Reflections

Time to Unplug

Dear TechKNOW Tool Readers & Friends,

For those of you who teach, learn, research, and work with technology ALL THE TIME, you know it is always nice to take a step back to disconnect. I’ve mentioned the benefits of taking a tech-cation before, and it’s about that time of year where I will do it again. As of this post, I will be going “off the grid” and unplugging from the interwebs until next year. I hope you and yours have a lovely holiday and/or just a break from the daily grind. I am so grateful for the brilliant adventures  and opportunities 2015 has presented. I am so very fortunate to be able to team and collaborate with some amazing folks this past year. Thank you all SO MUCH!  I am looking forward to what lies ahead for 2016 after a little R n’ R. You should probably do the same. Until then… be well and happy holidays!

Much love,
Laura

p.s. This includes a pause from our #Ginvent (our the advent calendar o’ gin tastings… if you’ve been following) posts. We will continue these gin-tastic updates in the new year. Slainte!

unplugFlickr photo via nyoin 

#AcWri, #AcWriMo

Developing Writing Habits with #AcWriMo

Woah. It’s December 9th … where did the time go? It feels just like yesterday that I logged in to post my November #AcWriMo goals.

writing blockHere’s me reporting back after the month (Note: this month was extended as I took a bit of a hiatus over American Thanksgiving & #Friendsgiving) on my #AcWriMo GOAL(S):

1. Finish manuscripts in progress for journal submissions:
(a) ICS-Shared resources in CoP
(b) ER – Remedies for learners in MOOCs
(c) Cdn institutions use of Twitter
(d) IHE – social media governance
2. Edit and submit final version of NDSS chapter
3. Complete a draft of the full article for #edusocmedia SOTL systematic lit review publication.
4.  Draft of #advtech data & article on NACADA Clearinghouse/figshare.
5. Research methods & IRB for formal mentoring research project.
6. Outline article for peer review in MOOCs
7. #FashioningCircuits – data for another manuscript outside book chapter

Not bad, eh? Who knew that I just need to hone into #AcWriMo Rule No. 3:

Draft a writing strategy. Plan how to accomplish your goals. Organize your schedule for your uninterrupted #ShutUpAndWrite time. PLAN TO WRITE IN ADVANCE!

It’s SO true. If you don’t plan to write, you won’t actually write. Here was my overall strategy and plan for the month:

23641853985_c1f2571412_oTo make sure it happened, here are the strategic ways I ensured enough time to write:

  • Write EVERY day. This is hard. You are not always motivated to #AcWri every day — but it really helps you build a writing habit (21 days, right?). I am sure there are other items you can work on to fill the writing time, e.g. editing a manuscript, literature review search, organizing analysis, setting up project task lists, or organizing writing/research materials for your co-authors.
  • Determine the best time of day to write for you! For me, it was first thing in the morning between the hours of 6-10 am. These chunks of the day were for my “quiet writing” time. It could be late at night, or just after lunch. You decide.
  • Don’t check _______ before you start writing. For me the blank included e-mail, text messages, mobile, calendar invites, Twitter, RSS feeds, Facebook streams or news. I went right to the #acwri project that was up for that morning.
  • Block #ShutUpAndWrite time on your calendar (personal and work). Make it for 1 to 3 hours. Make appointments with yourself to write and KEEP THEM. I do this to reserve time on my calendar. This is a meeting for your writing productivity. (I do this with running & yoga as well — also very important appointments I keep).
  • Be an #AcWri Project Manager. Break your writing projects into smaller tasks. This will allow you to check off pieces of your writing, and motivate you as you make progress through your #acwri and research “to do” lists. (Bonus: Need a visual? Put it on a whiteboard in your office or remind yourself on your browser tabs – thanks Momentumdash!]
  • Log Your Time. This can be in your calendar notes, in a journal, or even an excel document — just to note the time in and out of writing. This helps to track when you were most productive, and what you worked on over the past week or month. If you need peer pressure, you could continue to log it here: #AcWriMo PUBLIC Accountability spreadsheet
  • Take A Day (or Two) Off. If you were VERY productive earlier in the week, it’s okay to break from the #acwri habit. Don’t burn yourself out from the writing flow. Or maybe come back to it later in the day if you’re not feeling it. #TreatYoSelf

The good news is I am still making progress on the #acwri goals not crossed off the list from November (and then some). Now that I’m armed with my #acwri plan, I will keep this writing pattern going strong for the winter break. With  ALL THE GRADING complete, nothing can stop me now. [Well perhaps a beach holiday might for a while, but I’m just adhering to #AcWriMo Rule No. 5]. Write on!

#AcWri, #AcWriMo

Learn to Write Badly #AcWriMo

In my writing process of jumping into #AcWriMo for November, I also decided to add reading to my writing goals. I have a number of books on academic writing I’ve acquired, so why not read more about said things to gain motivation, inspiration, and ideas for my writing process. As I’m personally extending my November #AcWriMo through this weekend (because American Thanksgiving interrupted my workflow, and perhaps some other fun things), I thought I would share some words of wisdom from Michael Billig’s book, Learn to Write Badly.

LTWBbook

I may have ordered this book based on the Times Higher Education review or comments from @ThomsonPat‘s blog post — either way it was not fully read until this month. I spent some time away from the screen to visit my parents in Florida and also to get ideas about my own writing practice. This was one of the books I packed and picked up again. A few comments stood out from these posts, which I agreed and wanted to read more about:

  • Academe is part of a wider world in which the use of highly technical, specialised language is endemic and possibly even necessary.” ~Times Higher Education
  • “…in writing in particular ways – doing pretty conventional social science in fact – we actually do poor research. When we turn actions into lofty abstractions, he suggests, we actually gloss over important ambiguities and difficulties and make it hard for readers to understand what has really happened, how or why.” ~ @ThomsonPat

As I agreed on both of these points, I thought — this read is for me. I will be honest. This books is not for all. There’s some historical context to academia that interested me; however there is also a delve into the discipline diatribe nature of certain social science arenas. This is not the fun “how to” light read you might be looking for; however it’s one academics comments and thoughts on how we research, write, and contribute to the cannon. If you’re into that, then you’ll enjoy this book.

A section of the book that stood out to me was in Chapter 2, where Billig discusses “Mass producing research” and the efforts academe puts into this process in higher education:

“Superficially all seems to be well in the academic world, for, along with the increasing student numbers, research is booming as never before and, as we shall see, never have academics been publishing so much. This is an age where research, across all disciplines, is being mass produced. Of course, with more academics working in higher education, one might predict an increase in research and academic publications. However, the books in research is far too big to be accounted for simply by the increase in the number of academics. The job of many academics has changed so that they are now expected to publish as well as teach” (Billig, 2013, p. 19).

[As well as service: mentoring, advising, career development, coaching, program development, course design, and then some.]

Just because there is more research or a “massification” in academic publications — it does not mean it is good. If you have had the chance to do a systematic literature review and citation analysis lately in your field or specific research area — you will soon discover a bunch of okay research gets published. Multiple times. Sometimes the same research, almost written the SAME WAY… just with different titles [I kid you not, and will dig into this topic in a later blog post].

This book had some serious slagging for how social scientists write and perpetuate a particular writing style, paired with a number of interesting historical and discipline specific references. For all academic writers, I think Billing’s (2013, pp. 212-215) recommendations offered in the final chapter provides helpful suggestions for our academic writing practice:

  1. We should try to use simple language and avoid technical terms as much as possible. We should not assume that technical terms are clearer and more precise than the ordinary ones…” – Keep it simple. Could you explain your research to anyone outside your field? Then do it in your manuscripts.
  2. “Try to reduce the number of passive sentences in your writing.” Say what you mean in present terms. Own it. The active voice should be the default voice as your sentences will contain more information and connect with your readers. Build this habit in your writing.
  3. “We should try to write clausally rather than nominally… I would like to see a greater proportion of them [technical terms] as other parts of speech besides nouns.” i.e. we need to express ourselves in clauses with active verbs. Be less passive in how we write (see #2).
  4. “Treat all these recommendations as either guidelines or aspirations, but not as a rigid rules.” You need to know the rules to break the rules of writing. I may have this rule for most things in life. Understanding more of the rules to guide how you draft your publications.
  5. “As social scientists, we should aim to populate our tests – to write about people rather than things.” The goal for this suggestion is to describe and write about what people think, do, feel, etc. How do your research findings actually impact the world around you? What does this mean for your discipline, field, or society?

Reference

Billing, M. (2013). Learn to write badly: How to succeed in the social sciences. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.