Assessment is via an essay of 5,000 words. In their essay the student explores an `issue of concern` and how this is manifest in their particular educational setting. The best essays normally have an argument or key message that is developed throughout. For example with regards to the theme of education and culture, a student might explore the role of textbooks in connection with the concept of multi-literacies. Students build towards the essay throughout the course by constructing and developing a wiki which reflects their growing knowledge and understanding of their chosen `issue of concern`. By exploring the issue in depth, the essay should address different viewpoints, synthesise different approaches, explore assumptions that underpin the issue and examine how the issue influences practice. Some essays will explore alternative ways to respond to the issue of concern.
The assignment for this module should be approximately 5,000 words in length. There is a 10% leeway below or above this word count; please note that any assignments not meeting these parameters will be automatically failed. This word count includes section titles and tables, but not the bibliography.
It is strongly recommended that you read the sections in this handbook about the Expectations of the Coursework (see page 39) before you begin.
Expectations of the Programme: how to be successful in your coursework
Developing an Argument
The Institute`s criteria for the award of a Grade A include "the presentation of arguments" that demonstrate "exceptional clarity, focus and cogency". There are problems, however, when it comes to deciding just what these words mean in practice. For example, what counts as "exceptional", or makes reasoning "sophisticated", and "arguments", "clear, well-focussed and cogent"?
No matter what programme or modules you take, you are certain to be required to "argue" — that is, to adopt a questioning approach, with evidence as the basis for the articulation and justification of your position or hypothesis. You might ask yourself the following questions to check that you are arguing in the way expected in academic writing:
- Have I focussed on a single central problem, issue or question?
- Are the points I am making relevant to my developing line of reasoning? Have I backed up my points with reasons or supporting `evidence` (such as research findings, theories or definitions in the literature)?
- Have I indicated awareness on my part of alternative points of view that could be used to challenge the points I am making? Have I countered the alternative points of view where relevant?
- Should I have identified, analysed and evaluated the key concepts? If so, have I done that?
Use of literature of the field
Academic writing involves reading (see notes later in this section). While there are many individual ways of working, a number of students have identified that arguing involves establishing your purpose and your position in relation to what you have read. You might, for example, use what you read to clarify your point of view, or to show conflicting views in the field of study, or to provide evidence. Questions you might ask of your piece of writing include:
- What is my purpose in referring to this particular item from my reading at this point in my piece of writing?
- Have I evaluated (indicated my stance towards) the ideas or research findings that I am referring to, and not simply summarised them?
- Have I given the source of (referenced) the ideas, research findings, quotations that have come from what I have read?
In using quotations, have I integrated them into my discussion? Have I quoted only as much as I need for the purposes of my discussion? Have I quoted precisely?
The place of the `personal`
All writing in which you argue should be `personal` in the sense that it should suggest your own engagement with ideas. However, the place in scholarship and research of the writer or researcher as an individual with a personal history is a source of debate. In this programme, you will be expected to include your `personal experience` as a practitioner in geography education (if relevant). Questions you might then ask of your writing include:
- In what ways does including this aspect of my personal experience relate to the issue, problem or question that I am addressing?
- Have I avoided irrelevant detail in referring to my personal experience?
- Have I presented my personal experience as personal and not as illustrative of a universal trend? In other words, have I been careful not to claim too much on the basis of my own experience?
Analysis of texts
If your data comprises of texts of one kind or another that you will be analysing in some detail, questions you could ask of your writing might include:
- Have I justified my particular selection of texts for analysis?
- Have I developed a method of analysis and justified it both theoretically and in terms of its appropriateness for my investigation?
- Have I pointed to possible new directions in theory, practice or research?
`Argument` as text
While you will have to the opportunity to investigate the practices of academic writing during the programme, it may be useful to reflect on a few basic ideas here. In other words, what does an effective piece of academic writing look like? Argument in academic texts is primarily a matter of using an appropriate structure (ie organising the content) and of using appropriate academic language: accurate, precise and careful.
Introductions and conclusions are particularly important in relation to argument: setting things up and drawing to a close. Together with the transitions from paragraph to paragraph and from section to section, the introduction and conclusion are the places where you can demonstrate your creativity by making explicit the distinctive logic and direction of your piece of writing.
Writing your abstract is often a useful way of checking if the argument in your essay flows: in other words, what is the `story`? If you find your abstract difficult to write it may mean that the meaning of your essay is unclear. The following are questions that you might ask to check that your piece of writing has a structure that is compatible with `argument`:
- Have I stated at the outset what problem, issue or question I am addressing? Have I stated my position in relation to that problem, issue or question? Have I kept my eye on my central theme: have I ensured that there is a continuous thread running through my text?
- Is my conclusion linked to my opening problem, issue or question? Does it emphasise the position I have reached? Does it end on a strong note? Have I chosen at title that captures what I have done?
Language and structure
Giving your piece of writing a coherent structure is fundamentally a matter of using words and phrases that signal what you are doing in the text. Questions you could ask are:
- Have I used sub-headings that indicate how the content of my piece of writing is organised? Typically a 5,000 word article may have about 4 or 5 major `signposts` such as these.
- Have I made the direction and logic of my writing explicit by using minor `signpost` words or phrases, such as `however`, `furthermore`, `on the other hand`?
- Have I paid particular attention to the `final touches` which summarise the relevance of what is to come or what has been mentioned? Such signposts are often the first lines of sections and the final sentences of sections.
Criteria for Assessment
Grasp of field of study
- Outstanding grasp of issues and high level of critical insights into field of study
- Extensive, insightful and critical review of literature
High levels of creativity and independence of thought in the application of knowledge
Understanding and evaluating research and methodologies
- Sophisticated conceptual understanding and high levels of critical evaluation of scholarship, research and methodologies in the field
- Outstanding understanding of how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge and how these apply to students` own research and/or practice
- Creative and critical handling, presenting and inferring from data
Structure, communication and presentation
- Exceptional clarity, focus and cogency in organisation and presentation of arguments and conclusions