"Academic Writing: The Basics" Instructional Video

"Academic Writing: The Basics" (video 1 of 2) aims to provide an overview of how to begin a university research paper.  In addition to text and audio support, students see locations on campus and on computer screens where they can get help and learn steps to navigate the online library search systems.  The video is narrative in nature, and follows a student as she learns about the writing process, tracks down sources of information, seeks help and successfully completes her paper.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Susan Barber
Funding Agency:
Teaching and Learning Development Grant

Additional Team Members: Gilberto Martinez (director, cameraman, editor); Teresita Barbou (producer); Anne Hales (RA)

What's Proposed

Funded by a Teaching and Learning Development Grant, the objective of the first video is to offer support for all students in their writing development, but may be most helpful for first year, mature, and graduate students, and particularly English language learners (ELLs). Today's students are more visual in their learning styles, and seek multimedia sources of information that can break down complex information into comprehensible parts. Instructional videos posted on YouTube are learning tools that are available 24/7 for students to access again and again. Inclusion of an affective as well as a cognitive component in the video may engage students more deeply and enable them to form identities as successful writers. Pre and post viewing surveys are conducted to determine if students feel the video is helpful in advancing their writing skills and knowledge.

How This Project is Carried Out

This project began with the idea to bring together three areas of my research that were commensurate with Koumi's (2006) findings about effective instructional videos, namely that they are able to model a process through vicarious experience, such as showing locations, chronological sequences, and resource material;  offer a visual metaphor; illustrate and provide narrative strength; and motivate through emotional connection.

Narrative helps us to make sense of our experience (Bruner, 1986), and another objective of the project is to determine if students are more engaged with artful representations of characters like themselves. Academic writing requires complex skills, especially for ELLs, and to avoid being overwhelmed, students need to understand they are not alone, there are resources to support them and they can find personal meaning in what they are doing.  Research in the teaching of writing states the importance of breaking the process into stages (Graves, 1994; Tompkins et al, 2012) and providing strategies (Calkins, 1994), no matter the student's age.   I hope to discover whether students advance their skills and understanding of writing through this medium, and how I might improve my teaching from their responses to the videos.

Why This Project Matters

Students arrive at university with significantly different skills and ideas about writing, and instructors may not have time for individual instruction in grammar and essay writing.  Many newly arrived ELL students often struggle as they enter a new language, culture and educational system.  Most university courses value “product” rather than “process”, and this further disadvantages ELL students (Raimes, 1983; Hinkel, 2004). Encountering narratives of how other students are successful at university is crucial to struggling writers because stories that mirror real life provide essential ways of thinking and knowing (Beattie, 2000).  With over 700 students on academic probation and enrolled in the Back on Track program at SFU (2015-1), offering concrete steps to improving writing may be one pathway to increase confidence and attain future success.  Research evidence from this project may inform three groups about changes in the teaching and learning of academic writing: individuals, departments and perhaps even the university overall. 

How This Project is Put into Action

Student pre/post surveys have been conducted in Foundation of Academic Literacy (FAL), PDP Designs for Learning: Elementary Language Arts  and one MEd Educational Practice course.  Results from the surveys indicate students strongly believe that the videos are helpful, and mention how they felt more clear on how to undertake their research papers.  In the future, I intend to carefully scaffold introducing the writing assignments, providing examples of good assignments and their features, and showing the video before students begin their research.  Links to the videos will be available on this site as well as on individual class Canvas sites.

The video links have been shared with FAL instructors, "W" instructors in the Faculty of Education, The Student Learning Commons, the SFU Library and Back on Track.  Both videos were presented at three conferences, and are now being used at five other universities. 

Where to Learn More

Please feel free to use the video as you deem appropriate for your students.  Here is the link to "Academic Writing:  The Basics"  at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr6fm29IOyA

"Academic Writing:  The Basics"