January 16, 2013 1 comment

We teachers are mean – we take points off when students write about their “homeworks”, telling them that “work” is uncountable, then we take off some more when they write “Work Cited” instead of “Works Cited.” Bwahahahahaaa!

Categories: Uncategorized

December 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Why does MLA citation consider the difference between a printed novel and the same novel on the web terribly important, but regard the difference between a printed novel and a printed manga as unworthy of comment?

Categories: Uncategorized

Chorewars for FCE!

September 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Interesting article about how a teacher adapted the game Chore Wars (designed to motivate people in shared houses to do housework) to get students to study for Cambridge First Certificate: “Gamify Your Classroom With Chore Wars”.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Wanted: A Simple Citation System

I was recently preparing a handout of useful resources to give out at a conference presentation, and was thinking about which citation style to use for the recommended reading. At this point it struck me that all the citation styles I’ve ever used are ridiculously complicated and confusing, and none of them take account of two simple facts:

  1. Almost every academic today has access to the Internet.
  2. Almost everything that is available in print is also either available online or catalogued online.

This means that when you cite a source in a paper, you don’t need to include all the information necessary to write to a bookseller or library requesting a copy. All you need is the information necessary to pick it out in an Internet search.

Let’s apply this principle to the kind of information that is normally included in a citation.

  1. The title is the most important thing. You might not want it in running text, but it needs to be there in your references page.
  2. The author is also pretty damned important. The only reason I wouldn’t make this #1 is that some texts don’t have named authors, in which case …
  3. Names of journals, newspapers, websites etc. are useful. For journals, the volume/number system is probably still useful, even if it’s an anachronism.
  4. DOIs and URLs can be useful but are usually not vital. It’s nice to have a clickable URL, but if it’s online, finding it will only take a few seconds. The one time a URL or some other unique indicator like a DOI is needed is when there are different versions of a text floating around the Internet, and it’s important to specify which one you are referring to. This will probably happen once or twice in your entire academic career.
  5. Dates are useful. This is particularly true in science and engineering. Aside from indicating how up-to-date information is, dates are sometimes  used as shorthand for titles. Dates are also useful to distinguish between editions which may have different page numbers (assuming there are page numbers at all). News articles should naturally have precise dates.
  6. Page numbers are not as important as people think. They are worth throwing in, but so much text now has no pages that they are not worth getting excited about. Specify pages if you want to, but don’t bother putting the page numbers of journal articles or book chapters in your references page.
  7. The publisher is not very important. If you really want to know who published something, google it.
  8. The place of publication is so laughably unimportant, it is amazing that citation formats still require it. I mean come on – do you really need to know that a book was published in Amsterdam? Are you going to go over to Amsterdam to ask them for a copy? Some citation styles even require a place of publication for an e-book, goddamit!
  9. The medium is not as important as people think. The MLA may think they’re being hip by requiring things like “Web” or “PDF” or even “Tweet” in a citation. They’re not. Text is text, whether it’s on paper or on Facebook. Most sources exist in both print and electronic forms. The only time the medium is important is if it is a non-text medium, like music or film.
  10. Authors and titles should appear as they do in the publication. The only exceptions are (a) referring to authors by surname first; (b) putting titles that are all in capitals into title case. Other than that, don’t mess with authors and titles. I’m talking to you, APA.
  11. The convention of using italics for complete works and quotation marks for parts of works is actually quite good. After all, there a difference between “I love Emma” and “I love Emma.”

This would leave us with the following.


LeGuin, Ursula. A Wizard of Earthsea. 1968.

Chapter in an edited book

Turner, Robin. “‘How do you know she’s a woman?’ Features, prototypes and category stress in Turkish kadın and kız.” In June Luchjenbroers (ed.) Cognitive Linguistics:  Investigations Across Languages, Fields, and Philosophical Boundaries. 2006.

(I really wrote that, BTW.)

Newspaper article

“Randy Romeo Russ in Russian Threesome” The Sun. 01 Apr. 2010.

Journal article

Kugelschreiber, Hans. “Counterfactuals in Bhutanese Cleft Sentences.” Journal of South Asian Sociolinguistics 24.2.


The Terminator (Film). 1984.

I could give a load of other examples, but I’m sure you get the idea. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a citation style like this? If you think so, make this go viral. Link to it, like it on Facebook, or better still come up with some ideas of your own, Maybe someday someone at the MLA, APA or whatever will say “Hey, that’s not a bad idea!”

Categories: Writing

BUSELConf 2012

In the nineteen years I’ve been teaching at Bilkent, I’ve attended a fair few conferences and symposia, and I have to say this year’s was the best yet. It’s probably the first conference I’ve been to when I didn’t start nodding off during plenary sessions, even after lunch. All the plenary speakers (Kathleen Graves, Averil Coxhead and John Swales) were interesting and entertaining, and the concurrent sessions generally held my attention as well, except for the one on Friday morning,which I couldn’t concentrate on because I was running through my own presentation in my head all the way through. Ah yes, I too presented, on the subject of gamifying the EAP curriculum, based partly on ideas I discussed earlier in this blog.


Categories: Uncategorized

The Death of the Textbook?

April 23, 2012 Leave a comment

I recently quipped in class that if you are a tech journalist with writer’s block, the best solution is to write “The death of …” then insert some random piece of technology (e-mail, games consoles, desktop computers, the internal combustion engine etc.). I’m sure that if you looked at articles of this type over the last ten years, you would find that nearly all the things in question are still doing fine. That is why I put a question mark at the end of this title, because I really have no good argument that textbooks are on the way out. However, I would like it if it were true, and my experiences in teaching English for Academic Purposes have been a major influence. I can see how textbooks can be useful at lower levels, but by the time you get to university, the usefulness of textbooks is questionable, and many textbooks are, quite frankly, bad. I have been teaching without using any textbook other than a short guide to writing a term paper that in any case I wrote myself because I was so fed up with the existing materials. I don’t even photocopy parts of other people’s textbooks. All my content texts are either freely available online  articles, articles from academic journals our university is subscribed to, or  sometimes chapters from books in the library. Students print them out or put them on a mobile device of their choice. No expensive textbooks, no annoying DRM, and no need for pirating either.

What prompted these thoughts was an article in Campus Technology called “The Price Is Right?” that questions why e-textbooks are still so expensive, often as much as 70% of the print price – and this for something students don’t actually own, but really just rent. You can’t resell an e-textbook at the end of the course, and often you can’t read it either. Unsurprisingly, students are less enthusiastic than had been predicted. More interestingly, many lecturers are not keen to jump on the e-text bandwagon because they are actively espousing the method that I had merely stumbled upon.

The OER [open education resources] approach certainly appeals to Long at Chattanooga State. For the last five or six years, she has used no textbooks in her American history courses, preferring to use materials freely available on the web. In fact, she was irked when she was required to use an e-textbook in her geography class as part of the CourseSmart pilot. Although she enhanced the course with her own notes, she would have preferred to teach it without a core text. “There is so much in geography already out there on the web, why would I need a book?” she asks. “And yet I’m required to have it.”

Thomas Aquinas said, “I fear the man who only has one book.” I’d say the same for a course.

Categories: Uncategorized

In Defence of Mobile Phones

April 14, 2012 1 comment

On the first day of class this semester, I got stunned looks from students when I said: “I know it can get confusing when different classes have different policies on mobile phones, but here’s mine: I do want you to use mobile phones in class.” Admittedly, I qualified this by saying that I didn’t want them to use them for taking phone calls (and in fact they would be severely penalised for doing so) nor did the fact that this was a course entitled “The Psychology and Philosophy of Games” mean that they could sit at the back of the class playing Angry Birds. But yes, I did want them using phones and other mobile devices. A smartphone is not just a telephone; it is a computer with a telephone tagged on to it. Android is basically a layer of Java over a Linux kernel, and if you want, you can even install a full GNU/Linux system, which gives you the most powerful operating system around just sitting there on your telephone. OK, most people don’t, because they don’t need to use their phones as web servers or to compile programs in C++, but just the existing tools in any smartphone – or even an averagely bright phone – are very powerful. Why reject them just because our classroom management is stuck in the last century? According to data collected by StudyBlue, smartphone users study for an extra 40 minutes a week on average – not a vast difference, but significant when we consider that phones are generally regarded as a distraction from studying rather than an aid to it. A likely explanation is that whatever time may be lost by phoning, texting and so forth is more than made up for by the fact that smartphone users can study anywhere, any time (for example, they were twice as likely to study between 6 and 8 a.m.). If phones are so useful outside the classroom, why are so many teachers opposed to their use inside?

“Ringing phones disturb the class.”

This objection is, of course, valid, but there is a simple solution: have your students set their phones to silent. Nowadays, you can even program a phone to be silent whenever you are in class, so forgetting is not a problem (and of course a student who forgets to put their phone on silent can also forget to turn it off). Occasionally a phone will go off by accident, but students are pretty good at shutting them off quickly (and apologetically), and let’s face it, that happens to teachers too. Once in a blue moon you will encounter the student who actually takes a phone call in class, but if you jump on them hard enough, no one else will.

“Students concentrate on their phone, not the lesson.”

This is sometimes true. Students will concentrate on almost anything other than the lesson: laptops, textbooks, doodles, the view out of the window, the pretty boy/girl sitting in front of them … in other words, they behave just like we do in meetings. Telephones are not a special case. The best antidote to wandering attention is to do something to get students’ attention, not to try to eliminate all sources of distraction. Nevertheless, there are times when I want students to really concentrate on something (e.g. a presentation by another student), at which point I just say “OK, no mobile devices” (which includes laptops and tablets).

“Students text each other in class.”

Well yes, but surely this is better than whispering or passing paper notes.

“Students use phones to cheat.”

This depends on what you mean by cheating. You may not want students to take phones into an exam (though one of my colleagues started doing this and found the impact on scores was minimal). In class, it is usually good that students use electronic dictionaries to look up words and the Internet to search for information. You just need to adjust your exercises to the wired world: for example, now a lot of my students have the course texts on their laptops, tablets and even phones, I have found that questions like “Find the following words in the text” are answered very quickly indeed; similarly, you don’t want to ask students to find a simple piece of information in a text when they can get it from Wikipedia more easily. But again, if there are times when you want students to read the text, the whole text and nothing but the text, then say “no mobile devices” for that exercise rather than banning them for the whole lesson.

For me, these two pictures say it all.

Why is this good ….Students with laptop

…but this bad?

Students with phone

Categories: Classroom, Technology

Throughout History …

March 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Why is it that students love to start essays with phrases like “Throughout history …” or “From the beginning of history …”? Last week I gave a lesson on introductions where students had to guess which of the sentences I’d put up should go in the introduction of an essay, which should go in the body, and which should not go in the essay at all. One sentence was “From the beginning of history, people have always played games” (this was a hypothetical essay about games, by the way). At least half the students wanted to put this in the introduction and looked vaguely hurt when I told them that it shouldn’t go anywhere, in any essay because it is not a good idea in academic writing to inform the reader of the blatantly obvious. Unless you are some radical, ground-breaking historian, if what you are saying is true for the whole of history, it’s something we already know. After all, we’ve had the whole of history to get used to the idea.

A few days later, I had them in the lab writing the introduction of their essay, and while wandering round I prevented a handful of students from inserting the whole of history into their introductions (note that I have no gripe with qualified historical statements like “since the industrial revolution” or “throughout the twentieth century”). Now I am reading the drafts they produced and I am still finding sentences like “Throughout history, people have played many games.” Were these students asleep in the lesson? Did I fail to get the point across? Is there some lure of history that they simply find irresistible? Or, as I suspect, is this another of those cliches that are actually taught ? I haven’t yet seen this in a writing textbook, but it is so bad that it would not surprise me if I did.

Note: I was going to finish with a witty comment about those who don’t learn from history being doomed to repeat it, but then I found out that this is not what George Santayana actually said.

Categories: Writing

Job Opportunities

March 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Bilkent University in Ankara has vacancies in both the Preparatory school and my own programme, FAE. Details are at www.bilkent.edu.tr/~busel/interrec/index.html

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Touching Lives

December 13, 2011 Leave a comment

As educators, we love the thought that from time to time we touch someone’s life. There are countless novels, films and TV episodes where that one special teacher made a difference to some student’s life, often propelling them from ghetto to boardroom. Well, I have my own, heart-warming story to tell.  A student came up to me after class and said “You know, this course has changed me. I’d never been interested in online games before, but because of what you said in class, last weekend I went to see my friend and he set me up with a World of Warcraft account.” See, I too have touched a life.

Categories: Classroom