Vol. Six - Issue Two - Dec 2014

Published: December 2014

Editorial: Academic writing development

Academic writing development

This special issue explores ways of promoting writing development in online environments.  Part 1 investigates strategies for supporting collaborative writing online.  Part 2 examines online feedback pedagogies, including peer review.  Part 3 focuses on research writing support, including writing groups.  Part 4 discusses inclusivity in writing development, both within curricula and across national boundaries.

Part 1: Collaborative writing online

This section focuses on how we can enhance learners’ opportunities for collaborative writing online.  O’Shea and Fawns share their expertise in fostering group dynamics to tackle the tricky task of facilitating students’ production of collaborative assessments using online environments.  Lund and Williams examine ways of fostering students’ engagement in collaborative writing, reporting on their study of using a wiki to enhance learners’ experiences of writing development based upon a premise of digital literacies.

Part 2: Feedback for student writers

This section examines how we can support student writers working in online environments.  In particular, the authors discuss how we can help learners become more self-directed through tools available in digital environments.  Anderson and Bergman shift the focus to student-led feedback, reporting on their seminal study of Swedish and North American students’ use of peer review to support each others’ writing across linguistic and cultural boarders based upon authentic tasks.  Robson discusses feedback practices, unpacking how we can enhance students’ use of the feedback they receive in online environments based on the model adopted at the Open University in the UK.

Part 3: Research writing development

This part of the journal moves into the realm of supporting research writers.  Haas concentrates on strategies for developing researchers through group initiatives.  She surveys ways of supporting writers, and makes a convincing case that this is not a daunting task.  To compliment Haas’ advice, this section contains a case study revealing the outcomes of a writers’ group for international researchers at taught postgraduate level.  Alzyood, Okoli, Waite and Lansdown discuss the role of a writing group within a wider structure of dissertation supervision, and highlight the benefits for diverse learners of this group-based pedagogic approach.

Part 4: Structures and support

The concluding section addresses two fundamental issues for writing developers in contemporary higher education.  Connelly, Barnett, and Sumner share their expertise in writing support for learners with dyslexia.  This insightful paper demystifies the topic of dyslexia, which is often overlooked in mainstream collections about writing development.  Their article represents a springboard, which may release you to explore new ways of making your own learning and teaching more inclusive. Lovegrove explains in a fresh and accessible manner how to exploit technologies to bring together scholars and practitioners interested in writing development.  She showcases how to run a virtual conference, attending to the use of online tools, preparing participants, and trouble-shooting.  This article brings together the pedagogic concerns shared by the authors in this special edition and demonstrates how we can draw upon our own expertise to sustain for ourselves a virtual community of practice.

Book review

In keeping with the focus for this special edition, Greethurst has reviewed Trevor Day’s Success in Academic Writing. This text is aimed at the cross-discipline University level academic writing. Greethurst provides a comprehensive overview and review of this text.

Writing development in higher education

By bringing together these articles on writing development for undergraduates, researchers, and teachers, this special issue invites readers to consider how the boundaries between these areas could be more fluid.  As a whole, the collection offers insight into for writing development in a variety of contexts, and raises awareness of the discipline of academic writing in its own right, and as part of the core business of contemporary higher education.

From this issue:

Group connoisseurship: creating shared understandings of quality in online collaborative assessments

This article addresses the challenges of designing the assessment of students’ collaborative writing. It explores the shift in focus from individualistic notions of authorship and ownership to shared practices, values and goals, which are developed through dialogue and discussion. Existing notions of connoisseurship refer to the capacity to evaluate and enhance one’s writing. Drawing on our research (O’Shea and Fawns, 2014), we extend this to include an understanding of academic quality that is co-constructed and interdependent across the members of a group – a concept we term ‘group connoisseurship’. This is challenging and it requires the development of a range of complex knowledge and skills within a supportive environment to reach a standard that is shared between students as well as tutors. In this article, we explore how this concept can inform course design to improve groups’ academic alignment, functional roles and writing practices in collaborative assessment.

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Online collaborative writing: testimony of a wiki project and recommendations

This article reports on the use of a wiki that was embedded into a course in English for Academic Purposes (EAP). It explains why a wiki platform was embedded into the course design, how the preparatory work (scaffolding) fed into writing tasks, and how students interacted with each other using this writing tool. The use of a wiki to enhance students’ experiences was evaluated through student questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, and tutor interviews. The results indicate that students had varying degrees of success in engaging with the wiki, and that some tutors were more comfortable than others with the validity of the wiki platform for critical writing tasks. A recommendation emerging from this study is that wider use of online writing components within other EAP courses could be beneficial.

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Connecting across cultures: student peer support for writing

Online communication is increasingly common in the global workplace. This article showcases a research project conducted in Sweden and North America, where engineering students participated in online peer review on each other’s texts. Through interviews, the students reflected on some of the challenges involved, including intercultural issues, communicating effectively online and the lack of personal acquaintance. The article concludes that a discussion of such challenges is important if such an exchange is to be successful.

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Providing sandwiches: optimising feedback at the education picnic

The National Student Survey (NSS) has indicated over several years that not all students in UK higher education are satisfied with the feedback they receive on their assessments. However, the Open University consistently receives high scores for student satisfaction in the area of feedback and assessment. This article provides an overview of the Open University’s model of providing written feedback on student assignments, which may be useful for other institutions. The basic model is to provide students with a sandwich in which constructive criticism is presented embedded within praise for attainment. There is also a focus on general feedback that can be applied to future assessment situations, rather than detailed corrections on assignment tasks that are not necessarily repeated.

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Writer development made accessible!

This article gives a brief overview of some preliminary results of an in-progress illuminative evaluation (Parlett and Hamilton, 1972) of ‘Writer Development’ courses. The courses, which run at several European universities, were conceived and set up as a reaction to the perceived need for process-based scholarly writing instruction to complement readily available product-based courses (Lonka, 2003).

Posted in Short Article

Supervisory relationships: the experiences of international masters students

This article is a case study exploring the experiences of two international postgraduate dissertation students studying in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Oxford Brookes University. It has been written collaboratively by two academics with experience of postgraduate dissertation supervision, and two postgraduates who were supervised by them. The discussion is based upon academic diaries produced by each of the students. These diaries were analysed thematically, and the two main issues that emerged were the students’ growing confidence as research writers, and their relationships with their supervisors. Based on these diaries, this article records the ways in which international students can benefit from their supervisors’ mentoring to become expert writers in their fields, and in some cases, to go on to provide writing development for their peers. The article also examines the potential of a Faculty Writing Group to support international students in the production of their dissertations.

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Dyslexia and writing: poor spelling can interfere with good quality composition

This article reports on issues facing students with dyslexia in higher education, and reveals how tutors can offer support. It builds upon research conducted by the authors in order to raise the profile of diversity and disabilities issues. The article provides accessible advice, and calls for more research into supporting students with dyslexia.

Posted in Short Article

How to run an international conference without leaving your desk: online in Adobe Connect

Against a background of decreasing funding in higher education for conferences and travel, this paper argues for an alternative approach to international collaboration, based on work by the author and colleagues on an online conference run in Adobe Connect: the ‘Giving Feedback to Writers Online’ conference which took place in June 2014. This paper draws on lessons learnt from that conference to demonstrate that running an online event is both easier and more effective than you might expect. The paper will be of interest to anyone who is looking for ways to widen the reach and accessibility of the seminars and conferences they run, and to learning technologists and others who might be called upon to support such events. As well as the discussion of our experience in running an online conference, the paper pulls together the outputs from that experience to offer a takeaway checklist which maps out the key stages in planning an online conference, and can help organisers of future online conferences to avoid some of the obstacles along the way.

Posted in Short Article

Book review of: Trevor Day, Success in Academic Writing, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, 216 pages, ISBN – 9 780230 369702

In his book Success in Academic Writing, Trevor Day provides a comprehensive guide to the general principles and techniques of academic writing.  His book is aimed at university undergraduates in a wide range of disciplines – whether they are new

Posted in Book Review

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