Showing posts with label support. Show all posts
Showing posts with label support. Show all posts

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Transition from School to University

University - anxiety or liberation ?

Dear Students,

Many of you will find the transition from school to university very difficult. In a previous blog I offered an impressionistic account of some of the main reasons why students don't have a successful first year and provided some practical tips. But what about the initial transition? How will university life be different from being at school and living at home? Below, I offer a five point plan for making a successful transition.

The first point to consider is that the intensive care you have probably experienced at home and at school will not be available with the same frequency at your college. Personal tutors and welfare staff will be available to help, but they won't be monitoring your health and well-being on a daily basis. Support services are widely available in all universities, but you will need to seek them out. If you have lived a sheltered life between your school and your bedroom the personal transition to full independence can come as a big shock.

The second point to consider is that your ability to direct your own studies will be crucial, especially if you are working in the arts or social sciences. Understand that academics typically have a 550 hours annual contract for direct teaching. For you, that works out at about 12-15 hours contact time in seminars, tutorials, and lectures. The rest of the time you'll be on your own, doing your reading, doing your research, drafting and writing your assignments. Don't expect you tutor to stand over you while you spend 40 hours reading George Eliot's Middlemarch or Charles Dickens's David Copperfield.

My third point is that you should take a more active role in seeking academic support if you feel that you need it. Most universities have an academic support department that is designed to help you develop academic-level skills. These support centres should be used to improve your general level of competence. Your academic tutors will provide more focussed and more specialised support. All tutors have open office hours. Use this time to drop in, or book and appointment to discuss the plans you have made for your first assignment. When you have had your work marked and returned seek out your tutor to discuss the feedback. Ensure that you have fully understood what you need to do to improve your grade next time. In my experience as few as 15% of students (usually the brightest and the weakest) make use of this opportunity.

Don't just take the easy option, which is typically to email your lecturer saying, 'I don't know what we're supposed to do for this assignment.' Usually, all the required information will be in the module or course handbook. It's so frustrating that hundreds of hours are spent writing the course materials that students have not bothered to read.

The fourth point is to recognise that the subject you learned at school is going to be different at university. There will be a higher level of theoretical approaches, for example, rather than just explaining why you enjoyed the characters and the story. There will be strong emphasis on research and on critical reading. Remember that your seminars and lectures are just the beginning of your work; they are merely a point of departure for your journey; they are not the be-all and end-all of your academic life. If you find that the course is not what you were expecting it is often possible to switch course or turn your major subject into a minor. However, it is essential to seek help and advice early. You will generally find that the university is more flexible than you imagined if it looks like you might be dropping out. Remember that universities have a vested interest in the improvement of retention rates.

The fifth point is to participate. This means socialising and making friends. This means joining clubs and societies, doing sport, or taking part in charity work.  All of this will build your character, make you more independent and crucially more employable. Academically, participation means interacting with other students in seminars, having prepared professionally for the activities involved.

A final point to consider, as an afterthought, is that university does not suit everyone. Nor does university life  suit everyone at the age of 18. Some of the best students I've ever taught were those who came to university later in life.

I guess some of this blog will sound like a harsh diatribe and rant against the molly-coddled student. I often reminded myself that my life at college was not as difficult as my father's - down the pit (coal mine) at the age of 15. Nor did I suffer the major social and economic disadvantges of the other six billion poor people on this planet.

I have some sympathy for those of you who feel that the £9000 fees are not worth it. Indeed, the fees are not worth it, but YOU are, and it's up to YOU to make the best of the brilliant career opportunity that university affords in the luxury of the first world.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of  

The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (Quibble Academic, 2013) 

Also available on Kindle

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Grammarly perfection tested

Further to my recent post examining the effectiveness of software designed to assist with grammar, punctuation, and style, I wanted to find out whether it was possible to score 100% on the software.

I tried to test by using text taken from their own website. That does not work, however, as they recognize their own work and they have already marked it as 'perfection.' They award themselves 100% for their own work. Is that surprising?

Nonetheless, if we select text from, their text has a variety of errors - according  to Similarly, text taken from the website fares badly when it is tested by These results suggest that the software programmes have not managed to create a reliable and universal system that successfully tests and verifies grammar, style and punctuation. Whichever system is used there is a typical 35% reporting of errors in the text submitted. Clearly, they are playing on this margin of error in order to convince us that we are in urgent need of their services.

Apparently it is possible to score 100%. I tried this:

There is a balance between pedantry and charity. The pigs are chattering in the trees. In fact, the birds dislike flying. Parasitic earthworms invented grammar. As a result, punctuation is no longer revolutionary. The trees have stolen the semicolons from the elephants. Biologists never use punctuation. It is unfair to test children under the age of fifty. We published the results of the research in a journal. The red bird snorted and guffawed. Is this a sentence? Is this an answer? Creative writing employs unusual techniques.

"Grammarly found no writing issues in your text. Score: 100 of 100 (good)"

However, the postmodern text generator also fared quite well (if spelling is discounted)

In the works of Tarantino, a predominant concept is the distinction between opening and closing. The primary theme of the works of Tarantino is the role of the reader as writer. However, Sartre uses the term ‘the postdialectic paradigm of reality’ to denote the economy, and eventually the paradigm, of semantic class.
The example of posttextual discourse depicted in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is also evident in Reservoir Dogs. In a sense, the premise of precultural theory suggests that sexuality, perhaps ironically, has intrinsic meaning.If subconstructivist libertarianism holds, we have to choose between posttextual discourse and capitalist feminism. Therefore, Lacan promotes the use of Marxist class to challenge capitalism.
The postdialectic paradigm of reality implies that expression is created by the masses, given that art is equal to reality. It could be said that Baudrillard uses the term ‘subdialectic modern theory’ to denote the role of the participant as artist.

Grammarly found 10 critical writing issues in your text.

Score: 53 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
Plagiarism !
  • Unoriginal text detected
Contextual Spelling Check 7 issues
  • Spelling (7)
  • Ignored words
  • Commonly confused words
Grammar 1 issue
  • Passive voice use (1)
  • Use of articles
  • Use of conjunctions
Punctuation 1 issue
  • Punctuation within a sentence (1)
  • Closing punctuation
  • Formal punctuation
Style and Word Choice
  • Writing style
  • Vocabulary use