A Fist Full of Essays

Great UKSG conference last week, despite coming back with a horrible fluey cold that left me pretty much wiped out for the entire Easter weekend (and still recovering).  I’ll write that up this weekend.  So instead here’s my part-week which will be all about marking the Face to Face to Facebook essays.

Wednesday 8th April

  • 9.00: On the dot fire up the work account, checking emails from the module leader.  Couple of students have withdrawn and a few high Turnitin scores to take particular note of.
  • 9.10: Access NOW backend (the VLE) and start slowly going through the list of student submissions for the ones in my groups.  Yes it would be easier if I could just display those in my groups, but no that useful facility is missing.  Slow clap for the designers.
  • 9.20: Done, but there’s quite a few students missing in the list – so have to search for them.  Ah, the names they’re listed by here aren’t the same as the names they have listed in the register.  Nice little bit of consistency, so correct my marking spreadsheet so it’s sync with the Dropbox list.  Should be 84 essays for me to mark in total…11 are missing.  Well that’s 13% completion for me without really any heady lifting.
  • 9.30: Download essays as zipfile, try to extract but native zipping can’t handle the daft long files names that some students give their files; not to mention the prefix extensions that NOW slips on them too.  Thankfully I’ve got 7Zip which makes short work of the extraction.  As there are 14 different essay topics, next job is to sort all the essays into those tackling the same topic, which I found last year makes it easier to grade like for like.  Hoping there’s not too many tackling Freud this year!
  • 9.35: Need for 2nd cup of the tea for the day rising…also I really ought to put some socks on.  [Current marking music: Total Eclipse of the Heart].
  • 9.55: Drinking tea and taking a moment to catch up on my student email. And discover I won the travel scholarship I applied for.  So that’s 1 grand towards my Vienna conference – I am to say the least, delighted.  Phone Mrs Llama to share the news.  It was, out of ~150 emails, the only one of any value I received over Easter.
  • 10.05: Okay, enough excitement – need to knuckle back down to marking.  Or at least the preparation which seems to take longer than the actual grading.
  • 10.25: Coughing fit.  Blurgh.  So not over this cold yet.  [Current marking music: Eg a Lif]
  • 10.55: Right, essays all grouped.  Popular topics look like piracy, public service broadcasting and leadership.  That’s good, topics I love discussing.  No love though for the questions around globalisation (not surprising, not got to that on the module yet) or conversation analysis (darn, that’s a fascinating topic!).  Right, time to head on in to the marking finally! [Current marking music: Love as a Construct]
  • 12.22: Gah. Struggled through a difficult one there and agonised over the mark.  Not a great piece of work, but trying to work out if the student had put effort into it or if it really was as slapdash a piece as it appeared in part.  [Current marking music: Theme from Thunderbirds].  [17% completed.]
  • 12:53: Okay, I need a lunch break.
  • 15:20: I have a sinus headache (legacy of the cold and staring at the screen).  This is making marking less than fun right now.
  • 16:30: Finished marking the first topic, moving on to the second which means I need to open my various lecture notes as well.  First essay on a topic is always the hardest to mark.
  • 17.20: Agonising over another essay – well written…but doesn’t answer the question. Which means I have to give it a much lower grade than it deserves.  Think I’ll ask for this one to be 2nd marked, as that seems a fairer solution.
  • 17.36: Oh sweet Jovis.  Just read (and then re-read three times) a sentence that frankly has broken my ability to think.  Think I might just write “NOOOOOO!” in the feedback.
  • 17:57: Grrr.  Had to break off to explain to Mrs Llama that just because I’m working at home, doesn’t mean I can be roped in to do things she needs doing!  Desperately trying to get through my last essay of the day and the distraction is not appreciated.  Wish bloody NTU gave me an office to work in (for about the 1,000 time).  It’ll now take me 5 minutes to recover my train of thought.
  • 18:15: Okay long note written on that one to try and encourage the student to overcome the issues they had with that essay.  Think I’m calling it a day and am off into the garden to let my brain decompress!

Thursday 9th

  • 9.05: Okay, today I’m going to mark all those essays that only one or two students attempted to see where that gets me too.  [25% completion of marking.]
  • 9.14: Oh dear, the references. Oh, the references.  Seems once again this year I’m going to be marking a lot of essays down for poorly formatted references then.
  • 10.24: Right, that’s transnational media, migrants and the 4th estate topics dealt with.  Onto nation branding, persuasion and suicide prevention (yes, some of these topics are less cheerful than others!)
  • 10.53: PC crash!  Gah!  Oh phew, thankfully autobackup and paranoid saving regime means I lose about 3 minutes of work while the machine reboots – but that’s it!
  • 11.34: Making tea and taking pain killers.  Lovely sinus headache today too (it only hurts really badly when I cough).  Then back to reading essays about suicide.
  • 13.10: Okay, time for lunch. Gah, only 35% through now.
  • 14.05: Back to it, investigative journalism and Wikileaks is a go!  You’ll note I’ve given up listening to music today to better focus on these essays.
  • 15:10: Arg! Painfully bad essay marking am I. Follow struggling language and phrase taking, in sentence.  Usual self-enlargement now to decide if it is bad enough to fail or scrape a pass.  Takes so much longer to mark the lower graded papers than the good ones, as aside from the amount of feedback I write – I really have to think hard about where to put them on the grade curve.
  • 15:33: Genuinely good essay, has just reaffirmed my belief in humanity.
  • 17:40: Okay, Mrs Llama needs me to run errands for her.  Going to have to stop here.  Only 45% of the way through – gah, will be working this weekend on these I can tell!

Friday 10th

  • WikiLeaks...you bad rat!
    WikiLeaks…you bad rat!

    9.05: Here goes nothing and…oh damn, thought I’d marked all the essays on Wikileaks, but looks like I missed one.  That’ll teach me to watch South Park  episode Bass to Mouth (the Wikileaks one) to celebrate getting through them.

  • 9.45: Read work email, some student questions to answer later it seems (not so straight forward answers – will save them for my elevenses I think.
  • 9.55: Okay, today I move onto Freud, communication, broadcasting and democracy essays.  What fun, given some of these are going to be quite hard work to mark (if last year was anything to go on).
  • 10.22: A rash of essays where no in text citations.  Dear students, please meet plagiarism risk…
  • 10.45: Half way through Freud, time for my mother.  I mean a break!  Oh dear, what a slip.  Luckily Mrs Llama is making me some tea (since she’s working from home).  Slightly annoying as I like being able to walk away from the PC for a bit to make the tea, but it would be churlish of me to refuse the offer.
  • 11:30: Broken off for a few minutes twitter debate over the local election candidates for MP.  Red, blue, green, yellow and vile purple standing here it seems.  No Monster Loonies – a shame…but I wouldn’t be voting for them anyway.
  • 12:03: And that’s Freud done for this year.  Phew, those are always the brain strainers.  Onto leadership I think now.
  • 13.05: Lunch, and a spot of all new Daredevil I think.
  • 14:00: Right, let’s see how far through the rest of them i can get before close of play today!
  • 16:00: Eye blurring as I work through essays on leadership.
  • 16:45: Heart break. Had to very harshly mark one essay, where the student has really had a good go, but has really not to grips with the subject.
  • 17:16: No, no, no!  Another essay that is making me cross!
  • 17:43: Okay, since Mrs Llama is off on a business trip tomorrow, stopping now to spend some more time with her.  I shall keep on marking over the weekend though with the hope that I’ll not need to spend all of Monday marking as well.  Biggest problem with these essays are all the different topics – if there was just one topic by now I’d be flying through them!

Saturday 11th

  • 17.15: Urg. Working on a Saturday.  Wouldn’t normally do this, but I still have 32% of the essays to mark.  also Mrs Llama is now out of the country for 10 days, so I’m trying to keep myself occupied and distracted from how isolated I’ll be over that time (bar teaching, I suspect I won’t actually have much face-2-face interaction).  Right let’s open the first one and crack on.
  • 17:40: Open essay, insert page break, reformat opening page to landscape, insert object from file, marking grid, enter student details.  You know I wish NTU would reformat this bloody grid to portrait (since that’s what 99.9% of students write in) or we made it a punishable-by-failure* task for the students to do this step for themselves.  (*I jest…slightly, but doing this 80 odd times does slow me down!)
  • 18:48: Right, did one more essay than I planned to do in this stint.  But I’ve made some more progress towards my goal.  Another couple of hours tomorrow and I think I’ll be down to just one topic to mark – the most popular one by far – media piracy!

Sunday 12th

Didn’t feel like doing any marking today – so spent most of an hour adding the marking grid to the front of all the remaining essays.  So it’ll save me some time tomorrow.  Yes, I am having a fun Sunday, thanks.

Monday 13th

  • 7.50: Yeah, you read that time right – I’m kicking off early today, getting everything opened up and ready for marking.  Planning to work straight through until I get these finished…might well be a 12hr day I suspect.  Might be less if all the remaining essays are brilliantly original, well written and cited, not to mention not in the teeny tiniest bit plagerised.  That’d make it a slam dunk to give them all 2:1s or 1sts.  I suspect though I may be very, very disappointed with this optimistic view.
  • 8.00: Here we go again, open and start with the references to check them to begin with
  • 8.10: Trying to eat cereal with one hand and mark with the other isn’t working.  Need to eat then mark it seems.
  • 9.10: Struggling a bit with an essay which through the fog of words I can see is trying to make some good points.  But not sure it’s really hitting the mark.
  • 9.26: Reading work emails, and trying to sort out some issues with the forthcoming group assignment.  Just like last year some groups I think are working out better than others.  No shock there, but feel for the students going through the process – I’ve suffered enough group fragmentation and problems in the real world, let alone university!
  • 9.55: Well that was a real curates egg of an essay.
  • 10:35: Interruption- it’s the Wife calling from Chile.  I guess I better break off and chat to her then.
  • 10:55: Well that was fun if a bit like talking to an autotuned robot at times (frame rate wasn’t brilliant).  Think it’s time for a mid-morning cup of tea.
  • 12:15: Have reached the point where I wish I could teach my students a hour long seminar on how to bloody reference and cite correctly.  I know it’s my inner librarian but so many poor examples across the essays, not to mention people using dodgy sources, insufficient references and struggling to understand the difference between citation, paraphrasing and direct quoting.  Feels like it is so much worse than last year’s essays – doubtless a result of the Government’s national curriculum agenda which teaches school students to pass exams, but doesn’t teach them the scholarly skills they actually need to succeed in academia!  Maybe NTU should employ me to teach this… (or you know, just employ me full stop!)
  • 12:25: One reference only?  Sheesh.
  • 12.58: Okay, time for a lunch break!
  • 14:10: Begrudgingly…back to work.
  • 15.47: Finding it very hard to concentrate.  Man, I hate marking.
  • 16:30: Time for more tea.  Lots and lots of tea.
  • 17:35: Break to check email and discover I’m giving a lecture at NTU next week.  okay, that’ll be the next thing I have to write once I finish these essays then.  Slowly dawning on me that I will not be getting through all of these today – and beginning to debate how many more I will get through before I lose the will to live.  Or at least mark.  89% done…but that still means 9 more essays.  Let’s see where I am in an hour!
  • 17.43: Oh dear, just wrote a note saying “References should be in Z-A order”.  May be losing it earlier than expected.  Caught it though, so perhaps still okay.
  • 18:43: right that’s it, I’m done.  93% completed now – but as I’ve been at this almost 11hrs (bar lunch okay), I’m calling it quits to go and paint a radiator.  Yes, the thrills keep on coming.

Tue 14th

Well despite a groggy start to the morning I finished them all of before lunch.  Phew.  Just in time before I have to start doing the next batch of marking for my other module next week.  Arg!

For the Benefit of Mrs Llama

And…unlock.  Some of my regular reader(s)* might have been wondering why this blog post was locked.  Well it was locked so that only Mrs Llama could read it while she was far away from me, and so I could avoid the worst excesses of moaning about being on my own to the wide, wide world (which I rather feared it might turn into).  As it was, in the end there’s nothing shockingly revelatory below, but at least now she’s back on this side of the world I can finally reveal the shockingly mundane truth of the past 9 days.

*Not sure if there’s more than 1…

Saturday 11th

The show Gotham and SHIELD wish they were
The show Gotham and SHIELD wish they were

While Mrs Llama is away I’m keeping a blog of what I’ve been up to, to save bending her ear too much when she gets back.  Not that I expect much to happen, but it’ll be a nice break from going on about marking and research.  Having dropped Mrs Llama off at Birmingham International (and suffered their extortionate parking costs – even National Rail charges less for parking) I drove home and spent the afternoon spodding playing Elite Dangerous and watching the first couple of episodes of Daredevil (spoiler alert: it’s brilliant).  Had a light snack and then forced myself to go to an old friend’s 50th birthday party…but found my social anxiety left me unable to cross the threshold of the venue.  So came home and sulked for a bit.  Then made a snack and watched some South Park and went to bed.  Exchanged a few emails around 10pm with Mrs Llama who was waiting in Paris for her connecting flight to Santiago.

Sunday 12th

Woke up around 7.15am after an ok night’s sleep, interrupted only a few times to worry about Mrs Llama’s flight.  She wouldn’t be landing until some time after noon UK time, so there wasn’t much I could do.  So went off for a walk, after feeding the chickens.  As I’ve had (still have) flu I took it easy and only did 9miles.  Came home, bathed and then made some roast leek soup for lunch.  Spent a few minutes contemplating if I dropped dead when anyone would notice…concluded they wouldn’t until around this time next week.  Bah.

Suspect the Wife's got better weather
Suspect the Wife’s got better weather

Soup was okay, if not stunning.  At least it used up the end of the old bread.  Afternoon spent snoozing, painting the kitchen and the radiator, doing a bit of marking preparation work and an hour of so on Elite.   Weather this afternoon/evening for the record was vile – heavy rain – but at least this saved me having to water the crops in the garden.  Did water the greenhouses though.  Leftover chili for dinner with some new Simpsons and Daily Show.  Don’t think either of them are on Mrs Llama’s list of shows I need to keep.  Went to bed fairly early as I’ve a lot of work to do tomorrow.

Monday 13th

Up around 7am as my phone buzzes to tell me an Amazon parcel is on its way for delivery.  I’d be more excited by it’s just decorating supplies – wonder if I’ll manage more than 3 words with the delivery person?  Exchanged literally three words with a dog walker yesterday – any more than that will count as my first conversation since Mrs Llama left.  The tension is palpable.  Frost outside – car windows frozen and grass very crunchy as I went out to clean and feed the chickens.  Who had helpfully laid one warm egg already – good hens!  At the PC before 8am to spend the rest of the day marking.  Planning not to stop today until I’m finished, so it’s going to be a bit of a hard slog I suspect.

Webchat
In bed with Mrs Llama

Mid-morning Fb video call from Mrs Llama (for whom it’s not even 7am yet).  Human conversation  Huzzah, although I’ve forgotten how to talk to people already.  Not brilliant framerate or audio, but nice to catch up with her all the same – and her misadventures with local wine tasting.  I really hope her room isn’t quite so yellow as the lighting on the call made out.  We would have Skyped, but the damned system wouldn’t let either of us log in.

Highlight of the day the delivery of an Amazon parcel where a stunning 8 words were exchanged with the delivery man.  Most of them were asking me to confirm my name and sign but…  Okay, they were all confirming my name and asking for a signature.  Not the chattiest of blokes, but at least it raises the number of words spoken in real world interaction this week to 14 – that’s almost 10 each.  Gosh, I’ll be into double figures by Thursday at this rate.

Worked through until just before 7pm, but still didn’t quite get through all the essays.  Exchanged a few emails with course leaders about marking – looks like I’m ahead of them, although we’re deadlined for this week to finish.  Also had my supervisor pop up and ask if I was still okay to lecture next week.  Did wonder if this was still on as he’s been continuing his regular radio silence.  But it’ll be nice to do a spot more lecturing anyway, since it’s on open access it’s hardly going to be a major strain.

While the chickens enjoyed a late afternoon romp around the garden I went off and watered the greenhouses; after yesterday’s rain it didn’t seem worth doing the rest of the crops though.  Harvested the first lettuce of the year and then went off to make some griddled pork and chips for tea.  Finished that in time to sit down and enjoy the main event of the week.

After the thrill of witnessing Charles Dance’s finest acting – ever – I called it a night and went upstairs to read Wikipedia – Casino Royale – until I fell asleep.

Tuesday 14th

Woken around 5.30am by the song birds outside and daylight.  Skies overcast but no frost today.  Managed to stay in bed until just after 6am, but sleep eluded me.  So spodded for a while, and then had a long bath and a shave.  Mind you the desire to give up washing and shaving are there, given the lack of human contact until Thursday.  But probably best not to drop too much into a troglodyte or I’ll terrify the students on Thursday.  That is assuming I have any turn up after the end of last term’s shambolic numbers!

The day was spent finishing those perishing essays, and then after lunch catching up with my admin from before Easter.  So the thrills of updating registers, reading and responding emails from students and more importantly sorting out my desk in the conservatory.  Normally I get a few months working in there, but with the warm April I think I may missed the brief window.  Never mind, at least the mornings are cool enough to work out there.

Sometime after 5pm though the lure of the fine weather called me out for a brief hike…okay 13 miles.  Came back after dark, a bit shattered but glad of it.  Ordered a take-away as a reward and then had a great chat with my best mate on the phone (poor fella may have had me on full gabble mode, but he bore it well!)

Amused that misshelved on twitter has been the only person to quiz why this is a locked entry at the moment.  Ha, nice to see my blog readership is as high as I thought it was!

Wednesday 15th

Legs suffering a little from the yomp of yesterday, but all the same spent the morning in a combination of planning the next few weeks of work.  And chatting to Mrs Llama over Skype who looked totally wasted.  Think I’ve solved the problem of where to park while I wait for her (I anticipate) late flight back on Sunday.  BMI parking is mondo expensive, so I think I’ll go hang out at The Fort shopping area for a bit…possibly a long bit depending on French air traffic controllers and connections from South America.  Weather’s glorious again, but I won’t be heading out anywhere – bar perhaps the shops for a loaf of bread later on.

Had a mild panic that I’d made an error in some feedback to a student so found myself searching though all the essays to make a correction.  Thought I’d misunderstood a word.  Turns out though I needn’t have worried – on review my comments are fine.

Spent the rest of the working day trying to craft the guest lecture I’m giving to the 2nd years on open access next week.  Trying to regard it as an opportunity, rather than muttering into my beard that I’m not going to get paid for it.  Wonder if my supervisor (who normally teaches this session) will be handing back his pay for the 2hrs I’m covering.  My uncanny llama-senses say, probably not.  It was more of a struggle than I anticipated, especially since I’m trying not to make it too baffling at the same time as making it sufficently rich enough to engage them.  Of course no one may turn up to the session (going on attendance on other modules I’ve sat in this year) so perhaps my efforts will be for nothing!

Evening was spent with decorating, chicken cleaning and gardening chores.  Leek soup for dinner left over from the weekend.  As it was a bit bland, I cooked and puréed a couple of sweet potatoes and added them with some more stock.  And some more crushed garlic and ginger.  Resultant meal was much improved!  Remembered just before 9pm that I’d planned to havea chat with mum.  Sounds like she has a variant of the cold I’ve had – not quite sure she’s taking as easy as she should with it though!  Tomorrow I’ll tackle more washing and do some more house cleaning.  Perhaps even a spot more DIY, but it’ll depend on how much energy I wake up with.  Bonus second chat with Mrs Llama who seemed to have a more trying day today – what with technology failing her and near diplomatic incidents at the British Embassy.  At this rate if she manages not to start a war with Chile I’ll count her trip a success!

Thursday 16th

I did not want to get up today.  Back to lecturing so the alarm rings early, and woke to a grey morning with a body that was crying out for more sleep.  No chance for that as I had to quickly sort the chickens out, get dressed and hit the road just after 7am.  Just as well I left early – the traffic around Clifton campus was horrific – possibly the worst it’s been for a year or more.  The last half a mile took well over 20 minutes to get through – and there were more than one example of people flagrantly giving up on the law of the road (let alone the spirit of common driving courtesy) and darting through gaps in traffic that…well weren’t really gaps.  Surprised there weren’t any traffic incidents – or perhaps there will be given a bit more time.  To be honest not 100% sure why I’ve come in for the lecture though – given that I’ve not got any real seminars left to teach on this module I don’t actually need to be on the same page as the students any more.  There’s no exams on the topics, so I guess I’m here for my own interest.  Also as I’m teaching at 10am, I may as well be on campus early to get ready for that.

Lecture was on propaganda and ethics and since it was given by one of the better lecturers was especially enjoyable; even if only a fragment of the course’s students were there.  My seminar on nation branding also went quite well – good turn out especially compared to the previous session before Easter and a fair bit of engagement from the students.  I quite like the concepts behind it as I think they’re readily applicable to a career in advertising or tourism; so should come in handy for some of the student’s careers.  After that I had my usual few hours to kill, in this case doing a bit of background work for my lecture next week.  Then it was my tutorial with my PR campaign students.  Wasn’t sure if anyone would turn up, or indeed if the groups would all be at daggers drawn by now.  As it turned out a couple of groups appeared, both of whom seem to be getting on very well with the work.  Hopefully I’ve managed to give them a few pointers in the right direction.  We’ll see next week when I started the assessed presentations!

Ran into my second supervisor as I was heading across campus.  He was somewhat horrified I’d not managed to get my supervisor into a meeting to talk chapters, and that the aforementioned supervisor was still on spring break.  We both agreed to press for a swift meeting next week, but I can see it’ll be the usual uphill struggle.  Honestly, I wonder how his less self-starting students cope at times.

Pretty wasted by the time I headed home, but did a bit more work on the presentation.  Plan tomorrow morning to do most of the rest of the heavy lifting and then polish it off in the afternoon.  That should leave me Monday to make any last minute changes.  Also to do a bit more more background reading, since I’ve bought myself a copy of Martin Eve’s OA book.  While it is available on CUP’s OA site I have to say the format it’s presented in is shockingly shonky beyond words – so there’s little choice if you want to read the whole thing – go buy a copy.

Chickens enjoyed a late afternoon adventure around the whole garden, although despite having 1/3 acre to explore they decided the flowerbed nearest to the house was in dire need of being totally dug up.  Not sure Mrs Llama will be that impressed when she spots the devastation.  We have very different chicken supervisory skills – I let them get on with it, she supervises them closely.  Log and frog methodology as normally.  Soup again for dinner (tragically the end of it, as it was very tasty) – which means I’ll have to think about cooking again tomorrow.  Cooking for one is deathly dull, I really can’t be bothered.  I think if Mrs Llama was away more than 10 days I’d end up back eating sandwiches for dinner most nights.

Elected (ho ho) not to watch the Cameron-free leaders’ debate on BBC and instead caught up with Bates Motel’s last couple of episodes.  Not sure if the pictures I saw on twitter of Ed Miliband were him channelling Norman’s thousand-yard stare…

Friday 17th

Due to the horrific traffic of yesterday I planned to get up 5 minutes earlier to try and beat a bit more of it.  As it was I was awake not long after 6am, so plenty of time to get ready, feed the hens and head out to campus long before 7am.  Traffic wasn’t a doddle, but I did manage to get onto campus around 7.20am, so plenty of time for work on my presentation.  Or so I thought as I discovered I’d failed to copy the file to either my online filestore or my USB stick.  Gah!  Made the best use of the time by printing out some more reports to read and starting to read through my Glyndwr external examiners information.  I see I’m due an induction day at some point soon.  Huzzah, trip to Wales to look forward to.  Also sorted out a marking sheet for next week’s PR assignments – something to allow me to scribble notes on when the students are presenting that should help me mark.  Well I hope it will anyway!

Totally real ok Totally real okMorning sessions with the students went surprisingly well and were fairly interactive.  Was quite pleased by the numbers – they’re not like the start of the year but they’ve recovered a bit from the pre-Easter levels.  Also today no one asked me if Robin Hood was real (not sure if they realised I might have been a little sarcastic cited his appearance in Doctor Who as proof).  Came home breakfast/lunched and then worked fairly solidly on my lecture.  Well in-between sorting out meetings with supervisors (we almost have a date – a whole month since I requested a meeting) and problems from students to do with coursework and exams.  Since next week’s Facebook module lectures are centred all around assessment feedback and revision advice, hopefully that might take care of a lot of the issues.  Well for 99% of the students anyway.

Fairly relaxing evening catching up on tv, watering the garden, cleaning the chickens etc.  Realised I’ve been eating 50-60% vegetarian this week.  I suspect the longer Mrs Llama’s away the more I slip into vegetarian habits.  When she’s back though she just has to have her meat.  Sigh.

Oh and yes I’ve now watched the Star Wars:TFA and Batman vs Superangst trailers.  The former continues to look really promising…the later.  Oh just make the grimdark stuff stop DC…see how great The Flash tv show is for embracing the light!

Saturday 18th

Another terrible night’s sleep, but that doesn’t matter as the day is bright and sunny and I have plans.  Plans to go walking right around Rutland Water – again.  This time I did the Upper Hambleton peninsula loop that I skipped before.  It adds about another 7mi onto the trip, but I felt it was worth having a go at.  The weather was so gorgeous – sunny but cool, and the wild life loud and entertaining – that it was totally worth it.  Really interesting how the friendliness of the passerbys drops as the day progresses.  In the morning (I started just before 9.30am) everyone you meet on foot or bike pretty much says “Hello” (with the odd group of surly teenagers backpacking their way around a pointless Duke of Edinburgh award).  By the time you hit noon and the families appear (those with sprogs, or adult children towing elders around) everyone gets so much more insular.  Not to say I didn’t exchange to the odd pleasenty or two, but it became the rarity.

Did get a compliment for my t-shirt (minions!) though.

A screw! A screw! My kingdom for a screw!
A screw! A screw! My kingdom for a screw!

The last couple of miles was quite eventful as I approached Normanton Church (it’s out on the lake on a little prometry) – ended up walking behind one bridal party heading there for wedding photos and almost collided with another bridge and groom et al emerging from the church, having just gotten married.   Once I managed to slip past these (and with nasty blisters on at least three toes) I passed a young family – where one daughter was in floods of tears as dad looking mornfully around the path holding her pink scooter, with a look of abject failure on his face.  Which is why it made my day moments later when I spotted a shiny machine screw.  Tunring I uttered probably the (in retrospect, at the time it just made sense) most innuendo laden expression to him of “Excuse me, are you looking for a screw?“.  Turned out he was, and I was able to finish the last mile in high spirits, even as my feet started metaphorically smoking.

I had planned to drive the 45 minutes home, get changed and then pop out and do the weekly shop – I didn’t do much of one last week since it was only going to be me, but with the imminent return of Mrs Llama I decided I better get some more food in.  As I drove home though I concluded, in between cursing the multiple learner drivers I got stuck behind, that if I went home I’d just collapse and stop.  So I forced myself to go to Asda and just suck it in…having a trolly to lean on took some of the weight off my cursing tootsies.  Glad I did though as it let me come home, sort out the house, eat lunch (erm, around 5pm) and then just slowly recover for the rest of the day.

2015-04-19 11.07.26
Hot and damned tasty

Made the most incredible Buffalo wings for my dinner – although thanks to my timings today, ended up eating at 9.30pm.  Somewhat more European than I planned on there.  I shall have to reuse the recipe I came up with though as the wings were simply incredible – spicy, tangy and meltingly sweet off the bone.  The only shame was my exercise had so fatigued me that I had virtually no appetite.  Given I’d burned close to 3000kCal walking, and only eaten a bowl of cereal and a pastie all day I forced myself to eat.  Suspect I’ll enjoy the leftovers tomorrow when I expect to be ravenous!

Sunday 19th

Awful night’s sleep – not due to late dining but my legs aching.  Feet tender, but if I wasn’t waiting to go and pick Mrs Llama up from the airport today I’d probably go for a stroll.  Maybe she’ll fancy a little walk later – I suspect my blisters will slow me down enough to walk at her pace!  Spent the morning cleaning and tidying.  Also baking her a cake to welcome her home.  Cleaned out the chickens too, as they are due it again and I know Mrs Llama will not really be up for much once I pick her up.  Just hoping I can stay awake long enough to fetch her from Brum.

On a side note – I am getting sick of flipping our new mattress every week – I nearly destroyed the entire bedroom doing it this morning!

Hens still learning how to pipe icing
Hens still learning how to pipe icing

And she’s home.  For which reasons the chickens were so pleased, they baked a cake.

 

The Inevitable Fall After the Rise

Cheer up you miserable old sod
Cheer up you miserable old sod

Should have known this was coming, after last week’s wonderful feedback (and I even had some more over the weekend), this week has rather pissed on my chips a little.  So I’m finishing off the term feeling exhausted, worn out and totally depressed with the world.

And I’ve still got a long hard slog over the coming week before a couple of days off over Easter.  I’ll talk more about my woes below – those of you who enjoy a good moan will at least get a little schadenfreude out of this; so it’s not a total loss I guess.  See, I’m starting to get more cheerful already…

Blog Revamp

Yeah, I’ve been threatening this for a while – and I’m now in the process of revamping the look and feel of the blog.  As I’m using the free version of WordPress I can only really make changes to the live site, so my regular reader (I think I’ve got one of them…possibly) might be a bit surprised that the site will keep changing over the next few weeks as I tweak the colour palette etc to get it just the right shade of vermilion.  I jest…possibly.

UKSG Conference

Lots of preparation for this, this week.  Didn’t think a 15-20 minute talk would need this much work.  I’m basing my talk around a couple of previous ones, but at the same time tweaking the narrative so it tries and segues in with my co-presenter Bryony’s (aka librarygirlknitone.  Been enjoying a smashing correspondence with Bryony, which reminds me how much I enjoy collaborative work!  While our talks our separate we’re trying to give it a bit of a ethnographic theme.  As of this writing I think I’ve got the talk down, although I keep taking more and more words off the slides to make them appear less texty (my default mode, what a shocker eh) and more pictorial.  Might see if I can’t work in some more of the ideas I got from this week’s lecturing buzz lunch as well.  Although perhaps not the drum loops.  Will be spending most of Sunday travelling up to Glasgow for the conference, so am glad that next weekend is Easter and I get a few days off, I suspect I’m going to need them.

As of Friday afternoon though it’s all sorted out, I just now need to sort out my clothes and pack for the trip.  How many hats it too many though?  Also having seen the weather forecast I hope I don’t have to swim across the centre of Glasgow next week.

Buzz Lunch

Freud's theory of psychodyamics vividly brought to life in my seminar
Freud’s theory of psychodyamics vividly brought to life in my seminar

Went along to a lunchtime seminar hosted by the NTU academic staff development people on The Lecture as Performance.  Sounded interesting for raiding for ideas to improve my own teaching practice (hey, the feedback was great but I could always be better and I know it!) and also for my communications workshop for FIL later this year.  Free hot lunch too, which was great – although catering did forget the first rule of serving food: hot food: hot plates, cold food: cold plates.  So as I ate my rapidly cooling mushroom and butter bean pie (tasty) I listened to talks from a former actor turned mathematician, an avant-garde urban historian with a penchant for drum loops, a man deconstucting the speeches of Barack Obama, and a chap showing off tricks using simple PowerPoint and free apps.  Well worth the attendance I thought as it sparked some ideas in my head for future workshops and lecturing practice.  Also nice to feel (if only ever so briefly) part of the lecturing family of NTU, rather than the outside PhD student who they just chuck teaching at and forget about (can feel a bit like that at times).  Was particularly interested in the use of a phone-driven voting app for lectures- so much more effective than having to hand out those little handsets.  Wonder if it works on all systems or if you need install rights?  I shall have to have an explore of this over the next week or so, as anything that drives more student interaction in sessions can only be a good thing.

I did particularly like the little factoid about people remembering more about the questions you asked than the facts you tell them in a lecture.  Makes them engage on a more cognitive level, which perhaps explains why seminars have such a good reputation for allowing students to get to grips with aspects of their courses better.  I think I shall be looking closely at my next conference and lecture slides and trying to embrace that idea a little.  Or shall I?

Teaching – Face to Face to Facebook

International communications this week looking at Radio Free Europe and its role in the 1956 Hungarian revolt.  Slightly confused for a minute as I didn’t think I was teaching history!  But mostly this was about discussing the moral and ethical issues around the application of soft power like radio in terms of destabilising or countering effective hegemonic control of a state.  First session of this was pretty informal as I only had three students – and they had a lot of questions about the exams, so get a little sidetracked.  All the same it seemed a positive teaching engagement so I’m not going to stress about it.

Also been dealing with a whole host of questions over the last week or so from students worried about or wanting advice on their essay.  Hopefully I’ve steered them all in the right direction without giving them too much overt assistance.  Tricky line to straddle, especially doing it all online (lacking an effective on site presence is a bit of an issue being a seminar tutor, and not one that’s going to be resolved sadly).  Feedback from the students seems positive here, so am hopeful that this means I’ve averted their concerns and I’ll have a stack of top flight essays to mark next week.  Although slightly terrified at the idea of marking about 84 scripts in a short period of time.

Teaching – Media Communications

A bit of a confusion behind the scenes next week, wonder if the students were even aware of it?  Had the plan for a seminar on the power of images in hand, despite the lecture showing up as being about propaganda in the timetable.  Decided there must be a cross over…but no turns up there’d been a slight hiccup in the planning – as this was supposed to be a week for a tutorial on their PR campaigns rather than a seminar.  But as we had the material for the seminar it was decided to go ahead with that anyway.  Turned out the lecture was on the role of images in the media (including a potted history of art and image) – which was fascinating.  Great lecturer I’d not come across before with a wonderful relaxed and deeply informative style.  Just a little embarrassed that only 12 students out of almost 200 turned up for it.  I know we’re near the end of term but…wow.  I had 7 to my seminar (out of 26) so actually my %age attendance rates are a lot higher.  Not quite sure the students quite got what this week’s seminar was about mind you, but I could be wrong.  Possible they’ve done aspects of this in other modules so this might have all been pitched at too low a level for them.  Ah well.  Shame really as it’s the last time I teach this group – just seminars and assessed presentation sessions for the rest of the year now.  Going to miss them, as they’re by far my liveliest mix of students – which makes interacting and teaching them a whole lot easier.

Thesis

Supervisors seem to be on silent running since my email last week.  After a week I sent them off a gentle reminder, to hear on Friday that they’re snowed under and will get back to me after Easter.  Fair enough, but does leave me slightly in limbo.  Guess I’ll just have to finish off all my marking and conference funding applications and get bookings in place for the Vienna conference in the meantime.  And then move onto sorting out my next phase of interviews.  And catch up on my reading.  Actually, when I think about it, I suspect I’ll manage to fill all the time very, very easily.

Future Employment

I'm more Captain Slow than Clarkson, truth be told
I’m more Captain Slow than Clarkson, truth be told

Never thought I’d end up in the same position as Jeremy Clarkson this week, only you know, without the violence.  Went in to discuss my potential lecturing next year as ideally I was looking to expand my role a bit, even up to a day or two part time.  I’m acutely aware that when my studentship ends this summer I am going to be very, very broke and I can’t rely on Mrs Llama to pay for everything  – we’ve had three years of being not very well off, and this will exacerbate matters.  Turns out though dept aren’t permitted to keep me on now I’m this far through the PhD as they need me to complete on time so that that their PGR stats don’t take a hit.  (I’ll try not go off on a rant about marketised HE subsumed by aspects of neoTaylorist measure here…).  I could totally see their point from one direction, as I too would like to be able to finish this PhD before the end of time itself and move on to the next stage of my career.  But I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t expecting this when I went in to the meeting – so I did my best not to sound like a deflating balloon throughout the rest of the discussions.

I will say they were really nice about it, and I could tell they were annoyed by the situation as well, so I’ve ever sympathy for the akward situation they’re in as well.  Especially as I can well understand it’s a position a lot of PhDs find themselves in .  On the positive side of things, and I’ve got to remember that there are a lot of positives about this whole experience, at least they told me I was an excellent teacher, which was great to hear.  Even if it isn’t going to keep the wolf from the door come September.  Did make it clear at least that I can work, as the university can’t stop me finding other employment, and will write me a stunning reference.  They just can’t provide it.

So what does this mean for me?  Well on the down side it pretty much destroys any plans I’ve got for holidays or LARPing type adventures unless I can find somewhere else to employ me in the meanwhile.  Suspect I’m a bit old for bar work.  So feeling a bit of a total failure right now, as my self-confidence has taken a right old nasty knock from all this.  Not really a rational thing, and I know I’ll cheer up in a day or too, but I might have to mooch around over the weekend doing positive things like updating my CV and scanning jobs pages.  Frankly, glad I’ve got the UKSG conference to go to next week as I need the distraction.  Debating hanging a “For Hire” sign around my neck at it or maybe just taking a batch of short CVs to hand to some people.  Not sure if I’m enough of a tart to do that, but I guess I might have to be – Mrs Llama has expensive tastes I need to cater for!

And of course I’ve still got 4 more weeks of teaching to come after Easter to look forward to, so I shall have to just enjoy every moment of what has been a great experience and opportunity for the past couple of years.  Not that many PhDs here get teaching experience, and that I have is something for which I’ll continue to be grateful.  I just know I’m really going to miss the weekly contact with…you know…people.  Working as a humanities PhD from home was ever isolating, and this was a brilliant distraction from that.  And at least now I have no excuses for not knuckling down and finishing the thesis.  If I can just get my supervisors to let me push on to the next bit!

Unbreakable

Working my way through Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Better Call Saul in equal measures in my off moments, hence the title.  Enjoying the optimism in the former, and the dark humour in the latter.   Did find that Mrs Llama does not approve of me watching comedy in bed at night, as I keep waking her up by laughing too loudly.  May have to resort to reading books again.  I know, dark days if I have to read outside of office hours!

  • Writing
    • Caught myself writing the conclusion to the chapter in my sleep on Tuesday night.  Still totally stressed out about it, and so frustrated about how long it takes me to write and edit things.  Mrs Llama has been a saint by doing some proof reading – and mostly being very rude about my use of commas and semi-colons.  Finally shipped it off to my supervisory team late Friday afternoon.  Current word count on the thesis now stands at a tiny 77,868.  Or enough to stun one small charging rhino if I printed it out and threw it at them!
  • Teaching
    • Got asked if I wanted to teach again next year.  There was little more I could say other than “Yes please!”.  Well that and “Any chance of something a bit longer term?”.  Well, it pays to be cheeky and the worst they can do is say no.  Well okay, they could say “Don’t be so cheeky, no!”.  Have to see how this pans out, but I have loved teaching the students here at NTU, and it would be great to develop it into a little something more than the occasional seminar.  After Easter I am penciled in for my first proper lecture on a 2nd year course.  Will worry about writing that…erm, after Easter?  Actually I will be adapting some of my earlier talks, as it’s about OA.  I just need to amplify some of the political-economic dimensions of it in the analysis.  Wonder if I’ll need to write a seminar as well?
  • Media Communications
    • Looking at Press Releases this week, although the content of the seminar felt a little similar to what we had done around journal articles earlier in the term (tried pointing out this synergy to the class, not sure they quite got it).  Not the most engaged of seminars, in that I could get the students to crank out some good headlines but fell a bit in flat in getting them to create some standfirsts.  Ah well, hopefully it’s given them enough of an idea about the form and style for press releases for the assessment, which was the core goal.  Do find myself wondering how well some of the groups are working together, as it all happens out of sight…hope any that run into any real difficulties let me know.  Probably being paranoid and they’ll all produce lovely bits of assessed work.
    • Flagged up that one of the weeks of the presentations gets a second marker…all be it a jolly decent academic who’ll give them all a fair crack of the scoring whip.  Should also ensure I’m fair and even handed in my marking!
  • Face to Facebook
    • This week we were looking at Facebook and its role in creating/representing/distorting our personal representations to others.  You’d think this would be a subject that would be quite a zesty one to get into, but no I struggled a bit with it.  I think this was in part due to a not especially easy to adapt seminar.  There’s the nub of some good ideas in there but certainly for the first group I struggled to turn it into a digestible format.  I suspect if I’d had a few more hours to spare to refine it then I’d have been able to craft something more workable, but I’m limited in the time I can feel I can devote to it, so just went with a fairly simple adaptation.  Found myself doing a whole lot of talking with the groups, which I guess is no bad thing – except I was really hoping I could get them to think more intently about their own praxis.  The Friday groups were slightly hampered by the fact that the 2015 UK solar eclipse was in progress…but actually despite my running commentary on the subject the students got more into the topic.  Perhaps it was because I was ready to discuss it more this time, or perhaps they just had more to say.  Either way I came away thinking it was a better couple of sessions all told.
    • Should say thanks to all the Fb friends whose approaches to using social media I referenced and commented on as representing particular societal or critical insights.  So big high-5s in no order to John, John, Sarah, Kaye, Giles, Ju, Gary, Sian, Valérie, Ed, Kate, Jo, Dana, Ellie, Ed, Cassie, Catherine and any parent who posted a world-book day photo in my stream.  Also my mum and dad who despite not being on Fb (or in one case top-side any more) also underscored some valuable cultural observations.  You were all invaluable insights, splendid friends and I promise I was far ruder about my own social media presence!  Most of you won’t read this bit anyway – so you’ll never know I consider my Fb interactions to be some form of long running ongoing experiment ;)
    • Also had the horrible thought that I’ll have 80+ essays to mark in a week’s time.  Fun that will not be.  Going to have to find a way to maximise my effort/minimise the time it takes to get through them – although I can see I’ll be pulling some late evening’s marking in order to get through them and stay on top of my own studies.
  • Conferences
    • Heard my paper for the FIL 2015 conference in Manchester on effective communication has been accepted.  Not until late June which means I won’t worry overly about writing it for a while.  Mrs Llama is a bit miffed that I might be away for her birthday as it clashes with this conference.  Pointed out I should be back home for part of it, and also that she went off to work on my last birthday anyway!
    • Put my booking in for the ISIS 2015 Conference in Vienna (no not that ISIS – International Society for Information Studies).  Also finally got an answer from the Graduate School about some funding.  Not as much as I’d hoped, but I’ve put in a formal request for it now and it looks like that’ll contribute to it.  Also looks like my dept head has a few quid I can apply for as well, which is fabulous – as it means I won’t totally wreak my life’s savings just to go to a conference!  Have to fill in a long form though.  Gah.
    • Also put in an application for a travel scholarship, although as there’s only 2 of these for the whole university I suspect there is only a slim chance I’ll get it.  But it was an interesting exercise chasing some funding, something I know I’ll need to get used to as an academic.  If, that is, I get any kind of academic job at the end of this!
  • Book reviews
    • Finally made myself write one of the two book reviews I’ve got pending (The James Bond Encyclopedia) at the start of the week.  Managed to avoid using too many bad puns, which I’ll count as a success.  Will tackle the next review, next month I think.  Or maybe I’ll take it on the long train ride to Glasgow.  Not sure but I think I’m getting close to passing the 100 book reviews mark…which is some kind of minor achievement.  Then again I’ve been writing these since I was working at York Uni, and that’s 5 jobs ago now (or 10 years)!  Still a goodly number though.
  • Research Profile
    • Some months ago the uni finally offered to give all us PGR students a research profile page, with a massive 4 papers being able to be listed.  That’s a laugh, given I’ve over 30 articles published…not to mention almost 100 book reviews.  Oh, and those book chapters I’ve written.  And let’s not even count the reports okay.  As usual, university systems for PGRs are designed to cope with non-mature students with little life experience.  *sigh*  Anyway, wrote mine before Xmas…and finally this week it was announced they’ll go live.  Next month.  Suspect they’ll not be that much use, but it will be nice for the uni to admit publicly I exist as a PGR sometime before I leave!
  • Student Feedback
    • Got my first batch of student feedback this week.  Can’t share the comments for data protection reasons…and also because a lot of them made my head swell.  They were a lot of very complimentary ones.  Some good observations for improvements as well, that I’ll try and take on board, and try not to be too complacent.  If anything I’ll have redouble my efforts to keep up my standard of lecturing!

Avast There Me Torrenters

  • Writing
    • Chapter is done!  Just going back over it and giving a grammatical polish so I can send it to my supervisors on Monday.  The sense of relief is…almost palpable.
  • Teaching
    • Face to Facebook
      • Aha me hearties, this week I be talking about media and cultural piracy, so I was.  Arrrrhhh!  I was asking the questions, likes, does not the corporate world’s appropriate of common and collective myths, legends and stories represent just as much a piratical response, damn ya eyes, as the humble torrenter of Hollywood’s products, me trumps.  And yeah, trying very, very hard not to talk like a pirate throughout the session – not helped by continuing to play Assassins Creed: Black Flag in my spare time.
      • Some interesting points of discussion were had from the students, although a few of the video sources I was showing them in regards to the topic have dated rather quickly.  Talk of “How many downloads do you have?” in a Spotify-streaming kind-of-world has rather shifted the debate around downloading, to the sustainability of new models of capital/revenue extraction.  Did try and not get too carried away with the whole copyright vs free culture debate, as i could have probably ranted on the topic for a long, long time.
      • In the light of Sky ISP handing over torrenters’ data to a rather disreputable company this week, it’s a story and topic for discussion that’s not going away!  But then do we expect anything other than compliance with the Media Industries’ anti-piracy agenda from Murdoch PLC eh?
      • To add to the fun this week we were doing the module feedback forms (early so as to capture as many student comments as possible, as numbers will tail off more in the coming weeks).  This means I lose a good 15-20 minutes of prime seminar time, but hopefully it does give the students sufficient time to make their opinions on the course known.  Given that one or two of them were less than happy with some of the recent lectures, I suspect there’s a bit of a flaming in there.  Just hope my teaching is still up to snuff for them, heaven knows I put everything into it – I was knackered by the time I came home!
    • Media Comms
      • Unsurprisingly this week a 2/3 full class, since the assignment was launched for the students.  They’ve got to pull together and present a PR Campaign after Easter to me.  Rather looking forward to it, as frankly my group has got some splendid students who I just bet will surprise me with the professional polish they’ll bring to the job.  Although I can see a few are a bit terrified of the idea of standing up and presenting to me.  Plan to coach them as much as I can in the coming weeks in the nuances of making a good pitch, so when they come to do it it’ll be as much of a breeze as it’s possible to be for something that’s credit bearing.  Going to be interesting trying to mark ’em mind you.
      • Also had a nice chat with one of the lectures on the course who I’ve not spoken to much before.  Chatted about performance styles and lecturing, and discovered we’re both off to the same workshop in a few weeks on the very subject.  Nice to have that kind of professional conversation, as I rather miss that kind of interaction.
      • And yeah, as it’s module feedback week we got to fill in these forms as well.  Had a great discussion with one of the students about modules next year, which I’ll paraphrase below:
        • “Which modules are you teaching next year?”
          “I don’t teach 2nd year modules.  Think they won’t let me until I get my PhD”
          “(pause) When do you get your Phd?”
          “Well I’m a third year now, so all being well sometime next year”
          “Great, so you’ll be teaching us in our 3rd year then!”
      • I’ll take this as nothing more than a lovely compliment – although of course it all presupposes that NTU offers me a contract beyond this year (and even beyond that once I get the PhD), so I’ll try not to get too excited.  Half tempted to suggest the students wrote “Offer Gareth a contract” in their feedback, but that wouldn’t be very ethical of me.  Then again, when I’ve bills to pay – who’s got time to be ethical! ;)
  • Conferencing
    • As of this writing (it’s Friday) it’s been 9 days since I first asked the Graduate Office for information.  It’s been 4 days since I repeated my request.  Both times I got their “We reply in 3 working days” auto-reply.  But still nothing.  Piss poor service level, but then speaking to my fellow PhDs it seems they suffer the same service levels.  Really is poor.  I’ll be visiting in person next week as it seems the only way to get a response.  I’ll also be kicking off booking the conference stuff, as I can’t leave that off much longer either.
    • On a more positive note I did a Webinar for Glyndwr University on Wednesday.  Nothing special, but it’s the first time I’ve done a lecture like that – felt a bit weird, espeically when my feed of the listening room at the other end went blank after 10 minutes (of a 30 minute slot).  Seemed to go down well, although watching the feed afterwards I think if I do one of these again I’ll have to fiddle with the camera/lighting a bit more – as my shiny bald head was a bit terrifying!  You can watch the session video (if you’re inclined).
    • UKSG – yeah, need to write my talk for this next week.  It got put off this week so I could write the Glyndwr session.  Hopefully as I’m reworking some earlier talks as the core of it, it shouldn’t be too hard.  I hope.

The Tunnel at the End of the Light

Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train
Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train

This week has flashed past – and I suspect because I’ve been grafting at a higher than normal rate.  Or at least it seems like I have, perhaps it’s due to the brighter days and the touch of sun we’ve been having as we start to emerge from winter’s embrace?  Frankly though I feel like I could do with weeks about twice as long as they are to get everything I need to do done.  Ah well, we work with what we have, and short of some sort of space-time inverter landing on my doorstep this weekend I guess it’ll have to do.

  • Chapter writing
    • Ongoing, closing in on being done early next week.  At last.  Probably.
  • Teaching
    • Face to Facebook
      • A week looking at the ethics around WikiLeaks and in particular at the Chelsea (Bradley) Manning case.  Interesting topic with some real meat to it I think, especially as it’s one that illuminates a lot of what we’ve previously examined with respect to journalistic freedoms and the role of the press in supporting Western liberal democracies.  Sadly though I think trying to get into the ethics around “Was Bradley Manning/WikiLeaks morally justified in releasing the Iraq & Afghan War Logs?” was a bit much for most of the students.  They had that look on their faces that said “Please Mr Llama, just tell us the answer to this one…”  Not that there is a straight answer to what is a complex question with a hell of lot of multifactoral issues around it – I mean, I certainly have my answer…but I’m not 100% sure my answer is any more valid than their suggestions.
      • Also gave some general feedback on the reflective essays I marked.  No one lynched me so the feedback must have been useful.  Either that or they’ve got voodoo dolls of me somewhere full of pins…
    • Media Communications
      • Click to enbiggen
        Click to enbiggen

        The build up towards the students’ big assessed PR pitch started this week, which meant I rather expected like last time we closed in on the seminar that I’d have a very full class – seeing some faces I’d only seen once before.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  Smallest seminar group yet (6!) which doesn’t bode well for next week when I suspect I’ll be splitting people up into groups…at this rate I’ll be drawing random allocations out of a hat.  Anyway the seminar was a potted version of the assessment (take a product, build a marketing campaign around it) and was actually rather lively.  Not sure I’d class it as fun for the students as they had to pull together a presentation inside of about 40 minutes; but they rose to challenge pretty well.  Hopefully these few will take the lessons to heart in their assessment and produce the higher quality outputs.  I do slightly have a vision of myself as a Simon Cowell like role for this, as I will have to sit in judgement over all the presentations.  Poor sods, I can remember how terrified I was of doing presentations as an undergrad (how times change); but these are media students so perhaps they’ll not have that problem.  We shall see!

      • In terms of group assignments…I think VG Cats this week might have nailed this one.
  • External commitments
    • Heard back from the conference in Vienna, they’ve accepted my paper.  Huzzah…now I need to work out how to fund it.  I’ve discovered via a friend that there’s a small pot of AHRC funding I can call on for overseas events.  This was rather news to me, but good news – it’s controlled by the Graduate School, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised it’s not been well communicated!  I think I may be able to call on all three years worth of it, which means I’ll have covered about 2/3 of the conference costs (Mrs Llama who is better at figures than me pulled together some draft costs for this).  I’ve also spotted a bursary to apply for AND sent a begging letter to my head of dept to see if there’s any local funds as well.  Hopefully one or two of these might contribute from this leaving a massive hole in my finances!  That said, at time of writing I’m waiting for all these various people to get back to me, so doubtless next week I’ll be able to move forward on booking etc.
    • I also got approached to take part in an online briefing at Glyndwr next week about open access.  I think this means my Sunday afternoon is going to be spent researching and preparing for this.  Hope my Internet doesn’t drop out in the middle – as it has occasionally been known to sometimes (thanks BT).  I only picked the brains of some of my old OA chums for info, and they were all most splendidly forthcoming.  Fingers crossed I don’t arse this one up!  (See students, I DO still get performance anxiety!)
    • Also another nibble from elsewhere about a talk, said yes and doubtless it’ll evolve over the coming weeks into something.  So nice to get asked, and it does help me to continue to up my game and presentation stylings.
  • Training
    • Got a notification of a session on The Lecture as Performance to my staff in box.  Sounded rather good, and it’s only a couple of hours towards the end of the month so signed up for it.  Mentioned it to some of my students who queried why I, of all people, needed training in lecture performance (I think that’s stylistic praise, rather than marking me as an OTT theatrical lecturer).  Frankly one can always learn a few more tricks, I answered, not to mention if my other currently pending conference workshop comes off I’ll benefit from drawing on some of the ideas in this session I suspect.  Interestingly I think this’ll be the first local NTU training event I’ve gone to (other than research seminars which I guess don’t quite count).  Might be nice to meet some other lecturers as peers for a change.
  • Conferences
    • Need to start drafting my UKSG talk next week.  Only three weeks away really, so can’t leave this much longer – unless I want to just go freestyle with it…nah, that’s a terrible terrible idea.
  • Blog design
    • I think it’s time I changed this blog’s template…don’t think it’s helping readability much.  Might have a tinker over the weekend to see if i can’t find something that looks a bit sharper.
Say his name
Say his name

For the record, this week’s writing, studying and teaching preparation has been accompanied by the Breaking Bad Spotify soundtrack.  I’m almost to the end of BB now, and feeling a strong desire to go back and watch it all over again from the beginning.  So nice when something you’ve heard raved about by others turns out to be as breathtakingly good as you hoped it might be.  Unlike say Fortitude ;)

Oh and I’ve started playing Elite: Dangerous (under the handle Cmdr Llordllama naturally).  I currently suck so badly at this it is unreal…hoping to get slightly better over the coming weeks and especially when Mrs Llama heads off on her long overseas trip next month (to the land of llamas!).  Apparently nudging a hair trigger on your flightstick inside an orbital dock is severely frowned on my sector security forces…

And The Jukebox Played Nothing Cos it’s Bust

Not bobbins.
Not bobbins.

10 points if you pick up this week’s title is a quote from the not-at-all bobbins Frank Sidebottom‘s version of The Smiths’ Panic.  I’ve been listening to a lot of Frank in recent weeks (after watching the eponymous film) while I’m working and I just keep discovering stuff of his I’ve never heard before.  Brilliant, funny, funny stuff.  Think I’m going to need to make a side trip to Timperley next time I’m over Manchester way to visit his memorial statue.  Although he is very rude about llama in Zoo Scrapbook. This week then I:

  • Teaching
    • Media Communications
      • Much fun was had (well by me at least) looking at the work of Edward Bernays (father of PR) and considering how we can use it to construct adverts that speak to the hidden desires and motivators of the public.  Not to mention exploring how the group mind works and can be influenced by marketing.  It was a really buzzy seminar with a lot of chatter, and some excellent comments from a lot of the students – so I’m marking it up as a win.  Hopefully they got something good out of it intellectually too, as I got the impression they’ve found the last two weeks of lectures very heavy going.  Not helped by only 20-30 students out of a cohort of 180 turning up – the lecturer this week was more than a little put out by it!  Oh yeah, and I decided to show both a brief clip from Python (Life of Brian) and the following Mad Men clip to really illustrate how to apply these psychoanalytical approaches in making a marketing/advertising pitch.  For me it’s long been on of the real defining moments of the series, and going back to consider the psychological undertones just made it all the more enjoyable.
    • Face to Facebook
      • Onto collaborative creativity this week, a topic I feel more naturally at home in.  So a video from Charles Leadbeater (fun fact: he co-created Bridget Jones’ Diary) and discussions around the ideas of collaborative peer production (although skirting around Benkler’s work, with which I’m fairly familiar).  At least one of the groups didn’t seem that energised by the whole thing – not sure if they were expecting us to look more at Wikipedia (that was the lecture focus).  But as this was only the example of a really successful peer collaboration we didn’t really dig into it too much more.  Reworked the seminar a little for the other classes to see if that helped and it did a little bit, although still a fair amount of heavy lifting.  I’d be fascinated to find out how much the module deviates from what the students expected it to be, I guess since I’ve taught the whole thing before I can see how the whole thing hangs together logically…but I do wonder if some of the topics and seminars seem a bit left-field to them.  Ah well, at least I got one group chatting somewhat animatedly about how to replace a competitive neoliberal capitalist political economy with something embracing more collaboration in its ideological framework.
      • Speaking of which How many of these people have you met in your seminar? I think I can recognise some of these archetypes in my audiences…  Thank you The Tab!
    • Marking
      • Finally ploughed through the 40+ essays I had to mark.  Tried not to bitch (too much) about not really getting paid to do this, while focusing on making sure I gave each student who’d submitted some useful guidance and feedback.  On the whole the standard wasn’t bad at all, which was heartening.  Hopefully if they take account of my comments their actual assessed work will be nothing short of magnificent.  As I’ve told them a few times, I’d love nothing more than to hand out handfuls of 1sts!  We’ll see what the reality is over Easter!  Started uploading all the marked essays on Friday…only to discover I’d missed a couple.  Gah, bloody useless VLE – the backend is so clunky to use.  Then again as a student the front end is pretty poor too.  Still, guess it’s better than having to physically collect the essays (like the module leader seems keen on) and mark them by hand.  Online FTW really from my perspective.
  • Chapter writing
    • Two steps forwards, 1 step back.  It’s been the main focus on the week…and has edged closer…and closer to being done.
  • Conference proposal
    • Battled with the online system to submit my other (more academic) conference proposal for an hour or so.  Finally got it done, and now won’t hear anything until late March.  Suspect it’ll be one of three responses a) Accepted, no comments b) Rejected, no comments c) Told to rewrite for acceptance.  My gut feeling is probably b or c.  Frankly my confidence in myself and my scholarship is really at an all time low right now.  *sigh*
  • Online speaking
    • Been asked if I’ll do a short slot in a couple of weeks for some academics over Skype.  Exciting, but waiting to hear a few more details.  Hope they’re happy with some off the cuff speaking as I don’t quite know where I’ll slot in any preparation time – I must….must…must focus on the chapter to the exclusion pretty much of everything else right now.  Although I’m going to have to draft my UKSG talk in the very near future too.
  • Frustrations
    • Oh nothing new here, other than stressing about ever finishing the chapter, stressing that my work isn’t good enough, depressed over the utter isolation I’m living through as part of the PhD experience.  Not seen or spoken to a fellow PhD in months now, which can’t be healthy.  Thank Grud I’ve my undergraduate students to at least inject a little bit of humanity back into my weekday routine.

And finally…I think I’m feeling more like the post-doc here…kudos to whomever created this…although I’ve not got a source to cite!

Academic minions