Stella Cottrell is Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning, Teaching and Student Engagement at the University of East London, UK. Formerly, she was Director for Lifelong Learning at the University of Leeds. She supports students from diverse backgrounds, such as those with dyslexia and mature, international and disabled students.
Her publications for staff and students have sold more than a million copies worldwide. First published in 1999, The Study Skills Handbook is now in its 4th edition. Stella has authored a number of other study skills guides as part of the Palgrave Study Skills series including Critical Thinking Skills, Skills for Success and The Palgrave Student Planner.
In the June 2011 edition of Education Bookseller, Victor Glynn characterised Cottrell's books as "concise, clearly laid out and covering a wide range of subjects."
List of publications
|Title||Edition number||Format||ISBN||Publication date|
|The Study Skills Handbook||1||Paperback||9780333751893||12/08/1999|
|Teaching Study Skills and Supporting Learning||1||Paperback||9780333921241||07/09/2001|
|The Study Skills Handbook||2||Paperback||p 9781403911353||25/04/2003|
|Skills for Success||1||Paperback||9781403911322||02/05/2003|
|Critical Thinking Skills||1||Paperback||9781403996855||09/09/2005|
|The Study Stick||1||USB Flash drive||9780230516595||08/09/2006|
|The Exam Skills Handbook||1||Paperback||9780230506534||03/11/2006|
|The Study Skills Handbook||3||Paperback||9780230573055||22/02/2008|
|Skills for Success||2||Paperback||9780230250185||19/05/2010|
|Critical Thinking Skills||2||Paperback||9780230285293||11/05/2011|
|The Palgrave Student Planner 2012-13*||1||Spiral-bound||9780230362475||01/05/2012|
|Study Skills Connected, with Neil Morris||1||Paperback||9781137019455||27/07/2012|
|The Study Skills Handbook||4||Paperback||9781137289254||09/04/2013|
|Dissertations and Project Reports||1||Paperback||9781137364265||10/01/2014|
|Skills for Success||3||Paperback||9781137426529||06/02/2015|
* First published as the Palgrave Student Planner 2005-6 and every year subsequently.
The Study Skills Handbook
The Study Skills Handbook was first published on 12 August 1999. The philosophy behind the book can be summarised as saying that most students could perform well in higher education with the right strategies, attitudes and pacing to suit their circumstances and previous educational background. Whether they were successful at study in the past or not, Stella contends that all students benefit from taking an individualised approach that suits them, as they are now, and looking with fresh eyes at each new challenge.
Critical self-reflection and active solution-seeking are emphasised throughout the book. Cottrell's aim is for students to personalise and contextualise strategies, rather than taking advice wholesale.
Prominent themes in The Study Skills Handbook include:
- Critical thinking
- Active, participatory learning
- Personal reflection
- Personalised learning
- The importance of knowing how learning, intelligence and memory work
- Self-management and personal effectiveness
- Identifying your learning style
- Applying personal skills to academia and vice versa
- Shaping your degree for personal development and future employability
The book featured activities and self-evaluations as well as cartoons intended to appeal to visual learners. Several customised editions of The Study Skills Handbook have been published for Queen's University Belfast, The University of East London, Middlesex University and Coventry University.
The Study Skills Handbook was developed out of Stella Cottrell's experience of working with students. Subsequent editions have been developed using feedback from students and lecturers who have used the book. The current, fourth edition of The Study Skills Handbook was published in 2013.
The Lifelong Learning Centre
Stella Cottrell was appointed as Director of the Lifelong Learning Centre (LLC) in July 2005. On her appointment the University of Leeds reported her as saying, "This is absolutely the right time for the University to be looking at its social inclusion agenda, and to build on its current innovatory work with adult learners."
The objective of the centre is to deliver programmes and services that:
- Promote and support the development of part-time and mature undergraduate study at Leeds
- Support progression onto University of Leeds programmes for adults from groups under-represented in HE
- Ensure that part-time and mature students achieve and flourish at the University of Leeds.
According to Cottrell, students are likely to have difficulty engaging in critical analysis if:
- they lack adequate knowledge of the subject
- they have poor reading skills, or vocabulary
- they are unsure of the purpose of their analysis
- they are unsure of the level of discourse expected from them
Cottrell argues that critical thinking makes sense to the student if it is contextualised. Lecturers can encourage critical thought through the careful structuring of information and set exercises.
In 2005, Critical Thinking Skills: developing effective analysis and argument was published. The book aimed to help readers "develop an understanding of what is meant by critical thinking, and to develop their own reasoning skills". Cottrell grounds critical thinking as an everyday activity, such as deciding whether we believe something that we're told. Within an academic context, she presents the challenge of thinking critically as rigorous verification and, if justified by the evidence, having the confidence to argue for an alternative view. The current, second edition of Critical Thinking Skills, was published in 2011. Victor Glynn reviewed it as "one of the best texts for general critical thinking around at the moment" in Education Bookseller.
Cottrell encourages students to personalise their learning by reflecting on the way they learn and under what circumstances this is most effective. "If you are open, flexible and creative in trying new approaches, you will develop into a more rounded personality and a more effective learner".
Her books take the position that each student is unique in the particular details of:
- how we learn
- how we respond to new tasks, circumstances, people and challenges
- what we need in order to perform at our best.
Stella sees reflection as a central component of study skills. Since Higher Education involves more autonomous learning than students may have experienced previously, they need to become responsible for reflecting on their own progress, strengths and areas in need of development. Examples of reflective questions include:
- Are you sufficiently motivated to achieve your goals?
- How will your course of study affect your longer-term ambitions?
- What are the most stimulating aspects of your current learning?
- What is blocking your progress?
Cottrell believes that accurate self-reflection is difficult and so includes brief structured reflective models throughout her books to help students. One such example is the Core Model for reflection, that appears in Skills for Success.
Personal development planning
Cottrell sees personal development planning (PDP) as a confluence of personal improvement, greater academic performance, and planning to achieve goals, "whether academic, personal or professional". For Cottrell, it is important that all students regularly reflect on how their course and extracurricular activities relate to their future ambitions: "Linking PDP, the programme of study and the student's future is especially important for younger students, who are less likely to have thought about careers."
In 2003, Cottrell published Skills for Success: the personal development planning handbook. The book was structured to represent a journey from defining a personal vision of success, to developing the academic and personal skills needed, and finally bringing all this together in an effective job application. The textbook design featured reflective exercises and self-evaluations, as well as cartoons similar to those seen in The Study Skills Handbook. An updated edition was published in 2010.
The benefits and importance of social inclusion within the higher education system is a common theme in Stella Cottrell's writing. In an article written for Times Higher Education, she argued that "A variety of needs has been made manifest by larger class sizes, working students, broader social and international participation, the requirements of students with disabilities and better understanding of individual learning preferences." 
Cottrell's writing assumes that students are different in how they learn and what they need to learn. The aim is to encourage students to take charge of their learning and find strategies that suit them best.
In 2010, Palgrave Macmillan launched skills4studycampus, an online e-learning resource based on Stella Cottrell's 2008 edition of The Study Skills Handbook. Stella was involved in the planning of skills4studycampus and the process of adapting The Study Skills Handbook to an interactive environment.
skills4studycampus is divided into twelve areas:
- Getting ready for academic study
- Reading and note-making
- Critical thinking skills
- Writing skills
- Referencing and plagiarism
- Groupwork and presentations
- Exam skills
- Research principles
- Projects, dissertations and reports
- Confidence with numbers
- Time management
- Employability and personal development
In 2011, the University of Bedfordshire announced that an honorary doctorate was to be awarded to Stella Cottrell "in recognition of her 'outstanding contribution to lifelong learning and widening participation'". On the announcement of this award, Stella summarised her work with the Lifelong Learning Centre: "I have always worked to create good educational opportunities for those who, for whatever reason, either underachieved in the past or didn't get a chance to study in higher education."
Dr. Cottrell completed her BA and D Phil in history at the University of Oxford, a PGCE in English also at Oxford and a BSc in Psychology at the Open University.
- ^David, Gardner. "The Lifelong Learning Centre: New Beginnings". University of Leeds. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
- ^"Annual Learning and Teaching Enhancement Seminar: Developing students academically from induction to graduation". University of Bath. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
- ^ abVictor, Glynn (June 2011). "Quality holds its own". Education Bookseller (June 2011): 19.
- ^ abcCottrell, Stella (2008). The Study Skills Handbook. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-230-57305-5.
- ^ ab"University Welcomes Lifelong Learning Leader". University of Leeds. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
- ^"About the Lifelong Learning Centre". University of Leeds. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
- ^Harriet, Swain. "Ready to furnish tools of thought". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 4 July 2011.
- ^Cottrell, Stella (2011). Critical Thinking Skills. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. viii. ISBN 978-0-230-28529-3.
- ^Cottrell, Stella (2008). The Study Skills Handbook. Basingstoke: Palgrave. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-230-57305-5.
- ^ abCottrell, Stella (2010). Skills for Success. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-230-25018-5.
- ^Cottrell, Stella (2008). Skills for Success. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-230-57305-5.
- ^Cottrell, Stella (2010). Skills for Success. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 200. ISBN 978-0-230-25018-5.
- ^Cottrell, Stella (2010). Skills for Success. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 206–9. ISBN 978-0-230-25018-5.
- ^Cottrell, Stella (2010). Skills for success. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. vii. ISBN 978-0-230-25018-5.
- ^Harriet, Swain. "Helping students prepare personal development plans". Helping students prepare personal development plans. Times Higher Education. Retrieved 4 July 2011.
- ^Cottrell, Stella (2010). Skills for Success. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. v–3. ISBN 978-0-230-25018-5.
- ^Cottrell, Stella. "Take Talk to a New Level". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 4 July 2011.
- ^"Meet the team". Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
- ^"skills4studycampus taster". skills4studycampus. Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved 4 July 2011.
- ^ ab"Honour for Dr Stella Cottrell". University of Leeds. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is one of the most important skills learnt at university. It is a set of tools used to consider the ideas presented by other people, and to present your own ideas in a clear and judicious way.
Central to critical thinking is the ability to think 'outside' a piece of writing: not only understanding the writer's message, but deciding
- whether the message is valid or not
- whether the evidence and discussion given supports the message
- how the message fits into the broader context
Cottrell (2005, p. 2) describes critical thinking as the ability to "read between the lines," both when reading the work of others and when writing your own. This includes, but is not limited to, finding potential flaws in an argument. Critical thinking is used to construct an argument (a particular stand on a question or issue that you can use to build a well-reasoned and well-supported discussion).
References and further reading
Allen, M. (2004). Smart thinking: Skills for critical understanding and writing. (2nd ed.). Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press. [Massey Library link]
Cottrell, S. (2011). Critical thinking skills: Developing effective analysis and argument (2nd ed.). Basingstoke, England: Palgrave MacMillan. [Massey Library link]
Page authorised by Director, CTL
Last updated on 8 February, 2018