As part of my continuing efforts to improve undergraduate academic writing, I recently applied to the Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning for a small grant from their Staff-Student Collaboration fund. I am very pleased to announce that this application has been successful. Thus, over the next 15 weeks, I will provide occasional updates on the project alongside my regular musings at The Socratic Dilemma.
The project, entitled Social Writing, aims to provide first-year students within the School of Comparative American Studies an opportunity to work collaboratively to develop academicwriting skills and the scholarly rigour expected of university undergraduates. The proposal was based heavily upon my own experience of peer writing within Clark University‘s freshman seminar programme.
Working with recent graduates, in form of current MA students, first-year students will attendweekly, half-hour meetings to explore different aspects of academic writing, share experiences of assessment and feedback, experiment with different forms of argument construction and develop communication skills in a semi-causal and non-threatening environment. Ratherthan perform predetermined exercises, which are available elsewhere, thesesessions will work with student writings that are currently under development forupcoming assessments. Moreover, by working in small groups of 3 to 4 students, they will be able to collaborate with the MA tutor on which aspects of their writing they want the group to focus upon each week.
Although the university and Department of History already provide academic writing support, I felt that thisform of peer-support was needed because current writing provision focuses upon library-provisioned academic writing sessions, lecturer-student feedback dialogues and ad hoc peer-to-peer discussions. By providing a formal space for peer discussions within the framework of the course, this project will re-integratewriting skills within the disciplinary context and expandreal contact hours between the department and students. Moreover, through staff administration and postgraduate facilitation, the project will support formal and regular collaboration between members of the department at undergraduate, postgraduateand staff level.
The project is not, of course, without peril. When I first posited the idea, several key difficulties were anticipated:
- a lack of commitment from students in attending and engaging with a programmethat did not lead to direct assessment rewards
- a lack of rigour by the MA student tutors
- a lack of trust between undergraduate regarding intellectual property
Yet, by explicitly linking the peer sessions to their end-of-year projects, careful interviewing and selection of MA tutors and allowing self-selection of groups, it is hoped that these fears will prove unfounded.
Wish us luck!