Learning Has Style

As you may know, there are different ways in which individuals learn.  However, what I hadn’t realised is just how many different ways there are.  Whilst reading Bates’ text on learning models and theories, I was amazed at all of the concepts.  So I have created a summary of what seem to be the essentials for our sessions, to be utilised in terms of how we engage with writers, as well as helping writers to understand themselves more:

R.H. Dave (70s)

Produced a prominent learning taxonomy to explain how people master skills, by working through each level upwards:

  • Level 1: Imitation (observe and replicate actions)
  • Level 2: Manipulation (reproduce the action from memory)
  • Level 3: Precision (demonstrate/execute the action accurately without help)
  • Level 4: Articulation (integrate/adapt a range of skills)
  • Level 5: Naturalisation (automatic mastery/creation of new designs or knowledge)

Myers-Briggs (60s, 70s, and 80s)

 I would challenge anyone not to have heard of the Myers-Briggs test by now.  Their Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality descriptor, with four different scales, resulting in 16 different possible personality types:                         aThis results in different individuals responding differently to deadlines, directions, sensory experience, problem-solving activities, generating new ideas, applying knowledge, avoiding or enjoying routine tasks, interaction with others, how they express themselves and how well, and their varied preference for concreate information or more abstract ideas.  It is another reason why we should vary our approaches when mentoring.

David Kolb (80s)

Theorised that learning is based on two continuous dimensions concerning how people take in information and how they internalise information, to create four dominant styles:


Honey and Mumford (80s, and 2004)

Developed Kolb’s inventory to characterise people’s preferred (but not necessarily best) learning styles as:

  • Activists (learn by doing, are open-minded, try new ideas, enjoy group work, and dislike routine)
  • Reflectors (observe, have a meticulous approach, consider why things happen, and can be slow to make decisions)
  • Theorists (think of original ways of achieving goals, and explore how new information fits their existing understanding, but can get impatient with those who disagree on ideas)
  • Pragmatists (are natural problem-solvers and are keen to use new ideas, but lose interest if things do not work)

 Anthony Gregorc (80s and 2006)

Proposed that there are four innate combinations of behaviours in terms of how we both perceive information and also in how we arrange, systemise, record, and dispose of information:


 Ned Herrman (90s)

Developed the notion of right and left brain thinking and divided the brain into quadrants:



Neil Fleming (2001)

Developed the VARK model, one of the most widely used assessment of learning styles, which can – and possibly should – be mixed:

  • Visual (learn best through mental images and pictures),
  • Auditory (learn best through lectures and group discussions),
  • Reading (learn best through, written material) and,
  • Kinaesthetic (learn best through interacting with others and local space).

Possible Learning Activities for Sessions

  • Mind maps
  • Analogies and metaphors
  • Presenting ideas in pictures or through music, even dance
  • Role plays and simulations
  • Case studies, anecdotes, and role models
  • Link between past and present to visualise the future
  • Films
  • Presenting or creating diagrams
  • Tactile activities- using the computer, drawing, playing with a stress ball
  • Encourage people out of their comfort zone into trying new learning styles
  • Comparative study of others’ works to gauge style and approach
  • Consider informing the writer what they will learn by the end of the session, vary the ways of showing them this knowledge/skill, and get them to put it into practice somehow
  • Allow opportunity for the writer to think creatively or to be led more based on their personality/learning style requirements
  • Encouraging mentees to make notes rather than respond to questions verbally

Bates, B. (2016). Learning Theories Simplified and how to apply them to teaching: 100+ theories and models from great thinkers. London: SAGE.


Understanding Motivation

Hoskins, S.L., and Newstead, S.E. (2009).  Encouraging student motivation. In: Fry, H. et al (eds). A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education: enhancing academic practice. 3rd edn. Abingdon: Routledge, specifically pp 27-29.


I have previously wondered about how to deal with a lack of writer motivation in sessions, and in reading general pedagogical research, lately, I came across this great breakdown of different types of motivation, which can enable understanding of how and why it works.

Researchers Hoskins and Newstead were struck, themselves, back in 1996, by how little research there was into student motivation.  They therefore carried out a study, asking students to offer a single reason for why they came to university.  The researchers then classified the answers into three groups, which seemed to fit the other literature well:

Means to an end constituting 66% of answers: relating to the desire for qualifications, and career advancement.

Personal development as 24% of all answers: a genuine interest in the subject, and wishing to realise their potential.

Stopgap as just 10% of responses: those who could not think of anything else to do, deferring career decisions, wanting to enjoy themselves, or laziness.

The researchers then explore how these categories fit the classification of motivation by other researchers:

Extrinsic motivation: desiring external rewards and/or notoriety.

Intrinsic motivation: wanting to master a subject, curiosity, and enjoyment of challenges.

And the concept of amotivation, which arises when speaking to those who don’t know why they’re at university, feel little control over their future, feel incompetent, and generally show an absence of motivation in other words.

Hoskins and Newstead point out that ‘This highlights that motivation has strength as well as direction’.  So, as supporters of learning, we need to be aware not only of the variety of motivational goals people have, but we also need to identify the strength of people’s motivations.  They may share the same goal as others, the researchers note, but not to the same degree, and so end up being less motivated to achieve said goals.  Thus, there appear to be three types of motivation in all:

Intrinsic, extrinsic, and also achievement motivation (to which amotivation [a lack of motivation] is at the opposite end of the spectrum).

I believe it is worth knowing about this, and why people feel the way they do, in order to best accommodate their learning.  We could, for instance, relate academic work to real world situations for extrinsic motivation, focus on problem-solving more for those intrinsically motivated, or work on boosting morale for those guided by achievement motivation.  And I guess the way to find out which kind of motivation we might be dealing with, is just to ask the writer.

Managing Dissatisfaction

I recently attended a training course at Bangor University, with Dr Fay Short, on how to manage dissatisfaction, which I found to be surprisingly illuminating and useful for a number of settings.  One of which, of course, was mentoring.  So I’ll provide a brief summary of what I learned that could help us in our sessions.

Modern life promotes dissatisfaction, even within ourselves

Fay explained how evaluation forms are everywhere.  Cute and fun selfies abound on social media.  Gossip bubbles up in every classroom and office.  Lifestyles of the rich and famous are shown constantly on TV.  TripAdvisor reviews skim over the great parts to really shout about the few tiny ‘disasters’ that happened on every holiday.  And we are almost conditioned now, not just to compare people and events, but also to look for negatives rather than positives; which, as academics, you know goes hand in hand with a balanced criticality.  In fact, at times, we also focus too much on looking to have our expectations not only met, but surpassed.  But, again, in academia, provided that an argument is strong, with evidence to back it up, there is really no need to seek a Nobel Prize for every essay or article written.  Graduation and publication should suffice.

Dissatisfaction in the mentoring context

Therefore, it’s possible that the way might be paved for dissatisfaction to creep into our mentoring sessions, perhaps in sneaky ways.

How many sessions have we had in which:

  • a mentee hands their essay over for you to check (could this writer simply want a proof reading service?),
  • or comes in looking desperate and saying that they didn’t know where else to turn (could they want this hour to change their entire academic career?),
  • or says that they want to know everything about referencing so they don’t get into trouble again (is this possible in an hour, especially when paraphrasing takes time to practice?),
  • or that they want to write English fluently (sometimes this cannot – and should not – be achieved in a lifetime?)?

Perhaps being more aware that these kind of expectations lead to potential dissatisfaction can help us to approach the session with more proactive questions and firmer boundaries: we cannot do that, but we can offer you this service instead; that’s a lot to achieve in an hour, so what would you like to start with?

We also need to be aware of our own potential expectations of a session.  How open minded are we before a session?  Has our preparation beforehand set up too many expectations of how a session will go, only to find that it takes a completely different turn?  How often do we hope that writers don’t ask us about certain topics, or wish that the writer had brought their essay or assignment details, even if they can tell us everything we need to know?  Again, maybe we need to learn to recognise our thinking, and learn how to wipe the slate clean, so that we can come to each session fresh and ready for anything.

But how can we deal with the dissatisfaction that we, and others, feel?

Ways to alleviate or avoid dissatisfaction

We can change our expectations.  Fay is right: how can we enjoy a gruelling essay, for instance, which is usually how we rate satisfaction?  But it pushes us, and we feel great afterwards, having learned a lot, improved our skills, and boosted our employability.

Breaking a habit, such a negative thinking, can be achieved more easily by relearning a new more positive one.  So, instead of allowing a writer to complain about things, we can reflect with them on how smoothly a session activity is going, or focus on what they have already achieved, and what they learned from this session that they didn’t know at the start.  We can ask them – and ourselves – to think of three positives about an otherwise negative situation or problem, and we can turn ‘what if’ statements from worries into hope: what if I get an A?  What if it’s a really fun session?

And a really great message from the training was that managing dissatisfaction is not about ignoring or avoiding the negatives in life, but an attempt to stop looking for them, and look for positives instead.

In the School of Psychology, they’ve also come up with a great structured model for dealing with dissatisfaction too (along the same lines as the skills you pick up if you work in customer service for long enough!).  As this is a public blog, I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that the more background to a problem you can get, and the more questions you ask someone with a complaint, the better you are both able to move forward to resolve whatever the issue is.

A mentoring example

So, to put this advice into practice, let’s take a possible example in the mentoring context.

A writer comes to a session to complain about the grade and feedback they got for an essay recently.  First of all, is the dissatisfaction really about the grade and feedback?  Is the feedback, for instance, when you read it yourself, way too vague and lacking in examples, or too personal, maybe too negative?  Or is the writer’s problem based more on how the feedback makes them feel guilty about staying out late the night before the essay deadline, or that they simply disagreed with a tutor about an interpretation of the material, or perhaps they’re feeling overwhelmed by other things and this grade just isn’t helping?

Asking questions – as with everything in mentoring 😉 – helps a lot here.  We need to establish, for example, what the situation is, what the mentee knows already, if they have already spoken to the tutor about the feedback, and whether they have re-read the essay in light of the feedback, to check if it makes sense?  Is there any background to the situation that the writer might not even know?  If a tutor is suddenly curt, for instance, have they had their own crisis to deal with recently?

Once you know what the writer’s issue is, then you can start discussing with the mentee how to resolve it.  But it’s important that they come up with some possible solutions of their own here, especially if it appears that the writer simply wishes to complain about everything and dismisses all of your suggestions, because maybe they just wanted to vent.  Asking the writer to come up with ideas of their own can shift the onus of resolving the problem to the dissatisfied person, while allowing them a feeling of empowerment, helping them to narrow down the session topic, and it can show a person how difficult it is to change a situation sometimes.  Maybe, for instance, the marking criteria is fixed for a reason, and they just didn’t meet it in a particular area.  But this is something they can learn to do for next time.  Or maybe they’d like a chance to resubmit on a different topic, and this is something they can discuss with their School?  Alternatively, the writer decides they want to learn how to better structure an argument, and then they’ve definitely come to the right place.

Following this discussion, it’s worth making an action plan, as we do on each of our Appointment Record Forms, for how the writer can take the matter forward, positively, such discussing the feedback with the tutor, or by analysing the feedback and choosing two major things to work on for the next essay.


Thus, a lot of what we do already reflects this training.  But I think what I really learned the other day was both why these actions are so important, and also how to recognise our deep-seated perceptions and feelings that can lead to dissatisfaction and complaining.  Also, how to approach these impressions and expectations head on with focussed questions, to see that ‘in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity’ – Albert Einstein.


A Mentor’s Journey

How did I not know this, as someone who studied Classics?!  The word mentor actually comes from Homer’s Odyssey, and has had a bit of a journey itself:

The story of Mentor comes from Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus, king of Ithaca, fights in the Trojan War and entrusts the care of his household to Mentor, who serves as teacher and overseer of Odysseus’ son, Telemachus.

After the war, Odysseus is condemned to wander vainly for ten years in his attempt to return home. In time, Telemachus, now grown, ventures in search of his father. Athena, Goddess of War and patroness of the arts and industry, assumes the form of Mentor and accompanies Telemachus on his quest. Father and son reunite and cast down would-be usurpers of Odysseus’ throne and Telemachus’s birthright.

The word Mentor evolved to mean trusted advisor, friend, teacher and wise person. History offers many examples of helpful mentoring relationships: Socrates and Plato, Hayden and Beethoven, Freud and Jung. Mentoring is a fundamental form of human development where one person invests time, energy and personal know-how in assisting the growth and ability of another person.

History and legend record the deeds of princes and kings, but each of us has a birthright to actualize our potential. Through their deeds and work, mentors help us to move toward that actualization.

*From Shea, Gordon F. (1997) Mentoring (Rev. Ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publications


In Homer’s Odyssey, the character, Mentor, first appears in Book 2, and the goddess Athena even ends the entire epic poem in Mentor’s guise.  She does this to bring peace to the local warring households that have tried to seize Odysseus’ wife Penelope’s hand in marriage and Odysseus’ estate in Ithaca in his twenty years away: at the Trojan War and on his voyage back home.


A bit more on the word itself:

mentor (n.)

“wise adviser,” 1750, from Greek Mentor, friend of Odysseus and adviser of Telemachus (but often actually Athene in disguise) in the “Odyssey,” perhaps ultimately meaning “adviser,” because the name appears to be an agent noun of mentos “intent, purpose, spirit, passion” from PIE *mon-eyo- (source also of Sanskrit man-tar- “one who thinks,” Latin mon-i-tor “one who admonishes”), causative form of root *men- (1) “to think.” The general use of the word probably is via later popular romances, in which Mentor played a larger part than he does in Homer.

mentor (v.)

1888, from mentor (n.). Related: Mentored; mentoring.


I love learning something every day!  Including, that we have a lot of history to live up to; so I guess it’s back to the library to prepare for our next round of sessions!


Bouncing Back from Feedback


We are all told – as students – about the importance of reading and noting the feedback we get from Tutors and Supervisors, as well as from other readers, whether in written or spoken form.

However, in all these cases, it is possible that the feedback comments could be less than helpful: maybe because they are not detailed enough with examples, feel too much like a subjective judgment rather than an objective critique, or simply confuse the writer who felt confident heading off in one direction…only to be told (suddenly) to change their approach.

I have been there before, mystified by a reader’s feedback, while more recently a friend of mine has undergone a painful reassessment of their work on the basis of an unavoidable – but only partially articulated – requirement to update.

As such, I thought it might be helpful to have a little look at online advice regarding this matter, and have broken down the information as follows.  Hopefully, this may help mentees to work with Tutor feedback more effectively, while it may also boost our approach as commentators – and students – ourselves.

To pre-empt unhelpful feedback:

Considering pre-empting a Tutor by asking questions like:

  • Am I on track?
  • How might I improve?
  • What aspects should I focus on in this piece of work?
  • What are my strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement?

Consider, also a self-assessment.  How do you feel about your work?  What do you struggle with, that you might like help with?  What are you particularly proud of?  Can you discuss these aspects in more detail with Tutors?

Moreover, have you edited your work before submitting? In terms of structure, argument, references, and grammar/spelling/punctuation?

To respond to unhelpful feedback:

Academics are rarely taught how to give feedback; but as students, we’re not taught to receive feedback either!  Therefore, this area needs a careful approach – ideally from both sides, but certainly as the student, we need to take the lead for our own degree.  So try to make this process as useful, positive, and constructive as possible.

It is worthwhile remembering that it is a compliment to have someone spend time and energy assessing your work, especially when they are experts in your field.

The more preparation you do before engaging in feedback reading/discussion, the more open you will be to the feedback.  So ask yourself first: how did that work really go?  What would I have changed if I could do it again?  What will I try again because it worked well?  How might I put these changes into effect?

Read your feedback immediately. It is important that the work is still fresh in your mind, for the feedback to make the most sense.  If you have only had oral feedback, request something in writing that will be more tangible and longer lasting.

But, after reading the feedback, let it sink in before charging into the Tutor’s office to demand a re-mark!  We can read things differently (more negatively) in the heat of the moment, or fail to realise that a particular comment may have been more accurate than we’d like it to be.  Plus, you need to decide what are the most useful questions you need to ask before having that conversation.

Note that there are three major types of written feedback:

  • Referential: editorial, organisational, and content comments
  • Directive: suggestions for change, questions, and instructions
  • Expressive: praise, criticism, and opinion

Another way of breaking down the comments is by content or technical issues: are they discussing your inability to criticise sources, or the referencing format?

Also, try to separate fact from opinion, as well as the delivery from the content of the message.  A comment like, ‘I think this is great and well-referenced’, for instance, is different to ‘This work adds a new perspective on this topic by examining X, and there are plenty of accurate and relevant citations.’  Or ‘clearly you haven’t bothered to read Y’s theory’ as compared to ‘In this section, you demonstrate no awareness of Y’s theory in relation to this topic’.

If you cannot work out what the Tutor is asking for or criticising, ask for specific examples or actions to take, such as ‘In paragraph 4, line 3, you need to add another example of why you think Z’ or ‘try, next time, to use more varied language instead of repeating however’.

To this end, I came across a fantastic UCL website (listed below), offering a list of typical phrases used in feedback.  The site decodes them, with instructions and examples.  For instance, on the subject of ‘developing a point’, it states that it might be useful to supply more examples and explain the implications of the point raised.  Or on a ‘lack of criticality’, the site shows an instance of adding comments to, and not just paraphrasing, a source.

Another thing to find out, regarding feedback, is what to do with it: can you/do you have to try the work again, and when is this for?  Can you revise a small section for a review – whether or not it will affect your marks?  Even if it was amazing feedback that makes you dance around, still try to learn how you can produce the same results next time!

Last, but absolutely not least, prioritise the issues raised.  Discuss with your Tutor which aspects to work: just on one or two of the most important issues first, before tackling everything else.  It is important not to overwhelm yourself, while you’re trying to learn everything else as well, this approach will also ensure lasting improvement.






Why does feedback hurt sometimes?


Academic Writing for Non-Native Speakers

Recently, a lot of my sessions have been with ESL (English as a Second Language) students. Many of these students have provided information prior to the session, and indicated that they are struggling with “writing skills” or “academic writing”. I have found in many of these cases, when we really start to discuss the problem, the issue is often that the student is not confident in their ability to effectively communicate their ideas in English.

I have found an interesting book from the University of Helsinki called “Academic Writing in English”. It is, as it says, an academic writing resource for writers where English is not their first language. This book covers lots of subjects in detail, and is great to pick up helpful tips and techniques for mentoring ESL students. This book is available in the “Resources” folder on the U Drive (U:\Service Departments\Student Support Services\Study Skills\Tutorials\Resources\ESL), and also by following this link: academic-writing-in-english-for-non-native-speakers.

Below is a help sheet that I have created which is essentially a summary of (potentially!) useful books, websites and university resources. This document is also available in the “Resources” folder on the U Drive (U:\Service Departments\Student Support Services\Study Skills\Tutorials\Resources\ESL).

Resources for Improving Academic Writing Skills, and Writing in English as a Second Language.

Below are some resources which may be useful to explore to help improve postgraduate academic writing skills, as well as helpful information for studying/writing in English when it is not your first language.


  • Crème, P. and Lea, M.R. 2012. Writing at University: A Guide for Students. 3rd Berkshire, England: Open University Press.
  • Murray, R. and Moore, S. 2006. The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach. Berkshire, England: Open University Press.
  • Osmond, A. 2013. Academic Writing and Grammar for Students. London, England: Sage Publications Ltd.

Online Resources

University Resources

ELCOS – The English Language Centre for Overseas Students (ELCOS) provides English language and study skills courses to overseas students at Bangor University. ELCOS have their own Writing Advice Service.

“ELCOS runs Writing Advice Sessions for international students on degree courses at the University. The purpose of these sessions is to help students improve their written English and become more independent learners. Students can have up to three hours of individual, consultation with an ELCOS tutor per semester. Students should bring to the session the written work they want help with and it would be helpful if they have some general ideas about the kind of help they need with that work (for example, with organisation, coherence, paragraph structure, grammar, referencing, etc.). Tutors will work with the student, make corrections, offer advice on how to make improvements in structure and form and enable the student recognise and be able to correct errors in the rest of the written work themselves.”

Contact – “E-mail the ELCOS office on elcos@bangor.ac.uk to request an appointment for that day and time, giving your name, School, level of study (undergraduate, Masters or PhD student). An appointment will be made for that time and day if available or you will be offered some alternatives; you will also be given the name of the tutor and told where to meet him/her. (Usually Neuadd Rathbone on College Road).”





Encouraging Reflection

Lately, I have needed to reflect on my actions, research, and experiences in order to learn lessons for the future.  This is a tricky skill I am slowly developing, and it is a skill that I believe would be useful for Mentees, as it promotes active learning, rather than relying on teaching.

To that end, I have found a couple of entertaining and helpful academic blog posts on how to encourage reflection, which I wanted to share:






Academic feedback can seem scarier, and sometimes be more telling, than the mark on an assignment handed back by a Tutor.   It tends to be a lengthy breakdown of everything we as writers did wrong, pinpointing writing that was vague or misinterpreted a fact, and sometimes the feedback even includes confusing comments that pertain only for that piece of work.  Feedback can feel even less useful if there is sparkling percentage on the page which tells us that we obviously know what we’re doing.  However, in all cases, it is necessary not only to read the feedback but to utilise as much of it as possible, so that, regardless of the mark for this particular piece, we ensure glittering grades in the future.  For this blog, I’ve looked into the topic at a range of universities and organisation websites and books, including advice gleaned from my own experience too.

What is feedback?

To answer this question, it’s easier to start with what feedback is not.   Feedback is not advice, and so does not include comments about how we could rewrite a passage, add a reference, or change the structure of an argument.  Nor is feedback a value judgement.  Feedback does not tell us whether the work is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, recommend we never publish this in a Journal, or evaluate if the work could win us a Nobel prize.  These go hand in hand with feedback, of course, but they are not one and the same, which even Tutors may muddle up at times.

Feedback is actually just information conveying the effects of what we’re doing as relating to a goal (ASCD website).  So it would include comments such as ‘I, as a reader, do/do not understand the point being expressed here’ as relating to the clarity of the writing.  When playing tennis, we want to know first and foremost if our serve caused the ball to land within the court or not.  Similarly, an audience either does or does not laugh at a comedian, while a driving instructor will state whether we did or did not just hit a lamppost upon reversing the car.  Once we have this information, about whether we hit the target or not (hopefully not in the case of the lamppost!), we can then make use of any advice as to how to improve, or repeat our success, which is why it matters to read the feedback regardless of the mark achieved.

Why is feedback important?

It offers clear indications of whether we are achieving goals such as clarity of expression, avoiding plagiarism, logically arguing our point and so forth.  It also helps give us a better idea of what the Tutor expects, as they have probably not just taught the module, but set and marked the questions too.  All in all, it acts as a kind of ‘You Are Here’ on a map of our educational experience, so that we can orient ourselves as to how we move forward to our chosen destination: whether that’s passing the course, or passing with a Distinction.  The importance of feedback is well-established in education (Merry and Orsmond, 2008) but, at the same time, to be effective, it needs to be conveyed by the Tutor with detail and accuracy, and then be employed by the writer.

Giving feedback:

From a study by Merry and Orsmond, there seems to be a student preference for verbal feedback, through audio files or in person, to allow for discussion and a chance to ask questions.  Verbal feedback, it was found, has the added benefit that Tutors are able to get more information across, in terms of both examples of how feedback could be utilised, as well as elements like tone of voice conveying more than a tick or a ‘good comment’, especially if the feedback was usually handwritten and often illegible.  Meanwhile, Tutors also found it a positive experience, though there were technological issues and therefore there are arguments both ways for how time-effective this process is.  Not to mention the fact that every institution will have their own methods for aspects like giving feedback.

However, what can be taken away from the study is that students want a bit more personalisation, and a blend of positive and negative comments in the feedback.  They want comments to be goal-referenced, with examples where possible.  The amount of feedback also needs to be manageable, as no one wants their work handed back looking like a crime scene of red pen mania.

Beyond this, it is of course ideal if there were to be more consistency across the relevant department in terms of teaching style, assignment requirements, and feedback offered, to avoid giving students mixed messages.  It could be useful for a Tutor, who sees a regular problem occurring, to address it in class in order to help everyone.  But the most important aspect, possibly, is that the feedback illustrates effective ‘listening’ on the part of the Tutor, both in terms of what was written in the essay, and any debriefing that occurs thereafter if the student approaches the Tutor for advice on how to improve.

All of this, unfortunately, is more the ideal situation than a constant reality; but as writers are entitled to this kind of support, if we don’t get it initially, we can certainly go to office hours and ask for it!


This topic is tricky, and a constant issue for students.  It is time-consuming for Tutors to read and feedback on assignments, of course, but it needs to be done according to a set-out framework of time, so that everyone knows what to expect.  Therefore, if this does not happen, the student has every right to ask for assistance from the department.  The matter of overlapping assignments is unfortunate, as feedback cannot be used until much later work needs to have been handed in.  However, practically, I doubt this can be helped.

Using feedback:

The Study Skills Handbook advises that feedback be put aside for a few days after it has been received, to allow the mind to settle, and to feel less emotionally attached.  To be fair to the Tutor, they have taken time to consider the work and offer their comments.

Moreover, we need to move away from the notion that feedback signals failure, error, weakness, or anything else debilitating and horrid.  We need to view feedback, and our marks, with a rational, not emotional, point of view.  I was often told by my parents during my undergrad: if I had come to uni knowing everything already, what would be the point of me attending?  And then look at musicians or ballerinas, athletes or chefs.  Practice makes perfect.  Mistakes enable them to see how to turn a great performance into a phenomenal one.  They cannot do that without feedback.

So it’s time to dive into those comments and soak up the information.  The Handbook advises that the feedback be divided into major and minor issues, and that we are realistic about what to take forward for future work: not everything is possible all at once.  For instance, is the comment about content or structure?  How do the comments relate to the Learning Outcomes set out at the start of the course?  The reason for this being that writers need to move away from trying to make Tutors happy towards demonstrating independent learning, and the attainment of specific skills that the module is expected to teach.  Also, how much work would the adjustments really take?  Improvements can be a lot less significant than at first believed: taking care over a slip in the use of a term, a hastily written and therefore overly complex sentence, or a missed example.

In any case, we need to take the time to think the feedback through and reassess our submissions for future reference, and not rush through the comments resulting in possible misninterpretation.  If the comments aren’t clear, we could try chatting it over with peers, going to the Tutor, or even rewriting the work as a practice exercise and seeing if the Tutor would be happy glancing over it to check for improvement.  Most of all, we need to concentrate on the next assignment: it’ll be a new topic, and another chance.



Cottrell, Stella (2013). The Study Skills Handbook, 4th ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Merry, Stephen & Paul Orsmond (2008). Students’ Attitudes to and Usage of Academic Feedback Provided Via Audio Files, Bioscience Education, [E-journal] 11:1, pp1-11, DOI: 10.3108/beej.11.3, accessed 10th February 2016.

















Creating academic/empirical posters

Hi guys,

I’ve had an interesting session on poster presentations and I’ve released that we have little information for how to format these or a basic outline for them in our resources.

Posters provide a way to give a clear and interesting summary of findings in a specific research area, usually produced to paper size A0

From doing a bit of research into this I have found that the key is to produce something:

  • Visually appealing – yet professional. It needs to attract visitors in a non garish manner.
  • Well organised – it should hold the audiences attention.
  • Informative – it should be something memorable.

On an A0 poster you should aim for no more than 1000-1100 words as a rough guide. The whole thing should be readable within 10 minutes.

Producing a sequence of columns will aid the reader’s progression through the research:

  • Introduction – typically the left-most column that should consist of brief background information and a specific hypothesis and research question.
  • Method – the second progression within the columns, containing the significant detail only – graphics may be useful here.
  • Results – these should lie in the middle, often being the largest section. Very important to visualize your data in figures and tables.
  • Conclusions – Reminder of the hypotheses and determination as to whether the findings were consistent with this. Mention of any future directions.

You may wish to include:

  • A crest or logo of the company/association the research is affiliated with
  • A reference list
  • Acknowledgements
  • Further contact details

In terms of style:

  • The poster should be easy to read
  • Sans serif font for large titles/figures
  • Serif font for body of text and figure captions
  • Stick to 2-3 colours and keep these consistent
  • The colours must create contrast to aid clarity

I’ll put these details into a document and save it as a resource. I have no internet link or reference for this information as it is adapted from a resource I was provided with in my course.

I hope it proves useful for someone if this comes up in any sessions again.

Ask and you shall receive.

The topic of how and when to approach a Lecturer – or Tutor – about academic issues has come up in both of my mentoring sessions so far. While the queries were of a specific and easily answered nature, in these instances, I felt it worthwhile to write up a small summary in response to the more general question for future reference.

All students know that Tutors give lectures and classes, set and mark student assignments, as well as organize course content. Beyond this, it is my feeling that too many students are unaware of how much more guidance Tutors can offer. It almost seems taboo at times to go and ask for clarification on a topic just covered, or to find out specifics about an upcoming assignment.

Not only, then, are students possibly missing out on this important resource, and not making the most of the University fees they’re paying, but they also risk their academic success and their future for want of knowing that it’s absolutely ok to ask for help sometimes.

So what is a Tutor’s office hour for?

It’s the time that Tutors have allotted solely for their students’ individual needs. Appointments are not required, though this means, of course, that other students may need to see the Tutor too. Therefore, if it is a long complicated matter, or of a very serious nature, it might be best for students to make an appointment rather than simply dropping by.

What is a Personal Tutor?

A Personal Tutor will be assigned at the beginning of a student’s course. The role covers advice and support on both academic and non-academic matters. This includes help with managing issues that are current or crop up during the course, which will ultimately affect concentration, study timetables and extensions, as well as the quality of work handed in for assessment. They can assist with module choices, signpost for further information or resources, and encourage students to become more active in the academic community and in building their career. They can also write letters of recommendation for job applications.

What is a Course Tutor?

Beyond simply teaching a module, these Tutors can offer confirmation of module document and assignment requirements. They can answer specific questions about the material taught on the course. They can discuss feedback for improvement purposes, or discuss student outlines for upcoming essays. They can also give advice on background and wider reading. It may be tricky to catch them immediately after lectures, though, due to busy timetables and rooms. So students are advised to pop in during office hours, or to send an email with a quick overview of the issue. This allows the Tutor to prepare, and to arrange a convenient time for you both to discuss the topic properly.

Things to remember when asking Tutors for help:

• Ask about the problem right away. It gives Tutors plenty of time to help and it gives the student less time to worry about it!
• Tutors are authority figures to be respected, and their office hour is just that – not round the clock service for any individual. But they are very happy to offer guidance and would much prefer students ask about something they’re unsure of than the problem be left to grow unchecked.
• Be prepared for the meeting with a particular question or a list of specific points to discuss, a notepad for any advice or suggestions the Tutor may have, and a relevant module document or textbook etc. This makes the most of the time.
• Appreciate that a Tutor will not discuss actual answers for assignments, but will elaborate on what the word limit is, how many references they expect and so forth.
• Don’t hesitate to request a follow-up meeting if there is a need to check back on the matter or if the information does not sink in. There are also no stupid questions, while it’s not a Tutor’s job to judge at any rate.
• Give feedback on the help where possible, especially which parts are most appreciated and how the help can be utilised. This is not just a sign of respect for the Tutor but enables them to cater their service to other students who approach them too.
• And remember that, while Tutors are more than willing to guide, teach, and repeat, independence in study and in living is one of most vital lessons to learn at university.

Any questions? Just ask your Tutor!

On a side note, whilst browsing for this blog, I came across a handy little service run by Bangor University: http://www.bangor.ac.uk/applied/ask-a-student/ In the University’s words: ‘Who better to answer your questions about Bangor life, the courses, accommodation or location than our very own experts…our students. Choose a student…and click on “ask a question” to send them an email.’ It’s very positive to know that Bangor offers so many different kinds of support for its students!