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Posts Tagged ‘students’

992 Arguments

How do we teach our students to argue, in an appropriate academic manner? At least one of the key elements is to help them to recognise, and criticise, different sorts of arguments in the secondary literature – and then to encourage them to turn this critical sense on their own work, to question every statement that they make and probe every possible weakness. But this needs to be critical criticism, so to speak; criticism that’s tempered by a sense of realism, of what is actually possible in historical studies – and by an awareness that there is rarely a single straightforward answer to anything, or a single correct approach. For example, identifying every source, ancient and modern, as ‘biased’ may be true, and better than total credulousness, but it’s generally unhelpful; at best it’s a first step rather than a conclusion, given the impossibility of finding a source that doesn’t have its own perspective, concealed or unconscious or otherwise. And if I thought it would help, I’d spend a lot of time citing Matthew 7.1-5… (more…)

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Partly because I am a basically shy, socially insecure and rather unspontaneous person, I remember having tremendous problems as a young postgraduate student in navigating the transition from regarding academics with awe and addressing them with reverence to, well, still regarding them with awe and reverence but being treated by them in a more informal, egalitarian manner. In particular, I recall the very gradual development of letters between me and my supervisor, with his signature moving from “Peter G” to “Peter” to “P”, and me trying to come up with ways to avoid having to address him as anything for fear of arousing divine wrath through my presumption. (more…)

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It’s the week before my first week of teaching in Exeter (a week earlier than I’m used to, creating an unfortunate clash with the Deutsche Historikertag in Hamburg, so it’s actually going to be my first half week of teaching…). Busy uploading module (not ‘unit’ or ‘course’; must remember that) information onto ELE, learning the relationship between seminars and study groups, revising the ILOs according to house style, checking availability of e-books, re-writing guidance on source analysis exercises, navigating SRS to send out messages, trying to grasp the workings of BART and RECAP, and wondering where I put my copy of the guide to local acronyms. I dunno, in my day you got a photocopied bibliography in the first lecture if you were lucky, none of this spoon-feeding and eDucation nonsense… (more…)

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Labour of Love

“But he doesn’t seem to know our names…” I remember reading this in a student feedback form years ago, from a unit being taught by a senior colleague. I actually thought it was pretty impressive, and a mark of the Bristol spirit, that such an eminent scholar would be teaching a beginners’ course for first years without a hint of complaint, rather than (as often seems to be the case elsewhere) insisting on limiting his exposure to students to advanced seminars where they could be expected to do most of the work themselves. I can also fully appreciate the difficulty, as one gets older, of learning names and retaining them; apologies to any of my students reading this, but my short-term memory is basically rubbish these days, and the effort of learning the names of all the second-year ancient historians for the unit in this half of the year has driven out roughly 60% of the names of the first-year ancient historians that I memorised back in the autumn. (The good news is that, according to our discussion in a class on digital history, today’s students don’t bother with blogs, so I may be okay). (more…)

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I am, as you will doubtless have gathered, a pedant – a term which is actually less synonymous with ‘academic’ than you might expect. This manifests itself in many ways, the most obvious being an obsession with the defining of key terms and the potential abuse of words with a range of connotations, and a tendency to fetishise referencing and bibliography. Of course, justifying the former is easy – concepts shape thought, so slipshod or naive conceptualisation is a sign that the thought doesn’t need to be taken too seriously – and one could produce a reasonable argument that scrappy, incomplete and/or inconsistent referencing is a clear sign of lack of care in the work as a whole. But this is actually a tribal thing; this is how I recognise people of like mind and similar values, and in the case of students it is how I identify those with the right sort of qualities and spirit. The amount of ink I spill on correcting random capitalisation in book titles, inconsistent provision of publication details and the like is fully explained once it is recognised as an exercise in separating lambs from kids. I have always made it clear to my students that what really matters is consistency, whatever system they choose to adopt, and that is true – but most of them are smart enough to realise that there are preferred formats within which to to be consistent, and less favoured approaches. This doesn’t affect the marks I give, or even the feedback; I suppose it’s possible that the tone of my voice may vary slightly when talking to a student who has shown themselves to be on the side of the angels, for by the Harvard name:date system shall ye know them… (more…)

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