Tag Archives: academic writing

Thesis Writing – (Not Necessarily) A Long, Solitary Journey

29 Jan

If it seems to you that thesis writing and procrastination go together like winter weather and gnashing of teeth then check out what Joe Moses, Colleen Manchester, and Amie Norden are doing to break those solitary ←→ long and big project ←→ procrastination links.

Their study, presented at the Fall 2103 UMinnesota Academy of Distinguished Teacher’s Conference, reports on an 18-month journey they took to discover ways to help students increase thesis productivity during a semester and into the summer break.   The investigators came into the research knowing that:

  • Thesis writing can be a long, lonely pursuit
  • Faculty mentors can vary in accessibility
  • Cohort members’ projects will vary by topics pursued and timelines for completion
  • Obstacles are certain – which obstacles and when, this is uncertain
  • Student interest will wane and intensify across the process.

And what the investigators knew about thesis writing, we who teach know we can also apply to most long-term, research-based academic writing, presentation and project-based assignments.

With the following goals in mind – 

  • Timely completion of thesis
  • Ownership of project
  • High-quality writing
  • Positive experience for students
  • Positive experience for faculty
  • Foster culture of thesis-writing

– and drawing on what they knew as teachers (Joe and Colleen), academic technology coordinators (Amie), and informed users of technologies for teaching and learning (all three), the trio developed a course design and suite of tools to support student learners as thesis researchers, writers, responders, revisers and polishers.  Their approach combined use of Google Suite applications, Moodle as the LMS, and a combination of gamification features, project tracking and data visualization to spark writers’ motivation,  practical skills development, and strategizing skills for staying on track.

Results were positive; as one student commented:

Happy to be here and see all the great work many of you are working on.

And as another explained:

We learned that a combinations of in-person and online contact are effective at building and sustaining a community of thesis writers. By creating an online space, Odyssey facilitated continued and sustained attention on thesis writing. Odyssey increased the salience of thesis writing and supported enhanced student identification with their project. We also learned that site elements that required regular updating were difficult to sustain by both students and faculty. Instead, a more flexible space like Google+ community was more effective at real-time interaction among students and faculty due to its seamless connection with Google mail. In future years, I intend to use the Moodle space to house thesis resources, including inter-cohort knowledge sharing, and update this site annually. I will use Google+ community combined with regular in-person gatherings to develop and sustain the community.

To learn about the project up close, you can:

  1. Review the presentation slides:

  2. View the Google Sites Template that students and teachers/advisors alike use to chart and share progress; the template was developed in response to survey data from first cohort detailing interest in personalized sites. O2 sites are private to each student and shared with the thesis supervisor and course instructor:
    Odyssey 2 (O2) template.

  3. Learn about the tool allowing students showcase their thesis alongside a professional profile the student develops; students can share the URL linking to this page as part of their resumes and, therefore, share a robust writing sample with prospective employers:
    Public-facing thesis template.

  4. Access a tracking spreadsheet that breaks the writing process into steps – planning, researching, drafting, and review – sequences, and process specific to the Carlson Honors Program. Once students enter actual start and end dates the project, the spreadsheet sets out ensuing steps, with room for various updates based on interacting with the template, so that students, instructor, and thesis supervisor gain a window to student progress – as well as real information about when and in what ways to step forward to nudge movement:
    This Google docs Project Tracking Spreadsheet

With this success, maybe next the research team can apply their talents to break the line between winter weather and climate complaining…

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