Friday, February 17, 2012

Research essay writing for students

I am taking part as a student in a workshop on "Research Essay Writing for Graduate Coursework Students". There is also a booklet available. This particularly useful as my study is in education, so not only do I have to learn to write essays as a student, I have to learn to set them as a teacher.

One surprise was the briefness of the example essay assignments presented: just one sentence. I found myself thinking "That is not an assignment". In computer science an assignment question would be several paragraphs or more. It seems that in other disciplines things are a little more flexible.

The workshop became more comfortably specific in detailing how many sections there should typically be in an essay for a given length (2000 words) and how many paragraphs in each section, how many sentences, and how many words in each sentence.

An interesting option presented was for the student to make up their own topic. Apart from the educational value of a student creating a question, the process which they use should be the same used by a teacher setting a question: is it of interest to the students, relevant to the course, achievable in the time available.

From a more pragmatic point of view, as a student, I will need to mimic the more wordy and less direct style of the educational discipline, than I am used to in computer science. A typical engineering or IT report would bluntly start "The purpose of this document is to ...", but this would be considered unsophisticated for an academic essay in other disciplines.

There seem to be some contradictions between how students are told to conduct a literature search and how they are told to write. The students are told not to read a whole article, just read bits. But the student is then told to write the article so it flows from section to section. If articles are read in pieces, they should be written that way: there is no point in confusing the reader by connecting the sections together, as they are not reading the other sections.

This was a useful workshop and provided some useful thoughts for my own teaching. There is not one long lecture followed by class work, instead there are short talks introducing each exercise. The amount of talking by the tutor could perhaps be reduced further, with with students being asked to read some of the very useful 44 page booklet in advance (and perhaps do an individual exercise using their own writing.

The usual room used for the workshops is being refurbished. Hopefully the new room will have some of the features of the University of Canberra TEAL room.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

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