Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘research’

Some THUNKS on Giving a Conference Paper (from GUEST BLOGGER Laurence Raw)

In Adult Educators, Conferences, Guest BLOGGERS, Research on 23/10/2014 at 5:33 pm

What if 06

One of the essential aspects of any academic (or educator’s) existence is the need to give papers at conferences.  This not only demonstrates a commitment to research, but provides an opportunity to share one’s insights with others in the field.


Unfortunately things seldom work out like that.  I have been to many events where academics and graduate students simply come in, deliver their papers as fast as possible, answer a few questions and then leave.  One more notch on the résumé; another step accomplished in the search for a better job.


Best way to be BORING (Voltaire quote)


Even if delegates do stay, their style of presentation often prevents listeners from understanding precisely what they want to say.  Even in these days of unlimited technical innovation, the majority of presenters still choose to read aloud from printed sheets of paper and/or the iPad without actually looking at their audiences.  They also fail to grasp the fact that a paper written for academic readers is fundamentally different from a conference paper; in a conference the watchword is simplicity of style, enabling the interlocutors to understand precisely what the presenter is saying.  While reading a paper aloud is quite permissible – especially for those who are unconfident about speaking in public – but it should be read in such a way that listeners can understand what the writer is trying to say.  Gabbling one’s words just induces boredom.


For the last few years or so, the popular vogue amongst presenters has been to summarize their arguments on PowerPoint presentationsFair enough; but care needs to be taken as to how they are constructed.  Each slide should have as few words on it as possible, and such words should be printed in a font that enables everyone to understand them.  Images should be simple yet powerful, and support what the presenter is saying; it’s no use simply summarizing the content of one’s presentation on slides, and expecting audiences to understand it.

Death 028

I could go on at length about the so-called ‘guidelines’ for conference presentation, but I’d rather prefer to turn the argument round and look at the issues facing anyone confronted with the need to present their work in public.


Yesterday I had to give a piece to an audience of learners and senior faculty members.  My voice is not really powerful enough at present to project to the back of an oblong-shaped hall, so I used my microphone – or enhancer – as an aid; I feel rather like one of those presenters on a television quiz show, with the microphone hanging over my ears and the speaker close to my mouth.  Entering the hall at eleven o’clock gave me a few butterflies; I had to entertain an audience of fifty-plus people with an age-range from the late teens to retirement-age, all looking at me (or not looking at me) in expectation.  The only means I had to sustain my attention were my voice and a few images (if I wanted to use them).


I experienced the feelings shared by every conference presenter at every event: how can I cope with the forthcoming ordeal?  The only way I could deal with this was to imagine myself like a high diver jumping off the board into a swimming-pool (or creek) several feet below me; I had to jump and subsequently trust in my own abilities to land safely.  If I failed, I would hurt myself (mentally, at least).  This was precisely what I did: armed only with a small notebook with a few ideas scribbled down, I began to talk.  To try and maintain audience interest, I kept looking at them; my head moved from side to side, then to the front and back of the hall.  If I saw someone’s eyes moving away from me, I made my best efforts to rescue their interest by glancing briefly at them.  Sometimes the technique worked; on other occasions I knew the task was beyond me.  Or maybe I was wrong: someone once told me that people’s listening strategies are often very different: when they seem outwardly uninterested, they are in fact taking note of what is being said and trying to make sense of it.


Twilight Zone 01b (TG edit).jpg


As I warmed to my argument, so my confidence grew.  I departed a little from my prepared script and illustrated my speech with anecdotes.  Some of them worked (in the sense of drawing a reaction from the audience); others fell flat as a pancake.  Nonetheless, I kept going; whatever my audience thought of my presentation, I was enjoying myself.  I had dived into the pool and was now swimming happily.


The presentation ended, and the audience applauded.  There had been a few laughs; indeed, some of the audience had exchanged banter with me, which proved most satisfying.  At least I had appealed to their sense of fun.  I was sweating with excitement – I felt beads of perspiration on my brow – but at least I had done what I was expected to do.


What did this experience tell me about delivering papers? 

I think I realized once more that audiences react in unpredictable ways: when they appear not to be listening, they might be interested; when they look at me, they might be thinking of something completely different.  To deliver a presentation not only involved speaking abilities but body language too: looking at your audience is of paramount importance.  Hence I’ve avoided reading papers verbatim for several years now.  If you, as the speaker, feel you’ve done your very best to communicate your enthusiasm for the topic under discussion, then your paper has been a success.


REFLECTION 06 (Socrates quote)


Enthusiasm” is an important term here:

…just doing a conference paper for the sake of it is a waste of time!


And, above all, if you can try to deal with your inevitable nerves and realize that conference papers should be FUN, for yourself and for your listeners, then you’re well on the way to becoming a good speaker.  At least, I hope so anyway.


Laurence Raw (aka @laurenceraw on Twitter)

Baskent University – Ankara, Turkey
Editor: Journal of American Studies of Turkey

Adaptation – the “art” & “science” of LEARNing

In Conferences, Our Universities, Research on 02/10/2011 at 2:06 pm

I’ve just returned from a trip to İstanbullove the place, hate the place, love the place, hate the place…OK…let’s stay with the “love”)!

The trip was mostly to attend a conference on “Adaptation” hosted by Yeni Yüzyıl Üniversitesi for those lovely people at the Association of Adaptation Studies.

Location, location, location… the Anadolu Kulübü on Büyükada (…love İstanbul…love the Princess Islands…love the fact that they do not allow cars on the island)! Brilliant…just brilliant.

The full title of the conference was – THE INTELLECTUAL SILK ROAD: CROSS-MEDIA and CROSS-CULTURAL ADAPTATIONS – but even before I arrived, I was feeling like a “gate-crasher” at a wedding!

But, hang on – “the AAS” (yes, almost an unfortunate acronym there, if you do not spell it out) is an “Akademe community” and we all know that these communities thrive on discussion of all the THREE pillars of the university “purpose”:

They’d asked me along (with Şahika and Şebnem, from Ankara University) to run a LEARNing and TEACHing “show” – and balance the scorecard on the EDUcation front.

I’d taken a look at the conference planner – and nearly died when I saw some of the titles. How could LEARNing and TEACHing “compete” with:

  • The Oriental as Absence in Minghella’s The English Patient
  • Traveling East: Orientalism and the Costume Drama
  • Adaptive Performances: ReViewing Cross-Cultural Adaptation Through Performance Studies

or even,

  • Constructing the British Hero by Exclusion: Adaptation and the Colonization of Sherlock Holmes

In truth, Sherlock beat us hands down (in terms of attendees)!

I thought it might have been all my fault – afterall, I did begin my paper by noting my very clear “bias” towards allthingslearning in the “university”:

  • Student LEARNing is the inescapable bottom line for a university…
  • …and the LEARNing produced is the most important result a university can achieve.

I also touched on a couple of “truths” that many in the Akademe do not enjoy “hearing”:

And then, the question no academic wants to hear (I was “quoting”, guys):

Come on – “fair dos”; I mean no self-respecting university-based research team would “hire” someone who had not been “trained” in the art and science of allthingsresearch (and have a string of citations) – so why should we think it’s OK to put “teachers” into lecture theatres and classrooms without some “training” or evidence of Educational Literacy and TEACHing skills?

I think they “got” that – and nobody threw anything at me!

I was also surprised that so few flinched when I “translated” the three pillars into what we all know happens in most universities:

I must admit – I did get a bit of a “response” when I noted Pope’s critique of the Ivies and their clones:

But was saved by a giggle or two when we brought Pope’s view “home” with a very real example:

I still maintain that Harvard should lose its “teaching license” for that one alone! Besides, “academic feedom” being what it is – even ex-Rectors and ex-Deans from Harvard can make a pretty penny from books exposing far more than I ever could

Obviously, the “model” of adaptation that I was discussing is very different to the the understandings and conceptualısations that “adaptation insiders” have – what I was saying was that “adaption is an essential part of the human condition“:

I think (and LEARN), therefore I adapt!


And, for educators that want to make a real difference to lives of others:




The funny thing was that participants would have only heard these things if they had come along to the session – this left me wondering why so many of the conference participants would not want to come to a session on LEARNing and TEACHing

Especially, as some told me later – 50 to 70% of their workload is frequently given over to TEACHing…OK – most of them were younger TAs (and their “average” was 85% of their time – allowing their “senior profs” to “publish, publish, publish”)…

What the conference LEARNed me was that perhaps we need more papers on allthingslearning – at more conferences! And, perhaps…we need more people to get excited about LEARNing and TEACHingand how we can all do it better!

Thank you Günseli and Laurence – for being so brave!


The highlight of the session for me, however, was seeing Şahika and Şebnem “translate” all this into “practice”. Their session was an honest, open and frank exposé of their “adaptation journey” to the role of “teacher trainers” over the past 2 years.

They described their motivations for wanting to embark on such an adaptive journey – they noted their fears, insecurities and frustrations over the whole process – and, they outlined how they had grown as professional LEARNing educators (and how they still continue to “adapt” today).

They communicated these ideas with passion and authencity – presenting themselves as “real people“, asking participants to get involved (and reflect on their own experiences) and using powerful and effective visuals to tell their stories.

Ohhh, if only all conference presenters had the same level of “visual literacy”… and common sense!

They won’t mind me telling you this – but this was their first major presentation at an International Conference. They not only kicked “Sherlock’s ass” in terms of engagementbut also in terms of relevance to the lives of all educators and “what matters” in education!


Post-script…for all you lovely ineks!

What exactly is “Adaptation Studies”?

I asked myself this question when I was first approached to do a session at the Silk Road conference. Being a simple man…I always looked at “adaptation” in terms of  “human transformation”! Being a bit of a “part-time film-buff” (and an “older” comic book “geek”)…I knew of many of the woes of filmmakers trying to do justice to so-and-so’s book (and the way directors are so often “slated” by critics and academics – for just doing what they do)…Being an avid learner…had to find out more!

Besides, I guessed I would have to “chew the adaptation fat” over a glass of red (or several)…on Büyükada!

My first port of call was Linda Hutcheon’s “A Theory of Adaptation” – I really did not think I would have the stamina to get through Robert Stam’s “three volumes” (though I’m sure he’s a great bloke). What Linda learned me was that I had to “get” that I could not truly understand “adaptation” by thunking about novels and movies aloneSmart woman that Linda…she learned me that I could also look at pop songs, fairy tales and even roller-coasters (OK – that one took me a few re-reads).

So, adaptation is not only about book (or movie) LEARNing – it touches on “real life”…told you she was a smart cookie!

The problem was – I left the book without finding the “theory” that the title promised me! Little did I know that I was not alone…

Someone else told me that Julie Sanders’ (2006) book – Adaptation and Appropriation – was the “bible”. So, I took a gander. What that individual did not tell me…was that I would have to learn a “whole new lexicon”…

OMG…recontextualization, tradaptation, reduction, simplification, condensation, abridgement, special versioning, reworking, remediation,  and re-visioning. We then move onto inter-semiotic, intra-lingual and inter-lingual adaptations – not to mention interpretants (including both the “formal” and “thematic” varieties)! Oh, yes and all that talk about “orientalism”, “aesthetic politics” and “cultural imperialism”. On “wiki” this shit is not…

OK – not all of this fell from Julie’s book (more the sources she directed me to). She is another very smart woman…

I had kinda worked out (a fair few years back) that “nowt is original” – everything is adapted and appropriated (or “robbed” as we used to say when I was a kid growing up in North Manchester). What I did not know was how confused researchers in Adaptation Studies seem to be – all those bloody “theoretical movements” just getting in the way, all that baggage from Translation Studies, all that…

This was brought home to me at the conference itself – I just did not “get” (or perhaps “care” enough) why everyone was running around screaming “We need a THEORY of adaptation”…. – all I could say was “just bloody do it, then”…

As I said, I am a simple man…and I can be a bit “thick” from time to time! It just seemed to me that all this talk of the “silver bullet” was…a bit of a storm-in-a-teacup.

But, then – who am I to judge?

Although many academics and commentators have been considering the issues related to allthingsadapatation for over 50 years, it seems that “Adaptation Studies” is “new” – all bright and shiny!

Who would’ve thunk it?

The problem seems to be (IMHO) that it is a bright and shiny “teenager” wrestling to assert its independence from its overbearing mother, “Translation Studies” (and all her “theories”), and the not-always-present father, “Intertextuality”.

The problem is that this “teenage rebel”, as with all teenagers, is “synaptically-disabled” (my daughter always hated it when I said this to her – at the age of 21, she now agrees). Its supporters seem to be saying that “if only” Adaptation Studies could just get a fırmer handle on its “theoretical framework” – all would be well in the world!

Not so sure, I am…but maybe I need an “expert brain” to comment on this!

Something “Rotten” in the State of…RESEARCH – Laurence Raw

In Guest BLOGGERS, Our Universities, Research on 16/03/2011 at 8:59 am
He [Casaubon] told her how he had undertaken to show (what indeed had been attempted before, but not with that thoroughness […] at which Mr. Casaubon aimed) that all the mythical systems or erratic mythical fragments in the world were corruptions of a tradition originally revealed […] But to gather in this great harvest of truth was no light or speedy work. His notes already made a formidable range of volumes, but the crowning task would be to condense these voluminous still-accumulating results and bring them, like the earlier vintage of Hippocratic books, to fit a little shelf. 

George Eliot, Middlemarch.

Published in 1874, George Eliot’s famous novel makes fun of scholars in their ivory towers dedicating their whole lives to research and eventually producing volumes sufficient to fit large or small shelves.

Here “quality” is measured in terms of sheer volume of output.

But have things changed much in our institutions of learning today?

Recently I talked to learners in different institutions at the under- and postgraduate levels, and asked them what they were doing and why. Here are some of their responses:

  • “I’m doing research to get a degree”
  • “I’m finding out more about my subject”
  • “I want to become qualified as a university teacher”
  • “I don’t know.”

The last response is significant, suggesting that learners are asked to perform tasks without having them explained. The next question was slightly more down-to-earth: “What good is your research, both for yourself and for your institution?” Here are some of the responses:

  • “It helps me find out more about my subject”
  • “I can learn how to publish better”
  • “It helps my career”
  • “I don’t know”

Note how that last phrase keeps cropping up. Note, also, that the responses are all in the first person, suggesting that learners measure their development purely in personal rather than institutional terms.

With that in mind, I asked: “How do you think your research could be improved?”

The answers were:

  • “Better access to materials”
  • “More time spent in consultation with supervisors and other staff”
  • “A greater sense of shared purpose”
  • “A more positive feeling”

This last phrase is, once again, significant, suggesting that the responsibility of writing a thesis or another project becomes a chore – and all-encompassing task transforming learners into little Casaubons.

The institution is chiefly to blame for this feeling: too often academic cultures fail to create an atmosphere of give-and-take, apart from the so-called “seminars” – most of which (according to my respondents) consist of one learner reading out their work and their fellow-learners and educators listening passively. So, I asked another question: do you think your research is valuable?

The responses were, again, significant:

  • “Possibly”
  • “Don’t know what you mean”
  • “No”
  • “I don’t know”

The second response is interesting here; for many learners ‘research’ is something they are asked to do to obtain a qualification; its value is never questioned except as a means to an end.

So, I tried to rephrase the question in a way that might produce more positive answers by asking “What is research?”

  • “Finding out more about your subject”
  • “Doing your own thing”
  • “Discovering things and sharing them with people”
  • “Discovering things about yourself”

How many institutions actively understand that these elements should constitute the basic purpose of research? That it is not simply the acquisition of knowledge, but learning the skills of discovering that knowledge and sharing it with others? That collaboration is the fundamental goal of research?

If we’re talking about “quality” within an educational institution, how on earth can we create it unless we can establish an environment in which everyone – learners and educators alike – feels valued in a shared endeavor.

Perhaps we should work from the bottom-up and listen to our learners rather than imposing ideas from above.

Laurence Raw


* This straw poll was conducted by email and Twitter with thirty learners (14 men, 16 women)  in three different countries – the United States, Canada and the Turkish Republic – between 6 and 12 March 2011. All names have been omitted.