All Students

Your Minimum Editing Route and How Fonts Can Help You Spot Typos

Your Minimum Editing Route

I work with words all the time. I have to be careful not to gloss over my writing. If I do, I risk missing typos and worse.

Even with a clear focus, it’s bad enough. Your focus is on conveying meaning more than it is on uncovering typos.

But there’s hope. When you edit your work, go through several runs at the text. First, read for overall flow. Second, read for clarity. Third, read for typos. This should be your minimum editing route.

Editing for different reasons each time helps you to focus on the particular task at hand. These tasks require thinking processes that do not gel with each other. If you tackle them all at the same time, it’s like ineffective multitasking.

Read out loud and look at each word, no matter how trivial. When you read with purpose, you’ll trip over sentences that clearly need reworking. When you look at each word, the mistakes stand out.

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There’s another magic trick that’s easy and effective. Change font!

Yes, simply change the look of your text so it looks new to you.

Copy and paste your text into another document…You don’t want to mess about with your sparkly live document now, do you?

Then change the font. It doesn’t matter which font you choose, so long as you can read it. As you read through the draft, you’ll notice new things (both good and bad) as your brain is tricked into thinking it’s looking at a new document.

Try with different fonts until you find one that’s a good combination of readable and accessible for you to review. After a few uses, you may want to find a new font so you don’t get too familiar with any particular typeface. Once you’re used to it, you won’t be so effective when reviewing your draft.

My own method is to use a few good fonts and rotate their use. That way, I can use the same fonts and not get too familiar with them. I can even throw a curveball and use a completely different font on a particularly challenging piece of text. Anything to get me focused where it counts.

Which fonts would you recommend?

typefaces

What Are Student Perceptions Of Debt?

This week has been National Student Money Week. So there’s no better time (if there is ever a GOOD time!) to talk about student debt. *shudder*

what are student perceptions of debt

Living costs are an issue just as much fees, if not more so. Hidden course costs, social outlay, not to mention basic needs like food, drink and accommodation; it all adds up. And the more it adds up, the more likely students are to get into debt.

Now a new report suggests that graduates may end up repaying tens of thousands more on their student loans. It’s no wonder some people are put off attending university.

While student loans constitute a special type of debt that only begins to be repaid once a graduate is earning more than £21,000, it is still seen by many as a scary debt. A debt that has little chance of going away until 30 years have passed.

Debt is a common concern

The UNITE Student Experience Survey 2014 discovered that many applicants feel in the dark regarding their finances. And while current students have a much better view of their finances, only 56% state that their financial streams are sufficient. That still leaves nearly a quarter (24%) of undergraduate respondents saying their finances are not sufficient, and another fifth uncertain of their position.

Couple this with the survey’s finding that finances are the most frequent concern for students whilst at university and it is clear that a sizeable proportion of students are not comfortable with their debt experiences.

A surprising 28% of students polled claimed not to have any debt whatsoever. Does the high proportion suggest that not all debt is necessarily considered a debt? For instance, undergraduates are far more likely to use bank overdrafts than applicants assume will be the case (28% of students, compared with 11% of applicants). Given the percentage of respondents claiming not to have been in any debt whatsoever, it could be that they do not even see an overdraft as a debt in the first place.

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Fear doesn’t always lead to confrontation

So where does that leave perceptions of debt? Although tuition fees have been the focus of much national media coverage, it is unlikely that students see fees as an area where savings can be made.

Because while tuition fees are variable, up to £9,000, institutions tend to charge close to the maximum anyway. Students do not see enough difference between universities to influence their choices. One study also suggests that bursaries and other financial incentives are rarely investigated until much later in the process, if at all.

This suggests that many applicants have background fears about debt, but do not confront them. This may be due to a lack of time, or a failure to see the importance of such a worry. One way or another, financial concerns make an impact on behaviour that is sometimes indirect and unconscious.

Money and debt are, therefore, motivators that can work in negative ways. But attitudes and perceptions are difficult to work out without detailed, lengthy, costly research.

HEFCE analyses POLAR3 codes, which refer to postcode areas where people are more or less likely to participate in higher education. We can use these to assess educational disadvantages regarding HE, although HEFCE state that POLAR3 codes are not a reliable indication of disadvantaged areas in general. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see no notable differences from respondents to the UNITE survey regarding attitudes toward debt across the POLAR3 codes.

The survey did find some differences. Those in category 1 of POLAR3 (least likely to be participating in HE) were found more likely to be thinking about their job or career, as well as thinking about their family. Those in category 5 (most likely to participate) were more likely to live in university halls than categories 1 and 2.

Despite these findings, group 1 respondents were less likely to state that their intention to live at home was driven by it being more affordable. This is backed up by research that found that fear of debt was not a reliable predictor of staying at home for university to save money. What we cannot tell behind this is whether indirect and unconscious attitudes played a hidden part in the process.

The same research, by Callender and Jackson, also stated that low-income students were more likely to see the cost of their university experience as a debt and not an investment.

This difference between investment and debt can make an impact on student decisions. A 2010 Policy Exchange report stated that it is difficult for students to make rational decisions surrounding university when debts are involved. The report said, “At present such data is worryingly thin, and would-be students are left largely in the dark about many questions that they consider to be important”.

money close up

Information alone is not enough

Fast forward to 2015 again and policy has developed that centres on providing more information to prospective students through as they form the ‘heart of the system’. From Key Information Sets to improved support services once on campus, one thing students don’t seem to be lacking in is information.

But does all this upfront information make much difference to perceptions of debt? Do applicants feel reassured by promises of good value, good resources, and good job prospects?

Callender argues that information alone is not enough to improve the student experience. She also says that the game has changed, calling the 2012/13 reforms ‘more extreme’. For those in less advantaged positions, Callender suggests that the new system is more likely to reduce their chances of entering higher education and that HE could become more elitist rather than inclusive.

It’s clear that certain perceptions of debt can lead to decisions that are not always in the best interests of the individual. What is less clear is understanding who is most at risk and how they reached that perception of debt. We may find that the same concerns result in vastly different actions. Some people will not go to university at all, while others attend but tread a careful path. Others may ignore their situation altogether until it is too late.

We should stop and think carefully about this uncertainty. It is easy to shrug off when application figures to university are still healthy despite £9k fees. But that is not the whole picture. A worrying number of students will experience university in such a way that is potentially detrimental to their participation in HE and to their future beyond university.

Debt isn’t going away, so perceptions make a difference. For those 44% of students from the Unite Student Survey with uncertain or insufficient finances, it is vital to ensure that they not only receive advice and guidance where necessary, but also gain support to improve their personal perceptions of debt.

Nobody enjoys being in debt so it is crucial that students understand different types of debt and shape their perceptions of them accordingly. Only then can students respond in a way that gives them the best chance of dealing with their situation positively.

This article arose from a data hackathon, run by Unite Students and NUS Services in partnership with Wonkhe. The dataset is drawn from the Students Matter survey conducted Dec 2013-Jan 2014 by NUS Services and published in May 2014 by Unite Students.

Technology Can Help The Learning Process, But It’s Not The Whole Answer

Technology Learning Process

Times Higher Education reported on a “Future Proofing Universities” seminar. Sixth-form students at the event shared their appreciation of technology, but warned that it should not be used to replace established methods of teaching.

In my last post, I stressed how important it is to keep finding new ways to learn, so long as past approaches are not ignored.

I see three purposes in which technology can assist and enhance learning that students will be grateful for:

  1. Choice – In my last post, I stressed how important it is to keep finding new ways to learn. They don’t replace what has gone before, but they open up availability to those who cannot engage with or do not have the necessary resources to access current methods. Breakthroughs in technology continue to open new doors. The only reason to close old doors is when all use and interest has disappeared. Dead isn’t dead until it is truly gone. While it exists, there is a place for it, even if it has been demoted from a previous position of prominence.
  2. Accessibility – Preparation, organisation, ease of use. Technology should help facilitate in these areas. That’s why a university website with lots of video and opportunities to connect can win over potential students. Think about what comes before the learning and what allows the learning to blossom as opposed to what directly delivers the learning.
  3. Combination – Times Higher Education noted that a Year 13 student said universities should “combine not replace“. An additional strand to current learning methods is appreciated far more than a different approach to methods altogether. Either let the new strand form a relevant part of the process or introduce it as one choice among several (see Point 1).

Rise of the Tools?

Advances in technology enhance the scope for building new tools. Universities are, understandably, trying to make the most of the new technology and tools.

At the same time, it’s easy to forget that tools are not the answer. The answer lies with you:

“…tools are only tools. Rely on them & you let tools rule you. Learn to use them, don’t seek their help.” – [Source]

Pick a question… Technology forms only part of the answer. We can build the rest of the answer through our interactions with technology. Where that takes us, who knows?

And since we’re creating the road as we’re walking down it, that’s why it’s better to control the tools. We may not be able to determine the future exactly how we want it, but we should at least try through our own choices.

Diversity, Voices and Student Representation

Individual and Diverse - Snail Shells

Recognition of diversity is a strange thing. The more connected we become, the more we feel at once individual and the same.

Developing a collective voice on a mass scale for a particular cause is made easier through common connections. Yet realising our many differences is just as simple to achieve.

The push/pull nature of diversity makes the student voice a tricky concept to form and agree upon. The massification of higher education has led to incredible diversity. How can you possible represent everyone as if you’re operating as one voice?

STICKING TO THE ISSUES. FIRST ISSUE, WHAT ARE THE ISSUES?

Perhaps the answer is to support voices and diversity, as opposed to deciding a stance on many elaborate issues. Patrick Wilson asks NUS to “stick to supporting lowering the voting age” and to “keep on affording students their rights”. Since students cover such a diverse range of opinions, moving outside the realm of student issues is tricky.

So why do it? Well, it depends how you view the situation. Since students are human beings with different ideas, backgrounds, circumstances, beliefs, and so on, you could argue that nothing is outside the realm of student issues.

Years ago, someone told me that the remit of the student movement (if you wish to call it that) went as far as considering and supporting matters relating to being a student at a place of learning. Associated issues–such as accommodation and health–were fair game. I wasn’t exactly clear what the unassociated issues were.

Perhaps that lack of clarity is part of the problem. When every concern of an individual is associated with being a student, given the fact that they ARE a student, where do you stop? Which areas should NUS stick with and which should they ignore.

Once you start leaving one issue alone, some students will be unhappy. Diversity isn’t being properly represented, they might argue.

Deborah Hermanns, an organiser for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, suggests that unions could look to what is done in Germany’s universities:

“The German conception of student unionism is relatively simple: it is to politically represent the student population to the university, to advise on issues such as financial support or visa questions for international students, and to take on wider political questions. These aims are reflected in union structures, which allow for much direct democracy and very little bureaucracy. For example, at Freie Universität Berlin, the student population elects a parliament which in return elects the executive committee. Decisions about campaigns and allocation of funding are made at a weekly meeting which is open to all students.” [Times Higher Education]

Does this extend, limit, or completely change the idea of representation and diversity? Under a German system, are students better served in some areas and lacking in others where the UK thrives?

POLICY PROBLEMS

Wherever you draw the line, policy needs to be discussed and agreed upon with the aim to achieve consistency, balance, and clarity. Patrick Wilson’s article for Lancaster’s SCAN highlights an issue that isn’t new. New policy was drafted and the suggested wording caused the policy to be denied a place. No doubt the policy will be reworded and voted through at a later date. It’s happened before and it will probably happen again.

When this situation occurs (especially over controversial and problematic areas), people begin to discuss why this is good/bad, necessary/unnecessary, too political/not political enough, and so on. Were too many people being condemned or does the condemnation not go far enough? Is the policy not inclusive enough or should it focus on a more focused group of students?

You have to work at diversity. There is no way of guaranteeing success on all fronts. However, an openness to diversity and an acceptance of others, regardless of other factors, is a strong move towards progress. The more perspectives we embrace, understand, and listen to, the more likely we are to see the bigger picture in all its glorious detail.

Katherine W. Phillips explains this nicely in Scientific American:

“Diversity is not only about bringing different perspectives to the table. Simply adding social diversity to a group makes people believe that differences of perspective might exist among them and that belief makes people change their behavior.
“Members of a homogeneous group rest somewhat assured that they will agree with one another; that they will understand one another’s perspectives and beliefs; that they will be able to easily come to a consensus. But when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. This logic helps to explain both the upside and the downside of social diversity: people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.”

REPRESENTING AS MANY METAPHORICAL TRUMPETS AS POSSIBLE

The student voice is sometimes a confused noise, rather than a clear outpouring of flowing sentences. You could dismiss the noise as a pointless waste of time. But wouldn’t it be better to give even more attention to the noise and try to understand garbled attempts at being heard? Isn’t it important to work out which voices haven’t called out at all?

A baby doesn’t make much noise in the first few weeks, other that cries and gurgles. When a baby starts to find its voice, it takes months and years for it to develop. Over time, the voice becomes clearer and we begin to understand a child’s needs and what motivates them.

A child cannot do that on their own. They need help and nurturing. But they do have their own metaphorical trumpet to blow.

The student voice consists of many trumpets. It also needs help and nurturing. There are still garbled attempts at being heard amongst the noise and some voices that aren’t yet heard.

Absolute representation may not be possible, but that shouldn’t stop the push to achieve it, whilst maintaining a relative representation to be proud of.

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