Tag Archives: Subject Guides

Metaphors and the PhD

Guest Post by Rod Pitcher:

Last year Rod wrote one of our most popular posts on the use of metaphor in conveying concepts to students. A PhD student in Education at The Centre for Higher Education, Learning and Teaching at the ANU, he returns to the tomtom to share some thoughts specific to the PhD.

A woman walks the Merri Creek Labyrinth, Victoria, Australia.

Merri Creek Labyrinth, says Rod: “…a good metaphor for the PhD with all its dead ends, new views, backwards and forwards movements…”

Some supervisors have found metaphors useful in explaining what is required in the PhD research to their students. Two areas where metaphors are particularly useful is in aiding the student’s understanding of the progress of their research and the formatting of the thesis.

Metaphors of planning the work

The PhD work can be described as a journey or as a story. Both are useful in understanding the progress of the PhD.

The PhD work can be described as a journey, in which a certain amount of territory must be covered by certain times, and where there are rest stops at certain places that have to be reached at certain times. Using this idea the student can plan the work of the PhD. The amount of work to be done each week can be planned and plotted. Rest breaks, at the end of each section, can be assigned times. Progress can be ascertained by comparing the actual progress with the plan.

Alternatively, the PhD can be compared to a story. Each chapter can represent a stage of the research work. Rest breaks can be taken at the end of each chapter. The chapters added together represent the work towards the completed research and the writing up of the thesis. If dates are assigned to the completion of the stages, represented as chapters, progress can be verified by comparing chapters that are unfinished with those completed. A useful timetable can be drawn up from the work ascribed to each chapter.

A metaphor for the thesis

A useful metaphor for writing the thesis is weaving. The long warp threads represent the strands of the thesis, such as the literature, the methodology and the intermediate results. The cross threads, the weft, represent the work done at that particular stage. The material, the thesis, can be seen to progress as more and more weft is added to the warp to produce finished material. If the warp and weft are imagined as coloured then a pattern might develop in the material that indicates a useful direction in which to continue. The weaving can be briefly interrupted at any stage and then work re-started when new weft material in the form of results is available. Rests can be taken as necessary, and the work already completed can be viewed at any time to measure progress.

Conclusions

Metaphors are useful for PhD students as they can represent the two main problems that many such students have in organising their progress and understanding what the thesis involves. The illustrations above are useful in those areas.

If you prefer you can make up your own metaphors. Would you prefer the PhD to be voyage of discovery, stopping at various islands on the way?  Would you like putting together the thesis to be like organising and cooking a meal and serving it up to your guests? If that suits your way of thinking then go ahead. I’ve just described the ones that I find useful. You might like something different.

Rod Pitcher is a PhD student whose focus of study is the metaphors that researchers use when describing their research. His original post on the tomtom can be found here. Rod’s profiles are at:

http://chelt.anu.edu.au/people/rod-pitcher and http://scholar.google.com.au/citations?hl=en&user=4vZSJT4AAAAJ

Share your thoughts about any aspect of the PhD process in the comments below!

Course Guides: Bloomin’ Verbs

Daphne in winter, Melbourne, ready for Semester 2

Daphne in winter, Melbourne, ready for Semester 2

Posted by: John Benwell, Principal Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College, RMIT University.

It’s that time of the academic year when we have to revise our course/subject guides — the details of the course you are running and an important document for students. Independent learners need a menu, a planting guide, a chart, of what is to be learnt during the semester, and how their learning will be assessed. Without a guide, they will not be able to plan their studies.

Clearly articulating your learning objectives and learning activities will allow students to proceed at their own pace and use their own initiative and skills in learning the material you are presenting.

One key field in a course/subject guide outline is the learning objectives. Whilst these high-level objectives are developed and written at the time the program is developed (and at RMIT, are in Part A of the course guide), have you ever thought of creating a subset of learning or key objectives for each lecture/week to help the student study and learn? Perhaps it could be as simple as linking the course objective to the relevant week (or weeks) and unpacking it with your students as you go along.

As tertiary educators, we would hope that all students understand the main topics in the course, but what is delivered each week, and what is meant to be understood and studied should also be communicated. This is easily done in the Part B course guide (at RMIT) with small statements in the teaching schedule outlining each week’s topics. The language of these key outcomes can be the same as the learning outcomes, which usually begin with a verb. The statements should demonstrate a structured approach for students’ learning.

Following on from Helen McLean’s post on Bloom’s Taxonomy and Constructive Alignment, Bloom can also help set a framework for the verbs we use in creating learning objectives by linking them to cognitive actions.

Below is a handy list of verbs you might like to use in constructing or revising learning objectives and teaching schedules. For your lectures, and Part B course guide, think about how you can summarise the lecture content using sentences that follow this framework. Try using several from each section to make sure you have covered the spectrum of Bloom’s Cognitive Objectives in your course.

Keep it handy while you’re planning your course and visit the link below for more information. Good luck for Semester 2!

The list is re-published with permission from Bloom’s Taxonomy, Penn State Learning Design Community Hub:

Cognitive Objective Verbs
Knowledge (Ability to recall previously learned material) Define

Identify

List

Name

Recall

Recognise

Record

Relate

Repeat

Underline

Circle

Comprehension (Ability to grasp meaning, explain, restate ideas) Choose

Cite examples of

Demonstrate use of

Describe

Determine

Differentiate between

Discriminate

Discuss

Explain

Express

Give in own words

Identify

Interpret

LocatePickReport

Restate

Review

Recognise

Select

Tell

Translate

Respond

Practice

Simulate

Application(Ability to use learnt material in new situations) Apply

Demonstrate

Dramatise

Employ

Generalise

Illustrate

Interpret

Operate

Operationalise

Practice

Relate

Schedule

Use

Utilise

Initiate

Analysis(Ability to separate material into component parts and show relationships between parts) Analyse

Appraise

Calculate

Categorise

Compare

Conclude

Contrast

Correlate

Criticise

Deduce

Debate

Detect

Determine

Develop

Diagram

Differentiate

Distinguish

Draw conclusions

Estimate

Evaluate

Examine

Experiment

Identify

Infer

Inspect

Inventory

Predict

Question

Relate

Solve

Test

Diagnose

Synthesis(Ability to put together the separate ideas to create new and establish new relationships) Arrange

Assemble

Collect

Compose

Construct

Create

Design

Develop

Formulate

Manage

Modify

Organise

Plan

Prepare

Produce

Propose

Predict

Reconstruct

Set-up

Synthesise

Systematise

Devise

Evaluation(Ability to judge the worth of material against stated criteria) Appraise

Assess

Choose

Compare

Critique

Estimate

Evaluate

Judge

Measure

Rate

Revise

Score

Select

Validate

Value

Test

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