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Course-specific writing workshops help students get ahead

Susan Korba leads a workshop at The Writing Centre. 

When students enroll in Introduction to Sociology (SOCY 122), many face a steep learning curve. They not only have to learn the argument-based writing style required by the discipline, they need to understand the basics of constructing a sound thesis statement, all the while avoiding the pitfalls of plagiarizing.

Rather than tackling problems as they arise, professor Rob Beamish and Teaching Assistant Coordinator Christina Salavantis tackle them head-on with help from the Writing Centre, a partner in Student Academic Success Services (SASS). Over the course of the academic year, the 800 or so students enrolled in the first year sociology course are provided with tutorial-based writing workshops designed to give them the academic skills they need to succeed in the course.

“We assume that everyone comes into the course with a minimum level of knowledge and then we build up from that base,” explains Ms. Salavantis, who has been helping run SOCY 122 for twenty years. Over the course of the academic year, students have the opportunity to attend any number of writing workshops covering everything from properly incorporating sources, to writing as a sociologist, as opposed to writing from within another discipline.

While students do seek out individual help at Writing Centre, Susan Korba, manager of Student Academic Success Services, says the course-specific workshops allow them to reach many more students than they might otherwise, and target the development of specific skills.

“It’s really about trying to meet the needs of the students through the lens of what the professor wants,” Ms. Korba says, explaining that workshops can be designed to assist courses across the university. “Both SASS partners – Learning Strategies and the Writing Centre—have a wealth of resources designed to help professors not only understand where their students are at, but also to help their students learn how to organize their thinking, learn critical reading and writing skills, and overcome writer’s block.”

For Salavantis, the workshops have been a key part of skill development among her students. “If faculty are concerned about the writing skills of their students, they should be forging relationships with SASS,” she says. “You want to instill good habits in students at the beginning. They will then be able to use those skills through their academic careers.”

This article is one in a series profiling Student Academic Success Services (SASS) and the programs and resources it provides. Read more about the Peer Learning Assistant program.

For more information on course-tailored workshops available through SASS, contact Susan Korba at Student Academic Success Services.