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New reader project offers digital feedback

Students already feeling the strain of the semester’s first paper can look to the Duke Reader Project for help.

The Project, formally launched by the Writing in the Disciplines Program and the Office of Alumni Affairs last Spring, recruited Duke alumni and employees as readers to provide feedback on drafts of academic papers through e-mail or webcam.

“The idea is that they’ll get feedback on drafts from someone who’s out there in the world and has experience,” said Cary Moskovitz, director of the Writing in the Disciplines Program.

The Project included 14 different courses this Fall, ranging from economics to biomedical engineering, each with different experts available to read and advise on drafts of papers, said David Bernay, project manager and a lecturing fellow in the Thompson Writing Program. The students in the courses were encouraged to sign up with the project, which paired them up with a reader to provide comments about their writing samples.

For instance, a public policy class on counterterrorism and the law has readers who have worked for federal intelligence, the White House and Congress, Bernay said.

“The students are writing policy memos intended for people who’ll be making decisions and involved in federal anti-terrorism matters,” Moskovitz said. “There’s nobody who tutors here who has experience doing that. Fortunately, there are quite a few people who are Duke alumni who do have that experience.”

Only the students in the designated courses were allowed to participate this semester, the project coordinators said.

Neil De Marchi, a professor of economics who teaches “Cities as Incubators of Growth,” said the Duke Reader Project will be a useful tool for his students.

“The possibility for students to expand their notions of the world is probably enlarged by the people who are in the world,” De Marchi said. “I think it has a very positive influence on the students. It might be a way to help them accept criticism, to understand how things could be done differently.”

Several students who signed up with the Project this semester said the program will provide valuable input on their work.

“It’s a good opportunity—absolutely,” said senior Tiffany Pan, who is signed up for the Project for an environment class. “It’s always nice to get feedback.”

Moskovitz said he hopes the Project will ultimately provide mentorship opportunities for students as well, and spark a deeper academic interest in the subject matter.

“Students have told us that having a reader who is not connected to the classes, in some cases, motivated them to do it more seriously,” he said. “It’s not only about the grade, but a more professional altitude.”


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