Critical reading online

Teaching the researchers of tomorrow

For the past year I’ve been involved with the Library’s My Learning Essentials (MLE) Open Training programme, which involves facilitation of workshops on academic and study skills. In addition to the regular offer of sessions on effective academic writing and organisational techniques, January’s sessions include a focus on revision as part of the Library’s Exam Extra offer.

The MLE workshops are used by students and researchers at all stages of their academic careers. Over the last year, 39% of MLE workshop attendees have been Taught Postgraduate students, with Postgraduate Researchers representing 18% of delegates, and Undergraduates making up 38%. I love being able to offer constructive, tangible support to both current researchers and those who may consider further study or research after graduation.

Jam-packed workshops and engaging online resources

MLE homepage
MLE homepage with links to online resources for all and workshops for students and staff at Manchester

The workshop format is intended to make the best use of students’ and researchers’ precious time, with a jam-packed 20-30 minutes of information provision, instruction, discussion and activities. The rest of the hour-long session is left open, so attendees can work alone or in groups, on their own past papers or using example documents provided. There is also the opportunity to talk directly to facilitators like myself for advice. I enjoy being able to work with students 1:1 or in small groups, and discuss resources that can develop their ideas or answer their questions. It’s great to be able to point students to the Library’s fantastic suite of online tutorials. Designed by the Library’s award-winning MLE Development Team, these interactive resources are available for anyone to use, and offer instruction combined with the opportunity to put skills into practice. Some of my colleagues in the Research Services team have contributed to the latest online resource which provides an introduction to statistics.

Critical reading online resource
MLE ‘Being critical’ online resource

One of my favourite sessions to deliver is Critical Reading, where I suggest ways to ensure that reading is engaged and effective. When setting the agenda at the start of the session I delivered in the first week of January, people attending asked how they could possibly read everything for their topics, or if there was a better way to approach their work. I was able to suggest strategies to determine whether a text is worth reading, through setting a goal on what you wish to get out of a text before you begin, and predicting content and relevance based on title, abstract and introduction. Once you have decided that something is worth reading, I explained the strategies of reflecting on the main ideas being communicated as you are reading, clarifying anything you don’t understand, and summarising the paper and your interpretation of its ideas. As well as checking that you have really understood and engaged with the material, this creates a neat synopsis to refer to throughout your revision, and to look back on for those who go on to further study and research.

Communicating ideas

The most important message I have learnt from delivering MLE sessions, and the one I try to impress upon all workshop attendees, is that whether scribbling a 20-minute exam answer, drafting a 20,000 word dissertation or defending your argument during a viva, we are not tested on what we know, but what we are able to communicate about what we know. The ability to communicate is key to engaging with complex ideas and debates that may have raged for centuries, or are perhaps brand new.  I love being part of the MLE Open Training programme which I hope will instil a deeper understanding of methods and approaches to scholarly work, and encourage confidence to challenge and contribute to discussions at all levels of study.

Check out MLE resources on the library website.

 

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