The unessay: A contructivist approach to developing student writing (formalisation and dissemination)

This is the original application for the Unessay Grant.

Project Overview

The goal of this project is to formalise and further develop work that Michael Ullyot of the University of Calgary, graduate student Heather Hobma, writing centre tutor Virgil Grandfield, and I have been carrying out on an innovative approach to teaching undergraduate writing: the Unessay.

The unessay is based on the premise that students do not understand formal essays the same way their teachers do: as a powerful and flexible means of exploring intellectual problems. Instead they see them in much the same light figure skaters see “compulsory figures”: as an artificial set piece designed primarily to test their ability to meet arbitrary rules. Read the rest of this entry »

The Unessay and Metacognition

In order to understand what the unessay attempts to do for writers one must understand the underlying philosophies that govern it. In my preliminary research for this project I attempted to dissect the unessay, revealing its structures, and then relating those structures to the larger theories of teaching writing. Read the rest of this entry »

Introduction to Unessay Research

There appears to be a fundamental discord in the way students are taught to argue and the what professors view as a “good argument”. High school students are taught that a good argument is a point that can be evidentially proven, but professors are searching for a more open-ended approach. Students are taught to answer, while professors want them to question.

Yet, the essay seems to be a loose term in regards to genre and its conventions, with variations being prevalent across disciplines. Does “anything go” when it comes to formulaic standards? Some scholars make a distinction between the “essay” and the “article”. But how many students are taught and become truly aware of this distinction? Students read articles, yet are told to formulate essays. This distinction is one that is not often communicated to students. Upon beginning my research of the subject, I myself had never entertained the distinction. Read the rest of this entry »

How not to use twitter in an emergency

Southern Alberta, including the City and County of Lethbridge, had an interesting afternoon. Fortunately, few if any people seem to have been hurt or lost their homes, though the fire may have hit at a terrible time for area farmers, who were in the middle of harvesting a bumper crop in a high-price market.

Lethbridge is not a major media market and is not represented on our satellite TV (though we could get lots of information about a storm affecting the East coast). Local (commercial) radio continued to play music through the emergency, much as the Soviets used to do when their leaders died, except with more Fleetwood Mac and NickelBack and less Tchaikovsky. Read the rest of this entry »


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