Yesterday a student enrolled in my “American Civilization to 1865” course turned in a revision of her video essay for the Vinyl Record assignment. Again, the project required her to make linkages between a vintage vinyl record and some idea concerning what it means to be “American” that has persisted across time. Her chosen record: The Beatles’ Abbey Road. See her initial paper here and her revision here.
Upon first listen to the latter, I realized she might possibly have the cold or allergies seen elsewhere on campus this week. Good on her for pushing through on this. What you will hear is the result of her efforts after her hearing the grade the Graduate Teaching Assistants said they would give her. Her good grade will hopefully become an outstanding one because she better engaged course content to support her thesis.
There were many learning moments not just for her, but for me and the GTAs. For one, I am struck by how the other drafts voluntarily shared by students thus far were curiously not always as strong as this one video example.
Is this an outcome of us being compelled to “write” in abbreviated and concise ways while using editing software?
Is it an outcome of the human tendency to overwrite when we’re generally unsure of an assignment’s aims?
I don’t have clear answers. I do know that one of the GTAs came up with a rubric that the they will use to grade these papers and videos – all 231 of them.
To help them and the students, I not only shared the initial draft of this student’s work, I uploaded onto Blackboard a first-person primer on good academic writing gleaned from my days of attending a writing program at a former university. If I am remembering correctly, this course was three hours a day for five days a week for most of the summer.
I was seething and dumped the notebook given to each student into a dumpster after the course was over. Years later, I still believe it was the best thing for me. I am a former journalist who worked for years with a copy editor. In academic life, the copy editor is often just you, or someone who reluctantly or happily reads your work. And sometimes there will still be errors! Or room for improvement.
Along the way something from that summer writing program has stayed with me: the importance of writing a strong thesis sentence, topic sentences and theme sentences. As I push my students to remember this while they write at the paragraph level, I push myself to do the same.
As the Teaching Professor Technology conference approaches, I’ll provide more updates and even upload documents the students received (among them a paper on which I got my first A from a particular professor who’d accept nothing less – after making me spend my summer with that now-gone notebook).