Creating a "campus culture of revision": Thesis proofing tutorial aims to cure thesis-phobia

As one gradually moves ever closer to the end of his or her stay at New College, it’s hard to feel anything but intimidated at the thought of being a thesis student — even if one isn’t put off by the horror stories of lonely all-nighters in library carrels and the stress of the thesis schedule stacked on top of baccalaureate exams, spending a semester-and-a-half or more on the definitive capstone to one’s New College career is a daunting task to say the least. Assistant Director of the Writing Resource Center (WRC) Alexis Orgera and Professor of English Miriam Wallace understand the thesis fear many New College students share and hope to provide help by sponsoring a thesis-proofing tutorial this semester.

The tutorial’s aim is to pair up thesis students with third-years, assigning the latter to proofread the work of the former. The ideal result would be a win-win situation, as the third-years would receive class credit, real-world experience and thesis familiarity, while thesis students would get free proofreading help with their work. Furthermore, if the tutorial is a success, it may be expanded in the future from a 30-student class to a WRC-sponsored program potentially benefitting all students.

The tutorial is the latest aspect of New College’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) entitled “Seminars in Critical Inquiry,” a five-year improvement initiative put forth in 2008 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). The group is responsible for providing accreditation to New College, as well as other colleges in the region. According to the Provost’s Office section of the New College website, the plan is meant to institute “rigorous and challenging optional first- and second-year courses that introduce students to foundational research and writing skills through a focus on evaluation of evidence, argument, and revision.” So far, the main tenet of this plan has been the implementation of writing-intensive classes geared towards first- and second-years, marking the proofing tutorial as the first major QEP resource for third-years and thesis students.

Wallace feels that one of the most important aspects of the QEP is its focus on revision, as recent studies demonstrate that it is a skill the New College student body could stand to work on. According to a 2008 Wabash study that asked how often students prepared multiple drafts for written assignments, New College students were generally more likely to respond “never” (10 percent) or “sometimes” (seven percent) and less likely to respond “often” (seven percent) or “very often” (by 11 percent). Sixty-seven percent of first-year group respondents answered “never” or “sometimes.” Similarly, according to a Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) Research Practices Survey conducted around the same time, over 60 percent of New College students surveyed reported that they tend to do work just before the deadline, presumably allowing for little to no revision or drafting. What this means, according to Wallace, is that many New College students are unlikely to do much drafting or revising until they write their theses, which in turn can make the work involved more stressful and unfamiliar than it needs to be.

The thesis proofing tutorial, along with the other aspects of the QEP, is meant to address this problem by encouraging a revision process that is both active and inclusive of one’s fellow writers. The latter aspect is considered to be particularly important, as much of the stress of writing a thesis seems to stem from self-imposed isolation. The majority of the tutorial’s work will involve one-on-one sessions between the third-year and thesis student partners (15 pairs in all, matched up as closely as possible by discipline) in which the third-year partner will read the thesis student’s work and provide feedback on the conventional aspects of the paper. Additionally, the first half of the semester will involve class lectures and exercises on copy-editing for the third-years, who will earn a mod credit and proofing experience for their own theses.

As this is the tutorial’s first year in practice, it is currently being treated as a “pilot” program, gauging the interest of students and the effectiveness of the partnerships. Both Orgera and Wallace are hopeful about the future of the tutorial, as well as the large-scale influence it may come to have as part of the QEP.

“I would like to see it happen every spring semester,” Orgera said in an interview for the Catalyst. She also plans to provide similar resources for students in the future through the WRC, such as one-off copy-editing workshops and lectures from various members of the faculty.

Wallace would like to see the tutorial’s emphasis on drafting and revision “go viral,” inspiring a sort of “campus culture of revision.” She also hopes to see it expand into something more powerful and accessible in the future, perhaps as a proofing-partner matchmaking program run by the WRC that would allow any interested thesis student to be paired up with a compatible third-year.

Until such a program is available, Wallace hopes to see the tutorial work as well as it can by itself, imparting good writing habits upon its participants and offering upper-year students an opportunity to interact with their academic peers.

“Everyone, including the strongest and most confident writers, benefits by sharing work and getting a fresh perspective,” Wallace said. “Writing needn’t be lonely.”

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