Writing Symposium: The role of student writing at a research university

On November 8-9, 2012, Dr. Janet Giltrow, Associate Dean of Arts at UBC, addressed how professors can promote writing as a way for students to participate in the research-intensive culture of the university, regardless of discipline. This symposium was geared to faculty members, administrators, and all those interested in helping students use writing, not just as a means to record ideas, but as a process for the development of critical thinking skills. 

Dr. Giltrow lead three events, described below.

  1. Keynote presentation
  2. Workshop I: Responding to undergraduate student writing
  3. Workshop II: Supervision of graduate writing

KEYNOTE PRESENTATION, Nov. 8, 2012: Landscaping with Indigenous Species: how to replace quizzes, exams, term papers (non-native species) with species native to the research culture.

It is commonplace to call for communication skills, and commonsense to think of writing as a skill, and then a teachable skill, and then to have a course. Writing courses are commonplace in curriculum across Canada. And people still call for communication skills. This talk suggests ways of setting aside the idea of writing as a skill, and introducing new terms to the talk about writing and curriculum. New terms open the prospect of distributing writing-related learning outcomes throughout the curriculum and doing so by cultivating the activities indigenous to research culture itself.



WORKSHOP I, Nov. 9, 2012: This workshop is designed for professors of undergraduates and will address how to respond to student writing as a reader, not just a teacher.

‘Marking’ can be one of the most time-consuming of a university teacher’s responsibilities – and one of the least productive. Do students learn from your comments? Or do they go right to the grade and ignore the remarks? Do they reflect on summative end-comments? Or have they heard it all before? (You need to work on your organisation …. Your ideas are good, but ….)

This workshop offers an alternative approach: a readerly, collegial means of responding to student work. Derived from the ‘think-aloud protocol,’ these techniques of response represent readers’ real-time, on-the-ground experience of their encounter with the text – the most valuable information a writer can get.


WORKSHOP II, Nov. 9, 2012: This workshop is designed for professors of graduates and will address characteristic problems in graduate supervision of writing.

Expected to take their thinking and writing towards professional audiences, graduate students are also still answerable to their supervisors as their teachers. Expected to guide their students towards those professional audiences, graduate teachers are also answerable to some half-way genres: the seminar presentation, for example, or the candidacy paper or prospectus defence. This workshop will point to some of the potential sticking points amongst these transitional genres, and ask workshop participants to identify others. Referring to principles introduced in the keynote talk, the workshop will develop graduate-specific principles for addressing the impasses along the route from student to profession writing in the research disciplines.


Dr. Janet Giltrow's Biography

Dr. Janet GiltrowDr. Janet Giltrow is Professor in the Department of English and, since 2007, Associate Dean of Arts at the University of British Columbia. Taking rhetorical and linguistic approaches to discourse studies, she has published extensively on literary and non-literary stylistics; genre theory; ideologies of language; and academic writing, including two textbooks (Academic Writing: Writing and Reading in the Disciplines, 3rd ed. 2001; Introduction to Academic Writing 2nd ed. 2010). Her most recent publications include Genres in the Internet, ed. with D. Stein (2009), “Genre as Difference: the sociality of syntactic variation” (2010), “‘Curious Gentlemen’”: The Hudson’s Bay Company and the Royal Society, Business and Science in the Eighteenth Century” (2012), “The Pragmatics of Genre on the Internet” (forthcoming 2013). As Associate Dean, she has administered major changes to admissions to Arts, including the introduction of Broad-Based Admissions; changes to degree requirements, namely introduction of the Writing and Research Requirement; changes to curriculum development processes. Curriculum renewal is one of her principal interests as an administrator and as a scholar and teacher.

This event was co-hosted by Teaching and Learning Services, the McGill Writing Centre, the McGill Library, and Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact eva.dobler [at] mcgill.ca.

McGill University is on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations. We acknowledge and thank the diverse Indigenous people whose footsteps have marked this territory on which peoples of the world now gather.

L'Université McGill est sur un emplacement qui a longtemps servi de lieu de rencontre et d'échange entre les peuples autochtones, y compris les nations Haudenosaunee et Anishinabeg. Nous reconnaissons et remercions les divers peuples autochtones dont les pas ont marqué ce territoire sur lequel les peuples du monde entier se réunissent maintenant.