The featured image is from the authors. Substance CC licence applies.
What happens when 40 students get together in the same place to write for 12 hours? This is the question that Thésez-vous? and SARA attempted to answer by organizing the Expérience de rédaction (The Writing Experiment), on October 21, 2017, with the much-appreciated support of ÉTS and the Quartier de l’innovation.
From 9 am to 9 pm, the 40 students were gathered in the ÉTS Salle des pas-perdus. The experimental day started by defining specific and measurable writing objectives, followed by alternating 50-minute writing periods and 10-minute breaks. This way of managing time is inspired by the Pomodoro method, put forward by Francesco Cirillo, and considered to both promote concentration and increase efficiency when completing tasks.
Since writing for 12 hours can be a considerable challenge, Thésez-vous? and SARA motivated students by encouraging them to test different writing conditions. During each 50-minute period, students had the opportunity to write in a different setting: standing up, sitting on a Swiss Ball, using an elevated screen, listening to ambient noises or music conducive to concentration, a period following a workout led by a kinesiologist, etc.
Each writing period was followed by an efficiency assessment: students noted the number of words they wrote and their state of mind in a special notebook. At the end of the day, they had a complete record of their efficiency—a very useful tool to identify their optimal writing conditions or, in other words, the winning conditions they can replicate at home or at the library, alone or with other writing students.
In light of this first edition of the Expérience de rédaction, the main finding is as follows: grouping students to write on a Saturday, for 12 hours, not only works, but can be motivating, productive, and even fun!
In addition to the changing writing conditions, one factor that seems to have made a difference was an assessment of the group’s overall performance. To do this assessment, the number of words written by each participant after each session was counted and mapped on a chart throughout the day. In total, over 93,000 words were written, the equivalent of a thesis of more than 150 pages!
At the end of the day, the participants received feedback on their experience. They indicated that they had no problem writing for 12 hours. One ÉTS student even added that this experience allowed her to reconnect with writing. Like many other students, she had not worked on her thesis for a while and was surprised to have written so much in one day! Several students also pointed out the beneficial group effect on their productivity, basically a form of benevolent peer pressure.
This experiment proved to be a great success. The students enjoyed the day, which they found both useful and fun. In light of this success, we are already thinking about the 2018 event. Will you be there?
Félix Langevin Harnois is a librarian at ÉTS and holds a master’s degree in Information Sciences from Université de Montréal. He is part of the Paper Writing Help Service’s team (SARA) and supervises events and services that are offered.
Prasun Lala is part of the team at The Paper Writing Help Service (SARA) ÉTS. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Electrical and Computer Engineering at McGill University's Centre for Intelligent Machines (CIM).