Independent Learning.

2017. New year = doomed effort to restart reflective musings for chartership application.

This is a thought bin. Here are some thoughts.

I have been frustrated with my progress generally. I have found I have been swamped by the little tasks, therefore remaining constantly distant from the long term plans I want to achieve because they’re always low priority. So I’m changing that, in a testing-the-waters-to-see-what-works sort of way. I thought initially I would set aside a day a week to focus on more strategic or reflective work, but this job is a bit too disordered for that. I also think it’s important to capitalise on what your brain is interested in doing at that moment, rather than forcing it to do something purely because of an arbitrary timetable you’ve invented for yourself – this is, of course, the perk of being a sole librarian. I can be completely responsive to what I prioritise – and I need to start prioritising the future stuff, otherwise that future will never be realised.

Today I wrote down every thing I might need to do today – from the very small, to the ridiculously huge. It worked well. Every time I stalled with my “big picture” process, I completed a small task – however small, it was enough to do something else momentarily and re-focus. My brain has been drifting for quite some time, it needs to remember how to stay on task.

I read an article today. I hope to read one each day. These are comments randomly, I will try and put things together more cohesively at a later date – this probably means never!

A literature Review on independent learning. That is what I’m looking at in terms of big picture stuff. How the library can enable and support independent learning, and how the research skills support needs to be reflective of that concept and enabling of it. It proved very interesting reading, there’s a few articles I will be picking up on. It is fairly old now when it comes to Educational policy, and working in the Independent sector does give me a different perspective (a much freer one, in most cases) so further reading definitely required, but an excellent starting point.

Independent learning: a literature review and a new project by Meyer, 2010. 

Some particular quotes for food for thought – either because they’re useful reminders, or because they’ve sparked something:

Huddleston and Unwin (2002) and Higgins et al (2007)… “have shown how new information from many branches of science has added to our understanding of what it is to know; from the neural processes that occur during learning to the influence of culture on what people see and absorb.” (p.5)

“To be of value, an educational theory must in its practical application have outcomes that are desmonstrably beneficial.” (p.5)

These projects have looked at outcomes of independent learning and thinking skills programmes have a considerable, measurable impact:

  • Learning how to learn – UK Project, 2008
  • EPPI-Centre Thinking Skills Review Group, 2004, 2005

Useful definitions

A Dependent Learner: “A passive recipient of knowledge, or at least of teaching: he or she accepts the teacher as the expert in the learning process and sees his or her own role as subsidiary or dependent.” (p.11)

An independent learner: “active in directing and regulating his or her own learning and is him/herself a learning expert.” (p.11)

Delayed gratification is an important ability for independent learning, and motivation is an essential element. These both ring true in my experience – the need for instant results, an understanding of why persistence is beneficial results in increased motivation. Pupils need to develop an interest and become involved in the topic (Malone and Smith, 1996). Again, this is a massive factor. With the self-selected opportunities in History projects, EPQ, and a move towards more independent research projects in the new curriculum teaching pupils how to develop their interests – how to truly begin research, is required. Empowerment, too – the pupils need to feel in control of their own academic success. Emphasising ownership of their research is quite powerful – they are typically “instructed” in many cases, they will hopefully discover real joy in exploring and developing their own skills in self-selected areas.

Some interesting comments regarding transferable skills –  Neber and Schommer-Aikins (2002) suggest the skills are context specific, a highly important factor to consider. This echoes conversations regarding the struggle to apply skills from one subject context to another (even as straightforwardly as physics to maths) so this was of particular interest to research further.

Further reading

Allan, B. and Lewis, R. (2001). Learning independently. Managing Schools Today, 10(7), 24-6.

Black P., McCormick R., Mary, J. and Pedder, D. (2006). Learning how to learn and assessment for learning: a theoretical inquiry. Research Papers in Education, 21(2), 119-32.

Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L. and Cocking, R.R. (2000). How people learn: brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington: National Academy Press.

Deeson, E. (2006). Creating a learning to learn school. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 37 (4), 651.

Huddleston, P. and Unwin, L (2002). Teaching and learning in further education: diversity and change. London: Routledge.

Higgins, S., Baumfield, V. and Hall, E. (2007). Learning skills and the development of learning capabilities. London: EPPI-Centre, Institute of Education, University of London.

Neber, H. and Schommer-Aikins, M. (2002). Self-regulated science learning with highly gifted students: the role of cognitive, motivational, epistemological, and environmental variables. High Ability Studies, 13(1), 59-74

 

 

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Book Review – Ready Player One, Ernest Cline

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Ready Player One

Another audiobook. Same narrator as for ‘The Martian’ – same brilliant performance.

This didn’t grab me at first, I was slightly nervous about the “Geek Girl” element and how that would play out and it wasn’t especially captivating. The good thing about audiobooks however, is their ability to keep you company whilst other things are getting done. After a few hours I grew much fonder of it. So, to the premise.

Full to the brim of 80s nostalgia with a dystopian string running through it, we meet Wade Watts, a MMORPG player to the very extreme. Life is being lived through a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game and everybody prefers it that way it would seem. Having spent a significant portion of my time on World of Warcraft back in the day, I completely bought in to the idea that this could happen. The characters are slightly irritating, but generally harmless. A huge puzzle is to be solved, the game is enormous. I’m usually a reader of more emotion-driven books, so reading (listening to, but I’m just going to stick with ‘read’ for simplicity’s sake) action sequences actually seemed rather odd. It was quite a fun, entertaining read. There’s a romance, there’s danger and excitement, there’s loss and tension. It’s all very exciting stuff. I tend to prefer rather meatier emotional engagement, but I do think fondly of it nonetheless.

I was slightly perturbed by the puzzles that are solved by the characters in the game. There is no potential for the reader to solve the puzzle alongside the character, rather we observe their deduction process. For me, this was rather drawn out and a little disengaging – it seemed to put barriers between the reader and the story, rather than letting you feel drawn in. You’re definitely an observer of the story, rather than a part of it. I suppose this is established from the outset really, with Wade saying “This is the truth about my story” – you are definitely being told a story rather than being involved in it, and that rather adds to the lack of emotional engagement for me. The characters are not especially deep – a lot of their development seems to rest on brief characterizations.

On the other hand, this novel really does create an interesting world. The game everybody is playing does sound like fun. I have a clear idea in my head of it, and of the whole story arc. The first half of the book is excellent, the second half less so. This may belie my preference for characters rather than plot however, the action for me was very secondary but I can see how others would enjoy it.

I’ll definitely be recommending this to any kids who enjoy computer games but are more resistant to reading. I’m unsure how they would respond to the references to the 80s, but hopefully it wouldn’t be off-putting.  I did enjoy it, it was a good, fun read. I am rather looking forward to seeing the movie too, it could be excellent.

Book Review – Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.

gone-girl

Just a quick one as I’m in the middle of starting a new job and planning a wedding so time is not on my side right now! I don’t generally read much from the crime genre, it’s never really captivated me but as everybody appears to have read this book I thought I really ought to give it a go so I can understand what the hype is all about.

I really liked the structure of the novel, first of all. I’m always a fan of the unreliable narrator – although I rather do prefer it when it’s a little more subtle than how it is done here.  Unfortunately, that’s basically the most positive thing I have to say about the book.

I am usually a fan of the unlikeable protagonist – but it just didn’t work for me here. After finishing the book I felt like I’d just spent a few solid hours with some really unpleasant people. I suppose that would suggest the characters are well drawn out at least. The novel is exceedingly long and the length adds precisely nothing to the experience.

I suspect I’m after something different from reading than what this book provides, which is why I tend to typically avoid the crime genre. Each book read should be a building block in your brain, a block of experience or emotion or reflection, but for me this book was simply nothing. I didn’t like the characters because they had no redeeming qualities. The ending didn’t provide any food for thought or interesting concepts, it was an entirely passive experience.

The job-hunting Librarian

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I wanted to write a post about job-hunting, largely because I am the only person I have ever known who actually quite enjoys the process. I can only say this as someone who has not faced a prolonged period of unemployment however, so obviously that’s a massive dose of privileged position right there. With that in mind, all of this is said without the pressures of needing a job immediately, without the stress of a family to support and all of that. It is just my experience with it, and how I got more comfortable with the whole process.

I used to hate job searching, enormously and miserably. I applied for countless jobs before I became a Library person, and had many a disastrous interview and mammoth application forms that didn’t even manage a rejection letter. When I became a library person, my attitude totally changed. I loved working in a library from the get-go. I knew immediately it was where my career would be if I had any control over it whatsoever. I also knew I would have to work hard to get where I wanted to be. So this is basically my whole job-hunting process.

1. Know where you want to go.

That isn’t to say that you need a rigid path – my path has diverged quite enormously (but happily!) from where I thought I wanted to be, but I always had job descriptions in mind when pursuing professional development opportunities. These were skills I would need to do the job, so I wanted to make sure I would have plenty of evidence for them (for when you get interviews!). In order to do this, you need to read job descriptions. I don’t just mean the one for the job you want at that moment – but for jobs you might want in the future, one day, that might be good in ten years, or six months – I have a constant subscription to job alerts (lots of resources for this can be found at NLPN, it varies depending on what field you’re interested in as to where you’ll find these) and I read them. Whenever a job was advertised that looked remotely interesting to me, regardless of whether or not I was going to apply for it, I had a quick scan of the job specifications. This fits in to your routine much easier than you might think, and I developed a really rounded understanding of the kind of skills that were sought after for the type of role I wanted. I made sure I put effort in to developing my experience in these areas. I was unlikely to get a job just by remarkable coincidence of having everything they were looking for – you have to work for it, and you need to know what to work for.

2. Application forms.

I actually love application forms. I am delighted when friends apply for jobs because then we can have an application form evening where we fill out the application form! It’s weirdly joyous for me. I have totally disengaged myself from the process in a personal sense, it becomes an academic exercise – I miss being in education quite terribly, so the joy of being able to complete an assignment? Ridiculously satisfying. My approach to the application is really to read through the job description and specification so thoroughly you could recite it. Try and understand the kind of person they are looking for, what skill sets are given priority, the kind of experience they want the candidates to have. Try and gauge if it’s a standard job description, or if it has a focus towards information literacy skills say, or understanding of technology. If you do enough of step one, you’ll know job descriptions well enough to make this kind of judgment. it’s exhausting pouring yourself in to an application form, especially when you’re rejected without acknowledgment. It’s disheartening and discouraging and you start to think there’s no point making such efforts when it leads nowhere. I DISAGREE. The only way to move forward, to be successful, is to put your best foot forward each time. It is exhausting and time consuming, but if you know your application was the very best you could do, then you have nothing to feel disheartened over. You complete the best application you can, they might reject you. There are many reasons why that might be, but you probably just didn’t have the experience of the other candidates. You told them what you have achieved so far, but it’s not quite right for them yet. It’s not the job for you. The next one might be. But you complete a half-hearted application form, and you’re rejected? Well, you can console yourself with the fact you didn’t complete the form very well. Apparently I am all about failing well.

Address all the points they’re looking for. Make sure you take your time over reading your answers. Re-read it the next day if you can to make sure it actually makes sense. Try and be conversational – a real live human is often reading this, it’s to your advantage if you can reflect some of your self in to the document. A conversation with your new boss is the tone I try and strike, not a conversation with your best friend.

3. Inteviews

Interviews are terrifying. Everybody knows this – including the people interviewing you. Particularly for academic Librarian jobs where a full day with a presentation is the standard. Remember the interviewers are people too – and they’re hoping to find someone to fill their vacancy that will be a great addition to their team. You are having a conversation with other people about things you are interested in (presumably, I don’t know many uninterested, accidental Librarians) to see if this would be a good place for you to work. It is a two-way process. You need to evaluate them as much as they are evaluating you. Take a deep breath, continually remind yourself that they wouldn’t be interviewing you if there wasn’t a chance of you getting the job.

Prepare as much as possible for the interview – understand as much as you can about the place. Not just random facts, but the type of library they have, or want to have. Think about the culture they promote with their organisational values and how this ties in to your views of librarianship. There are many endless lists of interview questions online, but as long as you can confidently answer “So tell us a little bit about yourself.” and “What attracted you to this post?” then you’ll have a nice smooth start.

I always work through a day or two before the interview of feeling completely miserable about it. I gorge on all the reasons I won’t possibly get the job, fill myself with nerves and a total inability to even form a reason for why I applied in the first place. And then I think “Right. I won’t get it. So let’s get some interview practice in for the job I do end up with” and whenever those nerves or doubts creep in, I can dismiss them with a shrug. For the jobs you don’t get, you can feel sad for a bit. But remember, there’s a valid reason out there for that – even if that reason is “another candidate was more qualified.” You as a person did not fail a grand test of worthyness, you just didn’t get that particular job. Nobody is less of a person having had a bad interview.

4. Feedback

Feedback is an astonishingly useful thing. It is also agonisingly excruciatingly embarrassing to hear more times than not. Do not argue with the feedback you are given – you will not magically win back the job. Take it on board as much as possible. I had an interview where I was a jittering bag of nerves and ended every answer with “…so..that’s my answer. Sorry I rambled!” Dreadful. I had no confidence in my answers and this was abundantly clear when every response was summarised with what was effectively “I clearly have no idea what I’m talking about! Sorry for being here!” The feedback I received from the panel said this, but in kinder words. I re-read the feedback – not in a destructive way! But so I could absorb what they were really getting at, and what my behaviour showed to them. So when my next interview rolled around, I took a breath before every answer. I slowed my pace when I realised I was talking too quickly. And I finished my answers! And then smiled. That concludes a response far better than “That’s the end of my response.” It really boosted my confidence in that very moment when I realised I had control over this, over how I projected myself. I have still had interviews for jobs I didn’t get, but at least I knew I did the best I could and that other candidates must just have been better. There is a comfort in that! I have had such better interview experiences since taking that feedback on board.

Job-hunting is mind games with yourself. It is confidence tricks and strange academic exercises involving your work history. The more confidence you can project, the more at ease you will be for the whole process. It will still be aggravating and bewildering and depressing, but eventually you will get there! And then there is all the joys of a terrifying new job instead.  Totally worth it.

Book Review – The Girl With All The Gifts, M. R. Carey

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The Girl with all the gifts cover - borrowed from wikipedia!

I find that reading a eBook can be a completely different reading experience to the physical book, so this perspective is from reading the eBook version.

Firstly, in terms of formatting and readability, the book is perfect. I read from an iPad mini using either the Kindle app or iBooks, and sometimes there can be really distracting errors in the formatting. Not so with this one!

My absolute least favourite thing about eBooks is the lack of being able to read the blurb on the back cover, but I kept seeing the title pop up again and again, so I thought I would give it a whirl. Of course, you can read a summary from whichever place you buy it from, but it doesn’t quite have the same impact. I also tend to buy books and then read them three months later, so I had only the vaguest of ideas of what this book was about before reading it.

Melanie, the key to the novel, draws you in immediately. She is charming, much more so than the other characters in the book. The novel is fast paced and full of darkness, and there are more monsters than might first appear. Melanie almost gives relief for all of the horrors – almost. I’m reticent to say much more due to the delight I found due to my lack of knowledge of the book – the book does not rest on dramatic twists however, the writing is a delightful mix of facts and characterisation. Not all of the characters are likeable, but they are well created. The size of the novel might put some people off, however it’s not an arduous slog by any means. You’re engaged throughout, the narration delivering an exciting pace that matches the tone of the story.

Definitely a page turner, you’re drawn in by Carey to a world where humanity is questioned. There is some violence and gore – there is little softness in the book. And where it is, it’s perhaps the most unexpected.

Becoming a Librarian

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I have just landed a very exciting job that I will be starting a week on Monday – I really can not wait, and it’s made me think about how far I’ve come. It was also prompted by the Library Routes project which I think has now fallen by the wayside, but it was a site devoted to how people reached their positions in the library sector, highlighting the diversity of how you can progress. So here is what I have been up to.

In 2009 I got a job as a Library Assistant in a College of Further and Higher Education after completing a Bachelors Degree in English with Creative Writing and working at Waterstone’s for a couple of years. A year in to the job I was able to take advantage of the excellent staff development opportunities, and was enrolled on to the Graduate Certificate of Information Studies at Robert Gordon University. The year after, I enrolled on to the 3 year Library and Information Studies MSc, all through distance learning. The first year of my Masters I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be a Higher Education Librarian for 9 months as a colleague was on maternity leave. I have to say that my entire career has been absolutely generated by the amazing manager I had there, without her support I would never have been able to take any of these things on. During this time I became a part-time Library Assistant, part-time ICT Support Advisor, and part-time Librarian – the number of contracts I held became slightly unmanageable in the end!

I graduated with a distinction in 2014, I can’t quite believe it’s been a year already! In the following September I enrolled on the Level 3 Award in Education and Teaching as a lot of the academic Librarian role involved significant teaching of information skills. I found this so beneficial and would strongly advise anyone to do it – the building of confidence of delivering to a group of people is fantastic if nothing else!

Throughout the final year of my Masters I was becoming increasingly involved with CILIP and volunteered to be the Secretary of the newly formed Yorkshire and Humberside Member Network. This has proved invaluable. I have been able to develop all sorts of skills I didn’t have the opportunity to do at work and it has been great getting to know others in the profession.

I applied for a few roles here and there that stood out to me – focusing more on a job that looked right for me rather than just anything at all. I gained some excellent interview experience, and felt quite enormously embarrassed at times! I became a Subject Librarian, part-time, at another College alongside my other roles – this involved a significant commute but I recognised the limited opportunities that were available in my immediate area. This was an eye-opening experience in terms of getting to know another team and organisation where I hadn’t “grown in to” the role so to speak – it felt quite intimidating at first! It was interesting to see the different approaches despite the two institutions I worked at being very comparable.

I spend a lot of time reading about management and leadership, as I knew that was where I wanted to be one day. I needed to feel confident I could manage well, and not just through familiarity with the theory and psychology of management, but also through maximising opportunities within the CILIP committee role, I was able to really grow to understand the kind of manager I wanted to become. I also spent a lot of time (over a few years, rather than just immediately before an interview!) reading interview and application advice, channeling the good advice was something I felt was hugely beneficial, and I’d like to write a post about that eventually.

I recently applied for a vacancy that appeared to be my idea of a dream role, I could have written the job description. It turns out that my experience in all sorts of different roles within the library, my commitment to the profession through my participation with CILIP and my engagement with current issues really strengthened my candidacy and I very happily accepted the post of Head of Library and Research at a school for pupils 13-18. The hours will be long and it will be very hard work, but I am so excited about all the opportunities I have in front of me. I really think this will be a fantastic opportunity for me to build something great, and I just can not wait to get started!

Book Review: The Martin, Andy Weir

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the-martian-book-andy-weir

Last year I started a job with a substantial commute – at least 90 minutes drive in the morning, 70 minutes home if I was lucky. As a result, I discovered audiobooks. I had never really been able to successfully listen to the entirety of an audiobook before – I had tried and failed with Moby Dick, and just didn’t feel as involved when I was using my ears rather than my eyes.

However, I am now a complete audiobook convert, and that’s pretty much thanks to The Martian, written by Andy Weir, narrated by R.C. Bray.

The Martian is enthralling. The vast majority of the book is the narration of Mark Watney – an astronaut stranded on Mars. I am intrigued by how this will be evolved in to a film a the majority of the novel is Watney’s monologues in the form of diary entries.

There is quite a chunk of science in this book, but it is written so accessibly that it’s generally just a joy. It can get a little heavy going at times though, but it helps you grow to understand Watney’s predicament further and realise the peril he is in.

There is tension, excitement and anguish in the novel, all encased in Weir’s fantastic creation of a likeable, fully realised character. There are some characters who rather grate around the edges – Mindy Park, for one, but that may have been due to the audiobook readings rather than their actual characters!

Generally speaking, I loved this. It was easy listening, and completely removed any irritation at being stuck in traffic – it meant I got to hear more of a very engaging story!

Dissertation handed in

I have had a busy few months.

 I submitted my dissertation last Monday. I am still waiting for the penny to drop that I don’t have to be spending all my free time mulling it over, but I’m getting there.  My thesis title was “How do Higher Education Music Students at Hull College respond to a Connectivist approach to information literacy?”

 I can genuinely say I loved doing it, despite the many, many, many, obstacles that cropped up along the way! I don’t get the results until the end of June so I’ll talk more about it then. The process itself was really interesting though, but very challenging. Having to independently manage the entire research project was a first for me – I hadn’t had to complete a dissertation for my degree and so this really was a case of ‘in at the deep end.’ It gave me a really good understanding of what the students go through during their dissertations though – the rollercoaster of BEST IDEA EVER to WHAT AM I DOING THIS WILL NEVER WORK WHAT WAS I THINKING?  when it’s all too late to change, and the various other pitstops of complete accomplishment and total inadequacy along the way. But now it’s over – until the results arrive in June, at least. I’m going to write a post about my time at RGU, the whole four years, as there’s a lot of discussion around the purpose of the Library Masters and online learning too and I think it would be useful to really consider what this course has done for me..

I have spent the last few months tying to find the best avenues to really enhance my CPD. I’ve made a few realisations along the way – why belong to CILIP if you don’t participate is one (although I do have many thoughts on that too!), the wonderful world of Twitter is like it’s very own library world microcosm that can give you massive insights in to a whole array of “Real World” library issues that may not have surfaced without (more thoughts to come on this too) and so on. Ideas are also all well and good, but meaningless if you don’t think of them within the context of your organisation and actually follow through with them.  

So now the rather life-consuming dissertation is out of the way and I have my eyes set on chartership (in a few months… I need a little while to just read books and play games guilt-free) I imagine I’ll be making use of this a little more.

CILIP New Professional’s Day & MNLPN

I have written a blog post that is so enormous it has become two, and it is featured on the Manchester New Library Professional’s Network Blog here for part one and here for part two. Exciting!

I would wholeheartedly recommend having a look through their site; their practically helpful and very usable dissertation tips page has also come in very handy. It’s one I’ve bookmarked to read through every time I feel overwhelmed and terrified – it appears to be the hallmark of someone completing a dissertation!

I have my first one-to-one session tomorrow with a dissertation student so it’s also good to be able to remind them to take a deep breath every now and then!

Dissertation time!

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This academic year I am to complete a 20,000 word Masters dissertation. I have been looking forward to this since I started studying the Masters 2 years ago so of course now it has arrived I am completely terrified and feel totally out of my depth!

The route to the topic for my dissertation was a slightly chaotic one – I started off vaguely thinking about something to do with iPads in the library and have stumbled over to something pretty much entirely different but tangentially related with;

“How do higher education students respond to a connectivist approach to information literacy?”

This is very unlikely to be my final dissertation question, however it’s an exciting one for me and I’m looking forward to getting a clearer understanding of the whole project and conducting a bit of research.

Connectivism is an emerging learning theory devised and developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes based upon the concepts of learning taking place within networks and takes in to account the quickly out-dated nature of modern knowledge. It is much more complex than that and I am still reading around the area to really get to grips with it. The basic principles very strongly align with the concepts we teach for information literacy and I will be mapping some of these on to the SCONUL 7 Pillars model. I won’t be able to explore the whole of connectivist theory in my research as it is naturally restricted to a very small study due to the limitations of Masters requirements, however I’ve looked at a couple of central principles which I will be using to inform my approach to delivery of information literacy sessions.

With connectivism in mind and the idea that a student’s network is central to developing their knowledge I am going to explore how the library can serve as an agent to positively influence the ‘nodes’ of the students network, and how to encourage them to ‘connect’ to the library as part of their research activities. The nurturing of the students network and how their connections are made and sustained will be looked at and how we can become an effective part of that.

Some interesting feedback I received from my superviser is that I need to consider the aspect of legitimacy within my research. Once I understood what was actually meant by this it really made me realise how much I had assumed – whilst all the time thinking I was questionning every step! I’m going to have to strongly consider what levels of legitimacy I will have with students in order to influence their behaviours and connect to their networks – this is not about idealism but reality – I need to present the information in a manner where it will be used rather than simply should. The organisational discourse automatically positions me with a degree of legitimacy when trying to influence the students, particularly as I have significant buy-in with their wonderful tutor, however I can not count on this and need to establish how I go about giving this consideration when conducting my research.

I will be conducting a case study which I’m quite daunted by! I am hoping that everything will feel slightly less impossible and enormously out of my abilities once I have a clearer picture of what I will be getting up to within the whole process.