Jackie Wills is one of the Royal Literary Fund (RLF) Fellows currently at Sussex as a writer-in-residence. Along with her colleague Siân Rees she supports students with writing skills through Better Writing tutorials. When working with individual students Jackie found that ‘there are certain issues that come up time after time. One is structure, and related to that, planning’, so as an additional resource for students struggling with writing essays she has now recorded some short screencasts on Planning for Length and Planning for Content (see below).
As someone who works visually herself when writing Jackie realised that there was ‘a very simple visual prompt’ that she was often producing for students on scraps of paper, that could easily be shared with a wider audience. The RLF already has some excellent resources online and Jackie often refers students to ‘a brilliant piece of work on writing essays by David Kennedy’ but also found herself repeatedly summarising key points. So when the suggestion came from the Teaching and Learning Development Unit (TLDU) that she record a screencast it seemed like an ideal way to help more students. Tutorials are always in demand, especially at times of year when many students are tackling assessed essays, so students cannot always arrange a tutorial at the point they need help – especially if that is 4 o’clock in the morning – but the screencasts can be accessed by students whenever they need them. Although the short videos are ‘not quite the same as making a human connection’, for the student thinking ‘help! I don’t know what to do about this structure, I’m really stuck’ the videos could be very useful.
Having overcome her initial nerves Jackie is now keen to do more screencasts and hopes to address introductions and conclusions. Another possible topic – though one which is likely to be ‘tricky’ is that of ‘argument’. It is something that comes up all the time in tutorials, but it is difficult to distill what is meant by argument and critical writing. Jackie finds that ‘when students get feedback saying they need to be more critical, they think it means they have to be negative. What they don’t ‘get’ is that the academic meaning of critical is different and this idea of a critical perspective takes a while to get used to. There is a tendency to think that once something’s published, especially by an academic publisher, it’s got authority’.
After some ‘user testing’ with staff and students the recordings have been made available on the Better Writing Study Direct site and web page. They will also be added to the excellent resources on writing well provided by the Study Success at Sussex (S3) website.