Developing academic writing skills for university through a new free online course

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With so many writing courses focused on academic writing out there, it is sometimes difficult to decide on which one to take. But a new free online writing course from the University of Cape Town sets itself apart in that it seeks to situate developing academic writing skills to the writer’s context.

The free online course Writing Your World: Finding yourself in the academic space has been designed around themes from the Humanities discipline and asks students to consider themes of  identity, mobility and culture through which students develop critical thinking skills so that they practise formulating comprehensive and insightful arguments.

According to both Dr Moeain Arend and Dr Catherine Hutchings, part of the course academic team, writing at school is very different from writing at university and this course aims to bridge that gap. “What learners fail to understand is that writing is an essential form of communication and not just something they do for their teacher. ‘It is a process not a product’, in the opinion of Dr Hutchings. The course has been designed for Humanities student to help them grapple with important concepts they may encounter in university, but it also appeal to a wider group of students as topics such as identity and culture are universal.

In the Humanities discipline, writing is the main mode through which content knowledge is assessed and it is therefore very important for students to master this vital skill. University level writing is more than regurgitating what has been taught, and it is important for students to find their own voice and be able to synthesise a variety of other voices, according to Dr Aditi Hunma, one of the educators on the course. “It is an extension of their viewpoints”, she stated, adding that there is no formula to writing; although there are important things that need to be followed, “the rules can always be negotiated”. Dr Gideon Nomdo elaborates that “students come to university from different backgrounds and that is where we like to meet them,” hence the team chose to structure the course around the themes of identity, mobility and culture.

The course also models the writing and feedback process through fictitious student writers, in order to provide learners with a clearer idea of what is expected of them. With writing being an such an important aspect of university, the team felt it was very important to try and reach a wide audience of potential university students, hence their desire to make this course.

Making the course has also been a journey of learning and helped the team to think more critically about their own writing. While the process of scripting, filming, editing was hard work and a learning curve for the academics and designers, they remarked “It has been one of the most exciting things we have done”. They hope their students will feel the same sense of excitement as they discover their academic writing voices and hone their essay skills.

The course is currently open for enrollment and a new version of the course starts every 4 weeks. Sign up now.   

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