May 31, 2014

Final Entry on Critical Thinking

Follow-up to First entry on Introduction to critical thinking from David's blog

Since attending the workshop on Critical Thinking, I have tried to improve my critical faculties.

Over the last few weeks I have learned that critical evaluation is key not only to education at a Masters Level but to all aspiring academics and students.

My first action point was to critically analyse historical arguments within my research. Over the last few weeks I have learned that comparing & contrasting arguments within the same subject allows for a better understanding of the chosen topic. This in turn allowed me to write a more balanced work.

My second action point was to learn of the numerous illogical fallacies commonly used in debates. Such a knowledge has been useful as a diagnostic tool in identifying strong or weak arguments.

My third action point was to critically analyse and challenge political discussions on tv and radio. By looking deep into the UKIP and EU debate, I even found faults with people I generally agreed with.

The workshop and the three actions points outlined above, have taught me the importance of critical thinking in evaluating arguments. Critical and analytical tools are key to evaluating what is a good and bad argument as well evaluating what is a logical and illogical argument.

I believe over the last few weeks I have improved my critical and analytical skills by engaging in as many debates & discussions as I possibly could (whether they be in books, tv, radio or day to day conversations). I hope to use what I have learned and improve my critical faculties in the rest of my Masters degree and in other fields there after.


May 14, 2014

Update to Action Point 3 of Intro to Critical Thinking

Follow-up to First entry on Introduction to critical thinking from David's blog

My Third Action Point was to critically analyse and challenge political discussions on tv and radio.

Over the last 5 to 6 weeks, I have been following many political debates on tv (such as Question Time) and on radio (particularly Radio 4).

Recently I have engaged with many topical debates such as the housing crisis in the UK and the Eastern European crisis in Ukraine. However, them main political debate I have engaged in over the past month or so has surrounded UKIP and the EU. I have followed much of the debate on UKIP and the proposed referendum on EU membership and I have engaged both with pro and anti-EU arguments.

I have looked at the significant differences between both polarized views and have analysed what is potential right and wrong with them.

Much of the UKIP arguments consist of populist views which sets out an ideological slippery slope in which the UK is supposedly heading for disaster. UKIP's political manifesto can also be accused of scaring the public into voting in favour oh their party. Moreover, UKIP rely heavily on the debate of immigration and don't look at any other aspects of the EU.

The focus on immigration, however, is partly the fault of UKIP's extreme opposition. This opposition claims UKIP is a racist party because it raises the question of immigration. However, it is clear that immigration can be considered a major problem in the UK without being racist. UKIP's opposition would be far better off by outlining the EU's major benefits such as its functionalist common market and Western Europe's seventy years of peace (a miracle by European History's standards).

However, the opposition is right in the sense that UKIP seems to attract unpleasant individuals. The premise seems to get stronger the more UKIP scandals are revealed. On the face of it, UKIP appear like old tories trying to pull the clock back to a time when the UK had a more global role that it has now. The truth is, as a global super power, the UK has already had its day and should look to integrate more with other European countries.

That said, the opposition has been guilty of getting dragged into an ugly debate where the term "racist" is applied to anyone who questions the EU. As a pro-EU person myself, I believe UKIP's opposition would be far better off in this debate if their arguments were put to better more sensible use. As outlined above, there are plenty more benefits to the EU that UKIP would struggle to argue against.

Having engaged with both sides of a debate like the EU for the last few weeks on tv and radio, I have found I have a more accomplished, well rounded and stronger argument in favour of the EU than I did before.


May 10, 2014

Update to Action Point 2 of Intro to Critical Thinking

Follow-up to First entry on Introduction to critical thinking from David's blog

My Second Action Point was to complete the practice paper on logical fallacies and try to identify them in political or academic debates.

Having practiced and completed the exercise sheet on logical fallacies, given to us in the workshop, I have found that now I can outline and detect inconsistencies in my research and in general political debates I see on television (such as Question Time).

I have learned of the wide variety of common pitfalls of thinking. From over-generalisations and bad analogies to naturalistic fallacies and euqivocations, I have learned that there are numerous logical fallacies that people use. This in turn has taught me that people's arguments can be considered weak for many different reasons, some of which can combine two or more logical fallacies together at one time.

Not only can I now identify the pitfalls in weak arguments, this outline of logical fallacies has also helped me avoid slipping into them when writing or simply discussing topics with a fellow MA student.

An outline of logical fallacies has given me a kind of diagnostic tool to help identify what makes an argument weak by showing what holes in falls into.


May 03, 2014

Update to Action Point 1 of Critical Thinking

Follow-up to First entry on Introduction to critical thinking from David's blog

My First action point for the Introduction to Critical Thinking Workshop was to critically analyse historians' arguments within my research.

I have just completed my Spring term essay on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the beginning of the Summer Term. Having written 5,000 words on the subject, a lot of research went into my work which in turn allowed me to compare and contrast many different historians' points of view. My essay tried to answer whether or not the declaration was a document inspired by good human sentiment or whether it was a mere conservate power tool.

With the origins and motivations behind Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 being a highly contentious historical issue, my research comprised of hugely contrasting sources. Because the UN Declaration and its political organs are so hotly contested, it seems human rights historians had very polarized views on the same issue.

These two camps of historical analysis allowed me to compare one historian's take of the declaration to another. Likewise I could compare historians within the same historical camp and see how their arguments resembled each other or differed.

By doing this comparison, I found similarly constructed arguments with similar logical steps. I also found out which arguments were the most effective and logical on both sides of the argument. Moreover by comparing the best arguments from both sides of the argument, I found out how to effectively argue different points of view from the same issue.

This comparison of historical arguments has taught me how important it is to take a different perspectives on one subject. Furthermore, by comparing and engaging with conflicting arguments, I found that my final conclusion (that the Universal declaration was indeed a product of a conservative order but still contained deeply felt human sentiment) was a more accomplished, balanced and logical ending to my overall thesis. Arguments are strongest when they have been scrutinized and been through critical analysis from different angles of thought.


April 06, 2014

First entry on Introduction to critical thinking

Workshop Tutor: Lisa Faulkner

Introduction

In the Critical Thinking Workshop, we were shown the importance of thinking critically at MA level. We were shown that critical evaluation was perhaps the key aspect of a Masters Degree.

In order to practice our critical skills, we were firstly given example job adverts to scrutinize. After that, we were given passages of texts that described human behaviour in different species of birds. Our task was to decifer what was plausible and what was not plausible.

We were then taken through example exercises of logical or illogical statements. Bearing in mind the validity of arguments, our task was to work out what was a logical statement and what was an illogical statement. We learnt that even if an argument were invalid, it coud still be logical as long as the conclusion followed its premises. In order to challenge us further, we were shown even more complicated examples which could be construed in different ways. In a similarly difficult manner, our next task was to work out the premises and conclusion of an argument from a passage, no matter how muddled it was.

The workshop ended by showing some of the most common logical fallacies people use in everyday arguments and discussions. We left the workshop with a sheet of example exercises to do at home, in order to improve our critical deciphering of illogical arguments.

I believe the workshop gave a good summary of the importance of critical thinking in a Masters degree and in every day life in general. The workshop gave us the critical and analytical tools in order to evaluate what are strong and weak statements as well as what are logical and illogical arguments.

Actions

  1. My First Action Point will be to see how writers construct their arguments and to see whether or not they are always logical in the next 3 to 4 weeks.

    While reading and researching for my remaining essay and dissertation, in the next 3 to 4 weeks I will try to critically evaluate how history writers construct and argue their points and whether they do it effectively or not.

  2. My Second Action point will be to complete the exercise sheet on logical fallacies and try to identify these in every day debates over the next 4 to 5 weeks.

  3. My Third Action Point will be to analyse and challenge political debates and discussions on tv and radio over the next 5 to 6 weeks.

    Closely linked to my Second Action Point, I will try to challenge the arguments I read in history books and the arguments I hear on the radio and tv. By challenging arguments such as political debates, I will be able to see if they really stack up and then conclude whether or not they are strong or weak arguments.

  4. na

To write a follow up, go to http://go.warwick.ac.uk/skills//blog


March 24, 2014

Final Entry on Introduction to Writing at MA level

Follow-up to First entry on Introduction to Academic Writing from David's blog

Over the last couple months since the workshop on Writing at MA level, I have tried to improve my writing style and my in turn my essay writing. As it is very difficult to show a change in writing styles and then judge such improvements, my three action points were all very similar in their goal to improve my overall essay writing.

My First Action Point was to better understand my essay questions and essay titles.

Looking over old work, I noticed that in the past my essay titles were far too broad and complex and needed a far more concise approach. Thus for my last piece of work I handed in at the end of the Spring term, I concentrated specifically on one aspect of a topic so that I did not trail off course. Although my Theory essay was easier to condense in such a way, I believe that I have learned the advantages of formlating a better question and hope to do the same for my next essay I'm working on.

My Second Action Point was to critically evalutate old work in the hope it would help future essay work.

For this I essentially took more time over my work in order to ensure enough time to look over, edit and re-write it. Having looked over old essays, I noticed much of my work came across as if it were rushed and hence did not achieve as high a mark as it might have done.

Directly linked to the above, my Third Action Point was to improve my overall macro-structure of my essays.

Having over-written many of my old essays with unnecesarily long sentences and paragraphs, for my last essay I decided to take a minimalist approach. This new approach meant my essay was more to the point and in turn every sentence added something to the essay.

Overall, I believe the workshop has allowed me to think about my work in an entirely new way. My new approach to essay writing, described in the above three point can essentially be summed by time management and organisation. By understanding my essay question early on I found I had more time to do the latter stages of the essay writing process. This in turn allowed me to start writing much sooner than before. With more time to write, edit and evaluate my work, I believe my overall essay structure has improved a lot. I hope to use my time wisely for my next pieces of work in order to improve my essay writing even further.


March 18, 2014

Update to Action Point of Writing at MA Level

Follow-up to First entry on Introduction to Academic Writing from David's blog

Closely interlinked with my second action point, my third action point was to improve the overall macro structure to my work by the end of the spring term.

Having just finished my MA History essay for the end of the Spring Term, I have found many improvements in my overall structure.

For this essay, which was a Theory, Methods and Skills History essay, I took a very minimalist approach to my work. Having wasted a lot of time over-reading in the past, for this essay I decided to stop reading excess books and stuck to 11 sources. This approach gave me more time to write my essay and thus allowed me to concentrate more time on planning the overall structure to my work.

By writing my Theory essay of 2,500 words over a week, I found I was much more effective at writing well. With more time to write and look over my work, I could now ensure that every paragraph had a topic and concluding or transitional sentence.

This new approach made me far more relaxed about writing than ever before and allowed for a better essay with no unnecessary sentences or paragraphs. Hopefully this will result in a vastly improved essay-writing style which I can apply to my last pieces of work for my degree (i.e my History of Human Rights essay and my Dissertation).


February 26, 2014

Update to Action Point 2 of Writing at MA Level

Follow-up to First entry on Introduction to Academic Writing from David's blog

Closely linked to my First Action point, my Second Action Point was to critically evaluate old work and help improve my ability to critically evaluate in future work.

Having read my CAS and QRS essays I have noticed that I need to leave more time to go through my work after I have done it. I have noticed that the majority of my work has been overloaded with content and long sentences. Thus, I have also noticed that some passages of my essays could easily have been edited out had I given myself enough time to do so.

With my CAS essay on the Abolition of the Slave Trade, although I got a good mark for it, I feel that my argument waned slightly due to the essay's multiple parts. My tutor's criticisms pointed to the lack of detail in some areas as opposed to others. This in turn made the essay less fluid and more disjointed.

Similarly my Quantitative Research essay on Slave Trade numbers in the 18th century was just too long. Because of the numerous questions I posed about the slave trends at the beggining of the essay, my research became tangential and disjointed. I would have been better off focussing more on certain aspects of the slave trade rather than trying to incorporate them all. That said it was a very hard essay which was hard to tackle in the first place.

In contrast, when re-reading my articles I have written for The Boar Newspaper I have noticed fewer mistakes. Although they are much shorter and are usually topical debates rather than succinct questions, I have noticed that they are usually better organised and more concise. This is perhaps because I am writing to an audience and not to academics, which is a lot easier. However, I probably set aside more time to re-read my articles than I have to my essays, which is something which I try to improve with my next essay.

I am currently doing a TSM essay and I hope to learn from the mistakes I have outlined in the first Two Action Points.


Update to Action Point 1 of Writing as MA Level

Follow-up to First entry on Introduction to Academic Writing from David's blog

My first action point was to improve my understanding of essay questions.

Of course this action point is perhaps one of the hardest areas to gauge improvement and thus it is perhaps an issue that will reveal itself in the long term rather than in a few weeks. That said, I have noticed a few things from looking over old essay questions.

The feedback from my 5,000 word history essay from last term, entitled "What influenced Britain to abolish the Slave Trade in 1807" said that I had argued my points well but that the essay in general had not been that well organised.

Looking back, I believe my question was far too broad and complex. As it was, the question could have been written from numerous angles, three or four of which I tried to incorporate into my essay. Having read through it again, I try to cram in far too many points in the essay which in turn made it feel like it was rushed. In the future I will need to emphasise a particular area in my question's field.

Particularly at Master's level, formulating a concise question is essential in order to achieve a precise structure and conclusion. My essay from last term is my only traditional essay question I have done at Warwick University so far and so it is the only essay I can really look back on. Other works such as my articles for the Boar are more topical conversations rather than questions. However, I am currently doing a question for my Theory Skills and Methods in History module which is due at the end of this term and which my tutor is helping me formulate.


February 04, 2014

Final Entry on Reading and note–making

Follow-up to Update to Action Point 3 of Reading and note–making from David's blog

In this entry I will summarise what I have learned from the reading and note-making workshop over the past few weeks and discuss the three action points since the workshop.

1. My first action point was to improve the speed at which I read.

Having been a slow reader for a long time, I found it difficult to fly through a book without stopping, restarting and getting hampered with details. However ever since the workshop I have found a slight improvement in my reading in certain areas.

I tried scanning, skimming and close reading during seminar and casual reading. I found that when I gave myself I deadline, such was the case with seminars, I tended to read quicker than usual and get the core ideas from my readings. In contrast when there was a much longer period to do the reading in, I found I was less focussed and took much longer. However, with the help of the scanning, skimming and finger following technique (as well as encouragement from one of my History tutors) overall I have at least been open to new ways of readings. Most importantly, I have found that there are different ways to read for different purposes. Thus, I believe overall I have found a slight improvement in the speed of my reading.

2. My second action point was to review my notes on a regular basis.

Before I usually took notes and then quickly filed them away and in turn usually forgot what I wrote about quite quickly. Thus, this action point was perhaps the most useful point I took from the workshop overall.

Re -reading my notes after taking them and then looking over them later in the evenings has been my most effective change since the workshop. Re-reading my notes has helped me remember a lot more than before and has contributed substantially to my learning. Looking over notes at least twice the same day I write them (once after writing them and then once in the evenings), has been a highly useful discipline as it allows me to think over and form my ideas more coherently.

3. My third action point was to make brief and concise notes.

This was the hardest action point to follow as I found it very difficult to change my notemaking style. A blank piece of paper would always intimidate me and force me to write long winded notes entangled with details and examples.

During the weeks after the seminar I tried different approaches to taking notes. Although I have used increaslingly more shapes and abbreviating techniques which has worked to condense my seminar reading notes, I have found if harder to shorten my dissertation notes. With the dissertation deadline a long way off, I have found I lose my focus for concise notes more easily. However, all in all I would say my note-making as a whole has improved nonetheless. I will have to work on my dissertation notes more thoroughly as the deadline approaches.

To conclude, I found the reading and note-making workshop quite useful. Reviewing my notes on a regular basis has in particular, really improved my learning and retention for information. With an improved ability for retention, I have also noticed an improvement in my application of historical information.

Although speed reading is still a challenge for me, I have learned that I can at least use different reading techniques for different purposes (e.g scan reading or light close reading). Likewise, my note-making is improving slowly, and with a little work at it, I believe I can compress my notes even further in the future.


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  • Hello David, Thanks for writing such a reflective final entry for the WSPA – what a pleasure to read… by Lisa Faulkner on this entry
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