Improving students' collaborative writing in Environmental Hazards

This Thinking Writing-Geography collaboration centres on the key coursework assignment in a second year Geography module, Environmental Hazards. This text was a briefing paper, a new type of assignment for students; it also involved students writing in groups, a first for them. The lecturer, Dave Horne, wanted to integrate more attention to writing into the course in order to help students negotiate these unfamiliar writing requirements, and to avoid the weaknesses that had typically been present in past briefing papers. To do this, we took a genre based approach.

What we did:

  • identified common and typical problems in past students’ papers
  • Developed criteria and exemplars around these to illustrate problems and possible improvement (Download one of the criteria and an example here) 
  • produced a handbook with examples and guidance
  • co-taught a workshop in which students could analyse their draft papers
  • co-ordinated a peer and staff feedback session on draft papers.

What we learned:

  • the value of developing criteria specific to particular assignment students, and of using those criteria as guidelines during the writing and feedback process
  • that to be useful, criteria needed to be accompanied with examples of student writing, and opportunities for discussion around this with staff and with each other
  • the necessity of incorporating time into the curriculum to pay attention to how the subject knowledge can be developed and communicated in writing;
  • that criteria are more valuable and relevant as part of the learning process than as a final assessment measure

By using a particular assignment to consider how learning and writing worked in the module generally, we could attempt to address the interaction between lack of clarity in language and presentation, and lack of clarity in student’s disciplinary knowledge. Paying attention to writing allowed the lecturer to pay more attention to how students were learning and to monitor the success of the module as a whole.

You can read more about this work in Horne, D and Peake, K, ‘Writing Hazards’ in Writing in the Disciplines, Mary Deane and Peter O’Neill (Eds), Palgrave MacMillan, 2011


Documents you can download from this page: