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Program for Writing and Rhetoric
Follow-up to 2001 Report

October 23, 2002

Patricia Sullivan, Director, PWR
Rolf Norgaard, Interim Associate Director, PWR

Overview

In June 2001 Katie Palmer of the (former) University Writing Program offered an assessment report on upper-division writing courses being offered through that unit: UWRP 3020, UWRP 3030, and UWRP 3040. Just days after that report, the University Writing Program was folded into the new Program for Writing and Rhetoric. Our new unit is an umbrella for writing initiatives campuswide and has curricular authority over all writing courses that meet college or campus requirements. Nevertheless, the three courses that were the focus of that assessment report (now called WRTG 3020, WRTG 3030, and WRTG 3040) continue to constitute the bulk of upper-division writing offerings on the campus. Although the new first-year writing course has been the chief focus of our energies in the new program, and likewise of our assessment activities, we have made good progress in addressing the recommendations that came from the June 2001 report. Below, we first summarize the recommendations that followed from that 2001 assessment, and then describe various activities and initiatives that we have undertaken to implement those recommendations within the new Program for Writing and Rhetoric.

Summary of Assessment Recommendations

  1. Create faculty assessment sessions in which instructors from the same content or general topic area share student papers and address strengths, weaknesses, and grades. The aim is to connect the assessment of student writing at the upper-division with the special knowledge or expertise that is part of the rhetorical context of both the course and the instructors who teach it.
  2. Create faculty seminars that focus on assignment development.
  3. Foster faculty discussion of pedagogical issues in light of current publications in composition and rhetoric.

Implementation of Recommendations

  1. As a means to address the first recommendation, the new Program for Writing and Rhetoric has developed a committee structure that focuses on specific curricular areas. (The former University Writing Program had no formal vehicle, such as course committees, to bring faculty together to discuss curricular and assessment issues, much less committees that were organized around domain or content areas). We currently have a committee working on WRTG 3020 "Topics in Writing," and a second committee working on writing in the professions (WRTG 3030 "Writing on Science and Society"and WRTG 3040 "Writing on Business and Society"). We may find in the future that the latter committee may need to be divided into two (one for each domain area, science/engineering and business, respectively). Likewise, the WRTG 3020 topics committee may need to differentiate its discussions depending on broad disciplinary areas, such as writing in the arts and humanities, and writing in the social sciences.

    Within the general framework of these committees, student writing will be discussed in the context of submissions for writing awards, now to be handled by each of the above referenced committees. We have found that essays submitted for awards provide a good forum for talking not only about the writing itself but also about course objectives, assignment design, and other broad features of teaching and student learning. Because the committees are composed of faculty who share special rhetorical and domain-content knowledge, we anticipate that the work of these committees will improve the coherence of these courses across sections, and will better articulate course objectives both to other faculty and of course to the students themselves. The committees are likewise working on developing clearer statements about course objectives and are implementing an orientation and mentoring system for those teaching the courses for the first time.
  2. The recommendation that we create faculty seminars that focus on assignment development is being realized, in part, through the above committees, and also through a series of program-wide faculty meetings in which issues of pedagogy and assignment design are being discussed. (The former University Writing Program did not hold regular faculty meetings.) For example, in late September and early October, discussions in these faculty meetings focused on sharing and discussing assignments given in the early weeks of a semester, when foundational skills are being identified and addressed and when expectations about the nature of the course and the role of student involvement are being communicated.
  3. The recommendation regarding faculty discussion of pedagogy in light of research in the discipline is being addressed through the faculty meetings, mentioned above. Such discussions are also being furthered by a series of invited speakers and consultants who have come to campus in calendar year 2002. These speakers have included nationally prominent figures in the field of rhetoric and composition: Andrea Lunsford (Stanford University), Lisa Ede (Oregon State University), John Gage (University of Oregon), with Cheryl Geisler (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) slated for a visit this December. These speakers have held two-hour workshops with our faculty that focus on pedagogy. (The former University Writing Program did not take the initiative to invite nationally prominent scholars and teachers to campus.) We believe our own regular faculty meetings, augmented by these special workshops, will greatly improve opportunities for discussing pedagogical issues, and in turn improve our own teaching in the classroom.

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Last revision 11/15/02


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