Monday, January 16, 2006

Round Two

This quarter I'm once again teaching two sections of the advanced research writing course to graduate students. (The first time I taught two sections was in Spring Quarter 2005.)

One change I've already made to the course is to invite two (possibly three) guests speakers to speak to the class about topics specific to writing. The first guest speaker, a colleague from our department, is coming this week to talk to both classes about Collins Cobuild (see The other guest speaker is the assistant director from the Writing Center on campus. She'll be speaking to the students about where to go for writing assistance after they have finished the course. (Note: The advanced research writing course is the third and final course of required ESL composition courses for graduate students at our institution. In addition, there are some elective courses on advanced academic writing (e.g., articles for publication, thesis/dissertation writing) offered in the program.) The Writing Center is a great place for students to receive writing assistance; however, many are unaware of this service. So the assistant director will be coming the last day of classes to advertise what the Center has to offer in regards to writing assistance. The possible third guest speaker will talk about plagiarism and academic writing.

An interesting (new) article I found to share with the students this quarter is -

Rymer, J. (1988). Scientific composing processes: How eminent scientists write journal articles. In D. Jolliffe (Ed.), Advances in writing research, volume two: Writing in academic disciplines, pp. 211-250. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.

Students in this course always seem to be looking for the magic potion to help them instantly master the ability to read and write in their fields. While those of us in the field know that we have no magic potion of this kind to offer students, we can offer them practices that will help them in becoming better enculturated into their specific and unique academic discourse communities. The abovementioned article discusses various composing strategies of nine scientists, providing students with an insiders view of what academic writing entails.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Student Presentation Observations

Last week we started student presentations in the class. Students were asked to give a 10 minute presentation on their long paper topics and participate in a short Q&A time following their presentations. I was very impressed with the quality of the presentations that have been given thus far. Almost all of the presenters prepared very elaborate PowerPoint presentations and had a handout for the audience.
A benefit of the presentations that I've observed is students who have been struggling to conceptualize the content of their long papers have found the presentations helpful because they provide them with another modality through which they can conceptualize their topics. This benefit in itself is enough to justify having student presentations every quarter.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Paper-Based vs. Computer-Based

Today students completed final course evaluations with the use of WebCT, a university supported software program with a gatekeeping system. This is the technology I used in my classes prior to discovering blogs. While it offers some features that blogs don't, e.g. ease of attaching documents, it limits the audience to whoever has access.
In the past, I primarily used paper-based evaluations and found these to be adequate. However, these took a lot of class time, and students begrudgingly carried the evaluations to the office because of the inconvenience. Consequetly, during our reserved lab time today, students completed course evaluations on WebCT. This was a much more efficient way to do the evaluations. I don't think I'll go back to paper-based. However, I'm curious about evaluation content differences between paper and computer-based evaluations.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Graduate Student Research Writing Conference

The last few weeks of the quarter students will be presenting on the topics of their long papers at the Graduate Student Research Writing Conference. This is a simulated academic conference held in the classroom to give students an opportunity to discuss their research and practice presenting. A conference program lists the presenters and their topics along with an abstract of their presentations. Student volunteers are asked to facilitate the sessions. Everyone in the audience is asked to fill out evaluation sheets for each presenter.

The idea for this came from my experience teaching in China. One of my colleagues, Professor Zhu, organized a mock international conference every year for the doctoral students we taught. It was a great opportunity to give them a chance to practice presenting on their research. Professor Zhu invited guests, students' academic advisors, committee members, to attend, which made it more real for the students. A lot of the students in 802 have not attended a conference in their field or presented at one, so I thought a mock conference would be a good experience for them, to practice presenting and assist in writing the long paper.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Composition Grading Shortcuts

One of the biggest time consuming tasks of teaching composition is the grading that's involved. This is particularly true with 108.02, because of the length of the assignments and especially when teaching two full sections of the course in one quarter. Consequently, I've been on the lookout for grading shortcuts, and up to this point in the quarter, I've found a few.
  • One of them is to have students submit all final drafts of their papers as e-copies in doc form. This keeps all homework submission in the same place, your e-mail box.
  • Another shortcut is the use of the track changes tool in Word. Because the final drafts are e-copies in doc form, it is then possible to use the track changes tool to respond to the drafts. This saves time by being able to copy and paste comments from one paper to the next, because a lot of the time, similar writing issues are seen across the board.
  • Another shortcut is to change the e-mail signature to something like - Hello, Attached is your paper with the grade and my comments. See you tomorrow. This makes the message personal without the teacher having to type same message over and over.
  • I've also found it useful to use a good student final draft in the class discussion, and then use what was said as the comments on his/her paper.
  • Setting a time limit is another way that can help reduce the time spent grading papers. It's easy to let time slip away while grading, but if you set a time and hold yourself to it, this can keep the grading under control.
  • Also, when there are many papers to grade, spread the grading out over a couple days as opposed to doing a marathon grading session. I've found the more tired I am, the more time it takes to grade, so I set grading time goals and try to stay within these parameters. This makes the grading time more productive.
  • An effective way of handling late submissions is to tell students who submit after the given deadline that their papers won't be returned until the end of the quarter. In the past I've found that time is often wasted in grading late papers throughout the quarter. This quarter I've designated a day and time at the end of the quarter for late submissions. I've observed that students who know their late submission won't be returned until the end of the quarter make it a point to get other assignments in on time.
  • Another shortcut I found this quarter comes from my experience as a writing lab tutor. Instead of reading students first drafts on my own prior to the writing tutorial, I ask students to bring 2 hard copies of their paper and together at the tutorial we read through the draft, discuss it and make changes on the draft together. I found this to be more beneficial in understanding what the writer is trying to say, gives the students an opportunity to display their knowledge of their topics, helps those students whose learning style is aural and causes the writing to becomes a collaborative process, where students have more ownership in what their doing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

"The Long Paper"

This week we are starting work on the final assignment for the course, the long paper. One of the most common questions students ask about the long paper is - How long is the long paper? The length of the paper is 7-12 pages. Another common question is about the structure. This can take several forms - literature review; research proposal; research report; critical essay; application/policy paper. Students often have a difficult time understanding the different types of papers and which type would be most appropriate for the topic they've chosen to write on. They are directed to two sources to help them visualize. One is links for the different types of papers located at the bottom of this blogsite. The other is the course textbook. In teaching this assignment, we are using the course textbook - Writing Up Research: Experiemental Research Report Writing for Students of English by Robert Weissberg and Suzanne Buker. The chapters we cover from the book are 2 - 9. The exercises we cover are as follows:

Chapter 2 - Introduction - Stages of the Introduction - pp. 22 - 23; Order of Content - p. 24; Order of Knowledge - pp. 26-27; Articles and Nouns - p. 28-33; Chapters 3 & 4 - Literature Review - Citation Types and Order of Citations - pp. 44-45; pp. 46-49; Verb Tense and Citations - pp. 50-53; pp. 55-57; Chapter 5 - Methods; Chapter 6 - Materials; Chapter 7 - Results; Chapter 8 - Discussion; Chapter 9 -Abstract

It's interesting that students don't seem to be interested in going through all the material in chapters, particularly if it doesn't directly relate to the type of long paper they are writing. To overcome this lack of motivation, students are divided into groups according to the type of paper they've chosen to write. In their groups, they are to work on exercises from the text that directly relate to the papers they're writing. (Unfortunately for the students who choose to write a research report, they are responsible for the material in chapters 2-9 in the book.)

Saturday, May 07, 2005