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Advancing Critical Thinking: Honing the Essence of Academic Writing Through Co-curricular Writing Workshops

Vrinda Chopra emphasises the writing process in CWC's teaching activities for advancing critical thinking within the Ashoka community

Vrinda Chopra

16 November, 2023 | 4m read

Writing is more than just a tool in the academic toolbox. Writing in the academy is an essence, a part of our academic selves entering and engaging in intellectual conversations. Teaching students how to write becomes an act of awakening and honing writing as an essence to support students in their learning journeys. The Centre for Writing and Communication (CWC) draws on the ethos of writing as essence—centring the process of writing across disciplines in its pedagogy as the route to listening, thinking and learning. Our teaching activities are informed by questions raised on writing across the University and broader academic landscape, including critical thinking, creativity and inclusivity concerns: Is writing an innate ability or talent? How do you hone and advance the ability to write clearly? And how can writing pedagogy include varied disciplines, classroom backgrounds, and individuals?

In thinking through these questions, at CWC, we prioritise dynamism, challenging the reduction of writing to prefigured checklists and templates that too often focus on the outcome rather than the process, resulting in academic writing that is dense and obscure. Our work currently involves considering whether writing pedagogies have a particular South Asian shape. If yes, what does that shape look like? The complex problems of economic and health crises, environmental degradation, species extinction, climate change, political polarisation and persisting social inequalities are cross-disciplinary and have specific orientations within the South Asian context. Engaging with complexity and specificity requires students across sciences, social sciences and humanities to think through problems continuously.

Ongoing thinking through complex issues demands that our teaching build capacities to understand and communicate in ways that offer intellectual openings. For this, the centre views writing in the academy as a recursive and creative process. Our basic rubric addresses the varied components of academic writing. We further deepen the rubrics in collaboration with the needs of the classroom we are entering, where the level of study, discipline, and points of struggle are all part of our teaching interventions. Put differently, CWC develops teaching materials that support students to write in response to the questions they are thinking through in their classrooms while ensuring their writing is comprehensible and inclusive.

Our teaching activities include collaborations with departments, centres and the student body to offer academic writing support. For research writing, we offer Winter and Summer Schools to advanced research students, including ASP and Postgraduate students. We also provide standalone workshops throughout the year on campus. The teaching materials are consistently updated and adapted to the learning needs of our students, with modules broadly spanning principles of ethical writing, demystifying original contribution, balancing theory, data and analysis and writing for academic publishing, amongst others.

Collaboration with Courses, Departments and Centres

During the academic year, departments, individual professors and instructors reach out to the centre with requirements emerging in their classrooms or while working with their scholars.

The needs range from understanding the tenets of academic integrity in writing essays, assignments and dissertations to more specific requirements such as critical reading of economic texts, writing with data, visual representation of data and how to approach a research proposal. In conversation with the department, professor and other teaching staff, we develop classes suited to disciplinary requirements and level of study.

Some of our recent workshops include “How to Read an Academic Paper” and “Interpreting Case Studies and Podcasts as Academic Assignments” for the course Booms and Busts: The Politics of Economic Crisis and “Academic Integrity and Ethics” for the Young India Fellowship 2024.

Winter and Summer School Courses on Research Writing

During the Winter and Summer Breaks, CWC offers courses on research writing to the Ashoka Community. There are different cohorts for ASP, masters and doctoral students covering broad elements of research writing. The lessons draw on an experiential pedagogical approach, balancing taught elements with writing exercises and tasks to support participants in developing requisite skills. In 2022-23, our summer school offered research writing focusing on principles of ethnographic writing, academic publishing and academic writing in the sciences.

Workshops on Academic Writing

We offer workshops on academic writing based on our observations and experiences in the classroom. In these workshops, we address the nuances of academic writing, such as critical reading, fair paraphrasing, transition and flow, public speaking and research notes, among others, focusing on developing the researcher’s or students’ voice.

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