21W.021 | Fall 2013 | Undergraduate

Writing and Experience: MIT: Inside, Live


Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Description

Acting as participant-observers, students will chronicle their MIT experiences and investigate MIT history and culture. Visits to the MIT archives and museum, and relevant readings will supplement students’ experiences as source material for discussion and writing.

There will be three major writing assignments of approximately 6–8 pages apiece; each will be revised based on written comment and workshop discussion. In addition to writing, we will work on developing oral communication skills—in workshops and class conversations. Your work will culminate with a portfolio of 5,000 words (or more) of well-edited pages at semester’s end.


  • One Writer’s Beginnings (Assignment 1): Your first assignment will be an informal exploration of your life as a writer so far.
  • Looking—at MIT (Assignment 2): For this assignment, you will write about a single object found at the MIT museum or elsewhere on campus.
  • On the Road to MIT (Assignment 3): This assignment asks you to give us a taste of what brought you to MIT. It may include family history, the story of your own education, an episode that triggered a particular passion, or your experiences with an MIT-based organization.
  • The Personal Investigative Essay (Assignment 4): For this essay, you will investigate a topic related to MIT that intrigues you. Your writing will combine a personal story (the source of your interest, your experience investigating, your questions and insights) and a presentation of what you find through your research on the topic you are investigating—therefore, the “personal investigative essay.”
  • MIT Stories (Assignment 5): This last assignment starts with your role as a participant-observer at MIT and asks you to find a fresh way to present your experiences—through such forms as a story of a significant experience of yours at MIT, a graphic essay, a parody of the “mores” of the MIT community, or even a poem that “howls” about the stress and strain of an MIT education.
  • Reading Responses, Peer Responses: You will be posting responses to class readings on our class site (Homework) and responding to your peers’ writing in letter form.
  • Journal: I encourage you to keep an informal journal of your MIT experiences, observations, and ideas for essays and stories. This could be a notebook you carry with you or a document you save and return to on your computer. You’re welcome to include journal entries in your final portfolio, and some may provide inspiration or source material for your essays.
  • MIT Stories Live: In our last two classes, you’ll tell a short (5 minutes or less) story based on your experience at MIT.
  • One Writer’s Beginnings Revisited: Near the end of semester you will update your first informal essay in which you wrote about your own experience and practice of writing—so far.
  • Final Portfolio: You will submit a final portfolio of 5,000-plus words of your best revised writing at the end of semester. Assignments 3, 4, and 5 will each be revised at least once and included.

One goal of the class will be to develop at least one piece of writing to submit to Angles: An Online Magazine of Exemplary Writing from the Introductory Writing Subjects and / or to the Ilona Karmel Writing Prizes in the spring.

For further detail, please see the Assignments section.

General Guidelines


I will give you a letter grade on the second versions of your three main essays. Your final grade will be based on: the accumulated grades on your three essays, the quality of your final portfolio; how successfully you have engaged in the revision process; your attendance; participation and leadership in class discussion and workshops. I am always happy to talk with you about your writing and your progress in class during office hours or by appointment. Passing this course with a C or better will give you CI-HW credit.


Since a large part of this class is based in discussion and workshop, coming to class consistently and prepared to participate is crucial.


Again, given the seminar / workshop nature of the course, many of our classes will be conversations. So if everyone doesn’t participate, everyone misses out. To participate well, you will have to have read what we’re discussing and have it in front of you. Have an eye towards keeping the discussion inclusive, which means not only participating yourself but leaving room for others and being responsive to what they say.

Due Dates

Workshop submissions need to be posted or distributed on schedule for everyone to read and respond in writing before the workshop. Getting copies to us on time is essential for productive workshop sessions. Late submissions inconvenience everyone and will result in a half-grade lower on your revised essay. Revisions of Assignments 3, 4, and 5 will be due a week after you receive responses in class and in writing.


All submissions should include your name, the date, the assignment and version of the essay at the top right hand corner of your first page. Also, include a title specific to your own essay at the top center of the first page. Writing should be double-spaced and in 12-point type. Please don’t double space between paragraphs except to indicate a break. Number your pages. Proof read. Remember, these are not rough drafts but well-considered first versions.

Example of Header:

Your Name

Sept. 15, 2009

Getting Started version 1

Your Title


Before workshop sessions, workshop members will read and write a letter in response to each piece we will be discussing in workshop. Marginal comments and markings on the text can supplement this. These responses should be specific and thought-provoking, not superficial and general. We will give copies of our responses and our marked copies of the text to the writer to help guide the revision process. Each letter should address the writer directly and be signed. Write your name on your copy of the writer’s text with your notations before you give it back, so that the writer will know whose comments he or she is reading.

Page Requirements

I don’t give page-length (or word number) requirements for individual writing assignments. However, since you will be revising three main assignments (3, 4, 5), and since your final portfolio will consist of at least 5,000 words of your best (and revised) work, 1,700–2,000 words is about right per major assignment, though your personal investigative essay may well exceed this.


I will hand out a 2-pocket folder for submitting revisions a week after your first version of an essay is discussed in workshop and / or you have received written responses. Note: All versions should be identified (1st version, 2nd version, etc.) and be included in the folder. In the left-hand pocket include the current version and your filled in revision intent sheet. In the right-hand pocket include previous versions and the responses you received. Please don’t include miscellaneous hand-outs, problem sets, etc. If you choose to revise more than once before passing in the portfolio, I will be glad to take a look at what you’ve done.

Academic Integrity

Using someone else’s language and / or ideas without appropriate attribution is academically dishonest. As members of this class and the larger scholarly community, you are expected to abide by the norms of academic honesty. While a good deal of collaboration is encouraged in and out of class, failing to acknowledge sources or willfully misrepresenting the work of others as your own will not be tolerated. Everything you submit must be your own work, written specifically for this class. Plagiarism can result in withdrawal from the course with a grade of F, suspension or expulsion from the Institute.

The booklet Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Handbook for Students (PDF) explains these issues in detail, and you are responsible for understanding its contents. You can find more information on plagiarism and the appropriate citation of sources at: integrity.mit.edu. We will work on citing sources in class and discuss ways to acknowledge them appropriately. When in doubt, consult with me.

From The Writing and Communication Center

The Writing and Communication Center (12–132) offers free one-on-one professional advice from lecturers who are published writers about all types of academic, creative, and professional writing and about all aspects of oral presentations. To access our many pages of advice about writing and oral presentations, go to http://cmsw.mit.edu/writing-and-communication-center/.

Six Tips on How to Do Well in This Course

  • Print out all readings in time to bring to class.
  • Read assigned reading before class and respond thoughtfully, especially to classmates’ work.
  • Show up on time and regularly and engage in class discussion.
  • Present well-considered first versions of writing in workshops (not “rough drafts”) on time.
  • Revise substantively, taking into consideration responses you received from me and classmates.
  • As you write, take some risks and try to have some fun.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2013
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples