edition of the Teaching Fellows Journal has been restored from an archived online edition, hence the simplified form. Please note - Some links and content within this document may now be out of date.
Edinburgh Napier University is a registered Scottish charity. Reg. No. SC018373
Contents 2 Editorial 3 Eureka! 5 Reports 6 Review corner 7 Web spotlight
Edition Editors Angela Benzies Senior Teaching Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Academic Practice Coordinator of the Teaching Fellowship Scheme Margaret Nairn tfj Web Editor and Publications Officer Educational Development, Bevan Villa, Craighouse Campus, Edinburgh Current enquiries to: Office of the Vice Principal (Academic) Sighthill Campus, Sighthill Court, Edinburgh EH11 4BN Email: email@example.com http://www.url.napier.ac.uk/tf
Editorial The work of the Higher Education Academy in Scotland – a personal perspective Alastair Robertson, Senior Adviser, Scotland, for the Higher Education Academy, shares his thoughts on the HE Academy in Scotland When I was asked to write an editorial for the Teaching Fellows Journal on the work of the Higher Education Academy in Scotland, I was delighted to oblige. I must also say that taking time to reflect in preparation for the article has been both interesting and informative. I joined the Academy 18 months ago as ‘Senior Adviser, Scotland’ and one of my initial tasks was to develop a distinctive approach for the Academy’s work in Scotland. This had become a priority given the unique enhancement-led approach to quality which the Scottish sector embraced over the last few years and the increasing policy divergence compared with the rest of the UK. The Academy also wanted to strengthen its relationships with institutions, their staff and the other HE stakeholders in Scotland. This brief was not without its challenges and there were a number of factors to consider. Two of the acknowledged strengths of the Academy are a) it is a UK-wide organisation and b) the role of the 24 Subject Centres which are responsive to the demands and needs of their discipline communities. It would also be fair to say that there was an established close partnership approach to policy development and implementation between the main stakeholders, ie Universities Scotland, QAA Scotland, the Scottish Funding Council and NUS Scotland, well before I took up post and the Academy became embraced as a full partner of the HE Quality Working Group. The Academy was therefore initially regarded as a bit of a new kid on the block and this presented the need to fairly quickly demonstrate the distinctiveness and value which we could bring to the quality party but at the same time a willingness to ensure our activities and approach dovetailed with existing arrangements. The approach which evolved emerged from extensive discussions with institutions, their staff, stakeholders and Academy staff, both York and Subject Centrebased. It is summarised in a paper approved by the Academy’s Board in July 20061.
Some background In addition to myself, there is a specific part-time Senior Associate (Graeme Roberts) and we are both co-located within the Universities Scotland office in Edinburgh. We are very ably supported by Cristina Sin (Project Officer) and Natasha Mallion (Administrator). The Academy now sits on all national learning and teaching fora, including the Enhancement Theme steering committees. I am the Academy’s primary liaison contact with Scottish HEIs and am keen to continue to strengthen our relationships with institutions and their staff in a variety of ways. I had a very fruitful meeting at Napier last year with Professor Easy, Anne Sibbald and Fred Percival and am looking forward to my next visit in the near future.
So what are we doing that’s distinctive compared with other parts of the UK? We have developed a Scottish-specific newsletter Academy Scotland News2 that is published four times per year and complements the UK-wide newsletter. An informal ‘Academy Scotland Sounding Board’ has been established, which Napier’s Director of Quality Enhancement (Anne Sibbald) sits on, providing myself and other Academy colleagues with invaluable advice! There is also a Scottish-specific section of the Academy’s website at www.heacademy.ac.uk/scotland. htm with a range of links, resources and so on which will be considerably extended later this year. We are providing bespoke, consultancy-type support to individual and small groups of institutions on a demand-led basis. Examples include Change Academy, Graeme’s support for Abertay’s ‘White Space’ project, the Scottish e-learning Benchmarking Group and the new Scottish Learning and Teaching Strategies support group. We have also delivered sessions and provided resources for several Scottish HEIs’ internal learning and teaching conferences. At the national level, we are involved in a range of joint events, activities and networks with other partners, including QAA Scotland, SFC, Universities Scotland, JISC, sparqs, the Centre for Recording Achievement, Universities Scotland Educational Development subcommittee, AGCAS Scotland, employers’ organisations, professional bodies etc. The Subject Centres continue to offer unique discipline-specific support for Academic staff and there has been a growing range of activities, events and funding opportunities specifically targeted at Scottish-based colleagues. A number of Subject Centres have also appointed Country Consultants for
tfj Mar–May 2007
Scotland. Napier’s Norrie Brown, Senior Lecturer and Senior Teaching Fellow, School of Nursing, Midwifery & Social Care, is the Country Consultant for Health Sciences and Practice and, until recently, John Green, Lecturer and Teaching Fellow, School of Life Sciences, held a similar position with the Bioscience Subject Centre. There are 20 departmental Subject Centre contacts at Napier and I would encourage you to find out who your contact is (if you do not already know) to find out more about the work of the Subject Centres and how they might help you3. Napier’s Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education is accredited by the Academy and there are currently 187 registered practitioners and 4 associate practitioners at the university. Later this year the Academy will launch a new national recognition scheme which will broadly map onto the UK professional standards framework for teaching and supporting learning in HE. I believe that the profile and extent of the Academy’s work in Scotland and our relations with institutions and the various stakeholders have increased and strengthened in the past months. We are adding value to the Quality Enhancement Framework and the existing arrangements supporting institutions and their staff in a range of areas through engagement with individual academics via Subject Centres; working with individual HE institutions on curricula and student support strategies and practices; generating evidence and information on practice; supporting practitioner networks; connecting Scottish interests with other parts of the UK, and contributing knowledge and expertise to policy development in Scotland.
And the future? I hope that with your help the Academy will continue to strengthen its relations with Napier and its staff. As institutions are voluntary subscribers to the Academy, it is the Academy’s duty to respond to your needs and priorities and we are always delighted to receive new ideas, innovations, examples of good practice etc. The continuation of an evidence-based approach to its work in influencing policy and supporting institutions and their staff in enhancing the student learning experience will be essential. Finally, I welcome the development of the Academy as an ‘Academy’; to be supportive to the sector but also challenging by providing fora for debate on topical issues. One example is the debate at the forthcoming Academy Annual Conference (3-5 July in Harrogate)
where the motion is This house believes excellence has become a meaningless term in higher education. I hope to see many of you there. 1 Access this paper by following the link from the HE Academy website at www.heacademy.ac.uk/scotland. htm
2 Access all the Scottish-specific quarterly newsletters by clicking on the ‘Newsletters’ link from the HE Academy website at www.heacademy.ac.uk/scotland. htm 3 Read Linda Juleff’s five tips for Re-discovering the Higher Education Academy Subject Centres in the March-May 2006 Eureka! page of the Teaching Fellows Journal available at www2.napier.ac.uk/ed/journal/ Backissues/March-May2006/eureka.htm
Eureka! Spicing up the blend: bringing library e-resources into WebCT Sheena Moffat, Information Services Advisor, and Laurence Patterson, E-learning Advisor, NULIS, offer Ten Tips for incorporating the Library’s e-resources into online learning environments such as WebCT 1. Explore the learning objects databases that Napier subscribes to. Discover what Jorum at www.jorum. ac.uk/, MERLOT at www.merlot.org/merlot/index.htm and Scran at www.scran.ac.uk/ have to offer and reuse and repurpose the learning and teaching materials you find there. 2. Develop learners’ information skills by pointing them towards IN:FORM at www.napier.ac.uk/inform, Napier’s new online information skills resource. 3. Highlight recommended reading – point directly to recommended reading items in the library catalogue by creating a permanent web link to them. Search NUIN at nuin.napier.ac.uk/F to find a book, journal or DVD then from the ‘Full View Record’, choose the link ‘Create Permanent URL’. Copy and paste the new, permanent link from the browser’s address bar into WebCT. For example searching for The Exam Skills Handbook by Stella Cottrell results in this permanent URL nuin.napier.ac.uk/F/?func=direct&doc_ number=002036835&local_base=NAP01 which you can simply copy into WebCT to create a permanent link. 4. Use an e-book – the library’s collection of electronic books is growing. Find out more from staff.napier. ac.uk/Services/Library/Electronic+ Resources/eBooks/.
5. Use the library’s digitisation service to digitise book chapters/journal articles and add them to WebCT. Learners can access these anytime, anyplace, even when the library is closed. Download the publication Digital Copying for WebCT from staff.napier. ac.uk/Services/Library/Information/Help+Sheets/ OtherHelpsheets.htm for advice and procedures. 6. Link to an e-journal article – use the library’s helpsheet Linking to electronic resources from WebCT from staff.napier.ac.uk/Services/Library/Information/ Help+Sheets/OtherHelpsheets.htm to find out how. A permanent URL for an article can be created and these web links won’t move if and when the journal publisher alters the website. Please note, however, that full PDFs of online journal articles should not be uploaded to WebCT (copyright!). Use permanent URLs as described in item 3, or seek copyright clearance via the library for older, or nonNapier owned, materials. 7. Introduce learners to a full-text journal collection in their subject area. More information is available from staff.napier.ac.uk/Services/Library/Electronic+ Resources/eJournals/Collectionsofelectronic+journal s.htm or contact your Information Advisor for further advice. 8. Ask learners to locate journal articles on particular topics using recognised databases within their subject area. Using NUINLink at nuinlink.napier.ac.uk/V choose ‘CrossSearch’ from the menu bar. Select a subject and topic from the left hand menus, put a tick in the boxes beside any databases that you think might be relevant, then type in a search term and click ‘Go’.
After a few seconds the results list will appear. To the right of each record, an icon appears. Click to see whether the electronic full text is available from the publisher or whether the item is available via the library catalogue, NUIN. Ask learners to compare the results with the same search performed in Google Scholar at scholar.google. com/ which searches only for scholarly material on the web from a limited number of publishers who have given Google access to their content.
9. Encourage access to quality websites using the UK HE subject gateways available from Intute at www. intute.ac.uk. All websites in these databases have been critically evaluated by subject specialists. Develop internet evaluation skills using Intute’s online Virtual Training Suite at www.vts.intute.ac.uk/. 10. Ask learners to evaluate spoof/fake/parody websites from the examples on Phil Bradley’s website at www.philb.com/fakesites.htm.
Reports Angela Benzies, Lecturer, School of Engineering and Built Environment, reports on Research-based Learning in Higher Education Helen Godfrey, Academic Support Adviser, NUBS, and Daphne Loads, Academic Support Adviser, Faculty of Health, Life & Social Sciences, describe the role of the Academic Support Advisers at Napier followed by a report on the Scot-ELAs Conference Angela Benzies reports on a Warwick University conference Research-based Learning in Higher Education Background At the request of EdDev and the Associate Dean for Academic Development, Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Creative Industries, I attended a oneday event on 25 October 2006 at the University of Warwick entitled Research-Based Learning in Higher Education: the Warwick Experience. It was sponsored by the University of Warwick Centre for Innovative Practice, The Reinvention Centre for Undergraduate Research1, (a Centre for Excellence for Teaching and Learning (CETL) run by Warwick and Oxford Brookes) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA). The aim was to showcase Warwick’s Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme (URSS)2 in the context of a discussion on how other institutions could provide a similar experience. The relevance to Napier was the possibility of offering a model for development of the engineering curriculum, as well as a more general link to the current QAA Enhancement Theme on research and teaching linkages3. One of the first questions for me was ‘what type of research?’, ie
tfj Mar–May 2007
was this a reference to pedagogical or disciplinespecific research? The focus was, in fact, on research associated with the discipline, although issues of pedagogy also arise in the aims, objectives and methods associated with research-led teaching. A similar focus on discipline-specific research is what I and other delegates from Scotland anticipate will be the emphasis within Scotland’s quality enhancement theme. The event Several student projects were on display for the first hour, with the student researchers on hand to provide background and answer delegates’ questions. These students came from a wide variety of disciplines including engineering, creative arts, business, science and medicine. The basic idea of the scheme was to provide an opportunity for undergraduates to engage in real research activity with established teams at an early stage in their programmes of study and before their final year projects. For example, one creative industries project involved the students taking on a discrete element of the research of an academic researcher, feeding the results back into the main project. Another, carried out by medical students, was on the area of chest pain diagnosis within general practice which involved the two students designing the research and carrying it out within their local community. The projects varied in length and scope but all delivered some tangible outcome that had been agreed between the research team and the students. I viewed all the project posters and spoke to most of the students, enquiring about how they got involved in the scheme, the support they had and what they felt about the outcomes. I found them all to be highly motivated, articulate and confident in discussing their research, and all were very positive about the personal
and academic benefits of the scheme. It’s worth noting some important points: • The scheme is funded with money available to academics to develop research-based teaching, and the students were paid for their research work. • Project allocation was a competitive process with students making formal applications for the projects on offer. • Support for the student work was provided by the academic researcher and this appeared to be at a level comparable to that given to MPhil or PhD students. The rest of the day comprised an awards ceremony for the best projects, a speech by the Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Bill Rammell MP, and presentations by students, with an afternoon discussion and plenary on making it (research-based learning) work in your institution. Application of URSS to Napier The scheme is an interesting one which does appear to succeed in its aim to enhance the academic knowledge and skills of students and to engage them more in their studies. However, in the afternoon discussion I found it enlightening to hear people talk about what I feel are two incompatible aims, ie the notion on the one hand that the scheme can find and develop our best students, the researchers of the future, and on the other that this is a way to rewrite the undergraduate curriculum. I feel that selection of the best students for such work is entirely appropriate and perhaps a return to some healthy competition based on merit would benefit our educational system by helping raise aspirations and standards, but it cannot at the same time be the way to change the curriculum for everyone as most will necessarily be excluded from this type of project experience. As to how it could apply to Napier, I do not believe that we currently have enough of a research base across all of our disciplines to sustain significant numbers of undergraduate researchers. Within the School of Engineering and Built Environment I think that our first priority must be channelling our degree, honours and master’s project students into industrial placements or appropriate in-house projects; here we could apply the principles of Warwick’s scheme by matching suitable in-house project students to our research teams. I believe that we already do this to some extent and it may be possible to build upon this, although issues of funding would need to be addressed to provide what the URSS does.
Alternative approach However, even if we did fund a similar scheme, the majority of our students would not benefit. At the same time there does seem to be a clear need emerging for development of the skills of academic literacy (eg there was a discussion on this topic at University LTAC on 17 January 2007) which could be gained by participating in such project work. Perhaps a more practicable way forward would be to adjust the curriculum from year 2 onwards to further embed research skills into teaching and learning, particularly in a problem-based learning context. This would bridge the gap between the Professional Skills module taken in year 1 and the work required for final year projects by progressively introducing students to more complex technical and team working requirements in disciplinespecific, hands-on projects. I feel that this approach would significantly help our students to gain high-level skills of enquiry, analysis, critical thinking, knowledge application, written and verbal presentation, and would therefore (at least in part) help address in a more organised fashion the academic literacy issues already identified, while perhaps addressing issues of engagement. At the same time it could also link to more recent initiatives in student Personal Development Planning (PDP). References 1 The Reinvention Centre for Undergraduate Research www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/research/cetl/ 2 Warwick University. Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme (URSS) www2.warwick.ac.uk/ services/cap/landt/rbl/urss/ 3 QAA Enhancement Theme on Research Teaching linkages website www.enhancementthemes.ac.uk/ themes/ResearchTeaching/default.asp
Helen Godfrey and Daphne Loads describe the role of the Academic Support Advisers at Napier followed by a report on the ScotELAs Conference Background to ScotELAs ScotELAs is a fairly informal association of Academic Support Advisers (ASAs) who are working in Scottish Universities. Titles vary in each institution and some Advisers are in a centralised learning support unit while some like those at Napier, are attached to faculties and work specifically with the faculty students. The group was established some years ago and Kendall Richards was involved when he was at Glasgow. Kendall re-started regular meetings with
the group when he joined Napier about 6 years ago, currently he is the Academic Support Adviser in the new Faculty of Engineering, Computing & Creative Industries. The group now meets twice each year in a different host institution and plans the day usually with a keynote speaker to stimulate discussion and to include opportunities for members to present what they are doing, particularly any new innovative activities used to support students. There are customarily about 20— 30 people who attend the meetings and the informal atmosphere means that it is also a useful networking opportunity for people to find out how each are dealing with issues in their institution. Many of the posts were originally introduced to address the wider access agenda and the focus is still to support students who may have come from non-traditional backgrounds, particularly the direct entrants who join programmes after year 1 as well as addressing the retention issues.
Current issues Recently ASAs have been supporting an increasing number of international and postgraduate students. This has been challenging and has demanded a more co-operative approach between academic lecturing staff and the academic advisers in order to reach the larger numbers of students entering a new learning environment. Each institution has a small number of Advisers but there is not one particular model. Language Support Tutors are often in a different unit and offer a range of support to the international students which complement the range of support and workshops offered by ASAs in study skills, for example note-taking and reading skills, essay and report writing, critical thinking, referencing, presentation skills and preparing for examinations.
Napier’s model At Napier we have a team of ASAs with an Academic Support Manager, Anne Chirnside, who is based in Lifelong Learning at Craighouse Campus. The Faculty Academic Support Advisers are Helen Godfrey (NUBS), Daphne Loads, (Health, Life & Social Sciences) and Kendall Richards (Engineering, Computing and Creative Industries). In our model we offer students individual appointments, drop-in sessions, generic workshops, group sessions and specific skill workshops within programmes in partnership with the subject
tfj Mar–May 2007
lecturers. In addition the ASAs work with wider access students in community centres and with schools and colleges, and provide specific orientation programmes, for example ‘Signposts’ for adult nursing students, orientation programmes for computing, and a bridging module for direct entrants to Napier who are predominantly joining Business School programmes. Some online study skills support is also being developed. Support from Deans and Heads of School has been appreciated and the benefits to students have been acknowledged through feedback. Statistics for our activities are collected centrally and evaluation of our work is important, however the quantitative data is more difficult to gather than the qualitative data as evidence of the effectiveness of our work. The ‘Keeping On Track’ project contributes financially to support the work in each faculty.
Scot-ELAs Conference The theme for the conference on 2 February 2007 was Supporting undergraduate and postgraduate international students whose first language is not English. Identifying issues and developing effective academic strategies. Peter Easy opened the day with some encouraging words for the ASAs and other colleagues about the work that they carry out to support students. The keynote address was given by John Cowan, Napier Visiting Professor who, through his style of storytelling, was able to illustrate his points effectively and create some interesting discussion. Many of the stories will be remembered and probably used again. He was able to highlight points relating to teaching international students and recognising cultural differences. This set the scene for the day and a series of presentations was given looking at initiatives taken to support international students at Abertay University who were integrating into a Masters programme using a series of workshops on cultural differences and academic skills. Daphne Loads gave a presentation which discussed support for postgraduates with critical reading and writing using an interesting title of Straightjackets and Swimsuits. One member gave an honest review of what he did to support students and this invited a number of questions offering different viewpoints. The lunchtime break allowed individuals to network with colleagues and discuss the morning’s activities. After lunch there was a presentation by Helen Godfrey and Ruth Watkins (Stirling University) who involved
participants in group work using case studies on the subject of what is reasonable support for the diverse range of students in our universities. All the presentations stimulated a wide ranging discussion and illustrated the fact that there are many different ways to support students. Academic Advisers
have the opportunity to be creative and address the real issues that international students have when they come to university in Scotland. It is the sharing of experience and trying out activities and getting feedback from colleagues that is so useful to the members of Scot-ELAs.
Review corner Two book reviews for this quarter’s tfj from Maggie Anderson and Caroline Turnbull Maggie Anderson , Lecturer and Teaching Fellow, School of Management & Law, reviews The Student Life Handbook by Christine Fanthome (2005) Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, Palgrave Study Guides ISBN 9781403948976 208pp £11.99 I looked forward to reviewing this book as my niece is in the midst of the application process to hopefully make it to a university — perhaps Napier — in October. It was interesting to listen to her thoughts and her take on the book, some of which I have included in this review. The book is written by Christine Fanthome — a visiting lecturer at City University, London, and writer of previous guides for students on work placements. The handbook aims to provide a comprehensive guide that looks at every aspect of student life from the perspective of new undergraduates. This in itself is ambitious! It is primarily aimed at undergraduates and it claims that it will be useful to students throughout their time at university — I would question this as most of the issues are first-year ones and some of the information will be out of date very soon as it was published in 2005. I think there are other, more up-todate and free sources of information about the issues covered. The guide divides into eleven chapters covering the main aspects of university life; finance, leaving home, socialising, accommodation, studying, health and safety, expectations and choices, and specific circumstances. These are introduced very clearly with key objectives followed by a good discussion of the main issues around each subject. The first chapter, however, entitled Behind the Headlines — Debates about Higher Education, consists of 15 pages including
government reforms, tuition fees and debt — I’m not sure about its place as an opening chapter to encourage undergraduates to read on! The chapter also discusses whether being a graduate really offers better employment opportunities; the author does try to present the facts, and does not advocate a university degree as an automatic passport to success in the job market. Aside from the ‘factual’ chapters, the handbook also includes a chapter entirely of student quotes charting the ‘student experience’, and ends with a ‘checklist’ chapter with useful websites and telephone numbers in the appendix. One excellent feature is the inclusion of comments on the experiences of 160 students from all over the UK — this goes some way to endorsing what the author is presenting in terms of the facts, and gives a reality check. A good illustration of this is the accommodation chapter which discusses types of accommodation available, responsibilities (including a cleaning rota) and finding compatible flatmates. Interspersed in the chapter are various quotes to ‘make it real’, eg the only bad thing about halls is the fact you don’t get to choose who you live with. It means you get stuck with at least one crazy person for a year. Well I did say it had reality checks throughout; you can depend on a student quote to bring it right down to earth! One of the curiosities of this book is that the student quotes quickly become more interesting than the actual content. It does have practical, honest facts on each of the subjects, but to my mind it’s too much like a textbook. I don’t think students would actually sit down and read this — they would gain a lot of key information if they did, but I think they have to learn a lot of it for themselves and from others. The book would, however, be a good reference and starting point for worried parents who are new to the whole university scene, especially the chapters on finance/ fees and accommodation, and who are looking for comprehensive information.
When I gave the book to my niece to read she enjoyed the quotes but said that there was too much information to take in and she wasn’t really sure how much she could use. When she was looking for general university information she didn’t see herself buying a book for it. Her preferred sources, as with many students of her age, are the internet and those who’ve gone to university ahead of her, and also her school — much more up to date and useful in her eyes, if not as compact and comprehensive as this book. The final chapter of the book provides a checklist for students — some interesting points, but some that are quite bizarre, eg ‘is there enough/too much nightlife?’ The appendix of useful websites and telephone numbers is comprehensive, but very ‘grown up’ — probably more useful for the parents waving their offspring goodbye rather than the blasé undergraduate! I do, however, think that mature students and direct entrants would find this book more useful than school leavers — as a group they are included and it would perhaps allay some of the fears they have before they embark on a university course of study. The student experiences chapter has a variety of vignettes covering mature, disabled, distance learning, living at home and entering university via clearing. In summary, this is an interesting, factual book to dip in and out of for reference. My issue with it is that it’s now out of date for current students — it was published in 2005. It has comprehensive information on relevant topics but probably more for the mature learner actively planning to come to university. It is also a fascinating read for university staff — especially the student quotes and vignettes — quite a revelation! For the school leavers, they can buy it for their parents …
Caroline Turnbull, Lecturer and Teaching Fellow, School of Engineering and Built Environment, reviews Critical Thinking Skills – Developing Effective Analysis and Argument by Stella Cottrell (2005) Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, Palgrave Study Guides ISBN 9781403996857 264pp £12.99 Having worked with engineering students for a number of years, the reviewer selected this textbook to see if it was a worthy addition to a toolbox of resources that she has developed to support engineering students.
tfj Mar–May 2007
Generally the reviewer has found that engineering students are extremely good at solving problems and applying technology but too frequently lack the skills to be able to closely examine the opinions and views of others, produce sound arguments and have the confidence to challenge from an informed perspective. This book aims to help its readers develop an understanding of what is meant by critical thinking and to help them develop their own reasoning skills. It attempts to achieve this by focussing on aspects of critical thinking in a work or study context. The book is organised in a manner that allows the reader to build their skills in critical thinking. Chapter 1 starts with a gentle introduction to critical thinking and considers a range of fundamental skills and attitudes associated with it. Usefully, the chapter considers the main barriers that may prevent the reader developing critical thinking skills and puts forward possible strategies for over coming them. The reviewer feels that one of the more important points made is the unwillingness to critically analyse works produced by experts. From the reviewer’s experience this is a challenge for many students who often feel ill-equipped to carry out a task which is seen as being fundamental to university teaching. In chapter 1 the reader is asked to complete a number of exercises to assess their critical thinking skills and to carry out a number of reflective activities to improve their selfawareness. The chapter ends by asking the reader to undertake a series of short self-assessment exercises to help gauge their knowledge of critical thinking and to establish their priorities. These priorities are linked to the remaining chapters of the textbook and therefore allow the reader to ‘dip in and out’ of the appropriate chapters of the book as required in order to focus their efforts. Chapter 2 looks at the basic skills that underlie more advanced critical thinking. These are identified as focussing your attention, sequencing, close reading etc. Once again the reader is given the opportunity to assess and practice their skills through the use of numerous examples with the answers given at the end of the chapter. This use of examples and opportunities for reflection is a feature of this book and is evident in every chapter. Chapter 3 introduces the reader to the concept of argument as being a central aspect of critical reading, identifying the features and components of an argument. This is further developed during chapters 4 and 5, with the reader being given the opportunity to identify the differences between critical arguments,
summaries, explanations and descriptions, before moving on to consider the quality of the reasoning associated with any argument. This is dealt with in terms of asking the reader to consider the structure of any argument and whether the author of the argument presents their case using techniques like logical order and consistency. Chapters 6 and 7 stay with the subject of analysing arguments but ask the reader to consider the information they are presented with in a more detailed manner. The reader is asked to consider the existence of implicit arguments, whether the author of an argument is consistent in their writing, and introduces the reader to the concept of premises. Finally the reader is asked to consider and identify flaws within an argument and is given an appreciation of how writers can use strategies like emotive language, misrepresentation and tautology to try and add weight or strength to the argument they are presenting. The reviewer felt that chapters 8 and 9 would be of particular value to students embarking on a report or project write up. Chapter 8 deals with finding and evaluating sources of evidence to support the presentation of an argument. It contains a very useful section on conducting literature searches, identifying the differences between primary and secondary source materials, and details a number of critical questioning techniques that could be used to evaluate secondary source materials. The chapter looks at ways of analysing sources in terms of their reliability and validity before detailing the importance of cross comparing or triangulation of sources in order to fully reflect on and understand a body of evidence. Chapter 9 deals with critical reading and note taking, a set of skills that too many of today’s students have failed to fully develop in an age were computer technology means they are bombarded with information from a large number of sources and at the click of a button can capture large amounts of notes/information in a non-selective way. The reviewer particularly liked the section on critical note taking
which starts by asking the reader to initially establish why or for what main purpose they are making notes, the importance of selecting what to write, and taking the time to step back and reflect on what they have read. The author has also included a number of pro-forma (one for analysing an argument, one for critical notes from books and one for critical notes on journals/papers) which are very good tools that could be used by students to help with concise note taking. With the coverage of critical thinking complete, the last two chapters provide the reader with the opportunity to develop their skills yet further and consider their application to critical writing. Emphasis is placed on the importance of setting the scene for the reader of any written argument and ensuring that care is taken to select and structure the best reasons and evidence so that what has been written makes sense. The author also highlights the importance of using wording and phrases as indicators of lines of argument, reinforcements, alternative arguments or points of view, conclusions etc. In the final chapter the reader is asked to carry out a comparison of two critical essays in order to reinforce their understanding of the characteristics of critical writing. The reader is supported in this exercise by the inclusion of checklists to analyse the texts and a detailed commentary is provided for both. In summary, the reviewer feels this text would be a useful addition to her ‘toolbox’ of resources to support her engineering students. The coverage of the theory of the subject matter is acceptable and sufficient additional reference sources are supplied should the reader wish to seek out more depth. Before reading the book the reviewer recommends that readers undertake the self-assessment exercises in chapter 1 so they can then use this text as a ‘dip in and out of’ resource, focussing on improving their skills in key areas. The reviewer was particularly impressed by the number of examples and tasks that the reader was asked to engage with and hugely important were the frequent opportunities in the text for the reader to reflect on their current practices and strategies.
Web spotlight Amaze your colleagues with your knowledge of the latest technologies and practices related to learning and teaching by reading 7 Things You Should Know About...!
• What is it? • Who’s doing it? • How does it work? • Why is it significant?
Published monthly by Educause Learning Initiative (ELI), a US-based non-profit organisation that promotes the use of information technology, 7 Things You Should Know About... allows you to keep up to date with emerging technologies and practices by providing easy to understand, jargon-free information and overviews. For example, the February 2007 briefing on Open Journals starts with a Scenario and is then divided into seven topics:
tfj Mar–May 2007
• What are the downsides? • Where is it going? • What are the implications for teaching and learning? Other recent briefings include Digital Storytelling, E-Books and Google Earth. All are available to download in pdf format. Bookmark this attractive and informative site and keep well ahead with the latest technologies.
Restored web version of the Edinburgh Napier University Teaching Fellows Journal