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

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Writing Tutorials

This week we are having tutorials to discuss the critical review assignment students are currently working on.

One of the purpose of the tutorials is to meet face to face with the students to discuss problems, difficulties, questions, issues, etc. they are having with writing the critical review. Another purpose of the tutorials is to give me the opportunity to ask clarification questions about the content, and it gives them the opportunity to display their knowledge about their topic, which is also good practice.

Tutorial Observations -
  • Students are more aware of how writing is done in their fields - one student in the hard sciences commented that complex sentence structure is commonly used, whereas participles aren't - he didn't provide/show specific examples of this; however, it's important to note because it shows that students are paying attention to how language is used in their respective fields
  • Many students struggle with clearly stating the purpose of their papers - this observation is more from reading the drafts than from the tutorials, but it seems to be the most common writing issue we discussed in tutorials - the question I have is how can this be better taught prior to the students writing the first draft? or is it best taught by students writing the first draft? To write their purpose statements, I give students this sample - The purpose of this paper is to (local focus) to (global focus). Students fill in the parenthese with the missing information. It seems somewhat prescriptive, however, at least it gives them something to try on until they can find their own sentence that is a better fit for them.
  • The audience issue also came up - Who are the students writing the critical review for? Several students told me that they thought I was their audience, so they didn't include complicated or technical information in their critical reviews because they thought I wouldn't understand what they were writing about. While this may be true, I encouraged the students in our tutorial discussions to conceptualize their audience as someone who knows their field, topic in order for them to get the most out of the assignment. It seems that the audience for most of the writing done by graduate students is someone who knows the field, topic.
  • The logistics of the tutorials is often problematic, not only for this particular class but for others as well. Some students don't come on time to the tutorials. Of course, this throws the schedule off, forcing other students who come on time to wait. For the most part these students seem to be forgiving, but there are some who get upset. I don't blame them and try to prevent this as much as possible, but it doesn't always work. Also, students often miss their tutorial times for various reasons, but then show up later expecting to discuss their paper at that exact moment. Other problems that have arisen are students showing up without their papers or students missing the tutorial without reason and then wanting to reschedule. These problems seem to be persistent with scheduling tutorials. I have yet to figure out how to remedy these situations. However, it seems that those students who do understand how a writing tutorial works, see benefit in it.