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University Writing and Research Symposium
The George Washington University


Writing is a social act. And the University Writing and Research Symposium is designed as a capstone opportunity for faculty as well as students to see what their peers in other first-year writing courses are doing and to get useful, sometimes eye-opening feedback on their own work.

For this reason, the First-Year Writing component of the University Writing Program hopes to see broad participation from faculty at some level, ranging from simply canceling a class period to enable your students to attend to helping plan and run the event. So as you are planning, refining, and instantiating your semester syllabus, please consider the pedagogical, faculty development, and programmatic value of the Symposium.

Possible Levels of Symposium Student Involvement


(zero days of classtime)

Encourage and reward optional student attendance at a panel/roundtable or 50-minute visit to the poster session area.  Give students instruction on the kinds of things to look/listen for at the symposium (audience issues, claims, evidence, use of scholarship, issues of public presentation, etc., tailored to issues you are dealing with in your course at that point).  Ask them to write a response, either to you or, better yet, to their peers via Blackboard or email. 

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(one day of classtime)

Require the above as a non-graded assignment. 

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(one or two days of classtime)

My most detailed example here, for some reason:  using the symposium to raise issues of audience—from the perspective of students as an audience.
  • First, have class meet at the symposium as an audience, attending whatever panel (or a choice of concurrent panels) happens to be scheduled during your class slot.
  • Or, if panel times (plus transportation time) make this unworkable, then meet in the poster session room (if open all day).
  • Then assign them to post some reactions to your class's Blackboard forum and/or to prepare for classroom work on these issues—either in discussion, or, better yet, through a revision exercise in class.
  • Have them comb a draft (their own or a peer's) looking for the same audience issues they picked up on in the symposium.
You could set this up in the week or so beforehand by having students working with issues of audience in their own work (tone, specificity/informality of language, level of detail, etc.), in whatever way your normally do that.  Then, before the session, give them instructions on what to pay attention to in their reactions as audience members at the symposium.  Instruct them to take notes during or at least immediately after the session, and to be ready to use those in class.

Or, perhaps more obviously, use it to have your students practice the same critical reading they've been doing on their own and peers' essays:  what is the presenter's project and most important or contentious claims?  do they make clear why they think this topic and their point of view are important?  do they anticipate and respond to other points of view?  how do they use evidence and other scholars' work?  Again, you can follow-up with in-class work on their drafts, attending to any/all of these same issues.

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(two to three days of classtime):

As above, but with sessions in which your students are presenting.  Assuming you keep the editorial selection phase to minimum student involvement (selecting submissions yourself, for example), you could focus class time on preparation, anticipating and responding to audience responses, and issues of revision:

  • One day for presentation run-through and feedback from peers.
  • One or more sessions of classroom or peer-group followup, using symposium audience responses to re-address issues in all your students' drafts (presumably on similar topics and with similar categories of writing issues to deal with).
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Well, the sky's the limit.  And I'm only scratching the surface here.  Consider using the symposium to have students participate in multiple angles/levels of preparing academic work for public presentation and dialogue (I'll give less detail here):

Students as editorial readers:
  • Have students decide whether or not to submit proposals for their peers to consider, perhaps in consultation with you and/or with their peers.
  • Have students comprise an editorial board within each section to select submissions to pass on up to the symposium editorial committee.
  • Have each section comprise an editorial board for the other section—either among your own sections or trading with another prof's sections.
  • (In each case above, consider whether you'd do this w/ papers anonymous or not—raise this as an editorial/writing issue with your students and let them decide?)
Students as audience, as above.

Students as symposium editorial board members.


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