Many departments have core modules for first year students which aim to help students make the transition from school to university. Thinking Writing has collaborated in the redesign of a core module in the School of Politics and International Relations which was charged with introducing students to the skills they would need in their degree programmes.
The module had initially been designed as a study skills course and received low student satisfaction scores. Working with Dr Lee Jones, we challenged the idea of a study skills course and argued that the development of students’ thinking and writing in the discipline needed to be done through content. Students needed to explore and analyse key - and perhaps difficult - political ideas and have practice at discussing, articulating, reading and writing about these ideas.
Over a period of two years, Lee redesigned the module - now called 'Political Analysis' - so that students are gradually introduced to a key theoretical framework (dimensions of power), have practice in describing and analysing the framework and then in applying it to the analysis of texts. This work helps students to develop an understanding of ways of thinking in the field, and to practice showing their understanding in disciplinary discourse.
Thinking Writing is continuing to support the evolution of the module, as well as others in the first year. It has helped develop resources, observed tutorials and carried out a formative evaluation through informal interviews and a focus group. Findings from the evaluation were fed back to Lee as he refined the module. One issue that emerged in discussion with staff was the need to help students understand the notion of ‘fine grained analysis’; if they could do this, Lee felt, their attainment would be likely to be higher. In response to this idea, we developed a web-based resource to help students see for themselves what fine grained analysis is about. You can try this resource here by downloading a student's text and listening to the teacher discussing it on the short video.