The verdict is in on the revamped writing seminar: it’s actually pretty good.
The writing seminar underwent several changes to its curriculum last semester, intended to make the course more practically useful to students. The more standard expository and justificatory papers have been replaced by a literature review and a public editorial, in addition to smaller, more career-oriented assignments like a cover letter and professional emails.
“When employers say that people don’t know how to write for the workplace, they mean they don’t want a paper,” said Critical Writing Program Director Valerie Ross. “We started to ask, what do students actually need to learn to adapt to new writing situations?”
The writing seminar curriculum culminated in a public editorial, meant to be written for submission to a real-world publication. Many alumni told Ross in meetings that they regretted never learning how to write for a public audience in college.
Engineering freshman Sarah Cai, who took a writing seminar called “Our Animals, Ourselves,” ended up writing a piece for Wired Magazine about why mice and rats deserve our compassion.
“Because we had to pick a specific publication, it was geared towards a more specific audience,” Cai said. “It was a lot of fun to write about.”
Though students remained critical of the heavy outlining required for the course as well as its peer review software, overall responses to the new seminar were overwhelmingly positive. This spring’s enrollment for the seminar is the highest level of spring enrollment her office has seen since they’ve started keeping records, Ross said. Many students mentioned having particularly good experiences with their professors, whom they described as helpful and attentive, and mindful of the complaints of overburdened writing seminar students of the past.
“The people who took it last year said it was an absolute pain to do,” College sophomore Lam Tran said. “It still was a lot of work, but I didn’t think it was unfair. If you put a certain amount of time and work into it, then you were fine.”
Opinions were split on the literature review.
“With something like a lit review, it’s immediately obvious — yeah, I could use this right now,” Wharton freshman Caleb Carter said. Carter, who is a member of the Wharton Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Board, described how immediately useful the skills he learned through the literature review were. “There are times when I’m looking through a ton of research that it’s really good to understand how to summarize that, and I feel like I learned that through the writing seminar."
Others, like Engineering freshman Johnathan Chen, thought that the assignment was not highly relevant to many fields, unlike the more general skills utilized in the timed writings or the editorial. Chen suggested that the curriculum of the writing seminar could be varied in order to give different students more of the specific skills required by their interests or disciplines, while still emphasizing a few core skills.
“A writing seminar that really teaches you the skills that you’ll use on a daily or weekly basis is one that warrants a giant load of work, because those are skills that you’ll absolutely need regardless of your profession,” Chen said.
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