News

Writing a Dissertation Without the Library: A Guide

It’s getting to that time of year where students usually inhabit the library every day, furiously typing away at their dissertations. But how do you go about writing your diss when there’s no library to go to? Here’s a quick guide with some tips about how to work from home and some useful resources for researching online.

MINDSET

You might have all the books you need, but if you can’t get into the right mindset for working it can be really difficult. Working from home isn’t easy for some people, especially if you don’t have much space. Here are a couple of tips that you could try, which might make working from home a bit easier.

Create a zone: Creating a specific workspace, whether it’s on a desk, a section of the kitchen table or even in the shed, can really help you get into the right mindset. If you have a space that’s dedicated entirely to your work, it’ll help you to focus.

Effective working: Write a to-do list and set yourself goals for your work. This will help you to feel motivated and to give you a sense of productivity and achievement in your work.

Set a routine: It’s good to try and work at the same time every day to get yourself into a routine. It doesn’t matter if this is in the morning, in the evening, or split across the day – everyone has different responsibilities and commitments, but try to give yourself set hours to work, that way, you’ll feel more productive and organised.

Be kind to yourself: It’s a difficult time! If you’re having a hard time working one day, don’t be too harsh on yourself. If you’re really not in the right mindset, consider stopping for the day and trying again tomorrow. Be kind to yourself, you can’t expect yourself to always work as hard as you would under more normal circumstances.

RESOURCES

Whilst we can’t get to the library right now, there’s plenty of ways to get online access to resources. The library website is a resource in itself, so make sure you get familiar with it.

For example, have you ever emailed your subject librarian? Subject librarians are specialists in your subject and can help you with a range of library issues. They can help you to: find and use information; evaluate academic resources; research a topic; avoid plagiarism; reference correctly and use referencing management tools like EndNote. All the subject librarians are friendly and helpful, and they are experts, so they’ll be able to tell you everything the library has on your particular topic. This link will help you find out who your subject librarian is so you can email them. http://www.bristol.ac.uk/library/subject-support/

The library also has a super handy tool called ‘Recommended databases’. You can enter in your subject to get discipline specific results, or you can search the list to try and find the particular database you’re looking for. There’s hundreds of databases here that you might not have even heard of. It’s a great way to explore new resources! https://www.bristol.ac.uk/library/find/databases/

Many providers are now offering extra or free services due to the COVID-19 outbreak – you can find a list of new services we have access to here: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/library/find/free/

If you already know what book you need, but it’s a physical copy sat gathering dust in the library, or if the library doesn’t own a copy, you can request them to purchase an e-version. It’s a super easy process to request a book, and if it’ll be useful for others, they’ll probably get it in. To request a book, follow this link: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/library/find/suggest-purchase/

There are also plenty of other websites online that can offer you access to books or help you with your research. Here’s a list of some of them:

Oxford Bibliographies https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/ (sign in with institutional login)
Oxford Bibliographies is a really useful tool to find new texts, papers and criticism to read. You can search for a specific topic, such as ‘Victorian Literature’ or ‘Feminism’, and it’ll break it down into a general overview, sub-topics and recommended texts. It’s a great resource for finding new sources.

HathiTrust https://www.hathitrust.org/

Cambridge Core https://www.cambridge.org/core/ (sign in with institutional login)

Project Muse https://muse.jhu.edu/ (sign in with institutional login)

Archive.org https://archive.org/
Archive.org has loads of texts uploaded, it’s particularly useful if you’re looking for published texts pre-1900. Top tip though – navigating archive.org’s search tool is not particularly easy, it’s probably better to search through Google by typing in the book and “archive.org” for instance, search: “archive.org” Morte Darthur

Project Gutenberg https://www.gutenberg.org/
Project Gutenberg has over 60,000 free eBooks online.

Google Books https://books.google.com/
Google Books might offer you a preview of some pages, and sometimes even the whole book!

Oxford Scholarly Editions https://www.oxfordscholarlyeditions.com/ (sign in with institutional login)

Google Scholar https://scholar.google.com/

Web of Science https://wok.mimas.ac.uk/

MORE HELP

If you’re still struggling academically, get in touch with your personal tutor or dissertation supervisor. They’ll be able to give you some tips about researching from home. Don’t forget, everyone is trying to work from home at the moment, they’ll understand!

News

Bristol University and the Climate Crisis: Reflection on The Role of Higher Education Teaching and Public Engagement in Addressing the Climate Emergency

I am a student with considerable climate anxiety. I worry constantly about how my own actions could possibly lead to the demise of human society and am often left apoplectic with rage at the seemingly blasé attitude of governments around the world, and occasionally that includes my own university. Although it is a significant accomplishment that Bristol was the first university to declare a climate emergency, I often look around at the computers that won’t turn off or the enormous amount of plastic and paper wastage at Freshers Fair and think, is this enough? How could the university be doing more? 

Although this conference did not solve the climate crisis, it was a great relief to see a variety of staff from an array of areas expressing their concerns and thinking of possible solutions. Not to mention, the guest speakers from universities in South Africa offered an insight that we should be considering significantly more when talking about the climate crisis: we are not the ones that are bearing the brunt of the climate disaster. Our university does not have droughts or 4 hours on then 4 hours off of power. You thought the strikes were bad? Imagine only being able to use the internet half of the day. Professor Coleen Vogel illustrated this beautifully and although her talk did not soothe the anxiety, it did contribute to the sense of urgency that characterised the day and brought a universality to the crisis.  This conference demonstrated to me that the university not only has to mitigate these consequences for itself but has a responsibility to inform students about how their actions impact people across the world. 

One of my favourite speakers of the day (other than one professor who sang and gave us a deeply needed wake up 3 hours into the conference) was Professor Keri Facer, who spoke about ‘living on a lively planet’. What really struck me about her talk was that it went beyond the doom and gloom approach to climate change, lecturing on how we need to reexamine our relationship with the planet and each other. For the first time (to me) it presented climate change as an opportunity for growth and learning, rather than a signifier of the apocalypse. I often feel that climate change can be disempowering, particularly for young people, as it undeniably presents some giant obstacles. This outlook, however, is less than useful as it means that every step in the right direction feels like dropping a stone into a void. Keri’s lecture demonstrated a different approach and climate change finally felt like something that could be a learning process for the human race. 

The other speakers were absolutely fantastic, open and urgent but also presenting options for how to move higher education forward. It was incredible to have staff from such a wide variety of backgrounds, meaning that conversations were extremely interdisciplinary and each talk brought about a wide variety of responses. The talks themselves also included an ‘arts-based approach’, including creating a transformative engagement toolkit to building lasting partnerships with civil society. Hearing this side of the argument was refreshing, as the science-heavy focus has often felt like it leaves fifty per cent of the population in the dust, not to mention that the inclusion of community engagement already had me absolutely invested. 

However, although I enjoyed the day and was grateful to be part of the conversation I couldn’t help but think: Is this how we treat an emergency that is causing half of Australia to catch fire and kill over a billion animals? That’s caused three cyclones in Fiji in the past two weeks alone? This event demonstrated to me that the university needs to take its role as a world leader seriously but also that there are impassioned academics who are trying to take that role. One of the professors said that climate change presented an opportunity for academics to use the social capital we have been afforded and to use it to create change. We have the opportunity to truly lead the charge in the fight against climate change and for that, we need drastic action. 

Meet the BILT Student Fellows

Meet the Student Fellows… Emily Kinder

Hi, I’m Emily Kinder. I did my undergrad degree at Bristol but just couldn’t stay away, and now I’m back to do an MPhil in English and to work as a BILT Student Fellow on a project called ‘students as researchers’. Starting a research degree is pretty daunting; it’s filled with a lot of lone study and bouts of imposter syndrome and the recurring feeling that you’ve no idea what you’re doing. But it’s also really fun and exciting, and the best part of research is knowing that you’re working on something that hasn’t been done before.

With the new Temple Quarter campus being built and the new curriculum framework in the works, the Uni is really putting an emphasis on a ‘research-rich education’. But as a student it’s easy to feel cut off from these taglines and often we become disillusioned as everything seems like it leads back to assessments and marks.

That’s why I want to make celebrating undergrad research a priority, so we feel enthused and excited about the work we do and start to think of it as something more than part of our overall grade. I have a few ideas already for the year, such as recruiting a group of undergrads for the British Conference for Undergraduate Research (click here to sign up, it’s going to be a lot of fun!) and establishing a multi-disciplinary journal to publish our best essays and projects.

But that’s not all – I also want to hear from you. I want to bridge the gap between the institution and the students, to talk to students about what ‘research’ means to them, and ultimately to develop a culture of celebrating and encouraging undergraduate research. You can expect workshops, focus groups and countless cups of coffee. I’ll keep you updated with how it goes!

Emily Kinder

Meet the BILT Student Fellows

Meet the Student Fellows… Toby Roberts

Hi, I’m Toby Roberts, and I’ll be working as a BILT Student Fellow alongside my final year as a Biology undergrad in Bristol. The project I’ll be working on is Active, Collaborative Learning.

I’m quite new to Bristol, having arrived last year after transferring from Exeter’s Penryn Campus. Although it was heartbreaking to leave Cornwall behind, I wasn’t happy with my course and the way I was being taught, so I headed for the big city. This meant that I came to Bristol with huge expectations, both for the university and for myself.

After a year, I was feeling a lot more like a biologist, but  was still trying to figure out what ‘University’ really is and what it is for. Spurred on by a successful decision to move away from Exeter and find a course that suited me better, I was in the mindset of  ‘if I’m not happy with the way things are, it’s not enough just to moan, I need to do something about it’. That was when I saw the advert for the BILT Student Hackathon.

Although what I really needed after exams was a few weeks of solid sleep, I threw myself into it and was really glad I did. It was crazy to see inside of the lumbering, bureaucratic machine that the University can seem like to a student, and some things I saw and heard did reinforce that view. But, at the same time I met students and staff (including the lovely BILT team) that made me believe that people really are working to make fantastic things happen and fighting the students’ corner. It was great to feel like a part of that.

I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the work we’d put in over the four weeks of the Hackathon, so am incredibly excited to get to continue working with BILT as a Student Fellow. Finding ways to make teaching and learning more active and collaborative is something I’m hugely passionate about. Shaking up the way we learn is scary, and that goes for me as a student too. But, there’s a massive amount of creativity in the university and the city and if there’s a way to unlock that and connect people together I’m going to do my best to make that happen.

I’ll keep you posted with everything we get up to and achieve over the course of the year!

Toby Roberts

Meet the BILT Student Fellows

Meet the Student Fellows… Owen Barlow

Hiya kind readers, Owen here.

I am in my final year of study on the Master of Liberal Arts degree programme majoring in Philosophy and minoring in History. I recently returned to Bristol fresh-faced and revitalised after studying abroad at Charles University in Prague and University College Utrecht. I will be working alongside an excellent team of stakeholders on this year’s ‘Wellbeing and the Curriculum’ project. We are part of university-wide effort to consider student and staff wellbeing in policy developments and new projects.

Over three years ago, I took the fretful leap to move out from a small town in Greater Manchester to see what all the fuss was about down in the “sunny south”. After arriving at a new city surrounded by new accents, noises, and necessities certainly required an extra ounce of resilience than what I was typically used to. I can only describe these four years as an extensive learning process, sometimes more personally than academically, the most eye-opening thing I learnt from my time here in Bristol was after watching a little performance called ‘Help’ at the Wardrobe theatre, a piece that truly hammered home the notion that it was ok to ask for help. Hereon, I have been doing just that. I ask for help as and when I need as well as give a little helping hand to others when they need it, whether that hand be for the lovely Welsh lady who needed a powerbank for her phone as we both endured a long coach journey sat side-by-side, or a hand pointing in the direction for a disorientated fresher.

I am looking forward to getting to know new faces from the academic and student community. I will be making it my responsibility to familiarise myself with student wellbeing and learning about what makes all of us tick, especially since the factors that are constitutive of good levels of wellbeing tend to vary across our lived experiences. Crucially, I am making it my mission to give as many students a seat at the “Wellbeing and the curriculum” table as possible, where we can look at the interplay between wellbeing and risk: from fears around failure, to fears around introducing yourself to new people – any and every of your wellbeing concerns matter.

Throughout my time here, many Bristol residents have spotted me pulling pints at Thekla, wearing an unflattering blue t-shirt on campus tours, cycling (often singing) around town to the sweet sounds of Corinne Bailey Rae, and hip-swinging on sticky dance floors. I am sure there will be a lot more of my face around town this year too, see you around.

Owen Barlow

Student Voice

Student Voices: Learning Analytics

The following post was written by Johannes Schmiedecker, a BILT Student Fellow.

In early April, the BILT Student Fellows conducted various workshops at the Bristol SU Education Network. Below are some findings from the workshop about learning analytics in the HE sector.

The Task

8 groups of students (maximum 7 people per group) had to decide if the University should or should not include various metrics when it processes student data to improve the university life. The metrics were written down on single index cards and included different data, ranging from academic data such as assessment grades, blackboard access or library usage to personal data like gender, religion or ethnicity. The groups had to decide collectively and only allocate a certain data metric to either “Yes” or “No” if all the members of the group agreed. After 10 minutes the time ended, and students were asked to reflect on the task. 

The Outcome

The groups engaged in active discussions and we saw that students had different opinions when it comes to finding an accurate balance between privacy rights and data analytics. Students were mostly open to providing their data for learning analytics as they saw that it can improve university life, however, they expect clear policies and strategies from the University before they would agree to such a thing.

The following bar chart provides a summary of how the students allocated the cards. For instance, all 8 groups said that attendance in classes or assessment grades data should definitely be included in learning analytics. However, when it came to more personal data like the current employment situation, gender or ethnicity, the results were mixed, and some groups could not agree to either Yes or No. Furthermore, all groups decided that facial recognition at campus or comments on social media should be excluded. In general, the groups could allocate academic data easier, agreeing on a usage of personal data was far more contentious.

Student Feedback

As the time of the workshop was limited, the findings do not provide a full picture of the issue of data analytics, but it was good to get some student feedback and listen to their approach to data usage at the HE level. After the workshop the students had the chance to express their thoughts on the workshop, and the responses varied. “We kind of mulled over each metric, it was hard to decide!” one student said. Some were generally critical towards data analytics, “The question is, how the University is going to use the data? What do they want to do with it and why? It really depends on how the Uni uses it!” was one response. Others had a more open attitude towards data analytics and were fine with the usage of their data if it was education based and the university processed the data in a transparent way. “It would be nice if the University had an opt-out policy, if there are tick boxes and we could decide which data we want to provide. This would be the best way to approach it because everyone has different opinions!” one student argued who advocated for more control of students over their own data.

It was great to hear so many different opinions on how the University should use data of students. It demonstrated that there are many perspectives on how to approach learning analytics and a University policy would need to consider many different aspects.

Thanks to all participants, we are looking forward to the next BILT workshops and activities!

Meet the BILT Student Fellows

Meet the Student Fellows… Zoe Backhouse

We asked our Student Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT role. The following blog is from Zoe Backhouse, who has been a BILT Student Fellow since December 2018.

My name is Zoe Backhouse. I’m a fourth year Liberal Arts student newly appointed as a BILT Student Fellow. I’ll be working on a project called Improving Students’ Understanding of Assessment.

This marks my fifth year trying to shake up education practice here, which either makes me an education practice nerd or suggests there’s a lot to change at Bristol. Just kidding! I love Bristol Uni 😊.

When I started in 2014 I needed a part-time job and overheard that the Students’ Union was a great place to look (its Living Wage Employer status meant high £££ for first years). By my second week, I’d landed a role as an Administration Assistant with the Educational Representation team. Without realising, I’d found a passion. I worked with student reps and academics from across the University, supporting them to challenge the curriculum and change degrees from the grassroots. Inspired, I went on to become a course rep, a faculty rep and then took a year out after second year to work as the Undergraduate Education Officer.

I learned a huge amount over those three years. I encountered diverse opinions and practices and, although overwhelming, this taught me that there was no one way to experience this University. Despite the difference, there was something that became consistent to me – whether it was as a high or a low, most students’ time was defined in some way by their experience of assessment.

Just as I began to develop a detailed picture of student needs and was putting together a manifesto for the University to help address this time-old problem, my term ended at the Students’ Union and I had to go to McGill University in Montreal, Canada for my year abroad. What a shame!

I ended up having probably the best year of my life there. Although this was of course because I was in one of North America’s most exciting cities, I have to be honest in saying that the year was special in what it gave me educationally.

Suddenly I was at a University where I wasn’t just studying disciplines I’d encountered in school. I was being educated in Indigenous Studies, Jewish Studies, learning about contemporary Canadian history through Fine Art and historic Islamic law through English Literature. I was assessed through volunteering, creative writing, building real-life grant bids for a project I’d set up in the city, and, yes, through formal research papers. I felt I’d never learned so much in my life.

Coming back to Bristol, a university with many of the same qualities and challenges as McGill, I saw only opportunity in terms of where we can go. I love what BILT does and think it’s already had a huge effect in supporting academics to take risks with their teaching practice and experiment with whole new concepts in Higher Education.

Now I’d like to see how this applies to students. What is the potential of us co-creating assessment? How can we cross disciplinary boundaries and be assessed on, or even beyond, our programme? And, perhaps most importantly to me personally, how can we understand our mental health in the context of our learning and assessment (not just in the context of support services)?

Prepare for focus groups, debates and more blogs over the word limit. I can’t wait to start!