Running up that hill: a Thank You

On Thursday, I was awarded joint Law Teacher of the Year at the Northern Law Awards with the wonderful Jenny Jarvie of Bishop Auckland College. I was thrilled to share the award with such a passionate, caring, innovative teacher. We were both called upon to give an acceptance speech. This post is an extended version of mine.  

2015-07-01 12.33.23

Last Saturday, I did parkrun. Have you heard of parkrun? Free, timed, 5k runs, 9am every Saturday. Have a look at the website – there’s bound to be one near you. My local parkrun takes place at Whitley Bay.

Now, I run to think. I use the time to work things out in my mind, and to draft and re-draft speeches, bits of conference papers, applications, titles of blog posts etc.

You might think that a seafront run would be fairly flat.  And indeed there is a lovely start at my parkrun, where we run down a slope onto a long pathway parallel to the sand with the lighthouse in front of us. But about halfway round the course there is a humdinger of a hill. The sort of hill that makes you take a deep breath. The sort of hill that makes your head bow low (don’t look at the top, don’t look at the top…!).

I’ve been drafting some long documents for a few weeks now. Documents that require me to talk about my teaching practice, and why I love to teach. I’ve written and re-written over 10,000 words, carefully crafting statements that attempt to show what it is that makes me get up and go to work.

As I approached the hill of doom last Saturday, it suddenly dawned on me. It was oh so simple:  there were two reasons why I loved my job.

My colleagues. My confidence building, supportive colleagues who put the student experience at the heart of everything they do even in the most challenging of times.

My students. My bright, articulate, capable students whose varied interests outside of their academic life make them so exciting to work with. Many of our former students are in this room tonight, up for “Rising Star” or “Trainee of the Year”. We are so so proud of you. Well done. We are proud of all of our students and everything they achieve.

Buoyed by those thoughts, I soon found myself at the top of the hill. Not only that… I got a Personal Best(!). I will continue to try to do my best for my colleagues and for my students for the remainder of my teaching career. Thank you.


How I use Excel to manage my Literature Review

Abandon your Word tables! Using Excel to manage your literature review can make research quicker, easier – and yes –  fun.  

A short while ago, David posted this comment on How I use Scrivener for academic writing:

David comment on excel lit review

I promised I would write a post about it. So here it is. But before we get down to the mechanics of Excel….

A little note about my literature review 

The methodology for my Professional Doctorate is autoethnography. I’ll be posting a fuller explanation of autoethnography in due course, but for the purposes of this post all you need to know is that this type of research uses self-examination and story in order to promote new ways of thinking, and help others make sense of their own lives and culture.

Initially, a systematic review of the literature appealed to me. I’m a lawyer. I like structure. So I begin my systematic review, looking for autoethnographic articles on Web of Science, HeinOnline, LexisNexis etc. My days as working in a library mean that I’m pretty au fait with boolean operators and the like – however, my searches yielded very few results. Key texts (which I knew existed, as I had read them) didn’t appear.

At the same time as conducting my systematic review, I was reading a minimum of one article on autoethnography per day. I was following bibliographies. Each article I read led me to another, then another, then another. And I made my choices based on the knowledge that I wanted to accumulate. For example, I wanted to specifically look at autoethnographic articles which were located in the educational world. Articles about disability and discrimination were very powerful, but they were not within the scope of my review. This process of “systematized creativity” or intuitive research is a feature of an abductive approach to reasoning (Andreewsky & Bourcier, 2000; Taylor, Fisher, & Dufresne, 2002). Rather than follow a linear process, an abductive approach allows for the type of intuition I was using when finding the next article.

I suspect that I am drawn to an abductive approach because its focus is on interpretation and understanding new perspectives. These are phrases that are strongly associated with autoethnography. It makes sense to me that an autoethnographer would approach the literature in this way.

So that’s the way I’m reviewing the literature. One step at a time. One article or book at a time. And I’m following my nose.

So what’s this spreadsheet about? 

Aha! So here’s where the lawyer in me comes right back to the fore. I wanted to create a table that I could manage effectively. Where I could move the data with ease. And, because seeing how far I’ve come helps to keep me feeling positive, where I could easily find out how many articles I’d read!

My spreadsheet is basic. It is not all singing and dancing, and I’m sure there are lots of clever things I’m missing out on. But its simplicity works for me.

This is how it looks when I open it up:

Lit Review 1


You’ll see that across the top, in row 1, I’ve chosen a heading for each column. Originally, I used headings from lit reviews that I had seen elsewhere. But those headings, and the placement of the columns, didn’t work for me. There were some columns I never filled in. And I found it hard to remember what some headings were for. So, over time, I made my own, to suit the purpose of my review and the topic I am reviewing (in this case autoethnography). For example, I like to have the ‘conclusions’ column right at the front – I don’t want to hide it away in column ‘S’.

Happy thoughts

The photo above only shows the columns I can see when I open the spreadsheet. If you were to scroll to the right, you’d also see these headings:

Lit Review 2

I did say I made my own headings up…

But the “happy thoughts” and “unhappy thoughts” columns are where I can place all of my critical thinking, abstract comment, and queries (and what I sometimes think are really impressive points, but later on turn out to be a load of rubbish). In happy thoughts, I’ll often write about what I loved about the work or how I can use that work to frame my own. In unhappy thoughts, I might note if the text is fairly hard going and perhaps needs a few reads, or any contradictions I might have picked up. I also use this space to record where I don’t agree with the author.

The “ethical concern” sections are there because many of my papers and publications on autoethnography concern ethics. I wanted to capture if the author of the work raised any ethical issues, and if I had any. This is furthest away as it is not my primary concern at the moment. I regularly move my columns around.

Being able to move things around, easily

If I click the drop down box at the bottom right of the ‘Author’ column, Excel will order that column A-Z or Z-A within a second. This is incredibly useful if, like me, you add rows in all over the place. I know I can insert a new row anywhere I like and with the touch of a button Excel will put it in alphabetical order. Similar with year – I’m looking at the history of autoethnography at the moment and I was interested to see the spread of articles across the years. Click the drop down box at the bottom right of ‘Year’ and Excel orders the list. Same goes for any other column.

Lit Review 3

Seeing how far you’ve come

This is where I’m up to today. There’s something very satisfying in seeing you’ve nearly read 100 articles!

Lit Review 4

Do you use Excel to manage your literature review?

Do you have any ‘unusual’ headings too?

Any tips to share? 

UK Blog Awards 2016

I was thrilled to be a finalist at the UK Blog Awards this year, for best individual Education blog.   The awards ceremony was held on Friday 25 April, and those who follow me on twitter will no doubt have realised how excited we were to be there!

The event itself was held at the very swanky Park Plaza Westminster. We decided to go all out and get room there, and ended up on the 11th floor with an amazing view across Westminster Bridge.

I was joined by my OH and my PhD Buddy Rachel. Rachel had nominated me for the award so it was fantastic to share the evening with her. The event itself was probably the closest I will ever get to a film premiere (or, as I ended up saying – repeatedly – “it’s like the BAFTAS!!”). The décor, the immense rooms, the canapes, the champagne… the BFG(!). OH and Rachel even managed to get themselves in front of a camera crew whilst I nipped to the ladies. Timing – not one of my strong points.

Seeing the blog up on the big screen was fab (and thank you to Rachel for whooping when our host read it out). It was a pleasure to be listed alongside so many of my favourite education blogs – and to represent higher education. Huge congratulations to Grange Park ICT who won the individual category.

I’m currently working my way through the amazing goody bag, and working out how I can incorporate all the free glitter, mouldable glue and bubbles into my teaching next year…

The only reason I got through to the final was because people voted. We had an incredible day and learned so much about the world of blogging. Thank you so much if you voted.