Essay-writing tips for students are all at sea

Staffordshire lecturer’s illustrated activity book introduces students to research techniques

July 30, 2015
Man swimming underwater in ocean
Source: Getty
Dive for pearls: the book advises students to think of sources as sea creatures whose scholarly value can be gauged by the depth at which they live

By the time students get to university, it will probably have been a few years since they came across an illustrated activity book.

But Writing Essays by Pictures is no ordinary activity book. With a nautical theme, it casts essays as icebergs and sources as sea creatures in an innovative attempt to introduce first-year students to the practice of academic research and writing.

Author Alke Gröppel-Wegener, senior lecturer in contextual studies at Staffordshire University, based the handsomely presented book on her essay-writing sessions with art and design students.

After raising nearly £2,000 from supporters on the Kickstarter crowdfunding website to fund an initial print run, the book was launched this week and it is hoped that wider distribution will follow.

It opens with the call for students to think of their essays as icebergs, with a focused argument “above the water” backed up by research and thinking below.

It then introduces students to reading, note-taking and critical thinking strategies, inviting them to carry out practical, creative activities along the way.

It suggests that readers try drawing pictures 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, in an attempt to demonstrate the level of engagement that texts require.

The book advises students to categorise sources by thinking of them as different sea creatures, and to judge their academic rigour in terms of 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 Gröppel-Wegener said that she had developed her use of analogies and activities as a way to address, in an engaging and non-threatening way, the lack of confidence around academic writing that she found in first years.

“Giving students images that they might remember better, like the fish and the iceberg, will hopefully help them to remember what they meant and to understand the explanation better,” said Dr Gröppel-Wegener, a bookmaker and printmaker by training. “I thought that, if it was something students could add things to, it would not just be something that is a reference, it would be their own and they would want to keep it.”

Dr Gröppel-Wegener argued that the book could prove useful across a wide range of subjects.

“People who like to think visually are not only found in arts and design,” she said. “There might be more in art and design, but I try to explain things for everybody and hopefully there are a lot of people who can respond to it.”

Dr Gröppel-Wegener rejected the idea that creating an activity book represented “dumbing down” of academic practice, arguing that she was simply “framing it in a different way”, and that better critical thinking ability would flow from stronger research skills.

But she acknowledged that her approach would not suit every learner.

“When I am teaching, I am aware that this approach doesn’t work for everybody; some people don’t work with metaphors at all,” she said. “I always use this as one option.”

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com


Appointments

Nazrul Islam, senior lecturer in management at Abertay University’s Dundee Business School, has been appointed to two major international academic positions. He is to take over as editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Technology Intelligence and Planning, and also as UK country coordinator of the interdisciplinary, not-for-profit organisation Business and Applied Sciences Academy of North America.

The Association of MBAs has made three new appointments to its board of trustees. María de Lourdes Dieck-Assad, dean of EGADE Business School at Tecnológico de Monterrey; Angus Blackwood, managing director of HawkCX – a company that aims to help organisations improve customer experience; and Tim Randall, senior business improvement consultant at Lloyd’s Register, will serve on the board for three years. Mark Wehrly has also joined as company secretary.

Nuala Boyle, currently director of development at the University of the Highlands and Islands, has been appointed assistant principal (development) at Heriot-Watt University. Ms Boyle, who holds an MBA from the University of Strathclyde, has more than 20 years of experience working in development-related areas for public-sector-funded and academic establishments. She joins in September.

Adrian Hopgood, pro vice-chancellor and dean of Sheffield Hallam University’s business school, is to join the University of Liège as director general and dean of the management school. He leaves SHU in September.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Fish and tips: essay advice for students is all at sea

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

celebrate, cheer, tef results

Emilie Murphy calls on those who challenged the teaching excellence framework methodology in the past to stop sharing their university ratings with pride

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry

But the highest value UK spin-off companies mainly come from research-intensive universities, latest figures show