Info-Skills

An important part of successfully completing the independent study unit consists in having appropriate tools for the task. This page contains a number of online tutorials to help you work more effectively and efficiently on your project. It will build over the year to provide you with a tool-kit to deal with the glut of information that you will no doubt collect and generate for your independent study project but will also be useful for all the units you study this year.

Contents

Starting a Blog

Citations

Starting a Blog

The reflective diary is an obligatory component of the Independent Study unit (see this section of the Guidelines for a full explanation).

Blogs (from ‘web log’) are web-based journals where entries (known as ‘posts’) are commonly displayed in reverse chronological order. Some would argue that to be a blog readers must also be able to ‘subscribe’ in order to receive automatic updates. Blogs were started in the mid-1990s by a small group of ‘techies’ but during the last five years they have very much entered the mainstream. From being seen as the trivial pursuits of nerds and teenagers they are now considered as fundamental tools for publishing and communication by a wide variety of people. From those with a special interest in model aircrafts to the Guardian newspaper; from PR agencies to citizen-journalism; and from lawyers to lecturers – the proliferation of the form continues unabated. As a no-cost publishing medium blogs are empowering millions of people to publish their ideas and fundamentally changing the media ecosystem.

Here are some features of blogs that make them suitable platforms for the reflective journal on the Independent Study unit (though not necessarily restricted only to this unit):

  • as a journal your blog can be made public, semi-public (available only to specified readers), or private. One of my students was commenting on his blog on data he had collected in a sensitive area and I was his only specified reader. My blogs tend to be public because I want people to read/comment on my ideas.
  • the reverse chronological order of posts allows you and your readers to track the development of your ideas over a period of time. This understanding of the process of research is one of the main reasons we require you to keep a diary.
  • your blog can be referenced in your independent study – thus meeting the unit assessment requirement.
  • the comments feature allows a conversation to occur on every post you write. It’s good to get comments: they help you think, reflect on what you write and contribute to re-thinking, re-drafting. Commenting on others’ posts is joining in the community, sharing your time and your understandings. We all gain.
  • the categorising of posts allows you to build an archive of materials. You can create hyperlinks to digital artifacts you find on the web and notes to analogue resources you have on your shelves at home.
  • it’s important not to be too precious about what you write. This takes a bit of practice. In conversations we all splutter, say things we maybe shouldn’t have said and make metaphorical spelling mistakes. The same should happen in your blogs. It’s a platform to try ideas, record thoughts, and make ‘mistakes’.

Setting up a blog is a requirement of the unit. If you are unhappy about this and would like to discuss it, please arrange a meeting with me.

I recommend using wordpress.com for your blog. WordPress is a popular free online blog hosting service that is extremely easy to use. In order to help you set up your blog and make your first post, I have created two short tutorials which you can access from the links below. They both include audio commentary so use headphones if you are in a public place!

When you have completed tutorials 1 and 2 and have set up your blog, send me the address (http://yoursite.wordpress.com) to my email account.

  1. Starting a Blog: Setting up (5 minutes)
  2. Starting a Blog: Posting (8 minutes)

Citations

There is little doubt that for some students the appropriate formatting of citations is still a problem. With a new feature in Microsoft Word 2007 automating that process, inappropriate formatting should be a thing of the past. The screencast below gives a brief tutorial on how to use this feature.

The references feature also allows you to build a bibliographic database available for every document that you write.

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