30 October 2017

One size does not fit all - Applying Anthropological Principals to Pedagogical Research

Blogger Jennifer Long has begun a new research project which looks at the various ways in which students' unique context and identities influence their learning experiences. Where you ask? In her new field site: the post-secondary institution where she works.

What is the purpose of the research? Dr. Long and Tanu Halim seek to better understand the educational experiences and learning preferences of mature and/or non-traditional students and how these perspectives differ depending on the instruction medium. To make matters a little more complicated, these instruction mediums include: (1) asynchronistic online learning; (2) synchronistic online learning; and (3) face-to-face in-class learning.

One of the research team's presumptions when approaching this research was that: mature students have different work-life responsibilities than traditional students entering undergraduate education after high school. That is, we assumed that there were more competing responsibilities for their time.

Why is this research important? ... We wanted to follow the money.

Earlier this year, the Government of Ontario made an announcement (May 2017) that they will begin funding research projects that explore technology-enabled learning and highlight best practices in student engagement.

This announcement follows up on past Ontario funding (in 2012 -2013) for universities and colleges that focused on developing further online learning opportunities for undergraduate students (Council of Ontario Universities, 2017). As one of the funded schools under this mandate, the W. Booth School of Engineering Practice & Technology redeveloped many of their courses as online offerings - with a particular focus on Degree Completion courses. The Degree Completion Program (DCP) is a two-year program designed for students who wish to upgrade their advanced College diploma into a Bachelor of Technology university degree. As such, this degree appeals to non-traditional students (as opposed "traditional" younger students who enter university after high school) who may be juggling work and family obligations in addition to their academic responsibilities.

The argument behind moving courses online includes the supposed ease of access to educational options for non-traditional students, for example, greater uptake and attendance if the requirement to commute to class is alleviated.

So how is this anthropology? As an anthropologist, I was struck by the unique set of circumstances this group of students brought to their learning environment. Within the McMaster student body then, this population - although connected - used the campus differently (largely at night or on the weekends for in-class courses), had less access to resources since supports are made more available for daytime students, and typically came from different backgrounds and pathways to education than more traditional students. Our goal with this research then is to challenge assumptions (non-traditional students prefer online courses) and explore these individuals' unique experiences of post-secondary education. 

Here on anthroeverywhere! we'll keep you up to date on the outcome of this research as a means to explore conducting anthropological research, everywhere including inside and outside the discipline. 

Check out this Thursday's post to learn more about the types of questions we'll ask and concerns from the ethics review board.

26 October 2017

Conferencing: Working the (Reception) Room Part II

Conferencing - Just can't get enough! Here on #anthroeverywhere! we've got conference fever and we've been delving into topics all about conferencing. These topics include Writing better Conference Abstracts and crafting better PostersTips for ModeratorsHow to be a great Chair, and most recently, How to Work the Reception Room.

In continuation of these points, we've been exploring and commenting on Diane Darling's, author of The Networking Survival Guide tips and tricks for working a reception room.

In continuation of the list developed in Conferencing: Working the (Reception) Room Part I, we looked at:

  1. Doing your pre-conference research
  2. Travelling light
  3. Walking the walk
  4. Starting at the food table
  5. Who's who
  6. Approaching VIPs pre-talk
  7. Spotting the lone wolves
  8. "And you are?" connection strategies
There are still a few important tips and tricks to add to Darling's list:
  1. Be curious - Darling asks us to avoid pumping those we meet for information just to see if we can 'use' them in our work. Instead, be curious as in, be personable beyond all else. Tying into a point below, you never know if this individual can be a connector to someone who is more relative to your own work. AnthroEverywhere!'take: Got it...be a human being. Check!
  2. Card exchange - Darling puts her own cards in her right pocket and the cards she receives in her left. This avoids having to search through other's cards to find your own.   AnthroEverywhere!'take: Check to see if your department or your supervisor will pay for you to get official cards. If not, or if you'd like to work on your personal brand, check out cheaper alternatives on the internet. 
  3. Get an introduction - Darling argues that connecting to someone new might be easier if you can do it through an intermediary. An introduction functions as an implicit endorsement.  AnthroEverywhere!'take: Ever more the reason to meet with colleagues from other institutions at lunches, in talks, etc. They could potentially introduce you to that big speaker later on in the evening.
  4. Give and take - Darling advocates for you to connect people whenever possible. This makes you look well connected and make others want to return the favour.
  5. It's a wrap - Just like Lee's article for UA from the last two posts, follow-up with your connections in short order. 
Nothing is more frustrating than going to a conference and feeling like you haven't made any real connections. Working Receptions is one more tool for your toolkit when conferencing.

Quick links and further reading:

23 October 2017

Conferencing: Working the (Reception) Room

#AmAnth17, CASCAinCuba, and SfAA 2018 Sustainable Futures meeting, oh my! Here at #anthroeverywhere!, we've used the last number of posts to cover various topics related to best and promising practices in the art of conferencing. Blogger Rhiannon Mosher has covered topics such as Writing better Conference Abstracts and crafting better Posters, Tips for Moderators, and How to be a great Chair, and most recently, Contributing to the Conversation during Q&A period or in networking. In our post today, we're going to pick up on the idea of networking and take it one step further - How to Work the Reception Room.

As suggested in the last post, graduate students seeking networking tips should read Nana Lee's UA article Essential networking tips for graduate students. In her article, Lee suggests:
  1. Doing some pre-conference homework on the work of researchers who might attend the reception/conference
  2. Preparing a few questions to ask researchers which is also relevant to your own work
  3. Be presentable to appear more open and accessible (introduce yourself with a firm handshake, a smile, and a business card)
  4. Request an informational interview (through 2nd and 3rd connections) to land a mentor
  5. Follow up with contacts in a timely manner (following the reception or conference)
  6. Keep in touch with meaningful connections because you never know when you might need them!
Lee leaves us with sage advice: networking is more than just meeting new fun-tastic people, it's about building trustworthy relationships for the future.

Lee's list is a great start, and we're going to borrow more tips from Diane Darling who wrote The Networking Survival Guide to fill out the list.

Like Lee, Darling advocates for all of the above in addition to the following:
  1. Travel light - Darling advocates to travel light during the reception so that you can concentrate on your conversations and appear professional without fumbling for items like your business card. AnthroEverywhere!'s take: We've been to many conferences and remember having to schlep around winter coats, heavy laptop bags, and branded conference bags with the conference schedule. This weighted look affects graduate students the most - we believe - because as graduate students, we couldn't afford to stay in the same hotel as the conference. If possible, keep expensive/irreplaceable items on you and leave your other items to the side of the room. Better yet, ask your supervisor or adviser to stash your items in their room (if they're attending and have a room in the same hotel). Or, are the conference organizers listening?!? We need a free coat/bag check for all conference reception events!
  2. Walk the walk - Smile and carry yourself confidently. AnthroEverywhere!'s take: Don that confidence as best you can. For strategies on how to re-frame yourself as a junior scholar instead of grad student - check out Karen Kelsky's The Professor is In blog. 
  3. Check out the food table for more than just food - People tend to be more open around the food table. Hungry or not, make the food table a stop in your travels around the room.
  4. Who's who - Darling wants us to scan the whole room (do a walk-about) for those we want to speak with but avoid reading name tags while speaking to anyone. AnthroEverywhere!'s take: AAA name tags seem to follow this pattern as of late, making conference goer's first names bigger than their last. Having done your homework before hand to know who's who (advocated by both Lee and Darling), you'll already know who you'd like to connect with.
  5. Approach the VIPs before talks - Darling advocates that we talk to VIPs before their big event as they tend to be swamped after. AnthroEverywhere!'s take: Great idea. If you've done your homework, you'll be able to ask them pointed questions and avoid general dead-ended questions such as, so what's your talk going to be about?
  6. Spot the lone wolves - Darling points out that the best networking and introductions come from one-on-one conversations. If you find a 'lone wolf' standing by themselves, approach them smiling and be ready with a handshake. AnthroEverywhere!'s take: Caveat: while business events are supposed to be professional, it's important to be mindful of one's personal safety. If you're reticent to approach new individuals on your own, find a colleague or new conference goer who you can tag-team the 'working the room' with.
  7. "And you are?" - Darling advocates that we ask others what their connection to the conference is first. This way, you can identify with their interests and lives in your response. AnthroEverywhere!'s take: Sounds like we should treat the reception room like an anthropological field site. Ask questions first, and connect through personal experience.
We'll continue with Darling's tips and tricks in our Thursday post. In the meantime, how is abstract writing going?

Quick links and further reading:

From anthro everywhere!'s #conference series:

19 October 2017

Conferencing: Contributing to the Conversation

Our past few posts have focused on tips for conference-goers, which are timely with the upcoming #AmAnth17 in November. To date we've shared some tips on Writing better Conference Abstracts and crafting better PostersTips for Moderators, and How to be a great Chair. Today we are focusing on the Q&A and networking during conferences in general -- useful tips for grad students and veteran conference-goers alike.

The conference Q&A -- if the chair has done their job well -- can often be the most rewarding part of a panel discussion. It is a place for audience members and panelists to respond to the ideas and data presented, elaborate on points of interest, and possibly spark new and necessary conversations. Unfortunately, the Q&A can also be taken over by those academics in the audience who like to spend quite a lot of time discussing their own research interests and then pretend it was a question.

So, how do you avoid this kind of all-too-common faux-pas and help contribute to a constructive and enlightening discussion?

The Guardian has some answers in their "Don't be a conference troll: a guide to asking good questions." The gist of this advice is that we should find positive or constructive ways to frame questions, even when they are critical. Think about asking questions in a way that opens up conversation rather than shutting it down. It shouldn't be that difficult to do, considering that we're anthropologists. What I would add to this advice -- perhaps especially a pitfall because we are anthropologists -- is to be careful of providing too much context for your question. How can you succinctly ask your question without taking too much time by oversharing your own research experiences that inspired your question?

For speakers, the Guardian also has this advice:
When you’re the one in the spotlight, how should you respond when faced with a question that feels inappropriate or hostile? Remember that a bluntly worded question is not necessarily a malicious one. Audience members have little time to prepare their questions. It may be helpful to respond in a tone and style that is slightly friendlier than the questioner’s. In some cases, this is all that is required to smooth the waters and enable dialogue.
For those of us -- particularly graduate students new to the conference scene -- who struggle with asking questions or approaching speakers during or after the Q&A, check out our past post on A guide to academic conversations (6 June 2016). You might also be interested in prepping for your conference experience by reading UA's Essential networking tips for graduate students, and Academic EQ's PhD Networking Tips for Introverts.

Happy conferencing!

Quick links and further reading:

16 October 2017

Conferencing: How to be a great Chair

With #AmAnth2017 on the horizon, we've been sharing some timely tips for conference goers over the past two posts. Today we are sharing some resources on how to be a great chair.

The chair of any panel or roundtable at a conference has a number of important tasks. The chair must introduce the panel, the speakers, keep time, and ensure an orderly question and answer session. The chair is also usually responsible for providing some concluding comments for the panel.

As The Guardian's Higher Education Network suggests, doing these tasks brilliantly can be accomplished though adhering to a 6-point checklist. An excellent chair should be: Organized, Inclusive, Selfless, Attentive, Firm, and Positive.

In many ways, these different points come back to the chair's ability to keep good time during their session.

We all have our pet peeves during conferences. Mine is when panelists go well over their allotted time! When a speaker goes over their time, it means that everyone else -- panelists and audience -- has less time to share their ideas and questions. In effect, it means that the panel will not be as inclusive as one that gives everyone time to share their ideas, comments, and questions. It is up to the chair to be firm about how much time a speaker may take. When I have chaired, this is a conversation that I begin over email leading up to the conference, helping to ensure that everyone presenting is on the same page.

We also lose time during a session when we struggle with technology. As chair, make sure that you have a good understanding of how to work the AV equipment your panelists will need, who to contact in case it doesn't work, and take the time to load all presentations before the session begins. (A note to presenters: When everyone's PowerPoint Presentation is labelled some variation of ConferenceNameDate, it can be tricky to find the right presentation even when it is pre-loaded. Why not label your presentation some variation of YourNameConferenceNameDate?)

As the Research Whisperer has noted, "Conferences are a necessary and fun part of academia. The more professional consideration and support that’s spread around at them, the better!" So, use these tips and check out our recent posts on abstracts, posters, and moderation to help make your panel the talk of the conference... in a good way.

Quick links and further reading:

12 October 2017

Conferencing: Tips for Moderators

In keeping with our post last Thursday on Writing better Conference Abstracts and crafting better Posters, and with #AmAnth17 next month, I thought it timely to share this article on Tips for Moderators: Don’t Be the Barrier that Prevents Expression (Medium, 15 Sept 2017).

More than just a list of tips on how moderate (rather than dominate) a conversation between speakers, this article also provides a cautionary tale about power dynamics and voice in public platforms. At what sounds like an amazing recent event in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, "Gloria Wekker and Philomena Essed shared their experiences and thoughts as scholars, women, women of color, teachers." Amazing, except these speakers and the audience were saddled with a moderator who stole focus from the speakers rather than guiding their conversation with the audience deeper. As the author of the Medium piece laments,
The biggest failing of the moderator was one I’ve seen at nearly every panel discussion I’ve ever attended, particularly in the Netherlands. I’m sure others will recognize it. It comes from inviting brilliant people and then limiting their space for interacting with each other and engaging in meaningful conversation. It comes from misplaced and misdirected questions. It comes from the habit of control.
So, what lessons can we learn from this event and take with us as we moderate the panels or round tables or public discussions in our futures...?
  1. A good moderator knows their stuff
  2. A good moderator shuts up
  3. A good moderator listens
  4. A good moderator changes tacks
  5. A good moderator asks what the speakers expect of them
  6. A good moderator backs down
Check back on Monday when we will continue the conferencing tips theme by posting about how to be a great chair!

05 October 2017

Writing better Conference Abstracts and crafting better Posters

We originally planned to write this post for grad students, but really, couldn't we all benefit fit from learning a bit more about how to write a great conference abstract or an eye-catching poster?

Here are a couple of interesting resources for helping you do just that.

From the LSE Impact Blog, you might like to read Your essential ‘how-to’ guide to writing good abstracts and their follow-up post How to write a killer conference abstract: The first step towards an engaging presentation. These posts contain some useful tips for grad students applying to a conference for the first time. Veteran conference-goers may also benefit from reviewing these suggestions, and considering how conference abstracts are different from article abstracts.

Conference posters are often less common among social anthropologists than paper presentations. As a visual medium, posters present unique challenges for researchers whose work is based in narrative. However, we're not the only discipline who struggles with how best to represent our findings in this format. Luckily, there are many resources available to help you craft an informative and eye-catching poster:
We've also taken the opportunity to update our page on Advice for Grad Students | Writing Tips with this information on conferencing. If you're getting ready to head to a conference, you might also want to check out our collected tips on networking on our Advice for Grad Students | Professional Development Strategies page.

02 October 2017

Anthropologists everywhere! Filming heavy metal with Sam Dunn

The first time I met Sam Dunn was in the smoking room (when those still existed) of a dive-y bar that my cohort of Dalhousie MA students used to ritually visit on Thursday wing-nights in Halifax. One of my colleagues, a die-hard metal fan and Marxist sociologist, called me over to his table and introduced us. Dunn had completed his MA at York in 2000, and we had both accepted offers to begin our PhDs in Social Anthropology at York University in Toronto in September, 2006.

By September, he decided to postpone and eventually declined his acceptance to the doctoral program -- with good reason!

Dunn had already filmed Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005), and would soon film a sequel of sorts, Global Metal (2008). Yet, rather than a departure from anthropology, both of these films and others made throughout Dunn's career are informed by his anthropological training and perspective.

Besides being a cool example of what you can do with a degree in anthropology, I have found Dunn's work to be a really useful teaching tool. For instance, Global Metal is a great resource for teaching about globalization, and how cultural forms and practices are always reinterpreted locally, sometimes deeply changing the meaning of the original cultural producers.

Check out more about Dunn and the connection between his work and anthropological background in the following links... and more about finding anthropologists everywhere: