Archive for June, 2012

Aventuras no Brazil

Well, it’s certainly been an overwhelming 24 hours of travel all the way from Heathrow to Porto Alegre, and I’m surprised I’m still awake to be able to type up this blog post…

I knew that it was doomed from the start when I found out that my seat from Heathrow to Sao Paulo (a 12 hour flight) was in the middle of a three-seater row. And because I have the worst luck in the world when it comes to flying, my gut feeling was that my fellow passenger wouldn’t be a wilting waif. And as fate would have it, I ended up in between two, let’s say, rather portly gentlemen, one from Scotland and the other from Sao Paulo. I didn’t speak to the chap from Scotland because he passed out almost as soon as we were airborne, but I did get a chance to talk to Fernado who was travelling back home for a month before heading down south to do some skiing. As we talked, there was practically no space in my seat to sit comfortably, something which hadn’t gone unnoticed by Fernando who showed a great deal of sympathy for my plight (Mr Scotland was still passed out and had nary a mind to even monitor his snoring…). We were served dinner (Scotland didn’t wake up for dinner he was that sparked out), and as I hunched forward as best I could to tuck into the delights of 30000 feet food, I glumly thought to myself that I had another 10 hours ahead of me of feeling like the proverbial sardine in a tin. I guessed that if I could get some sleep, I would be sorted, but alas, with Mr. Scotland on my left radiating a heat so fierce I thought he had a fever, I started thinking about a get-out plan. The flight attendant was happy enough for me to move to an open seat, although I’m not sure the guys I disturbed were. I was, however, greeted with an open seat on my left and could have wept for joy. Instead, I decided to get some ‘sleep’ for a few hours. About 4am (local time), I awoke to what I cautiously termed ‘breakfast’, although I’m sure ‘experimental meal-plan’ would be closer to the mark.

Anyway, once we landed, I was treated to something I dread at the end of half-day flights: queues. Queues to immigration. Queues to check-in. Queues for security. Queues for boarding. It was pretty much solid queues from Sao Paulo until I landed in Porto Alegre, where I couldn’t find the bus to take me to the train station. Once I had found the train station, I couldn’t find a taxi to take me to the hotel. Once I had found the hotel, I couldn’t fit my power adaptor to the sockets. Once I had found an electronic store ($R20 there), bought a new adaptor ($R50), and got a taxi back ($R20), I realised that actually the continental adaptor I had brought with me DID fit in one of the sockets, I just hadn’t seen it before I rushed out. So now I’m down $R90 (about £30) with absolutely nothing to show for it except a useless bit of plastic. I can’t speak Portuguese to try and get a refund for it. I’m absolutely shattered. I’m hungry. I’m smelly. And I’ve still got to finish the Mock the Week presentation before Thursday.

Who said conferences were fun?

The Social Linguist

External examining

External examining is one of those things that you don’t really get told much about when you’re doing your PhD. I knew that it happened, but because I didn’t sit on module/exam boards when I was at Glasgow, I had no idea really what external examiners did. So my first encounter with an external examiner at BCU was a nerve-wracking affair. Even though I had gone through the PG (Cert) in H.E. and had been a graduate tutorial assistant during my PhD, teaching was still a new thing for me, especially convening whole modules. Being my natural, pessimistic self, I expected to get pummeled on almost every aspect of my teaching, from assessment strategy to marking standards. Thankfully, it was fine, and I realised that getting frank and honest feedback about your modules is not only important to see what works and what doesn’t, but it’s also important to maintain and improve the standard of teaching students get.

I had only had one full year of experience with the whole external examiner process (albeit on the other side of the fence/table), so you can imagine my surprise when my Head of Department asked me if I would be interested in externalling for the Department of English at Worcester University. Since I had by this point figured out that external examining is a pretty important part of professional development, I accepted the invitation, even though I had only a limited idea what I was letting myself in for.

After a morning of orientation at Worcester University and a chance to meet some members of the department, I was thrown in at the deep end. The department was going through a period of restructuring and had plans to offer more core modules for the English Language and Linguistics route way. As such, they wanted my input on the modules they currently had as part of the course and to feedback on modules that would be introduced over the next few years. Having gone through an English Language degree at Glasgow Uni, I had a sense of what needed to be in and what didn’t, so I didn’t feel too overwhelmed by it all and was able to give some good feedback on their proposed plans, rather than just sitting and nodding during meetings.

While that was perhaps the main issues I’ve been involved in during my time at Worcester, there was also the more regular aspects of looking at assessed work from students. Here, my main role was ensuring that marking standards were being upheld and that things like marking criteria, assessment strategy and so on were all appropriate for the level. I got to see work from modules that I didn’t teach, like Multi-lingualism and Language and Power, and it was a great opportunity to familiarise myself with a wider range of undergraduate language modules.

What’s great about externalling is that you not only get to see how other departments structure their courses, but you also get a chance to think critically about teaching and learning strategies, helping develop your own teaching practice. You also get a chance to engage with more of the peer-review side of teaching, rather than just the marking and feedback side of it, something which I also think is really important in terms of professional development.

Anyway, today was my last board with Worcester University (hence the post), and I’ll be sad to say goodbye. It’s been a really great experience and I’ve learnt loads, much of which will stand me in good stead for (hopefully) future external examining gigs at other institutions. It’s just a shame that the whole process is learn-by-doing!

The Social Linguist

The Ides of June…

Things have been a little bit manic recently, as June normally is… With external examining duties, conference papers to prepare, journal articles being revised, marking to do, and resits to set up, my ‘to do’ list is getting progressively longer and longer. I’m hopeful that if I get through the rest of this month, then things will start getting a bit more manageable, but I’ve got to get through this month first…

I am looking forward to one event this month though, which is the iGala conference in Brazil. This will be my first time attending this particular conference, and it’s been in some far flung places over the years (Lancaster excepted). It takes about two days to Brazil, I’m only there for five or six days,amd  the conference has a jam-packed schedule, with no less than nine parallel sessions, so I’ll be pretty exhausted by the end of it I think. By either madness or accident, I’ll be giving two papers (on the same day!); one on my language and masculinity stuff with Erez Levon, Tomasso Milani and Quentin Williams, where I’ll be talking about language, masculinity and violence. The other paper is the first time we’ll be presenting the Mock the Week project I’m working on with colleagues in the department, so it’ll be exciting to get some feedback on this and see what we’re doing well and where we can improve. It’s also been a wee while since I’ve given a talk at a sociolinguistics conference, so it’ll be great to get back into the swing of things. After that, I’ll be off to the Sociolinguistics Symposium 19 in Berlin, but I’m only giving one paper at that, so it should be a bit more leisurely. Here’s hoping at least.

The Social Linguist

Don’t you just wish writing was easy?

I’m sat in a hotel room. In Cheltenham. On a Saturday. Working. Instead of being out there, enjoying my weekend. All because I just got a revise and resubmit (also known as a ‘nice rejection’). I really hate this article now.