Our first year students, on a core creative writing module, have to submit a “Writer’s Response”. This is worth 30% of the marks, and they have to discuss one of the two autobiographical texts we have studied and one of the poet’s they study.
These are new creative writing students and they are not yet used to reading as writers. There are some very good literary criticism essays. There are some very interesting personal accounts. There are very few that are good “Writer’s Responses” with only a few students beginning to comment as writers. We do have to remember that our students come to creative writing unskilled. They have probably not done any creative writing since infant school and even where they might have at junior school, they were probably encouraged to use lots of adjectives and adverbs. We allow and perhaps even encourage a more personal account but students seem to have interpreted this to mean they have an opportunity to give very personal and rather judgemental commentaries about the texts.
Common faults have included referring to Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid as a novel, run-on sentences, comma splices, general overwriting and in some cases, surprisingly, since most of our students have B or higher in English A-Level, incorrect punctuation. Nevertheless, thus far there has been the normal range of marks. Mainly 2.1s with a few firsts and thirds, with the few fails and near fails being mainly for technical reasons such as not submitting the whole assignment or missing out the bibliography. It was disappointing that many students failed to reference correctly – especially as very clear guides are issued on the school Blackboard (our VLE) site. Perhaps we need to stress it more.
This is also the first time that students submitted electronically. This gives a plagiarism detection tool. It also means we can mark electronically and I have experimented with doing that this time. There is much that is good about it – that the students can download the results themselves, that they stand a chance of being able to read my writing and that neither the snow nor the office procedures are a deterrent to the work being delivered quickly to those who need to mark it. It works less well in that it is incompatible with the administrative procedures in place. However, this is caused mainly by a resistance to going paperless. I fear I am in a minority. Most of my colleagues do not like on-screen marking.