Teaching academic writing

adult-1868015_1280Ben Brabon of the Higher Education Academy (UK) has recently written about ways to help students master academic writing through creative, consistent support. In his post on “Writing in the Mouth” he writes

By facilitating opportunities for students to read, write, structure, critically analyse and revise together (using collaborative technologies such as Peerwise), academic writing skills can be positively nurtured.


Administration and the “fallacy of accountability”


In Bill Reading’s analysis of the “posthistorical” university, it is “the administrator rather than the professor” who is the “central figure” in what is fast becoming a “transnational bureaucratic corporation.” William Deresiewicz calls this “administrative elephantiasis.” Similarly, Benjamin Ginsberg, in the The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, writes,

‘Every year, hosts of administrators and staffers are added to college and university payrolls, even as schools claim to be battling budget crises that are forcing them to reduce the size of their full-time faculties. As a result, universities are filled with armies of functionaries – the vice presidents, provosts, associate provosts, vice provosts, assistant provosts, deans, deanlets, deanlings, each commanding staffers and assistants – who, more and more, direct the operations of every school.’

Particularly striking is Ginsberg’s analysis of universities’ strategic plans which, rather than identifying unique strengths and future directions, are nearly identical. He concludes that the point is “not the plan but the process”: an “assertion of leadership” and the erosion of the power of the faculty. It is the appearance of process that counts. Stefan Collini comments that the “fallacy of accountability” is “the belief that the process of reporting on an activity in the approved form provides some guarantee that something worthwhile has been properly done.”


Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber, The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016), 4-5.

The subject-centered classroom


The subject-centered classroom is characterized by the fact that the third thing has a presence so real, so vivid, so vocal, that it can hold teacher and students alike accountable for what they say and do. In such a classroom there are no inert facts. The great thing is so alive that teacher can turn to student or student to teacher … the power of a subject that transcends our self-absorption and refuses to be reduced to our claims about it.

I can illustrate this essential idea with a humble, even humiliating, example. I am thinking of an awkward moment that I – and perhaps you – have known, the moment when I make an assertion about the subject, and a student catches me contradicting something I said earlier or something from the text or something the student knows independently of the text or me …

But in a subject-centered classroom, gathered around a great thing, getting caught in a contradiction can signify success: now I know that the great thing has such a vivid presence among us that any student who pays attention to it can check and correct me … It is a moment not for embarassment but for celebrating good teaching, teaching that gives the subject – and the students – lives of their own.

Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998), 117-18.