The Power Hour of Writing

Dr Stephanie Zihms- Lecturer in Researcher Development, University of the West of Scotland

Dr Alison McCandlish- Lecturer in City Planning, Acting Programme Director for MSc City Planning and MSc City Planning & Real Estate Development, University of Glasgow

A flexible, vibrant writing community format

Stephanie writes:

The Power Hour logo. A clock face with an arrow from 3 to 12 - the clock face is separated into rainbow colours and it reads Power Hour. The clock is wearing a red Santa hat. Logo designed by ErrantScience

The Power Hour of Writing started as an in-person activity in 2019 hosted in the different campus cafes across UWS. The idea was born from a similar group I ran while a postdoc at Heriot-Watt University called Hide & Write and is similar to the Shut up and Write format. The start at UWS however, was slow and despite our best efforts to visit the different campus locations and provide support – the walk to the cafes to write seemed a step too far. We did get the occasional person joining us (shout out to Alison as one of the early adopters and now honorary PHOW member) but most of the time it was myself and my colleague Claire.

We could see the benefit of this protected time for ourselves and were determined to not give up. So, towards the end of 2019 we applied for an Advance HE Good Practice grant and were successful. With the Covid restriction looming we had to ensure Advance HE that we could move the Power Hour online to be granted the award. In line with the guidelines from March 2020 we started to work remotely and with that the Power Hour moved fully online, using Microsoft Teams. We set up an Academic Writing Teams space, and within that a Power Hour of Writing channel to schedule our sessions. Understandably it took a while for people to get used to remote working, the emergency pivot to online education and the whole array of personal and professional challenges. But we were set and determined to keep the sessions running. Slowly attendance and the group grew, and we could see a real community forming. Even though attendance ebbed and flowed, a core group established and is still going. Our research into the Power Hour of Writing shows that PGRs and staff appreciate the protected time these sessions provide and the community beyond writing. The goal setting and follow up time has become a way to brainstorm, share ideas and challenges and celebrate non-writing and writing related wins with the community. We have seen how sharing of work practices has increased participants confidence and how they use the group as a sounding board for sometimes difficult decisions.

The core format is based on three parts – Checking-in and goal setting, Focus time, Follow-up. But there is flexibility in how people join, since we use Teams, people can join the online meeting or engage via the chat only, e.g., if they are somewhere they couldn’t or didn’t want to use the camera or mic.

In 2020 and 2021 we trialled different formats and played around with the length e.g., a double Power Hour to provide more time; Power Hour plus to focus on a certain aspect of writing, as well as trying different times and days of the week. In June 2021, the core group asked for more sessions to provide them with more opportunities to protect time and increase the chances to attend the sessions. So, we set up regular morning Power Hours that no longer require a host but are guided by the community and whoever happens to write that session. We kept the Friday afternoon session as a hosted session to ensure Claire and I are still in close contact with the community.

Now in 2022, the group has found its rhythm with the morning sessions no longer requiring a host and a Friday afternoon session to close the week with the community of regulars. On the last Friday of the month, we also host a Power Hour Day of writing with four Power Hour sessions.

Some members of staff who attend the Power Hours, now include them to support Dissertation students or have embedded them into their curriculum for undergrads. There is even a project with student-led Power Hours by two lecturers in Psychology that is slowly gaining traction too. Find out more about how you could use a Power Hour in your teaching

We are keen for other to use the format and we have seen it pop in at other institutions, so we made all our materials and more information available on a Power Hour of Writing website.

Alison adds:

I’ve been attending the Power Hour from the early in-cafe days when I was working as a Research Assistant at UWS and have enjoyed many virtual write-alongs since (during lockdown and also since I joined the University of Glasgow).  I love the feeling of community which you get when writing along with others; the shared “everyone is in the same boat” feeling of accountability and friendly faces to share goals and reflections with.  Over various PHOW sessions I have honed research papers, written outlines of funding applications and tweaked abstracts to completion, the focused hour has also helped me learn about new opportunities like calls for papers, and led to me testing out some of the writing tips which have worked for people attending the PowerHour like Pomodoro timers and Written Kitten. It is lovely to be an honorary member and see PHOW continue to grow. For those of you based at the University of Glasgow, there is a SoTL “Write Along” on Friday mornings, for those of you based elsewhere.. we would love to hear more about your writing sessions too.

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