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Students Learn to Write Like an Educator

After being in the working world for years — or if English is a second language — many incoming master’s and doctoral students are daunted by the task of writing their first graduate paper at the Ed School.

In order to ease the process for incoming students, the Harvard Graduate School of Education recently offered an online workshop called Writing Like an Educator (WLE). The workshop was a collaborative venture supported by the Dean’s Office, the Office of Student Affairs, Gutman Library Writing Services, and the Learning Technologies Center (LTC).  “The primary goals were to introduce incoming students to the conventions and expectations of academic writing at HGSE, as well as to the various writing techniques and resources available,” says Assistant Dean for Master’s Studies Jennifer Petrallia.

The pilot program was offered online to about 40 international students for four weeks this summer. The workshop, designed primarily by Deborah Garson, head of research and instruction services at Gutman Library, and Kristin Lofblad, LTC’s manager of instructional and research technology, used online learning best practices, which encouraged students to work independently on on- and offline writing-related activities and participate collaboratively in conversations about writing via online discussion boards directed by HGSE doctoral student facilitators. Each virtual session concluded with a self-check for understanding.

Garson explains that many students come to HGSE needing some guidance with the academic writing style. “Students at HGSE are accomplished people with good writing skills,” she says pointing out that there are specific types of writing assignments common to HGSE courses, and as an educator it is important to express educational theory and issues in a very clear way. “Education journals are looking for people who can write effectively in the field of social sciences.”

Three doctoral students, Julie Brousard, Hannelore Rodriguez-Farrar, and Yamila Abed Hussein, facilitated WLE. Hussein says her job was to ensure that participating students contributed to active online conversation, engaged in the workshop tasks, and provided overall support for students.

Topics covered in the workshop included the writing process, American academic writing, and an introduction to typical HGSE writing assignments. The workshop also focused on using proper APA formatting to cite sources and avoid plagiarism.

As a result of the workshop, Hussein witnessed a growth in confidence among the international students, who openly discussed the differences between writing in the United States and their countries. “Students were taking a more active role in doing what they need to do to improve writing and stepping out of this feeling of deficiency, accepting that they are not the only ones. … [T]his is a transition whether English is a first language or not,” she says.

Non-international students were also interested in the WLE workshop. During the HGSE orientation, the three-hour WLE workshops were at enrollment capacity, indicating an eagerness among both domestic and international students to improve their writing.

Petrallia says that based on the positive responses to the pilot program, HGSE is exploring the possibility of offering the workshop to an entire incoming class in the future.

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