Friday, July 12, 2013

Scapple - simplicity at its best

As I ease back in to academic writing at the start of the summer I recognise familiar bad habits and blocks to finding my 'zone'. Finally I find a piece of software that can handle my tendency to shoot off in too many directions and become incredibly indecisive when writing.

Scapple is like having a piece of paper, pencil and rubber - but much faster because I can copy move paste passages of text, colour code them and link ideas together. It is like a writing workboard, so much much easier than the rather linear arrangement of a regular word processor.

Reading this desktop from the left you can see that I have a few research plans, but felt inspired to develop ideas around the first one. The peach box contains information from the HEA about seminar proposals, then you see various areas of brainstorming and information. It really helped me to bridge from my messy thought processes on to the page, freeing me up to focus on specific things.

You can insert pictures and screenshots, and export as .pdf, .txt, .rtf, .rtfd and easily copy text to their other (excellent) writing software: Scrivener ( a tool that I used extensively to assist me with my PhD.

The next is purposefully small as it is just an illustration of notes for a paper that I'm writing.

In the top left you see my first thoughts about the key points that need to be included, to the right, an old abstract and below (in light brown), headings and short paragraphs for an abstract. As I chop sentences they are simply dumped on the right and I can juggle text to build the abstract. 

For me, this is a dream approach. 

One note, if you purchase it retain your serial number because if you're using the software across two machines (home and office) then you'll need it and it is difficult to recover. 

If you're using Scapple I'm interested to know more about how you're using it as I'm looking for examples to show my students, please do tweet me @lizdobsonUoH

Thanks L&L!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


With a few days off I'm working on a paper and also planning a HEA proposal for a seminar on interdisciplinarity. Following this "Collaborative Arts Practices in HE" report (, created collaboratively between myself, Dr Rob Wilsmore, Dr Christophe Alix and others, I'm planning to bring academics together to discuss the challanges and value of fostering interdisciplinary practices in HE performing arts.

If you're interested, I'm running a #collabchat on Monday July 15th at 16.30.  Please click on this link to consider topics and vote:

Chat soon!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

‘…as a group of people engage in an activity together, their ability to carry it out effectively resides not only in their individual knowledge and skills, nor just in their ability to collaborate; it is distributed across the artifacts that are to hand and the ‘affordances’ (and also the constraints) provided by the environment.’
Gordon Wells & Guy Claxton (2002)


Please join us on May 28th at 7pm

To share your work and meet other's interested in sharing their's and discussing collaboration.

All you need to do, is vote on one of the following or suggest a topic for our chat, then use the # to follow and join the conversation.

We will have regular chats so popular topics will be revisited. 

Twittering in education and beyond.

When I started to use Twitter I honestly couldn't see the benefit in having another social network that I needed to check. Now I consider it to be a powerful tool for making connections and starting real longterm conversations and relationships.

I'm not an experienced blogger, and to be honest I couldn't see the benefit of that either. But when you combine Twitter with blogs and other resources their combined value begins to emerge out of a tweeting fog of hashtags and virtual noise.

I am...

a HE lecturer, writer and composer of music. Also creator of a group called CollabHub, developed to help students connect and create work across disciplines. I have 3 twitter accounts! This isn't uncommon either.
- @lizdobsonuoh - my professional identity. I follow academics and education related tweeters
- @Eddienosbod - my personal account. I follow anything else that interests me
- @Collabhub - an account to help share information relating to collaboration and co-creativity.

Twitter opens real doors...

A) when I was a PhD student I discovered #phdchat. This group was set up by Nasima Riazat and she schedules regular meetings for PhD students to come together and discuss a topic. Topics have ranged from discussion about methodologies, writing up software, viva preparation, phd/life balance. This also introduced me to Dr Inger Mewburn and her fantastic blog. SO in short the benefits of participating in a scheduled chat have been:

- introduced me to experts in my field and more knowledgeable others
- helped me to connect with people who can also benefit form my new experience
- linked me to some fascinating blogs
- helped me to contextualise my own work in a relevant community

B) it breaks down barriers of geography and status, making more people available. Here are some examples:
Several of my students have managed to start conversations with studio producers, film makers and other composers which have led to shared materials and then professional work. Linking in with blogs, soundclouds, vimeo etc. students can really show off their work to communities beyond their University. This is so much more relevant to creative industries than the CV isn't it? If getting work is all about who you know, Twitter helps you to know more people!

Also, only this week I spoke with @creativehuddle on the phone, and will be talking with a PhD student at The University of Cambridge on Monday to share thoughts on various topics.

C) Promotion
I noticed something very interesting when trying to promote our local interdisciplinary collaboration hub. On the CollabHub weblog I can see the number of visits and how the site is used. When our local posters and flyers went out there was almost no change, but when I sent messages and news out on Twitter and Facebook people started to visit the site. It's seems pretty obvious to me that twitter has the power to connect our students, our scientists, artists and thinkers with people all over the world. I'm slow to catch on, so maybe I can be a bit of a springboard for others who are also just catching on to this now.


To help our distributed communities to connect, I'm going to run regular live chats on Twitter. Following the #phdchat example, there will be an opportunity to vote on topics for chat focus. My hope is that this will also help to foster more interdisciplinary collaboration.


140 characters obviously isn't enough so this is an excellent opportunity to share more using a blog. As my own work is focused on creativity, creative process and collaborative creativity I will be offering materials about these kinds of subjects on my blog.

Any impact on you?

I'm interested to know if there is any real interest and value in something like #collabchat. When we have had a few meetings I may seek bit of feedback on that.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

CollabHub - Expo & Symposium call

The 1st CollabHub symposium was held on May 11th 2013. 
There were 50 delegates from The University of Huddersfield and also from our wider community. 

For more information about CollabHub click here
To see the Symposium Facebook wall click here
To see the general Facebook wall for this group click here

This was the call (below), and the schedule is here 

Displaced:Life after the PhD and the Collaboration Hub

Honestly I thought that I would have a lot of time available after the PhD but oddly those hours quickly filled with other things. 

Lesson to my past PhD student self: Keep up that excellent routine afterwards

Note from past PhD student self: I'm exhausted and as soon as I finish this I want to sleep for a year!

Note to myself now: chillax!

Since completing I've presented at one conference (iFIMpac at LCM, see but feel an urgency to get published and present more. That's natural, I know of others who have secured book deals and been prolific writers. Well I'm presenting at Research in Music Education in 2 weeks and writing a paper for the Journal of Music Technology in Higher Education... 

My main project since completing has been to set up an interdisciplinary Collaboration Hub for undergraduates. As the PhD was an investigation in to this topic it felt important to do something real after such a long time with the books. 

So I decided to set up an informal meeting on October 3rd 2012 (my birthday). I invited the students to come along and pitch ideas, take a chance and set up something new. Now, March 28th, we have almost 300 Facebook members, a logo,

a brand, a healthy number of multi-disciplinary groups working on project, an UnLimited grant of £5k to spend, 2 people doing paid work to administer and market CollabHub (the name we gave the group). We have met almost every month (roughly 30 people attend each meeting) and we're planning our first Symposium and exhibition of work on May 11th!

1st CollabHub meeting October 3rd 2013 
Huddersfield University Creative Arts Building

So, maybe I've not accomplished what I should have in terms of research but this is my investment, in the students. In their feeling of freedom to collaborate without risk (assessment or financial), to learn new skills and grow their networks. 

Huddersfield University won the Times Higher 20012 Entrepreneurial University of the Year and it was our Enterprise Team (Phill Clegg, Barry Timmins
and the wonderful Kelly Smith) who have given me the confidence to push out with CollabHub, try for the grant and see how I can secure its future.
I'll offer a few more CollabHub posts here when I have time
- what the students have taught me
- examples of collaborations
- collaborations beyond the university 
- thoughts on funding for social enterprise
- the theories and research that inspired CollabHub, and how opportunities for further research in to undergraduate collaboration and enterprise.

Monday, February 25, 2013

‘…as a group of people engage in an activity together, their ability to carry it out effectively resides not only in their individual knowledge and skills, nor just in their ability to collaborate; it is distributed across the artifacts that are to hand and the ‘affordances’ (and also the constraints) provided by the environment.’
Gordon Wells & Guy Claxton (2002)

This quote from Wells and Claxton bridges ideas about individual knowledge, or 'funds of knowledge' (Moll & Greenberg, 2005) which are social constructions, and pushes past the issue of collaborative skills engaging directly with the issue of how tools (physical like the violin, virtual like Second Life or symbolic like language used) are not separate from those engaged in the activity. They make meaning through use of these tools, and refine the tools as they are used, building their contexts of practice at a social level. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

PhD viva

This post is for the wonderful people of #PhDchat :-) You have kept me sane, I just want to offer this blog post in return in the hope that it helps other PhD students develop confidence in their work as they prepare for the viva.

Firstly, I was terrified. It didn't matter now many people told me that they had confidence that "you'll be fine", it made little difference. Knowing that I had such wonderful support did help, a lot, but I have become very aware of the strengths and weaknesses of my own thesis.

I did a number of things to prepare for the vivia -

- 2 independent critical readers from the Open University read my thesis and offered written comments. 

While it made me nervous to have others look at it, they were extremely constructive and I found that the comments really helped to improve the thesis. So, I urge you to talk with your supervisors about asking at least one independent academic to do this for you, it is painful but extremely worthwhile.

- mock viva (after submitting my thesis, 2 weeks before the real viva)

The two critical readers then gave me a formal mock viva. I felt extremely underprepared (following a month of marking undergraduate assignments). I marked every chapter with a sicky-out post-it so that I could at least navigate the thesis, and read the thing in preparation. I also read the central studies that informed my research and design of the methodology.

I arrived in Milton Keynes the night before. Relaxed by Willen Lake at dusk and just read and re-read a few core papers. Above all I was worried about 2 things:

  1. That they would ask me about a field, area of research I'd not covered at all. 
  2. My memory would fail me and I'd struggle to answer questions because of it. 
Neither of these things happened by the way. 

The mock viva was 2 hours long, and they asked 40 questions. I know this because my amazing supervisor (Prof Karen Littleton) wrote down every question and my response. 

Here is a summary of what happened:
  • general question about what led me to research my topic (I talked about my professional interests, I was advised to talk more about the theoretical reasons... gaps in prior knowledge).
  • explained that they would work through the thesis chapter by chapter. 
  • Literature chapter (ch2) - asked to talk about the key studies that influence my work. Asked to outline gaps in sociocultural research of collaboration. 
  • Methodology chapter - Asked to describe the core concepts, and explain the process of developing my methodology. They were genuinely interested and sometimes genuinely confused by something that I'd not made clear enough in my work. 
  • Findings chapters - They asked me to summarise each chapter and the core take home points. 
There were other questions so I'll put a full list in a separate blog post. 
Occasionally they broke out of viva mode to suggest how I might answer a question differently, and even how I might show confidence in presenting my answers. I was being too cautious and too modest. 

It was both stimulating and really enjoyable! Of course that depends on who you do this with but I strongly urge you to give it a go. It gave me such a lot of confidence. I could see areas of weakness in my defence and I knew what I needed to do in preparation for the viva. 

Feedback summary: 
  • to really own my research, and be confident about the contribution that it is making
  • that I could take papers into the viva with me. For example, I couldn't discuss the strengths or weaknesses of my methodology, I just stalled. I decided to write this out on one page and I took it to the actual viva. As it happens I didn't need to really refer to it. 
Preparation for the viva

Following the mock I decided to summarise each chapter - just the core points. I used mnemonics to help me. In the viva I sketched out the mnemonics while answering their questions, this helped me to slow down and think, and also feel confident that I wasn't missing anything I felt to be important. The examiners described my thesis defence as 'robust', I think this may have been the reason.  

The following things also happened in the actual viva
  • I took in a mug of mint tea
  • Tried to appear calm but panicked for about 10 minutes (just as my supervisors said I would) 
  • The external examiner opened with the following sentences 'I think that we both agree that this work is worthy of a PhD.'...then shortly after this 'We also agree that it is worthy of a PhD with minor corrections'. 
I think at this point he may have been expecting me to look happy, relieved, something, anything other than terrified... I'm not sure it has sunk in yet but he was trying to help me to relax. The viva would focus on what those corrections were going to be. 
  • I stopped attempting to drink the smelly tea because my hand was shaking too much!
  • The examiners went through the thesis chapter by chapter - here are the broad questions they asked (my supervisor Prof Dorothy Miell wrote it all down for me):
(I've paraphrased some questions as it was more conversational that this indicates)
  1. What attracted you to this area of work?
  2. A more pressing question about the situation of undergraduate collaborative creativity. 
  3. Is multi-disciplinarity a distinctive new area? (pressing to see if I'd identified a gap I think)
  4. Have I experience in designing these types of courses... (topic relevant to my thesis, to learn about the relationship between my research and my professional context I think)
  5. Summarise 2-3 key points (from the literature review) and know they informed the research questions. 
  6. How did particular ideas (relating to improvisation in collaboration) inform the research questions. 
  7. Where did the multi-disciplinary aspect come from? How do they collaborate without shared practice?
  8. Methodology chapter - there was a lot of theoretical material included, this made it quite tricky to follow. Could you summarise the pragmatic details of what you actually did. 
  9. question about when choices were made
  10. Question about how I decided what and when to record, how much etc. 
  11. How did I distill data down?
  12. Did I consider other ways of coding? What that have revealed something else?
  13. What type of discourse analysis was used?
  14. More specific questions relating to what I was interested in, not interested in. 
  15. Pragmatic questions about analysis - how easy was it to analyse sequences when I wasn't present?
  16. Did I consider (asking participants to check, help with interpretation of analysis)?
  17. What are the main take home messages for chapters 4-6 (main body of my thesis)?
I was asked several questions about these chapters, there was an emphasis on understanding the intellectual narrative and structuring of them because that wasn't clear enough in my particular thesis. Obviously, every viva is likely to be extremely different but perhaps you can see that there is quite a systematic approach here. 

We got into a really interesting discussion about the parts of the thesis that interested the examiners. 

My suggestion to you therefore, is definitely to know how to summarise the key points for each chapter, be able to summarise the key contribution of your work and read your thesis before the viva. I found it much easier to talk about my findings because I'm naturally excited about that part of them. Finally the last question: Imagine you're on the Today Programme, please could you summarise why this research is important and what you found. 

I was asked to leave the room for about 10 minutes and when I returned, with 2 of my supervisors, they gave me the result: 'Excellent defence, robust, articulate. Great Job. Awarded pending one or two minor changes.' 

Now I'm telling you all of this because the week before I had an incredibly dim view of my work despite lots of corrections, encouragement and the confidence of my supervisors. I had to believe in it to defend it and fortunately on the morning of the viva I decided that it really wasn't so bad. You may feel that your work is fantastic, or you may not, I suggest that you have to believe in it. All of the hard work has been done before the viva, and you really really do know it much better than anyone else. I know, these are just words. I never imagined this result though, up to the very last day I was anticipating the worst... well I'm being honest at least. 

Oh, afterwards, I slept. A lot. 

Supervisors, Examiners and an extremely relieved Dr E Dobson in the middle 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Welcome to my Blog

I've decided to start using the blog for teaching and also to share aspects of my research.

If you're interested in my research, for now click on the PhD tag.

If you are one of my students then you are warmly welcomed here. Once the PhD is done I will start posting information that is hopefully useful to you too!

For now I leave you with this from xlcd