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Essay-writing tips for students are all at sea

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

By the time students get to university, it will probably have been many years given that they came across an activity book that is illustrated.

But Writing Essays by Pictures is not any activity book that is ordinary. With a nautical theme, it casts essays as icebergs and sources as sea creatures in a forward thinking attempt 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 the 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 with all the call for students to consider their essays as icebergs, with a focused argument “above the water” backed up by thinking and research below.

It then introduces students to reading, note-taking and thinking that is critical, inviting them to handle practical, creative activities on the way.

It shows that readers try drawing pictures while they examine sources, in place of taking notes, and encourages students to walk a familiar route at one fourth of their usual speed while taking notes about what they see around them, so that they can demonstrate the degree of engagement that texts require.

The book advises students to categorise sources by thinking about them as different sea creatures, and also to judge their academic rigour in terms associated with depth at which they reside in the ocean.

Other suggested learning techniques include writing poems that condense source material and creating handmade cards as reminders of texts.

Dr Grцppel-Wegener said that she found in first years 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.

“Giving students images them to remember what they meant and to understand the explanation Our site 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 thought that, if it was something students could add things to, it could not merely be something which is a reference, it would be their particular and additionally they would want to keep it.”

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

“People who choose to think visually are not only found in arts and design,” she said. “There could be more in art and design, but I you will need to explain things for everybody and hopefully there is a large number of people who can react to it.”

Dr Grцppel-Wegener rejected the concept that creating an action book represented “dumbing down” of academic practice, arguing that she was simply “framing it in a different sort of 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 realize that this approach doesn’t work for everybody; many people don’t work with metaphors after all,” she said. “I always use this as one option.”


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