Centre aims to help students write better

Oct 31, 2002, vol. 25, no. 5
By Diane Luckow

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Writing to learn. Learning to write. A reconstituted writing centre in the faculty of arts is helping instructors and faculty, on a by-request basis, recreate their courses to include writing-intensive learning.

Directed by Wendy Strachan (left), the centre's purpose is to assist students to become better writers by helping faculty to incorporate writing as a way of learning course content. The centre's mandate does not include one-on-one consultations with students, however.

A writing-intensive course should be an apprenticeship in writing for students, says Strachan. In such courses, students might do both informal writing which is not graded and formal assignments which are graded, with feedback and revision built into the process. Strachan will offer faculty a range of resources, including effective online approaches, to help accommodate the changes in teaching practice.

“We're focusing on helping students to become good writers in their discipline but, more than that, we're helping them to understand and think about how to write in any situation,” says Strachan.

“Students do avoid writing because it challenges them,” she notes. She's heard rumours that some arts students have managed to earn their degree without ever writing a paper. Writing-intensive requirements have been in place at universities in the U.S. for more than 15 years, where studies demonstrate that such courses result in more lively class discussion, better learning, and better writing skills. They also help students to avoid the dreaded three Ps - procrastination, panic and plagiarism.

The initiative comes just as SFU begins the process of amending its undergraduate curriculum to eventually include required writing-intensive courses for all students.

New writing-intensive courses will commence in some arts faculty departments in the spring semester, although they will not be mandatory for graduation for three to five years and after a lengthy process of consultations within each faculty and department.

In the meantime, Strachan, along with colleague Kathryn Alexander, looks forward to working with faculty of arts instructors and professors as they experiment with developing and redeveloping their courses.

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