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February 25, 2013

Redesigning Writing Intensive Courses @ ECU

Filed under: News,Teaching — Tags: , , , , , — Will Banks @ 8:00 am

This week’s post comes from Hector Garza (Theatre and Dance), who currently chairs the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Committee.  Professor Garza explores several changes that the WAC Committee has been working on regarding WI courses; these changes are important in the context of the Quality Enhancement Plan: “Write Where You Belong.”

Headshot of Assistant Professor Hector GarzaThe Writing Across the Curriculum committee has been working to create a new, more comprehensive definition of Writing Intensive courses at ECU.  Our major source for inspiration in making these changes has been the work of the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP).  The “Write Where You Below” initiative is our chance to effect change in a system that has never defined student learning outcomes. As committee, we have endeavored to strengthen the WI program at ECU by redefining what “writing intensive” means at ECU.  This redefinition can be seen in the new WI course proposal form that is currently in draft form.  At the core of the new proposal is the adopting of the QEP’s Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) as the official Writing Outcomes for WI courses at ECU. According to these outcomes, students will

  1. Use writing to investigate complex, relevant topics and address significant questions through engagement with and effective use of credible sources;
  2. Produce writing that reflects an awareness of context, purpose, and audience, particularly within the written genres (Including genres that integrate writing with visuals, audio or other multimodal components) of their major disciplines and/or career fields;
  3. Demonstrate that they understand writing as a process that can be made more effective though drafting revision;
  4. Proofread and edit their own writing, avoiding grammatical and mechanical errors;
  5. Assess and explain the major choices that they make in their writing.

This simple step goes a long way to strengthen the WI program.  The models that are currently the standard for WI courses will fall by the wayside.  If these changes are approved by Faculty Senate and the Chancellor later this spring, all WI courses will be expected to meet these Writing Outcomes. One benefit for faculty is that meeting the Writing Outcomes is not tied to a specific number of pages of writing, which allows for greater flexibility for faculty across different disciplines where final projects vary in length.

The WAC committee has had the opportunity to hear from many members of the faculty who are dissatisfied with the current structure for WI course: we’ve heard many horror stories.  In order to mitigate some of the issues with the current system, the WAC Committee is proposing that all WI courses be capped at 25 and that “WI by section” be eliminated.  These changes will help make WI courses manageable and consistent. Research on writing shows that when WI courses exceed 25 students, the student does not get effective writing instruction (e.g., significant and meaningful response to writing, opportunities for revision).  Likewise, the “WI by section” option has meant that students regularly enroll in courses that they and their advisers think is WI only to find out just before graduation that the course was not taught as WI and they are missing credits needed to graduate.  The elimination of WI by section will create learning environments where the students can focus on writing as a process instead of as a task.

At the next Faculty Senate meeting, the WAC Committee will be asking for input on the new WI proposal form.  We’d also like input on how to move forward, if this new proposal passes through the various committees, with auditing of all existing WI courses so that departments and programs can determine which of their courses (currently WI or perhaps new courses) will be best as part of the revised WI program at ECU.  With the QEP focus on writing, ECU has the rare opportunity to assess its curricular structures and make changes that will have positive impacts on students.

The following link will take you to a DRAFT of the WI Documents: WI Course Prop – Rev 02132103.  Please direct questions, suggestions, or concerns to me at garzah@ecu.edu.  The committee will use your input to revise the proposal before bringing it to the April Faculty Senate meeting for final approval.

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