It is a truth universally acknowledged that 90% of the problems any given student has with writing are shared by the vast majority of his or her classmates. I find myself writing the same comments over and over again, simple comments like "your thesis is too vague" or "evidence?" or "It's important to evaluate your sources."

Sometimes I wish there were a way to make these comments more quickly, more efficiently. Something that would keep me from having to rehash the same thing so often. Some way to just point students to the right information without my having to write it out again and again.

In fact, I've often found myself wishing I could softlink my students' papers. Instead of writing "excellent paper; if you're interested in reading more on this subject, I'd recommend checking out Foucault's The Order of Things," I could just softlink the book title. Thoughts specific to the paper would get /msged, of course.

More often, I get a student who hasn't caught onto the fact that high school is over and that "Hawthorne is critiquing the Puritans!" isn't a sufficiently specific or interesting thesis, and I have a sudden surprising urge to write, "Your radical ideas about religion as a mechanism of social control have already occurred to others." Softlinking could solve my problem and help the student by putting his or her problems in perspective. If the problem is so basic that there's already a node about it, then the student already has a gauge for how much work his or her writing needs.

Of course, there's potential for sarcasm and/or viciousness, such as occasionally shows up here on E2. But it comes with a sense of standards, too. The world is vicious, and the world will judge you by your dangling participles. It's better to find that out in a controlled environment.

More than that, what if students got feedback from people besides me? What if other students could read their papers, send comments if so moved, and even, perhaps, vote on them? Ching! them, even?

What if students felt called upon to give their opinions and act as active arbiters of logic, structure, grammar, and originality?

What if students were invested in their writing for more than just the grade?

What if students had a sense of their writing as impacting a community?

Wouldn't that be interesting?

Of course, just sending my students to E2 would be foolhardy. Not that they wouldn't learn from it, but it wouldn't be the kind of focused experience I'm thinking of. But a mini-E2 geared toward a specific Comp class would actually be a good idea, I think. I think so now, anyway.

XWiz points out that students who thought a grade was at stake would probably resort to vicious downvoting. Which is a good point. Two ideas come to mind: to only allow upvoting (with appropriate limits on the number of votes allowed, so a vote really means something), and to make the course grade independent of, or only minimally dependent on, XP or levels. Naturally the whole thing would need tweaking.

krenseby worries that I give the impression that writing a lit paper is all about social commentary. Fear not; I love me some formalism and have violent opinions about poetic meter. I'm not teaching young minds to neglect their formal analysis. Quite the contrary. But you'd be surprised how many times I've seen that line about the Puritans.