Building an open essay writing process

Assessment in the Humanities in university still depends heavily on “the essay”, either as a paper or in an examination. Any survey of syllabii in the humanities and liberal arts will bear this out – the bulk of our marks go for the abilty to write essays of varying length, from 1,500 words up 6,000-8,000 words in later years of the degree. In my own dept, out of 43 courses in the book of modules this coming year, 19 are assessed by essays, and 19 by short essay and essay examination, leaving 5 different courses. This is not uncommon in Ireland and England, although assessments in US universities tend to be more varied. Continue reading “Building an open essay writing process”

Reworking Courses 2011

The best time to plan next years courses is right after this year’s end and I am already sketching out some revisions to my options for the coming year. Some old assessments are going, some new stuff is in and one course is going in reverse. Continue reading “Reworking Courses 2011”

Can I make Twitter a requirement for my students?

Harold Jarche is one of the most popular bloggers dealing with social networking, and for good reason – he is insightful. His blog post from yesterday gathers ideas which prompt me to wonder why I haven’t already made twitter a requirement in my courses, and how I can overcome the obstacles to using it in teaching. Continue reading “Can I make Twitter a requirement for my students?”

Charlie Wilson’s War

Charlie Wilsons War is a book which should get onto quite a few academic reading lists as an interesting case study in several areas – it sheds light on the workings of US government and politics, on how some clandestine agencies work, at least some of the time, and is one of the most interesting books on how to organise irregular warfare since Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, and Charlie Wilson certainly saw himself as a modern Lawrence of Afghanistan. Continue reading “Charlie Wilson’s War”

TEFL and Terrorism by Yoda

I believe I have uncovered a cunning plot by a cadre of unemployed South-East Asian VCR manual writers to infiltrate Ireland and subvert our knowledge economy. These people have invested enormous amounts in plastic surgery to pass as Irish, and have flawless accents, mostly from Cork. They have created fake histories to make it appear that they have been in the Irish education system for the past 20 years. However, their secret identities are revealed by the pile of seminar paper drafts which I am reading this week, in which they can easily be picked out because they are incapable of writing a grammatically correct sentence in English.  I know I am not a paragon of grammatical accuracy myself, which means that if it is so bad that I can find fault with it, well, then you know it really is bad. Some of these students write like people who just learned English from Yoda. It is not my job to use the force to work out what they meant to say, and give them nice marks.  It is my job to tell them why they can’t pass for native English speakers, which explains the sea of red ink today. If they don’t fix the red ink between these drafts and the finals, (which would be part of the learning process) then I’m going to mark them down for it.

Wargame Design Class

scan0001a.jpgI just finished marking the wargame design exercise which I set my War, State & Society class to do as a group exercise for their coursework which was doubly mean because it was (a) not a regular boring old essay so they had to think about it and (b) required them to work in groups which history students never have to do. It was designed so they could not just knock off an essay the night before the deadline. Not only did it turn out really really well, but some of them even admitted to enjoying it.

Continue reading “Wargame Design Class”

Writing Structured Documents

I promised some people yesterday a link to the current version of my handout on writing structured documents, using examples in Microsoft Word. It shows how to use styles rather than simply plastering bold, 24 point on some text – everyone who does not know how to do this already should read it.   I need to do a version showing how to do it in OpenOffice which is free, opensource and using open document file formats rather than proprietary file formats, all of which makes it far better than MS Office. I’ve also posted some essay titles for my course on John Lynn’s book ‘Battle: A History of  Combat and Culture’ under Hi2002 as promised; I’m open to suggestions for other titles.

November in Cork

Everyone is cold and a bit SAD this week. Many of my 9am class on International Organisations didn’t make it this morning, but I’ve put the class video up on the Moodle LMS for them to download.  I’m not sure if this is entirely fair on the people who actually made the effort, but since the video was shot on my mobile phone, the quality ain’t great. I didn’t get the camera angle right, so for a lot of it, I’m just a voice from off-camera. Someday soon I’ll just record my lectures at home by the fire for students to download. Then I can use all my scheduled class time for pedagogically challenging simulations.

Moodling on..

The web seems to hate me today, but the screencam movie showing my students how to sign on to my course sites on moodle is finally up on the web at

It is 5.5 mb, which will be fine on the campus network but too big for dialup, and while I haven’t been able to test it, I hope it will be ok.

Now all I need to do is the screencams to show how to use the blogs, the wiki and the forum for next weeks class.