Write through the Semester
The project evaluated the working of ‘Write through the Semester’, an introductory writing course involving writing tasks linked directly to the material studied in modules within the English degree.
Work began in 2001 on a project designed to improve student writing skills, in a collaboration between the project director and a colleague in the Education department. Research suggests that student writing improves most markedly when writing tasks are linked directly to the students’ discipline(s), and that students engage most effectively with individual tasks when the relation of those tasks to an end product is clear. There was thus a need to develop a model which would be embedded in a specific discipline (piloted in a module in English) yet adaptable to the requirements of other disciplines.
The course ‘Write through the Semester’ was designed to meet these objectives.
‘Write through the Semester’ aims to build students’ writing skills through frequent writing tasks closely allied to work on specific modules. A series of short assignments (submitted as a portfolio) build up progressively to the submission of the first draft of an assessed essay at the beginning of the second half of the module. Following a process of peer- and self-evaluation, the essays is revised. The final assignment is a short essay giving the student’s opinion on the usefulness of the project.
The project was evaluated using a mid-semester questionnaire was given to all students. All students wrote a reflective essay on the usefulness (or otherwise) of the course. Focus groups were conducted by contract researchers and interviews with tutors were conducted by one of the contract researchers.
The vast majority of students felt that their writing had improved and have changed their approach to their work.
While the course seems to have been a success, improving student writing remains a long-term project—and certainly not something that can be achieved in one semester. The course would probably have been more successful if its lessons were more systematically reinforced in later parts of the degree course. Extra funds would be required for this to happen, however.
Completed January 2003