Posted in All things 301, Intern advice, student life, Written by Arinola

Making the Best Use of the 301 Workshops

Upon first finding out about 301 and the variety of workshops on offer, I know that the first instinct many of us have is to pick the workshops that seem relevant and sign up to all of them in one fell swoop. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that by itself. However, a couple of things can make that strategy problematic and I’ll share some advice on what you should be doing instead.

If right now, you’re having a look at all the Exam Techniques and Exam Revision workshops we have available and thinking, “sign me up!”, you will find this blog post useful for ensuring that you can utilise the information you gain from the workshops – and smash your exams, of course! 🙂

  1. WHY: Yes, yes. I know you know why you’ve chosen to attend a particular workshop but think about it. Say you don’t have any group work this semester and have always been really unenthusiastic about the prospect of doing assessed group work, so you sign up to attend a workshop on that here at 301, I’m sure you’ll find it useful because I did myself. Now that’s different from signing up to attend that workshop and 9 others because you just like the sound of them. There are a ton of workshops to pick from and they are all great but it is worth considering your reason for attending the workshop and having in mind that your interest will affect how seriously you take the workshop, your willingness to engage with the material and your drive to get the best out of it.
  2. HOW MANY: I touched briefly on signing up to 9 workshops at once and I’ll now elaborate on why that may not be the best idea. Quality over quantity applies a lot here but it’s not the quality of the workshop that is in question at all. It’s the quality of information that you can feasibly get out of, and then apply to improving or developing the skills that the workshops aim to provide support with. How realistic is it that after attending 9 workshops in a semester you’ll be able to successfully
    • get better at presenting;
    • reading quickly;
    • taking notes effectively;
    • working well in a group; and
    • planning your dissertation

and do all of that within 12 weeks! I mean, if you can, fair play to you and please…

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Just bear in mind that you have at least 6 semesters in university and if you prioritise your skills needs every semester, the probability that you’ll leave university having gained all of the skills I’ve listed above is most likely a 100%. You can afford to take time and be deliberate about it.

3. THE FOLLOW-UP: From experience, this is the most difficult part. Nothing good comes easy, they say, but it is so tempting to hope that attending a workshop or 1:1 study skills tutorial will set you right up. You do have to make time and work with the advice you have received so that you can make progress. Revisit the slides you get sent as many times as you need to as well as any notes you take. Also make sure to use the resources recommended to you during the workshop. It’s normal to be eager for a marked improvement within say 2 weeks and to be frustrated if you don’t see any. Take your time and after a while you will be instinctively doing things a different way after making those repeated efforts initially.

I hope you find these tips useful and are having a fantastic Easter break whether that is being spent in the IC or somewhere a bit more fun catching some sun rays.

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Posted in Intern advice, Written by James

How to Avoid Seminar Sadness

Seminars are the marmite of the university world. You either love them or you hate them. Humanities students will most often have seminars, where you are expected to join a group discussion rather than be taught specific tasks (tutorials) in a taught environment. The seminar leader, which might be a student depending on how your course is set up, is ideally meant to do little at all. The group discussion should simply occur naturally. The tutor is meant to facilitate discussion, rather than participate. But this doesn’t always go to plan. Momentary silence can quickly become awkward, conversation jilted and discussion replaced with frosty looks and stammered points. I’d say the reason this occurs is because often, students aren’t taught how to g about discussing a complex topic or text. We’re thrown in at the deep-end, so naturally we either sink or swim. Thankfully, we at 301 are here to help with some tips about seminars to help you swim the distance!

1. Seminars are Group Work

When you think of group work, you think of large projects, a list of tasks to be divided and booking rooms in the library. Few would think of a seminar. But a seminar is probably the most common group task a humanities student will ever have to face. Except instead of producing a physical piece of work, the project is the fifty minutes of discussion and argument you’re about to have. 301’s seminar on group work and its corresponding materials are fantastic. A group discussion is not just a simple exercise of people speaking and responding. It takes a lot of work to keep that discussion going, to take a point and elevate it, rather than just acknowledge it.

With this in mind, consider taking on some of these roles from the 301 worksheet:

Facilitator Moderates team discussion, keeps the group on task, and distributes work.
Recorder Takes notes summarizing team discussions and decisions, and keeps all necessary records.
Reporter Serves as group spokesperson to the class or instructor, summarizing the group’s activities and/or conclusions.
Timekeeper Keeps the group aware of time constraints and deadlines and makes sure meetings start on time.
Devil’s Advocate Raises counter-arguments and (constructive) objections, introduces alternative explanations and solutions.
Harmonizer Strives to create a harmonious and positive team atmosphere and reach consensus (while allowing a full expression of ideas.)
Prioritizer Makes sure group focuses on most important issues and does not get caught up in details.
Innovator Encourages imagination and contributes new and alternative perspectives and ideas.
Liaison Ensures that systems are in place to ensure that group members can communicate.
Wildcard Assumes the role of any missing member and fills in wherever needed.

Your seminar leader should be the perfect Wildcard, being whatever the group needs to keep discussion going. Mainly, they will be Facilitator, but at times they’ll favour one over the other. You should too! Nobody will always fill these role, and a room full of Devil’s Advocates helps nobody.

You don’t always need to be bringing up fresh points each time you speak. Sometimes it is better to ask a person a question, to deepen the point they’ve made or your understanding of it. Sometimes its good to summarise the points so far and the group’s current conclusions. Other times its best to question the relevancy of a point a person just made. All of these are good. All of these are valuable. Treat your seminars like the group work they are and you will only do better!

2. Everybody makes mistakes

I have known some students, myself included, to say some stupid things in seminars. Everybody froze to try and grapple with what had just been said. And you better believe I remember them. However, don’t let the fear of saying something stupid put you off. Its better to say it here than in an essay, and if you treat these occurrences with good humour, then you can be sure that the laughter will be kind, rather than cruel.

3. Do the reading. No, seriously.

I know, I know. This is simple stuff, but it has to be said once more. In a lecture, the only person seriously hurt by not having done the reading is yourself, as you might not understand some of the points brought up by the lecturer, as they will assume you have already read at least the essential readings. But in a seminar, especially one of eight or ten? Everybody can tell you haven’t read anything. If you’re lucky enough that nobody has done the reading, then we might as well pack up and go home. Your tutor isn’t there to teach you, just facilitate discussion. We can hardly have a productive discussion if nobody has anything to discuss! Do the readings, at least in so far as you can. If you don’t understand something, highlight it! Bring that reading to the seminar. Avoid the embarrassment and awkward silence, while also enriching yourself and your peers! Often the best thing I’ve said in a seminar has been “I don’t understand this”. By the end of the seminar I did, and so did many of my peers to embarrassed to admit they also didn’t understand what we were discussing.

In summary…

There you have it, my three big tips for success in seminars. First, realise seminars are group work and you don’t have to fill only one role. Not every role in a discussion is coming up with new points. Second, don’t let the fact that you might say something stupid hold you back. Its better to speak up and have a laugh in a supportive environment, than still be wrong when you write it down a few weeks later. Third, do your reading, for your sake and that of everybody else! At least as much as to answer the questions.

Posted in Intern advice, Written by Arinola

SPOTLIGHT: University Library Workshops

Most of us only think of the library in relation to which one we prefer whether that may be by virtue of proximity, or in my case, the quality of latte I can get from the cafe. No, it’s not all the same and the IC wins. Just in case you were wondering.

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It may surprise you to know that the University Library runs workshops that can also reflect on to get the Academic Skills Certificate. They are called Information and Digital Literacy Workshops and can be great if you’re looking to develop skills beyond those covered in the academic skills workshops we run here at 301.

Having attended the Commercial Awareness workshop myself, I can attest to how helpful it was in helping me better understand a skill that is very well sought after in graduates. After the workshop, I was better informed on what I could do to improve my commercial awareness from working part time on campus. Now, I know how to demonstrate commercial awareness during a job application process.

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The other workshops on offer are quite varied and are divided into 6 categories:

  1. Discovering – useful if you are interested in finding information and images for various academic purposes
  2. Understanding – for you if you want to learn to use e-books productively
  3. Questioning – having found information, this aims to help evaluate its usefulness
  4. Referencing – suitable for those seeking to master referencing for a thesis, dissertation, coursework essay or research project
  5. Creating – will help you make better presentations
  6. Communicating – whether this means improving your commercial awareness, finding out how to make info-graphics or starting a blog!

If any of the categories I have described sound interesting to you, make sure to check out the dates and times these workshops are available and book a place to attend them!

 

Posted in All things 301, Extracurricular, Intern advice, Written by Tom

How not to make an argument

Do you struggle to think of an argument when you’re writing an essay or reviewing your research?  Has your tutor told you that your work hasn’t involved enough critical thinking about your topic? Then you should consider coming to our workshops on Critical Thinking and Writing, and Developing an Academic Argument which you can book on our website now!

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But as a philosophy student, I make arguments all the time. I won’t go into all the ins and outs of these topics because you’ll find out all about them in the workshop. Rather, I’ll give you a taste of some of the stuff involved. I’ll give you a couple of examples of how not to make an argument. Even if you don’t use this kind of reasoning in your subject, hopefully this will give you some food for thought, and you might be able to apply this to when other people make arguments in real life.

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So, you need a statement to support your argument. You will thus actively search for a source or think about something which will prove it.

But are you also ignoring sources and argument which reject your claims? You might include a source or two which does show the other side, only to easily reject it with additions to your original argument.

But is this oversimplifying the other argument?

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There is an official term for when you oversimplify another person’s argument. It is called ‘reduction ad absurdum’.

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It’s a bit of a mouthful I know, but its a Latin term for oversimplifying an argument, to ignore the reasoning behind an argument because you have exaggerated it beyond it’s original meaning. It is a rhetorical device, meaning people use it in their arguments to convince them despite it having no logical basis. If you’re a philosophy student you have to be careful not to do this, or else you will be deducted marks.

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Let’s give an example.

If somebody were to argue that the government should better redistribute wealth between the rich and poor, but you were to denounce that statement as that sounds like communism which has historically lead to the deaths of millions of people, that would be using reductio ad absurdum.

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This is because the other person was not saying that communism should be implemented, but simply that there should be a greater redistribution of wealth. This could simply mean more social funding or increasing wages. It does not automatically mean the person is advocating communism, which is an extreme redistribution. But you have made it so that it seems like they are, which can be easily attacked.

Another similar thing to do is to make a straw man argument. This is very similar to reductio ad absurdum, apart from the fact that you make an argument which is set up to fail, rather than responding to another person’s argument.

For example, you believe communism is bad and so no one will want it. So you set up an argument which denounces what you believe to be a communist agenda – the redistribution of wealth. You make the argument “We should not redistribute wealth because that will only lead to communism”. You have framed your argument so that it follows the narrative of communism being bad. But redistribution of wealth does not entail communism. You have set up your argument to fail on a bad premise, therefore you have created a straw man argument.

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There are many other rhetorical devices which I will not go into here. You might find out a few more in our workshops, but they are more focused on the theory behind arguments as a whole. It is worth looking into rhetorical devices because they are used a lot in everyday life, and when you can point them out, it means you will never be fooled!

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Overall, have a second think about what your overall argument is saying. But, as a final thought, don’t think that you must be constantly presenting strong arguments or sources which question your own. You of course only have a set word count and want your own argument to seem as strong as possible. Just show that you have critically thought about your own argument and other arguments too – you aren’t just presenting a simplified conclusion.

Go forth and prosper my argumentative Padawans.

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Posted in All things 301, Intern advice, Written by James

Academic Skills Outside of Academia

The purpose of the 301 centre is to support students in developing the necessary academic skills for their studies at university. The university recognises that no student comes to the university perfectly skilled at writing, critical thinking, presenting etc. However, teaching the necessary subject knowledge for a course leaves little time for students to get real practise at essay writing or presenting until they’re being evaluated on these things. It’s easy for even very gifted students to fall through the cracks and not reach their full potential. This is of course where 301 comes in. Workshops are designed to teach specific techniques and skills for things like exam revision or mind-mapping. If they aren’t specific enough, one to one support can be given with tutors helping students with their personal academic problems.

Of course, most students don’t attend a single workshop, even though they’re absolutely free. Perhaps you’re one of these people. They do so for many reasons, I know that before I worked here I only took two. I would hypothesize that one reason is that, unless they’re obviously struggling, many think they have enough on their plate already, and are doing just fine as it is. Why bother if there is no problem to solve?

I would like to suggest that even if you’re one of these students, you should come anyway. Not just because you can hone your skills even further, pushing up your academic performance, but because of the importance of these skills beyond academia.

Let’s take some examples workshops, and see how they could apply to different job roles.

Critical Thinking and Writing

This workshop teaches you how to really engage with a text or argument. The arguments and points in texts can be difficult to understand, much less refute or critically analyse. Yet this skill is incredibly useful in most careers, even those which do not usually require reading complex texts or making arguments. This is a highly valued skill in careers where you might have to writing funding or permit applications, writing letters to clients or superiors, or even just deciding with colleagues what the next step in a plan should be.

Note Taking: Strategies, Organisation and Management

Thought your note-taking days were over once you left university? Think again. Practically every job will require you to take notes at some point. Whether you’re in a meeting on an important subject or just taking case-notes for a client or customer. Accurate, relevant note taking using established and efficient techniques taught in this workshop can make your notes extremely useful, rather than some jumbled, confusing mess. Take this workshop and you’ll save yourself a thousand headaches in the future. Your co-workers will thank you too!

Managing Your Time and Avoiding Distractions

Who doesn’t need help avoiding procrastinating! The more time spent procrastinating at work is the more stress trying to quickly complete tasks later down the line. Being able to get in the ‘zone’ and really get work done will not only make you better at your job, but improve your mental health. You’ll find this useful in your leisure time as well. Avoid the distractions of YouTube and social media to make the most out of your time off and complete some of your hobbies and passions. As well as all the chores.

Reflecting on Your Academic Progress

This workshop focuses on guided reflection on your work at university, identifying weaknesses and mistakes made as well as what went well! A reflective person is not only able to sell themselves better to potential clients and employers, but also better placed to improve themselves over time. Also beware, a lot of companies are requiring their employees to reflect regularly on their progress, so might as well get used to doing it productively now, because it will be a mainstay of your work life!

Exam Revision Planning

I know what you’re thinking, how the hell will you use revision techniques once you’ve taken your last exam! I know when I took my last one I breathed a sigh of relief. But of course, then I started applying for jobs and being given small examinations, being made to give presentations and generally being asked to demonstrate those same skills of memory, relevant and succinct answers, etc. Also, don’t forget, you might think this is the last exam of your life, but who knows where your life may go. You might have to take an additional qualification to move up the career ladder, or perhaps one day you’ll change profession and have to retrain, while having all the worries of adult life to deal with. The skills of being able to keep calm under pressure and remember useful information are good skills to have.

Conclusion

Look at all these skills you can get for free! What’s more, if you do enough of them you can get a study skills certificate in that area, which goes on your H.E.A.R. This means that employers can see real, paper proof that you have been trained in these skills, which in the current job market could be the difference between getting that all important interview and being passed over. For more information on exactly how the study skills certificates function. Click here.