The first University of Kent “Shut Up And Write!”

Last term I came across this post from Dr Inger Mewburn (aka The Thesis Whisperer), Director of Research Training at the Australian National University.  Inger was, as far as I can work out, the first person to set up an academic Shut Up and Write! group at a University, and it seemed like a fab idea.  The crucial components are: caffeine, other people, and silence – all of which I thought we could gather together in the pursuit of Words.  So, I put together an application to UKC’s Graduate School to start the group.  After a few logistical hiccups (the mysteries of the Timetabling Office are not for us mere mortals to comprehend), here’s how the first one went.  Unedited.

This is interesting.  The timer is currently on 29:10 (and thousandths of milliseconds – it’s immensely precise) and there is a suspiciously quiet room of about 18 peopole*  (dammit, interruption – latecomer!) typing studiously away in an atmosphere of huffs, sighs, and the very large looming timer countdown on the projector screen.

This is the first meeting of the University of Kent’s Shut Up and Write group – something that originated in San Francisco (see the early meeting reports here-link**) – and is spreading across the world.  Originally for novelists, academic SUAW meets have now been set up at several UK universities with many being run by libraries and academic learning support units.  (It’s very odd, esp as I’m sitting at the front and can’t really know what’s going on behind me without turning round and gawping, which would kinda defeat the point, all I can hear is frantic tapping at keyboards and the occasional cough (it’s lurgy season)).

All was going swimmingly planning-wise until my lovely officemate put the frighteners on me – I’d ordered catering for 25, he proceeded to tell me that EVERYONE he knew was coming and was the room big enough?  Duly scared of running out of cookies, I upped the order to 40 and proceeded to panic.  (It’s odd how people start to fill a room from the back)  The timer is now at 22:25.  I want another cookie.

At five to one I had a wibble as I was the only one here, but, miraculously, more arrived and now we’re at around x (how many?).  Am thrilled – esp as most are people I don’t know (I was worried it would just be me and a few friends from the dept) – looks like word has spread.  People poured coffee, passed cookies, introduced themselves.  I wandered round like a numpty saying hello to people (and directing to the loo – having stuck green arrows from the building entrance to the room, didn’t think to include the Facilities).  (It’s also odd how I have to keep glancing at the timer to see how I’m going.  19:58.  Others are doing it too.)

Arrivals are impressed by the cookie provision and ask who has paid for it – a shout out to the Graduate School, who have very kindly awarded a Postgraduate Experience Award allowing for catering provision and printing.  The cookies are homemade and excellent brain food.  If there are any left, I might take a couple down to the Grad School office to say thank you.  (18:09, still typing, very loud bus outside).

The principle of writing in short but uninterruptible bursts is an adaptation of the pomodoro technique (website here:*** )  I’ve been trying to find anything (other than the website) written on its use but have been struggling a bit – I’ve only come up with one or two, and nothing that really tests it as a writing/productivity technique.   The idea, I think, is based on measures of attention span; i.e. you can only concentrate for so long before your brain wanders off, and therefore it makes sense to structure your work around that.  (halfway!)  The other feature is the (ideally) complete lack of distractions – mobile phones switched off and put away, and, crucially and horribly, internet connections switched off.  What if someone retweets one of my tweets?  Or sends me a Facebook message?  Or even an email?  I won’t know within seconds!  The WORLD could end!  That said, the opportunity (or compulsion) to Just Write It (to adapt an advertising slogan) is actually rather nice.  I have nothing else I should be doing.  I put up some quotes at the start of the meeting while people were getting coffee, etc; one of them is by Gertrude Steinem (no idea who she is – must look up once am allowed internet connection back****), who apparently said “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”  I know how she feels.  I have my upgrade paper due in a week and a bit (actually, maybe that is what I should be doing… bummer.) and I feel guilty pretty much whenever I am not writing it.  It’s coming together slooooowly.  But writing, somehow, is always a worthwhile pursuit.  The process of writing itself helps to formulate and xxx thoughts (ref! – under normal circumstances, I would have looked up a reference for that – internet search, quick check of facebook, email etc while I am there – none of that today so that thought will have to go uncited.  I am a Bad Scientist).

Gosh, 08:57 and I’ve somehow written 784 words.  If I’d been this productive over the last year-and-a-bit of my PhD, I reckon I’d have finished by now. 

OK, brain freeze and I’ve run out of things to write.  The interesting thing is, however, that the fact that you’re in a room full of people who are all typing away does actually compel you to join in.  Call it a herd mentality or something, esp as I’m sitting at the front (and I’m technically in charge of the session), I feel guilty if I’m not joining in.    I’m not sure whether this is a good thing.

The idea is to post this post as a blogpost.  I did think about posting its raw, unedited, stream-of-consciousness version; along with a cleaned-up, edited, made-nice-for-public-view version; to see how much revision would go into it (and how much rubbish I talk when given free rein that then has to be wrestled into something coherent), but I’m not sure about that.  Maybe it’ll all go up, stream-of-consciousness and all.  I might have to add a ton of footnotes, though, as I’ve got gaps and contractions and “xxx” (where I know I need a different word there but can’t think of it right now – somehow using Shift+F7 seems like just as much cheating as using Google in this context…) so I probably won’t make much sense.  3:19 to go and I want another cookie.  They’re very good, kudos to Kent Hospitality.

The group in general seems to be from all over – literature MAs, postdoc maths, etc, which is nice (I think I’ve said that already).  I’ve sent round a register to get an idea of who’s who and what they’re writing, so it’ll be interesting to see exactly who’s here.  I haven’t even done a headcount as was too busy setting up the timers etc (from here), and can’t now as everyone is behind me.  1:09 to go, I think I might run out of steam. 1,110 words.  Blimey.

Quite scared about how loud the alarm is going to be when the timer gets to zero*****.  Hmmm…

* Yes, this is the unedited version, so I’ve left in the typos
** The link is in the introduction, it’s worth looking at
*** Pomodoro technique website
**** Gertrude Stein (I did say it was unedited!) – author and art collector, 1874-1946
***** It wasn’t, the sound was switched off

And that was that – just over 1,100 words in 30 minutes.  Rough and unedited, but there.  In the second writing period, I wrote what I had intended to – a section of the paper I’ll be submitting for my PhD upgrade.  The great thing about writing like this is that, because the point is simply to get words down on paper (or screen), with no requirement to start at the beginning, write well or in a particular style, you are provided with a kind of literary get-out clause to bypass the where-do-I-start blank-page panic.  If you’re someone who suffers from procrastinitis as much as I do, it’s hugely helpful.

It was great to meet everyone this week – if anyone would like to join us, we meet at 1pm on the last Wednesday of every month, usually in COLT3 on the Canterbury campus, all PGs and postdocs welcome.  Here’s the flyer, you can also find details on the University of Kent’s events calendar, or tweet using #KentSUAW.  The cookies are excellent, and free.

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Social Science Calls for Papers: February 2013

Hands up who made a New Year’s Resolution to formulate ideas into action?  Here’s this month’s collection of Calls for Papers – February deadlines.  If you’ve got something that’s a bit more oven-ready, the January collection has CfPs still open until the end of the month.

International Society of Critical Health Psychology 8th Biennial Conference
CfP deadline: 1st February 2013
Event: 22nd – 24th July 2013, University of Bradford

INAS 2013: International Network of Analytical Sociologists Conference
CfP deadline: 1st February 2013
Event: 7th – 8th June 2013, Stockholm, Sweden

European Consortium for Political Research 7th General Conference
CfP deadline: 1st February 2013
Event: 4th – 7th September 2013, Sciences Po Bordeaux, Domaine Universitaire, France

Association for Medical Humanities 10th Annual Conference
CfP deadline: 1st February 2013
Event: 8th – 10th July 2013, University of Aberdeen

‘Nature’: 16th International Graduate Conference in Philosophy
CfP deadline: 1st February 2013
Event date: 4th May 2013, University of Essex

Liquidity in Contemporary Visual and Material Culture, History and Theory (Conference)
Association of Art Historians
CfP deadline: 1st February 2013
Event: 14th June 2013, Middlesex University

Journeys Across Media 2013: The Body and The Digital (Conference)
CfP deadline: 1st February 2013
Event: 19th April 2013, University of Reading

European Sociological Association Conference: Crisis, Critique and Change
CfP deadline: 1st February 2013
Event date: 28th – 31st August 2013, Università Degli Studi Di Torino, Turin, Italy

Critical Perspectives on Professional Learning (Conference)
CfP deadline: 4th February 2013
Event date: 17th June 2013, University of Leeds

Modelling Social Media:Mining, Modelling and Recommending ‘Things’ in Social Media  (Workshop)
CfP deadline: 4th February 2013
Event: 1st May 2013, Paris, France

Qualitative and Ethnographic Research: Sharing and Shaping Pedagogies – Learning Through Doing (Conference)
CfP deadline: 4th February 2013
Event: 10th May 2013, University of Exeter

Queer Geographies and the Politics of Anti-Normativity (Conference)
Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British Geographers
CfP deadline: 10th February 2013
Event: 28th – 30th August 2013, London

Encounters (Morgan Centre for the Study of Relationships and Personal Life) Conference
CfP deadline: 11th February 2013
Event date: 3rd – 4th July 2013, University of Manchester

Writing Life Postgraduate Symposium
CfP deadline: 11th February 2013
Event: 22nd – 23rd March 2013, University of Malta

Gender and Transgression in the Middle Ages (Conference)
CfP deadline: 11th February 2013
Event: 2nd – 4th May 2013, University of St Andrews, Scotland

Researching Architecture and Society (Conference)
What can a sociology of architecture learn from science and technology studies?
CfP deadline: 14th February 2013
Event: 6th – 8th June 2013, Bielefeld University, Germany

Melancholia (Conference)
Religious Experience, Disease of the Soul, Censorship, Dissent and Self-Representation
CfP deadline: 15th February 2013
Event: 28th – 29th November 2013, Venice, Italy

Politics, Violence and the Sacred (Conference)
Exploring Rene Girard’s thought in security and international studies
CfP deadline: 15th February 2013
Event: 23rd – 24th May 2013, University of Central Lancashire

Sociology of Law and Political Action (Conference)
International Sociological Association & European Network on Law and Society
CfP deadline: 15th February 2013
Event: 3rd – 6th September 2013, Sciences-Po, Toulouse, France

Student as Producer Conference
Research-engaged teaching and learning, curriculum design, student engagement
CfP deadline: 18th February 2013
Event: 26th – 27th June 2013, University of Lincoln

Ethnicity, Culture, Politics: Mutual Dependencies (Conference)
Instytut Studiow Regionalnych (Institute of Area Studies)
CfP deadline: 21st February 2013
Event: 18th – 19th April 2013, Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego (Jagiellonian University), Cracow, Poland

Innovation in Health & Social Care Learning and Teaching (Conference)
Higher Education Academy
CfP deadline: 22nd February 2013
Event: 5th – 6th June 2013, Leeds

Computational Models of Narrative (CogSci13: The Cognitive Science Society Conference)
CfP deadline: 24th February 2013
Event: 4th – 6th August 2013, Universitaet Hamburg, Germany

BPS Psychology of Women Section Annual Conference
CfP deadline: 27th February 2013
Event: 10th – 12th July, Cumberland Lodge, Windsor

Making Ourselves Known: Qualitative Methods in Psychology Conference
CfP deadline: 27th February 2013
Event: 4th – 6th September, University of Huddersfield

Beyond Austerity vs Growth: The Future of European Political Economy (Conference)

Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute
CfP deadline: 28th February 2013
Event: 1st – 3rd July 2013, University of Sheffield

Food, Drink and Hospitality: Space, Materiality, Practice (Conference)
British Sociological Association Food Study Group
CfP deadline: 28th February 2013
Event: 14th June 2013, BSA Meeting Room, London

Social Justice and Social Exclusion: Critical Reflections on Coalition Government Policy (Conference) Social Futures Institute
CfP deadline: 28th February 2013
Event: 11th July 2013, University of Teesside

A Model for Teaching Policy Analysis

One thing I write with reasonable regularity on student essay feedback is “don’t just describe, analyse”.  This applies most often to work addressing a particular sociological theory, set of literature, or policy area.  With this in mind, I put together the following model for policy analysis and have been using it in undergraduate seminar groups for a couple of weeks.  Responses were pretty good; students commented that they are generally not taught such practical techniques in their methods course and it’s useful to be able to apply these things with some guidance – in the first week I introduced the model and each class used it to look at a particular piece of policy (in this case, a specific NHS document on breastfeeding); and the following week we broadened it out to look at a broader range of documents (on men’s health); then last week a more independent session on alcohol in pregnancy, including some visual materials as well as text.

The model is essentially a series of questions to ask of any piece of policy (or whatever you’re looking at), building into an outline for analysing a single item or set of items.  Some I’ve classified as essential, some as the extra bits to encourage more critical thinking, although the differences are negotiable!  I’d be interested to hear from anyone who spots any additional aspects I’ve missed…

1. INTRODUCTION:  What is the overall aim of the document?  What is it for, and who is the intended audience? (General public, specific demographic groups, policy-makers, practitioners, service users, commercial enterprises, third sector organisations, researchers?)

Booster questions: Why is this issue/topic perceived as a problem?  Should it be?

2. CONTEXT: What has been the historical development of the issue?  What is the current situation – cultural and political context, news events and reports, recent research?

Booster questions: Why has this document been published now?  What is it about the current political, social or economic climate that has made it necessary or possible?

3. CONTENT: What is actually being said and by whom?  What evidence is being used to back up arguments and is it used well?  Are statistics used appropriately?  Can it be trusted as a source?

Booster questions: What is the author’s motive/angle?  Is there an underlying ideology or political agenda being pushed?   How else could these aims be achieved?

4. PRESENTATION: What kind of language is used and how easy is it to read/understand?  Are there significant words or phrases that are used or repeated?   What is the layout of the document, its style, how does it use illustrations or diagrams?

Booster questions: How does the presentation of the content fit with the intended audience?  How might it have been different is written by or for a different group?

5. IMPLICATIONS: What are the potential outcomes or consequences arising from this document?  What has been the response of the public, the media, organisations or groups identified at step 1?  What is your own response to it?

Booster questions: So what?  How much of an impact has the document had and was it as intended?  Why (not)?  Link it with other publications on the topic – what are the common themes and significant differences?  Who has a different view?

6. CONCLUSION: What actions are required as a result of this document?  Is there a specific call to action included or implied?  What is the overall message?

Booster questions: Link the document being studied back out into wider themes: what does it contribute to debates on identity, gender, deviance…?

Please feel free to re-use the model (with appropriate acknowledgement) – I’ve got a set of class handouts formatted for seminar use that I’d be happy to share if you get in touch, and please let me know how you get on.

Social Science Calls for Papers: January 2013

Anyone planning on doing some writing over the Christmas break?  Here’s where to share it with the world: social science conferences and special issues with CFP deadlines in January.

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Teaching Research Methods: Developing a Pedagogical Culture in the Social Sciences
CfP deadline: 4th January 2013
Event date: 23rd – 24th January 2013, HEA, Liverpool
———————————————————————————
Primary Care Ethics: The Ordinary and the Extraordinary
(Conference)
CfP deadline: 4th January 2013
Event date: 20th Februrary 2013, Royal Society of Medicine, London
———————————————————————————
Corporate Voices: Institutional and Organisational Oral Histories
(Conference)
CfP deadline: 7th January 2013
Event date: 5th – 6th July 2013, University of Sussex, Brighton
———————————————————————————
Multidisciplinary Conference on Educational Research
(CIMIE13)
CfP deadline: 14th January 2013
Event: 4th – 5th July, Tarragona, Spain
———————————————————————————
International Conference on Narrative
CfP deadline: 14th January 2013
Event date: 27th – 29th June 2013, Manchester Metropolitan University
———————————————————————————
Extreme Work/Normal Work: Critical Management Studies Conference
CfP deadline: 31st January 2013
Event Date: 10th – 12th July 2013, University of Manchester
———————————————————————————
Children’s Health and Wellbeing: Policy Debates and Lived Experience
(Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 31st January 2013
Sociology of Health and Illness Monograph
———————————————————————————
Managing in Crisis/Crisis in Managing: Exploring the Future of Human Resource Management
CfP deadline: 31st January 2013
Event Date: 9th – 10th April 2013, Newcastle University Business School
———————————————————————————

Social Science Calls for Papers: December 2012

Got an itchy writing finger?  Here’s this month’s collection of Calls for Papers for social science journals and conferences with deadlines in December 2012.  If you know of any more, please add them as a comment below.

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Grassroots in the City: Urban Movements and Activism in Central and Eastern Europe (Conference)
CfP deadline: 1st December 2012
Event Date: 24th – 25th May 2013, Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden
———————————————————————————
Boycotts: Past and Present (Conference)
CfP deadline: 3rd December 2012
Event date: 20th – 21st June 2013, Birkbeck, University of London
———————————————————————————
Racism and Anti-Racism through Education and Community Practice (Conference)
CfP deadline: 3rd December 2012
Event date: 26th – 28th June 2013, University of Edinburgh
———————————————————————————
Participation as Performance: Participatory Innovation (Conference)
CfP deadline: 3rd December 2012
Event date: 18th – 20th June 2013, Lahti, Finland
———————————————————————————
Death, Dying and Disposal – Theory Meets Practice (Conference)
CfP deadline: 3rd December 2012
Event date: 5th – 8th September 2013, The Open University, Milton Keynes
———————————————————————————
Twitter and Microblogging: Political, Professional and Personal Practices (Conference)
CfP deadline: 10th December 2012
Event date: 10th – 12th April 2013, Lancaster University
———————————————————————————
The Art of the Impossible: Culture, Philosophy and Dissent from Havel to the Present (Conference)
CfP deadline: 10th December 2012
Event date: 23rd – 25th May 2013, University College London
———————————————————————————
Teaching Sociology: Reflections on the Discipline (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 12th December 2012
Special Issue of The Journal of Sociology
———————————————————————————
Race, Migration, Citizenship: Postcolonial and Decolonial Perspectives (Conference)
CfP deadline: 14th December 2012
Event date: 4th – 5th July 2013, Birmingham Midland Institute, Birmingham
———————————————————————————
Challenging Memories: Silence and Empathy in Heritage Interpretation (Conference)
CfP deadline: 14th December 2012
Event date: 17th – 19th July 2013, Buckfast Abbey, Devon (AHRC Silence, Memory and Empathy Network)
———————————————————————————
Food Futures (Conference)
CfP deadline: 14th December 2012
Event date: 14th – 19th April 2013, Villa Vigoni, Italy (International Social Science Council)
———————————————————————————
Criminalizing Contagion (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 14th December 2012
Special Issues of BMJ’s Sexually Transmitted Infections and Journal of Medical Ethics
———————————————————————————
Revolutions: The Feminist Review (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 14th December 2012
Special Issue of The Feminist Review
———————————————————————————
Formality and Informality from Decoupling to Entanglement: Formal and the Informal in Law, Institutions and Economy (Conference)
CfP deadline: 15th December 2012 (Polish Sociological Association)
Event date: 13th – 14th May 2013, University of Warsaw, Poland
———————————————————————————
Fifty Shades of Grey: An Interrogation of Dangerous Things (Conference)
CfP deadline: 15th December 2012
Event date: 10th – 11th April 2013, University of Brighton, UK
———————————————————————————
Producing Knowledge, Governing Populations: Anthropology, Science Studies and Health Policies (Conference)
CfP deadline: 15th December 2012
10th – 13th September 2013, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Lyon, France
———————————————————————————
Southeast Asian Politics and History (Conference)
CfP deadline: 15th December 2012
Event date: 9th – 10th March 2013, University of Oxford, UK
———————————————————————————
Doing Dirty Research Using Qualitative Methodologies: Lessons from Stigmatized Occupations (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 15th December 2012
Special Issue of Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management
———————————————————————————
Migration: Global Development, New Frontiers (Conference)
CfP deadline: 16th December 2012
Event date: 10th – 13th April 2013, University College London
———————————————————————————
Power Revisited: Crisis and Opportunities (Conference)
CfP deadline: 19th December 2012
Event date: 20th March 2013, Royal Holloway, University of London
———————————————————————————
Social Science and Health (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 31st December 2012
Special Issue of The Social Science Journal
———————————————————————————
Voluntary Action History Society Research Conference
CfP deadline: 31st December 2012
Event date: 10th – 12th July 2013, University of Huddersfield
———————————————————————————
Port Towns and Urban Culture (Conference)
CfP deadline: 31st December 2012
Event date: 25th – 27th July 2013, University of Portsmouth/Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
———————————————————————————
Rapid Response Articles on the Sociology of the Olympics (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 31st December 2012
Special Issue of Sociological Research Online
———————————————————————————

Social Science Calls for Papers: November 2012

Sitting on an idea that could be ready to share with the world?  Here’s this month’s collection of Social Science Calls for Papers with deadlines in November 2012 to spur you into action:
———————————————————————————
Struggles, Strategies and Analysis of Anticolonial and Postcolonial Social Movements (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 1st November 2012
Special Issue of Interface: A Journal for and about Social Movement
http://www.interfacejournal.net/archives/call-for-papers/
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The Psychology of Organizational Networks (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 1st November 2012
Special Issue of Organization Science
http://www.informs.org/Pubs/OrgSci/Calls-for-Papers#Psychology
———————————————————————————
Settling the Mountains: The Role of Eco-cultural Tourism and Socio-ecology (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 1st November 2012
Special Issue of International Journal of Tourism Anthropology
http://www.inderscience.com/info/ingeneral/cfp.php?id=1844
———————————————————————————
Gender, Imperialism and Global Exchanges (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 1st November 2012 (extended)
Special Issue of Gender & History
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/%28ISSN%291468-0424
———————————————————————————
Museum Next (Conference)
CfP deadline: 1st November 2012
Event date: May 2013, Amsterdam, Netherlands
http://www.museumnext.org/conference/conference.html
———————————————————————————
Engaging Religious Experience: A Return to Ethnography and Theology (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 1st November 2012
Special Issue of Practical Matters
http://www.practicalmattersjournal.org/submissions
———————————————————————————
Implementing Web 2.0 Tools in Organizations (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 1st November 2012
Special Issue of The Learning Organization
http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?issn=0969-6474&volume=19&issue=4&articleid=17032139&show=html&PHPSESSID=m3jptrfgp6rq3cvu2l8a5v0gk0
———————————————————————————
Honor in Ottoman and Contemporary Mediterranean Societies: Controversies, Continuities, and New Directions
CfP deadline: 1st November 2012
21st – 23rd March 2012, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary
http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=196551
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Emerging Vectors of Narratology: Towards Consolidation or Diversification? (Conference)
CfP deadline: 6th November 2012 (extended); European Narratology Network
Event date: 29th – 30th March 2013, Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, France
http://www.narratology.net/sites/www.narratology.net/files/webfm/Call%20for%20Papers_final%20%283%29_0.pdf
———————————————————————————
Preoccupy/Maximum Occupancy (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 15th November 2012
Special Issue of Journal of Social Theory in Art Educatio
http://www.cstae.org/cstae/?q=node/44
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Language and Super-diversity: Explorations and Interrogations (Conference)
CfP deadline: 15th November 2012
Event date: 5th – 7th July 2013, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Centre for Applied Language Studies/International Consortium on Language and Super-diversity
https://www.jyu.fi/en/congress/superdiversity
———————————————————————————
From Paradox to Practice: The Rise of Co-opetition Strategies (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 15th November 2012
Special Issue of International Journal of Business Environment
http://www.inderscience.com/info/ingeneral/cfp.php?id=1869
———————————————————————————
Thinking Out of the Box: Devision New European Policies to Face the Arab Spring (Conference)
CfP deadline: 15th November 2012
Event date: 22nd – 23rd February 2013, University of Minho, Braga, Portugal
http://nepas-project.net/call-for-papers/
———————————————————————————
Cross-Cultural Pragmatics at a Crossroads: Making a Difference in Intercultural Communication (Conference)
CfP deadline: 15th November 2012
Event date: 26th – 28th June 2013, University of East Anglia
http://www.uea.ac.uk/ccp3/call-for-papers
———————————————————————————
What is Old Age? New Perspectives from the Humanities (Conference)
CfP deadline: 23rd November 2012
Event date: 23rd February 2013, University of Warwick
http://whatisoldage.wordpress.com/call-for-papers/
———————————————————————————
New Forms of Organizational Ethnography (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 30th November 2012
Special Issue of Journal of Organizational Ethnography
http://www.egosnet.org/jart/prj3/egos/data/uploads/downloads/CallforPapersFlyingPages/CfP_OE_New-forms.pdf
———————————————————————————
Religions and Finance (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 30th November 2012
Special Issue of International Journal of Behavioural Accounting and Finance
http://www.inderscience.com/info/ingeneral/cfp.php?id=1794
———————————————————————————
Teaching Social Movements (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 30th November 2012
Special Issue of Academic Exchange Quarterly
http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/
———————————————————————————
Living in Violent Times (Conference)
CfP deadline: 30th November 2012
Event date: 19th April 2013, University of Warwick
http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/hrc/confs/lvt/
———————————————————————————
Youth 2.0: Connecting, Sharing and Empowering (Conference)
CfP deadline: 30th November 2012
Event date: 20th – 22nd March 2013, University of Antwerp, Belgium
http://www.ua.ac.be/main.aspx?c=.YOUTH2.0&n=108200
———————————————————————————
Talking Bodies: An Interdisciplinary Conference on Identity, Sexuality and Representation
CfP deadline: 30th November 2012
Event date: 26th – 28th March 2013, University of Chester
http://talkingbodiesblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/announcement-and-call-for-papers/
———————————————————————————
Corporate Personhood (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 30th November 2012
Special Issue of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly
http://www.facebook.com/CBRHawaii/posts/394715907257989
———————————————————————————
Contemporary Gendered Performance and Practice (Conference)
CfP deadline: 30th November 2012
Event date: 12th – 13th April 2013, Queens University Belfast
performinggender2013@qub.ac.uk
———————————————————————————
Theorising Race: Imagining Possibilities (Journal Issue)
CfP deadline: 30th November 2012
Special Issue of Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory
http://www.britsoc.co.uk/media/38565/Theoria_Cfp_301112.pdf
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Reflexivity in Criminological Research: Experiences with the Powerless and the Powerful (Edited Collection)
CfP deadline: 30th November 2012
http://www.britsoc.co.uk/media/43031/Reflexivity_Criminological_Research_CfP_301112.pdf
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On MOOCs, and the purpose of going to class

As reported a few weeks ago, in September I began a MOOC from the University of Pennsylvania via the Coursera platform.  This week, I have to admit to failure.  I’d been planning on documenting my progress; writing about how amazing it was for this huge, disparate group of scholars to be learning together from an Ivy League US university; and how much I enjoyed the freedom of watching lectures from the comfort of my sofa (office/kitchen/library/etc)… but it hasn’t worked out quite like that, and I’ve been trying to work out why.

I launched into the project full of enthusiasm.  I thought it was great that the presentation had obviously not been through UPenn’s PR department – there were spelling errors, the slides were basic comic sans and ended up scribbled all over anyway as the lecturer enjoyed underlining as he spoke.  I generally watched the sections at the weekend and did the corresponding test immediately afterwards (the deadline for each section being every Monday).

However, four weeks (of six) in, I’m afraid I’ve given up.  Sitting down to watch the lectures had become a chore, something I needed to do to get the tests done every week, despite the inherent interest in the topic and relevance to the other work I was doing. 

The appeal of MOOCs such as this one is partly selling the prestige of an institution I wouldn’t travel halfway round the world to attend once a week; and in this case, it just wasn’t sold as an aspirational experience.  The presentation didn’t help – I wanted to feel inspired by not only the content, but a polished delivery reflecting the status of the institution (I know, call me shallow…), and getting something out of it that I couldn’t get elsewhere.  The content was generally good and I do genuinely feel like I’ve learnt some useful stuff, but stuff that I will follow up by seeking some “real-life” instruction.

If this had been a six-week physical class, the method of presentation of the material would barely have mattered: the very act of going to a lecture hall, sitting with friends, colleagues, strangers, has value.   If I’d stopped attending, someone would have noticed.  Equally, it would have been rude of me to ask the lecturer if they wouldn’t mind hanging on for a minute while I put the kettle on, answered the phone, sprayed hobnob crumbs all over them; and the ability to do this online does devalue the experience.  The accountability generated from being physically present creates the expectation of participation and engagement that is simply not there when the relationship is mediated by a laptop screen.

It is easy to understand the current MOOC enthusiasm, not only for the university in terms of cost-efficiency (relatively little running cost after initial setup), but also in terms of responding to a need for flexible course provision and delivery across the globe, with interesting implications for the sense of place in a physical collegiate environment, and the nature of the pedagogic relationship between a teacher and student who never physically meet.  It is not just for “doing the work” that students gather in classes at a university.  Extra-curricular activities aside, the importance of social connections in motivating students is well-established and having a “good year” – a cohort of high-achievers – will mean that weaker members of the cohort will do better than they would have with a different peer group.  The type of immediate and frequent feedback gained from a well-directed debate significantly improves learning.  For all the enthusiasm around connecting via discussion forums and social networks, it just doesn’t work online.

Gary King wrote in a working paper earlier this year: “if your ancestors were to walk into a classroom today, they’d know where to sit, what to do, and how to act.”  The delivery modes of university teaching have changed little in centuries and there is arguably a place for the “if it ain’t broke” attitude.  However modern technology is connecting the academic world, it will only ever be a complement to the kind of learning our ancestors would recognise.

 

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who’s had a similar or opposite experience – leave a comment or click on Contact.   Proper references are available if you are interested!

Hannah Perrin is an ESRC DTC Scholar and PhD student in Social Policy, and Assistant Lecturer in Health Policy at the University of Kent, with interests in clinical education and training, occupational socialisation and work transitions. She blogs about her research and HE topics at www.hcperrin.wordpress.com; or follow @HCPerrin on Twitter.