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Program for Writing and Rhetoric
Summary of 2001-02 Assessment Activities
Last updated 11/15/2002
Outcomes Assessment of ARSC 1150
"First-Year Writing and Rhetoric"
(now WRTG 1150)
2001-2002 Academic Year
Eliza Hines, Outcomes Assessment Coordinator
During the Academic Year 2001-02, the Boulder campus saw the
first major effort in some 15 years to address the writing skills of
entering students. A new course, "First-Year Writing and Rhetoric,"
was launched, as was a new writing program, the Program for Writing
and Rhetoric. This report assesses the new course in the inaugural
year of the new program.
Course Development and Institutional Context
General consensus on the need for a new first-year writing course
was developed through a campuswide steering committee that met
during AY 1999-2000. The curriculum for ARSC 1150 (now WRTG 1150)
was developed in Fall 2000 by a campuswide committee of writing
instructors, under the guidance of Prof. Donna LeCourt (then at
Colorado State University, now at the University of Massachusetts at
Amherst). The course was developed in keeping with the national
Outcomes Statement for first-year composition, as articulated by the
National Council of Writing Program Administrators. Six sections
of the new course were piloted in Spring 2001. Under the leadership
of Rolf Norgaard, Interim Associate Director, the Program for
Writing and Rhetoric offered a total of 82 sections in 2001-2002 AY:
49 in the fall and 33 in the spring.
The challenges normally encountered when offering a new course were
complicated by a variety of other factors: the unit itself was a
new entity, and the teaching staff was likewise newly recruited and
hired. The course was offered in a time of some political
turbulence and leadership transition in writing, and a move to a new
physical space. The general success of the course, notable in its
own right, is even more remarkable given these circumstances.
The primary objective of the course ARSC 1150, "First-Year Writing
and Rhetoric" (now WRTG 1150) is to provide university freshman with
the academic writing skills they will need to find success in their
coursework at CU-Boulder. The stated objectives of the course are
A new course designed to reach all incoming students,
First-Year Writing trains students to participate in both academic
discussions and larger civic debates. The course focuses on
introducing students to the tools of analysis and argument so
essential to success in college and, later, in professional and
civic life. We conceive of analysis and argument broadly, as the
making and defending of inferences persuasive to various audiences.
The course opens by teaching students to read critically-not just
for information (as they are prone to do) but for inferences. They
need to be able to recognize and evaluate the arguments they
encounter, and to understand how those arguments take place in
ongoing public conversations. The course then gives students the
ability to participate in those conversations by offering a more
detailed exploration of how arguments are invented and shaped. The
course culminates in a consideration of the ways in which writing
can be made persuasive in various forms and contexts. Throughout,
the course places a premium on training students to think critically
and revise thoughtfully.
The course is taught as an intensive
writing workshop of no more than 15 students, augmented as
appropriate by technology. We draw on the latest educational
technologies to support our teaching, and we develop skills in
critical information literacy so crucial for our students when they
are finding, working with, and evaluating a variety of sources, both
print and electronic. The course deals with issues of style,
grammar, and organization, not in isolation, but in the context of
larger rhetorical and argumentative concerns.
In order to determine whether the course ARSC 1150 was meeting its
intended objectives during the 2001-2002 AY, several types of
evaluation activities were conducted by Eliza Hines, assessment
coordinator for the program and a Ph.D. student in the School of
Education with a special interest in writing assessment. Activities
included gathering and summarizing all course syllabi and faculty
meetings, administering pre-post surveys to determine students'
self-reported knowledge of course content, collecting and analyzing
assignments and paper samples received from course instructors,
conducting classroom observations, and interviewing instructors in
Data compiled through these multiple measures clearly indicate that
ARSC 1150 is successfully accomplishing all of its goals, yet there
are a few elements of the course that could be improved in order to
achieve even further success. Table 1, below, summarizes self-
reported gains in the key learning objectives of the course.
Specifically, the table indicates the increases in the percentage of
students indicating that they possessed "Significant Knowledge" or
"Some Knowledge" of the skills taught in ARSC 1150 before and after
taking the course. Considering that the skills are in most
instances cognitively complex and develop over the long-term, the
reported increases are significant. Moreover, a review of written
work by the students confirms the reported improvement.
|Percentage of Students Reporting Knowledge of / Improvement in the Following Skills taught in ARSC 1150:
||Fall 2001 Pre-Test (N=674)
||Fall 2001 Post-Test (N=533)
||Fall 2001 Percentage Increase:
||Spring 2002 Post-Test (N=316)
|Assessing an Author's Rhetorical Situation
|Evaluating an Author's Argument
|Defining Your Own Rhetorical Situation
|Developing an Original Perspective on an Issue
|Writing a Focused Thesis
|Defining Reasons to Support Your Thesis
|Integrating Sources Clearly and Smoothly
|Structuring Your Paper Logically
|Editing for a "Clean" Text-Checking for Appropriate Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation, Etc.
|Thinking Critically About Your Own Writing
|Understanding How Different Rhetorical Situations Demand Different Strategies
|Understanding the Importance of Revision and How to Approach It
|Workshopping Papers with Other Students
The results of this pre-test and post-test survey indicate that most
students did indeed learn the skills targeted by instructors of ARSC
1150 during the Fall 2001 semester. Likewise, post-survey data
obtained at the conclusion of the Spring 2002 Semester indicate that
students improved in their knowledge of the skills taught in ARSC
1150. The results of this spring semester survey show that an
average of 80% of students reported that they experienced
"Significant Improvement" or "Some Improvement" in each of the
skills taught in the course.
Given that this course is part of the Arts and Sciences core
curriculum and is intended to have an important educational impact
on the students' college careers, it is important to determine
whether students felt the course was beneficial in the broader
contexts of their college work. Table 2, below, shows that over 80%
or more of the students who took ARSC 1150 during the 2001-2002 AY
believe that this course will help them in their other courses and
has provided them with adequate information about the research
||Percentage of Students Responding "Strongly Agree" or "Agree" at the Completion of the Fall, 2001 Semester (N=533):
||Percentage of Students Responding "Strongly Agree" or "Agree" at the Completion of the Spring, 2002 Semester (N=316):
|"I think the skills I learned in this class have helped and/or will help me in my other courses."
|"ARSC 1150 provided enough information about the research process for me to complete my research assignments successfully"
These survey data are supported and corroborated by other assessment
activities. Instructors of ARSC 1150 attended a two-week
orientation prior to the beginning of the Fall, 2001 Semester, at
which the goals of the course were clearly presented, and at which
they were provided with instructional materials suited to the
achievement of course objectives, such as sample syllabi, examples
of writing assignments, and descriptions of course activities.
Classroom observations indicated that instructors of this course did
focus on course objectives during class time, and writing
assignments also showed that the objectives of the course as stated
in departmental literature and described in instructor orientation
meetings were implemented into course writing assignments. Paper
samples based on these assignments indicate that students were
taught the skills targeted by the course and that they experienced
improvement in these skills with each subsequent draft.
Areas for Improvement, and Actions Taken
Although broadly successful in its inaugural year, First-Year
Writing and Rhetoric, much like any new course, requires further
adjustments and development. Assessment data point to three such
The course is distinctive in that it embeds skills on critical
information literacy, taught in conjunction with University
Libraries, directly into the course. This integration needs further
attention so that the PWR/Library collaboration comes off as more
seamless. Over the summer of 2002, Rolf Norgaard and Jennifer
McCarty will be revising the electronic reading threads, revising
the worksheets (soon to be conducted on line), and developing new
orientation materials for instructors.
The course requires that instructors call on a rich and flexible set
of workshopping techniques in the classroom. Given that the
teaching staff was in large part newly recruited, it is not
surprising that further professional development would be both
appropriate and welcome. In Spring 2002, three distinguished
teacher/scholars held teaching workshops for the program. Under the
leadership of Patricia Sullivan, the program will also have more
regular pedagogy discussions.
As the course matures, and the goals and objectives of the course
become more firmly anchored in the culture and practices of the
program, it will be possible to encourage more diversity and
innovation in teaching materials. Although there was one common
rhetoric text in AY 2001-02, there is now a range of textbook
options planned for AY 2002-03. The electronic reading threads
developed collaboratively by PWR and the Libraries also hold rich
potential as an instructor-owned resource. The program is currently
exploring options for sharing best practices and teaching materials
on a regular or on-going basis.
- Continue to update and
develop the course, as its overall direction and focus seem quite
promising. Course goals seem apt, widely shared among instructors,
and welcomed by students. This year-long assessment suggests that
course goals are being met successfully, especially given that the
course was only in its first year.
- Continue to nurture and develop the collaboration between the
Program for Writing and Rhetoric and University Libraries.
Information literacy is being recognized as a key campus-wide
concern, and this course serves as a key opportunity for helping
students acquire such skills.
- Continue to develop opportunities for professional development
and pedagogical discussions that will encourage our faculty to take
an increasing degree of intellectual ownership in this new course
and to craft increasingly distinctive course materials, consistent
with shared goals and objectives.
- Continue to develop the technology infrastructure that is necessary
to and appropriate for this course. Initiatives such as the
wireless mobile laptop cart, which saw fruit in April and May of
2002, provide a welcome beginning, but additional infrastructure,
training, and resources will be needed.
- Continue to explore options for several flavors or versions of the
first-year course, in order to better meet student needs and
interests. The Directed Self-Placement website, piloted in January
2002 and implemented in spring and summer of 2002, will provide
useful information on those needs and desires, and a better means
for pre-registration and enrollment management.
- Begin to discuss the long-term articulation between the first-
year course and the existing suite of upper-division courses. Now
that an increasing number of students will have taken the first-year
course, we can begin to rethink our curricular and pedagogical
options at the upper-division. In short, the upper-division courses
will soon be able to build on the first-year course, and not merely
remedy its absence.
Following these recommendations will help to ensure the continued
success of "First-Year Writing and Rhetoric" as it enters into its
second academic year of operation at CU-Boulder.
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