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Writing as Community: Reflections on Teaching AshokaX’s Professional Writing Programme

AshokaX tailors its guidance to each learner, helping them refine their unique writing voice and empower their writing journeys

Devapriya Roy

30 April, 2024 | 5m read

“Writing is a skill everyone needs, but we rarely get a dedicated space to improve it outside of school,” remarks Professor Devapriya Roy, reflecting on the origins of AshokaX’s Professional Writing Programme. As a writer and educator, she firmly believes writing isn’t just about technical proficiency; it’s a tool for understanding the world, expressing ourselves, and connecting with others.

This philosophy guided the design of AshokaX’s course, attracting a remarkably diverse cohort. “We had CEOs alongside young professionals, educators, analysts… even a 70-year-old aspiring memoirist!” Professor Roy recalls.

The diversity among student expertise and aspirations wasn’t seen as a challenge, but a core strength for the course. It allowed us to enhance the peer learning experience along with providing personalised feedback to the learners.

The approach mirrors Professor Roy’s own analogy: “It’s like an introductory cookbook. We cover the essentials – clarity, structure, voice – but the real magic is when learners apply them to their unique ‘recipes’. While our comprehensive toolkit enables their writing to be more effective across fields, AshokaX’s pedagogy team focuses on providing individualised guidance to learners to enhance their personal writing styles and overall journeys. The three-hour classroom sessions thus evolved as a space where financial professionals honed their report writing skills while senior executives learned the language of impactful grant proposals, hand-in-hand.

Another key skill we focussed on was instilling adaptability among the working professionals who juggle work and learning. “It means even when life throws curveballs, the course doesn’t falter.” She’s referring to her own experience – her daughter decided to arrive six weeks early, right in the middle of the programme! Yet, the brilliant teaching fellows ensured participants barely felt the disruption.

AshokaX understands writing is never ‘finished’. The course aims to equip learners for the long haul – to become critical readers of the texts they encounter, to be analytical of their own work. One participant noted, “I didn’t just get better at writing a memo, I started noticing how the best memos do their work. That changes everything.”

The Power of Process:

It’s not just the final product, but the journey of writing that the course emphasises. “Revision isn’t admitting failure,” Professor Roy explains, ” it’s where good writing becomes great. We modeled strategies for getting out of your own head and seeing your work from a fresh perspective.” This focus on continuous improvement empowered many learners, who came into the course anxious about their writing abilities.

Success Stories:

One such learner was a young woman, previously hesitant to raise her voice in meetings due to fear of not expressing herself clearly. “I workshopped my presentation notes in class,” she shares, “The feedback pushed me beyond my usual generic language. It was confidence boosting, because it wasn’t just about how I sounded, but how I structured my thoughts.”

For Aakash, an entrepreneur pitching investors, the challenge was the opposite of his verbose academic background. “I used to think being impressive meant complicated jargon,” he confesses, “The workshop sessions forced me to boil down my ideas to their absolute core. Turns out, investors like clarity.”

Professor Roy admits teaching working professionals presented unique hurdles. “Unlike students fresh out of a system, each learner comes in with ingrained habits,” she observes, “Especially the tendency to equate formal writing with wordy, complex sentences.” The AshokaX approach includes modeling concise writing, breaking down jargon-heavy professional texts, and peer-review exercises designed to highlight the power of simple, direct language.

If writing well feels intimidating, Professor Roy offers reassurance: “We all learn through doing, and through community. No one emerges from this course a perfect writer, but they’re all far better equipped to navigate the writing challenges they’ll inevitably face.” In that sense, AshokaX delivers on its promise – not just upskilling professionals but unlocking their potential to grow as lifelong writers.

Beyond the Classroom:

The AshokaX philosophy extends past the last day of the course. “We encourage our alumni to stay connected,” Professor Roy notes, “Whether it’s through informal meetups or accessing the online portal we’ve built with resources. It’s about fostering an ongoing community of writers who support each other.” This commitment to lasting impact sets AshokaX apart. As one participant aptly put it, “The best part of this course wasn’t when it ended, but when a whole new chapter of my writing journey began.”

Idea generation and solution development became the day’s focal points, with discussions extending to evolving markets and trends in green entrepreneurship. The highlight was the pitching session, where teams presented innovative solutions using a design-thinking framework. The winning team received certificates and a cash prize. In the end, a post-programme assessment provided a reflective conclusion to this enriching two-day workshop.

The impact of the workshop was evident in the reported improvements. Participants demonstrated improvement in understanding the 17 SDGs, indicating enhanced knowledge and awareness. Similarly, a 100% improvement was reported in awareness of skills required for securing a green job, showcasing the workshop’s success in contributing to participants’ understanding of essential skills in the sustainability sector.

(Written by Dr Devapriya Roy, Faculty – Writing for the 21st Century Professional, AshokaX, Senior Writing Instructor – Undergraduate Writing Programme, Ashoka University)

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