Staffordshire lecturer’s illustrated activity book introduces students to research techniques
By the time students arrive at university, it will probably have been a few years simply because they came across an activity book that is illustrated.
But Writing Essays by Pictures is no activity book that is ordinary. With a nautical theme, it casts essays as icebergs and sources as sea creatures in a cutting-edge make an effort to introduce first-year students to the practice of academic research and writing.
Author Alke Grцppel-Wegener, senior lecturer in contextual studies at Staffordshire University, based the handsomely presented book on her essay-writing sessions with art and design students.
The book was launched this week and it is hoped that wider distribution will follow after raising nearly Ј2,000 from supporters on the Kickstarter crowdfunding website to fund an initial print run.
It opens utilizing the call for students to think of their essays as icebergs, with a focused argument “above the water” backed up by thinking and research below.
After that it introduces students to reading, note-taking and critical thinking strategies, inviting them to carry out practical, creative activities on the way.
It shows that readers try drawing pictures in an attempt to demonstrate the level of engagement that texts require while they examine sources, rather than taking notes, and encourages students to walk a familiar route at a quarter of their usual speed while taking notes on what they see around them.
The book advises students essay writers to categorise sources by thinking of them as different sea creatures, and also to judge their academic rigour with regards to for the depth at which they live in the ocean.
Other suggested learning techniques include writing poems that condense source material and creating greeting cards as reminders of texts.
Dr Grцppel-Wegener said that she had developed her usage of analogies and activities in an effort to address, in an engaging and non-threatening way, the possible lack of confidence around academic writing that she present in first years.
“Giving students images them to remember what they meant and to understand the explanation better,” said Dr Grцppel-Wegener, a bookmaker and printmaker by training that they might remember better, like the fish and the iceberg, will hopefully help. “I was thinking that, if it was something students could add items to, it would not only be something that is a reference, it would be their very own as well as may wish to ensure that is stays.”
Dr Grцppel-Wegener argued that the book could prove useful across a wide selection of subjects.
“People who like to think visually are not only present in arts and design,” she said. “There might be more in art and design, but I attempt to explain things for everybody and hopefully there is a large number of individuals who can respond to it.”
Dr Grцppel-Wegener rejected the idea that creating a task book represented “dumbing down” of academic practice, arguing in a different way”, and that better critical thinking ability would flow from stronger research skills that she was simply “framing it.
But she acknowledged that her approach would not suit every learner.
“When I am teaching, I am aware that this process does work for everybody n’t; many people don’t make use of metaphors at all,” she said. “I always use this as one option.”
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