Archives for posts with tag: academic writing

Here is the abstract for a paper I presented at the Student Education Conference and Digital Festival, “Evidencing Excellence” in at the University of Leeds, 8 January 2016.

“Shut up and write!” Making academic writing social

Writing is an area with which many students (and academics!) struggle, particularly as it is inherently a solitary practice. “Shut up and Write!” (“SU&W!”) sessions make academic writing social. The format which has recently become popular with researchers (Mewburn et al, 2014) can also be a powerful tool when shared with taught students. “SU&W!” was a departure for Skills@Library with a stronger experiential emphasis than traditional workshops can allow. This session will address how and why “SU&W!” helps students tackle procrastination and lack of focus. Skills@Library first trialled “SU&W!” for taught students as a one-off experiment. Feedback was extremely positive, so in summer 2015, ten “SU&W!” were offered, targeting primarily Masters students. This session uses personal reflections on the “SU&W!” process and analysis of student comments. “SU&W!” provides structured and focussed time with clear goals, providing students with immediate feedback on their writing process. Peer pressure prevents distraction; peer support helps with motivation and encourages student-to-student exchange of strategies for becoming better writers. Sessions are relatively simple to run and can act as a catalyst for students to set up their own groups.
By the end of this session, participants will have learned how and why “SU&W!” can be a powerful tool for reducing student isolation and developing excellent writing practices; and will have the tools to set-up sessions within their own context.

Link to Evidencing Excellence theme
“Shut up and write!” develops self-awareness in managing academic writing through modelling best practices. The session will also highlight applications and digital resources which can be used to support the writing process, both face-to-face and online.

How do you evidence excellence in use of this initiative and/or technology?
“SU&W!” sessions work with undergraduates, taught postgraduate and research students. They fit well with peer support initiatives; study skills sessions taught within modules as well as central provision. Once students have experienced the format they are encouraged to run groups themselves. Similar sessions could target other study skills, such as “Shut up and Read/Revise!”.
“SU&W!” may also be particularly appropriate for supporting part-time and distance students, using Skype.

Ways in which content or technology could be used in other disciplines / services
The session will include the student voice through examples of feedback on “Shut up and write!” sessions, including how it has informed/improved their writing practices.

Here is the hand out as used in sessions with students: Shut up and write2.




These are the abstract and slides for a session which I gave with my colleague Anika Easy at the University of Leeds Student Education Conference, “The Leeds Graduate – the distinctive journey”  on Friday 9 January. If you are interested in hearing more, please get in touch.

Learning to experiment – workshops and activities for key transition points

Skills@Library provides a core programme of workshops on particular topics. Last year we ran two additional weeks of workshops targeting specific groups of students to provide dedicated help at key transition points: Experimental Week and Postgraduate Week. Sessions included: lunch-time referencing drop-in clinic located in the Library foyer; using Twitter to support academic learning; active writing sessions for postgraduate students during their dissertation-writing stage; drawing for review and learning at exam and project revision stages. This meant that practical support was available and tailored to students at times and places when they needed it, showing understanding of and empathy for the transitions within their University development.

This session will give a brief overview of the activities, highlighting what helped students (and ourselves) reach those ‘A-ha!’moments, and show how the exercises can be replicated within modules or as additional sessions when required.

Transferability: The applications of these initiatives are University-wide.

HUMS Writing Group Poster

I had my panel last week and have a serious amount of writing to do over the next few months. The Shut up and Write! sessions we’ve been holding face to face and online have been extremely motivating, and a couple of people have made it through to submission, so completion is possible! I’m planning sessions on campus on 21st October, 4th and 18th November. Based on previous experience, things work best if:

  • we think beforehand about what we want to work on and do the reading/prep before we come
  • phones and internet are turned off during writing periods
  • there’s a good supply of drinks and snacks!

We’ll be in SALC for the first one and there are coffee making facilities on the first floor (bring your own mug), I will bring milk and possibly snacks. The room is booked for three hours in total, with (nearly) two hours dedicated to focussed writing time. This is the schedule we’ve used:

  • 20 mins social time: intros, writing goals for the day, setting up (and biscuits)
  • 25 mins writing
  • 5 mins silent break, no talking in the room
  • 25 mins writing
  • 20 mins social break, coffee (and biscuits)
  • 25 mins writing
  • 5 mins silent break, no talking in the room
  • 25 mins writing
  • 20 mins social time; follow-up, feedback, discussion (and more biscuits…)

If you are going to be late, the etiquette is that it’s OK to arrive up to 15 minutes into the pre-writing social time. This leaves 5 minutes before writing starts for you to get set up (and you’ll have to be quick!). We discussed at earlier sessions about people who could only commit to half the time (or need to leave early) and decided that was OK, but joining or leaving in the social time/breaks at the beginning, middle or end of the whole session causes least disruption. Of course, this is just the model we’ve used in the past, it’s all open to renegotiation at the start of each session. All welcome!

For more info about how this started:

And how the first session went:

Being forced to articulate writing goals for the session and having the ‘tap, tip, tap’ of the keyboard or ‘scratch, scritch, scratch’ of a pencil drives the writing forward. We share writing tips and challenges, but best of all, we get to celebrate each others achievements, however small. Progress is progress!

For info on this and future sessions, find HUMS Writing Group on facebook here.

Download a .pdf version of the poster with embedded links here: HUMS Writing Group (best for sharing via email).

This was a three day conference focussed on student writing. Abstracts and in many cases, Powerpoints from the conference are available here.

Malcolm Gillies (VC of London Met) started the conference with:

If you can’t write, you don’t have a voice.

Key sessions I attended included:

Lillis et al‘s keynote on academic literacies which highlighted their new research on this topic which aims to be transformative through innovative practice moving away from the bolt on ‘skills approach’. Their work:

  • sees academic writing as based on non-negotiable principles
  • highlights literacy/writing as social practice
  • explores academic writing with its producers, readers and evaluators
  • examines issues relating to power
  • sees academic literacy as only part of a wider problem and suggest the need to challenge the default position on language and writing

The lack of negotiation in academic writing practices was also a theme for Scott whose session looked at how the tendency to see individual students as ‘cultural others’ who lack what we see they need to be successful. Hence we focus on teaching them to be able to do X, to bridge the gap between ‘their’ and ‘our’ abilities i.e. a deficit approach. For example, some students need to talk before writing. Students reported that courses ‘did not make sense at first, but did in time’. Students also tended to focus on the language, divorced from meaning making and knowledge making, i.e. they did not see language as a resource for meaning making.

Galloway described an intensive ten week English for Academic course for international students who scored lower than 6.5 on IELTS. The course was credit bearing and began with an initial emphasis on personal narrative moving through to writing in academic voice. [Similar bridging / pre-sessional courses at Leeds are shorter and have academic writing as only one aspect of the course]

An innovative programme at Liverpool Hope on embedding writing support within the faculties was discussed by Smeets et al. It was a rhetorical, genre based approach which:

  • analysed features of discipline specific texts
  • encourage students to write from models
  • took an iterative approach where students received feedback, then revised and rewrote

This transformative pedagogy was in the face of initial faculty objections:

  • writing was outside their area of expertise
  • students should be held more accountable for their writing ability
  • High schools should prepare students better

Key challenges for the next steps were:

  • To improve coherence in writing support between programmes and across disciplines
  • To validate multiple literacies

Poverjuc‘s session focussed on assessment of writing. She found that students would read feedback, but could not then apply this to develop strategies for improving their writing. Through interaction with peers they could: clarify their understanding of the task requirements; edit and proofread written work; search for reading materials; design and conduct micro studies. She highlighted a mismatch between tutors, who thought that assessment criteria were important, and students who did not look at assessment criteria. Those who did found it constraining and difficult to understand. They particularly wanted clarity about weighting, benchmarks and exemplification materials.

Angela Lumsford‘s closing keynote on writing at Stanford was excellent. A key concept was the idea that,

Good writing is performative, it makes something happen in the world.

Most written work for assessment does not satisfy this goal, so students are seeing a disconnect between the writing they do for grades and the blogging, newsletters, posters, pamphlets they write in their extra-curricular lives. Lumsford saw this as a challenge for the academia and outlined some of the changes in Stanford’s writing programmes.

You can dowload her paper here.

This was also the first conference at which I tweeted – here’s my twitterstream (in reverse order):

What is writing for? Transforming, make change, clarify thinking, health, communicating, punishment, recording, establish identity…#WDHE10
30 Jun

Final plenary #WDHE10 is developing a collaborative mind map, interesting way to capture the multi-dimensional nature of writing practice
30 Jun

‘Translation is impossible and translation is absolutely necessary, because nobody can speak all languages’ Elton #WDHE10
29 Jun

Reminded again that academic writing is a second language for everyone – can you imagine a native speaker of academic English?#WDHE10
29 Jun

Jerskey is reading her paper, finding it hard to follow. Interesting – the written word failing to work as spoken discourse. #WDHE10
29 Jun

#WDHE10 ‘Students need back stage experience in order to perform front stage’ Nancy Lea Eik-Nes
29 Jun

Issues re international students struggles with academic discourse seems to be an emerging theme – what interventions work?#WDHE10
28 Jun

Academic ‘Writing goals are more likely to be achieved out of offices’ Murray #WDHE10
28 Jun

‘We need to challenge the ‘default positions on language and writing’ Lillis #WDHE10
28 Jun

‘If you can’t write, you don’t have a voice’ Malcolm Gillies at#WDHE10
28 Jun

Activity cards made, just the handouts to print for our workshop at#WDHE10
24 Jun

Suggest #WDHE10 for the upcoming Write Now conference. Any takers?
21 Jun