As the course coordinator, my goal in the Bachelor of Business (Honours) is to provide opportunities for students to progress their coursework, as well as successfully complete their research, towards graduation. One way to support the growth of their research skills is through facilitating students’ ability to be productive. This leads me to the issue of binge-writing.

What’s important about this learning and teaching story?

Binge-writing is defined as the big dedicated blocks of time allocated to writing. Specifically, for academics, researchers and students. This big block of time is usually allocated close to a due date and often comes after long periods of not writing at all. Professor Robert Boice, in his research on behaviours of productive academics, found that binge-writing results more in burnt-out and less in productivity. This is why I feel that it is important to mitigate this habit early on in a researcher’s career.

I think we can all agree when I say it isn’t an easy journey towards becoming a productive academic. Those of us who are seasoned academics know this. Can you imagine how it feels like for those who are about to begin their journey?

What were you trying to achieve?

Drawing from my own research and writing experience, and lessons learnt from Boice’s studies, I share how my own practice informs the learning experience designed into the BBus (Hons) course. The aim of this strategy is to teach students how to manage their time, research, and writing productively. The strategies and experiences embedded throughout the four coursework subjects: BUS411, BUS42, BUS432 and BUS416/417, enables students to acquire habits and regimes early on that will hopefully shape their research and writing habits as they transition into their project work.

What did it look like?

This strategy was designed to support no more than 10 research students. From the very beginning of the course, I build in brief and practical segments and expectations. The idea is to introduce research students to a habit of openly discussing their progress throughout the duration of the course, from completing their coursework to undertaking their research project. I start small:

“Branka, I really do not know what I would like to do…I’ve got many ideas but no proposal on the horizon.”

I start by asking them to consider writing one sentence about what interests them in their field of study. This signals to them that they are part of a community of researchers, who do not expect them to demonstrate research prowess at the onset. Instead, it encourages engagement, curiosity and open discussion which helps them begin the process of acquiring their research skills: asking questions.

Resources to encourage development of research writing include training sessions with an Academic Skills Coordinator, as well as a Librarian.

To further reinforce the idea of brief and practical segments and expectations, I use weekly updates to break up the learning process. Weekly updates also acknowledge and highlight student progress so far. It is a prompt and reminder for students to provide some writing product that week. It could be a summary of information they curated that week, or they can share progress of their proposal, literature review or data collection.

Like Boice, I believe that procrastination and binge-writing are a product of researchers working in isolation. These additional supports in the early part of the research for my students gives them a network and place of comfort. While they may not be fluent research writers now, they are encouraged to seek support and feedback.

What I have found is that BBus (Hons) students identify early the sticking points for their research and writing. Early in the experience, students are more open about upskilling and acquiring better time management and writing skills.

A student’s view

Let’s hear from one of my current students, Kylie Gumbleton:

“When I started my honours last year I struggled to find the time and get my head around what I was doing.  This, combined with the many complexities of life resulted in what felt like slow and arduous progress in my studies. 

As part of my refocus on my honours, I have implemented a number of small practical activities which have resulted in feeling more in control of what I am doing. My evolution this year:

  • Blocking out ‘honours’ time in my diary.  This started at the beginning of March but with the onslaught of Covid, home schooling and work commitments, it was a constant reminder rather than an action, so little progress was made.
  • From the start of April it became easier. What changed? I implemented “My thought” processes. It struck me that my study was an integral part of life and if I wanted to complete it in a timely manner, I needed to motivate and challenge myself in this regard.
  • To support myself I blocked out 2 hour study sessions in my diary twice a week.  This included a Zoom catch up with a friend also completing her study.  In our timing we caught up for 25 minutes, studied for 1.5 hours, wrapped up where we were up to and planned for the next session for the last 15 minutes.  This has been a great motivator to keep focussed.  And if we got stuck, we bounced ideas off each other.
  • On the other days of the week, I try to read or write for anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes.
  • I have been catching up with Branka monthly and my supervisor regularly (approx. monthly).  This has allowed me to draw on the skills and knowledge of the teaching and supervisory team, facilitating my motivation, focus; and the sharing of information is fantastic.  It also assists when I am feeling stuck or to keep me on track.
  • Monthly catch ups with a Port Macquarie based research group.  We use this to share ideas and provides motivation and focus.

Overall I am feeling like I am making steady progress with my honours. Using this technique has been a great approach as it means that I am constantly working on my research, even if only subconsciously.  At times I will be doing something completely unrelated and have a mental breakthrough on an area I have been researching or trying to write.  When this happens I have been dictating it into my phone then emailing it to myself.  I get some of the best gems when I am not actually trying to research.  The regular approach to my studies and research has facilitated this significantly.

By undertaking all of these small practical activities, I am pro-actively avoiding getting into binge-ing habits which seem to creep up when I am are not mindful of my own learning process.”

How can I make this happen?

The defence against binge-writing is a skill that can be learnt and acquired by new and seasoned academics. In my case, the students of BBus (Hons) are introduced to a regime which encourages writing regularly and making use of your study and research time productively.

This is an evolving teaching and learning design, informed by my experiences within the BBus (Hons), as well as the application of my own research to both my teaching and professional practice. There is need to reflect on my current students’ experiences in this course, and evaluation of the design embedded into their learning. I am always happy to chat about this.

Robert Boice’s seminal works on productive academics is recommended. In particular, you may want to read his article: “Procrastination, busyness and bingeing”

Here is a slide deck I use to illustrate this work with my students and colleagues.