"Books I've read lately" is a recurring topic and here is the previous blog post (same topic, different books). I read quite a few books over Christmas (Dec-Jan), but they were for the most part "lightweight" - easy reads in comparison to some of the other academic works I plow through. I guess these books represent "vacation" for an academic like me :-)
The first book I read was definitely not "vacation" though. I was the designated opponent to Katarina Elevant at her "final seminar" right before Christmas and thus carefully read her draft ph.d. thesis with the preliminary title "Shareweather: design and evaluation of a web 2.0 concept". Despite being many months late, I really should write a separate blog post about this event - and I plan to do so before the summer. What can I say - I was very very busy back in December - 'nuff said (for now).
The second book wasn't really vacation either, but rather the end product of last year's course, "Future of Media". The course theme last year was "magazines" (i.e. The Future of Magazines / Magazines of the Future) and I wrote several blog posts about the course during the autumn (for example here and here). As part of the process of grading the student projects, I naturally had to read the students' final reports - neatly collected in the above limited-edition book we printed. Although the limited-edition book is hard to get hold of, the texts aren't - they're online! You can either read individual chapters or download and print/read the whole book (pdf file, 2.0 MB).
The quality of the chapters (project groups' final reports) vary, but I do have to say that the two most-appreciated projects (solid texts and great ideas in general) were MagZone (pdf) and Seasons (pdf). Do note that not only the texts, but also some really great concept movies about the projects are available in the online archive. An alternative to reading the book above might be to download and watch some of those movies (and then deepen your understanding by reading the book chapters about your favorite projects).
Since the book consists of 12 very different chapters, it's difficult to say something about the book as a whole rather than about the individual chapters/projects. I do have to say that the book itself looks great though! I hope we can reach the same level of quality when this year's course (with a new, different theme) starts after the summer.
"Möteskokboken" I & II (2009) [The meeting cookbook] by Erik Mattsson & Anna Jöborn are great. The subtitles to these two books are "The foundation for creating effective meetings" and "Methods for creating effective meetings". The second book combines methods (building blocks) from the first book to create more complex methods for more complex purposes, for example "building groups", "creating ideas", "analyze", "discuss", "formulate", "evaluate" etc. Each of these purposes has suggestions for 2-5 complex-but-concrete methods (or exercises) with names like "secret supporter" (building groups), "idea hunt" (creating ideas), "the root of the evil" (analyze), "claims for sale" (discuss), "slogan competitions (formulate) and "mood barometer" (evaluate). Some of these exercises (complex methods) are pretty quick, others take the better part of a day to carry through.
These are two (very) practical book and they should be evaluated based on the utility of the books, and I do have to say that the books were very inspiring (and beautiful) and I got a lot of ideas about methods and exercises that I can use in education and for leading meetings (or conference sessions etc.). The books are highly recommended but are however pretty expensive at 300+ SEK and 500+ SEK respectively!
Despite the appearance, "Hjälp studenterna att undvika plagiering" and "Guiding students away from plagiarism" (2009) by Jude Carroll and Carl-Mikael Zetterling are not two different books, but rather two sides of the same book. Turn the book over and you will find the corresponding title in English (or Swedish). The book is printed by KTH and I got in my job mailbox some time ago (as did all my colleagues and, I presume, every other teacher at KTH).
The book discusses plagiarism ("submitting someone else's work as your own") as well as related phenomena (cheating, collaboration, unallowed collaboration, exam cheating, disruptions). The book does a great job in making me as a teacher understand the complexities of drawing the line between one and the other of these phenomena (for example in terms of "intent" or "attempt to deceive") and also has concrete (much appreciated) advice for teachers on how to go about to "fix" the problem.
At different points in the book, there are also comments that can be connected to the work that I and my colleague Björn do on "procrastination" (see the previous blog post), such as:
- "Why do students deliberately cheat by plagiarism? Students who deliberately cheat can almost always offer explanations for their actions [...] such as poor planning and leaving work to the last minute" (p.14).
- "Provide early practice, early 'wake-up call' [...] structure the assessment process itself [...] Suggestions for managing the process include using structured demands [...], requiring peer feed-back on interim writing and breaking large tasks into sections with interim deadlines" (p.23).
- "get students started promptly on assignments (since those who delay until the last minute may regard plagiarism as one of their few remaining options) [and] assess the process by which the student creates his or her work as well as assessing the student's final product" (p.32).
It is possible to read between the lines and figure out that plagiarism has been a problem especially with students from certain countries/parts of the world rather than others (without of course pointing at any specific countries), but also with teachers' lack of pedagogical skills in terms of structuring courses and tasks in such a way so as to help students avoid plagiarism as well as KTH's inability to explain basic rules and expectations regarding higher education at an "elite university" in Sweden (some plagiarism can be explained by misunderstandings etc.). As such, and in amending this problem, this book is admirably structured and I walked away with some really good ideas. The book also has links to online resources for (KTH) teachers, expanding both the usefulness and the lifetime of book. The only thing lacking was a compelling reason to read the book at the time when I got it (some years ago) - for example in the form of "discussion clubs" (therapy?) for teachers to discuss recent/difficult cases and possible solutions. This is a book that shouldn't just be read, but also discussed among teachers (and perhaps also among students).
Sometime during the end of the autumn term I went to listen to a talk by Joakim Lilliesköld, one of the coauthors (together with Mikael Eriksson) of "Handbok för mindre projekt" (2004) [Handbook for smaller projects]. As I write this blog post, I notice that the book has also been translated to English.
There are many methods and tools for "real" project leaders, but this book asks how smaller projects - for example student projects in higher education - should be led/run? The projects in question could for example be a project courses or indeed a bachelor's or a master's thesis.
The basic idea I went away with from the lecture and the book is that concrete projects represent a trade-off between 1) aimed-for functionality/quality, 2) time (deadline), and 3) costs (work effort/time put into the project). If your project isn't going too well, you'll either have to revise you goals (the functionality/aimed-for quality of your project), beg for an extension of the deadline (usually not possible for student projects with the exception for an individual master's thesis) or pour more time into the project.
Despite the title ("smaller projects"), I did find that the medicine was sometimes worse than the cure. I'm sure the methods for keeping track of time and resources is useful if you plan the Nobel Prize dinner (an example used in the book), but most student projects aren't that complex and it seems like overkill to use some of the more "ambitious" (complex) ideas proposed in the book. The book states that projects in project courses are between "a couple of hundreds of man-hours to a couple of thousands of man-hours". A master's thesis (30 hp) corresponds to 20 weeks of full-time studies (800 hours) from the beginning to the end. I have estimated that students who take the Future of Media course "should" put around 180 hours into the project and that means a four- or five-person group should work somewhere between 700 and 900 hours on their projects. Despite this, I for example found that the book's suggestions for strategies about handling documents and creating a "risk analysis" would be too cumbersome in that project course (too much time and effort spent planning - as apart from doing). Other things in the book were however directly applicable.
I really do want my students to be able to handle the very issues that this book raises, but I feel that the best way to handle some of these problems can be just to jell the group by kicking off with some social activities and then later by solving problems encountered informally, rather than by structuring stuff up (like in a "real" (large) project in the business world). Still, I found the interesting and (again) went away with a couple of new and immediately useful ideas that I can apply in my work as a university teacher.
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