Integrating writing

Writing is a major outcome of learning in many degree programmes; that is, an important assessed product. It is also as an important means by which disciplines themselves create and communicate thinking and knowledge. It is more than just a tool for showing you can apply knowledge or what you have learnt. When you come to write in a discipline, you are in some way doing that discipline, being part of a disciplinary discourse community. So thinking, writing, being, knowing, communicating are all tied up together; inextricable from one another, part of  practice.

An unproductive consequence of identifying writing as a concern for higher education, however, is that it can come to be viewed as a discrete skill that can be taught and learnt independently from the subject matter of a field or discipline. Assuming a language/content separation can result in, for example, an introductory ‘skills’ course or a discrete lecture or two focussed on how to write a ‘good essay’. In our experience add-on approaches of this kind falsely disconnect writing from content, thinking and knowledge - and rarely motivate learners.

Far more productive (though less easy to tick a box for) is to integrate opportunities for learning about, practicing and producing writing, into the degree programme. Writing then becomes both a way of engaging students with what they are learning and part and parcel of developing their disciplinary participation and identity.

My involvement in course design with TW has gone much deeper than writing - maybe this is the thinking part - it has helped me consider what is distinct about my discipline and how to convey that to students. 

 

For examples of how writing has been integrated into a range of subjects at Queen Mary, have a look around the sections 'Work in subjects' and 'Ideas in practice'.  Alternatively you can find a digest of much of this practice on our Learning Development site (new window).  To see some of what the literature says about integrating writing and 'skills', read our review of approaches to learning development.

Our work to develop a research-based learning approach in modules is the next section in this overview of Our Thinking.