By Bradley Hughes –
Greetings from a new academic year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center! We had a very busy and productive summer of 2018. The Writing Center was open for 12 weeks this summer, offering consultations, workshops, and writing groups for hundreds of undergraduate- and graduate-student writers. The summer center was staffed by a great team of tutors and led expertly by Annika Konrad, this year’s summer director. Undergraduate Writing Fellows worked with incoming students in the Summer Collegiate Experience program. A wonderful team worked on developing a new website for the Writing Center which will debut in a couple of months. Colleagues imagined and created great new workshops for our fall lineup, including one on writing and walking and one for undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities about communicating their writing accessibility needs with course instructors. Matthew Fledderjohann, Maggie Bertucci Hamper, and I developed exciting additions for our Online Writer’s Handbook, materials on, for example–
- Interpreting Writing Assignments from Your Courses
- Generating Ideas for Your Paper
- Incorporating Interview Data into Your Papers
- Using the Chicago Style Author-Date System
- Developing Strategic Transitions: Writing That Establishes Relationships and Connections Between Ideas
When our new website goes live, these materials will join the hundreds of pages of reference materials about academic writing that are already in our Online Writer’s Handbook. For an introduction to and an historical perspective on our Online Writing Center, you might be interested in these posts on our blog: from 2015, “The Evolution of UW-Madison’s Writing Center Online: A Wayback Look”; and from 2018, “Behind the Scenes at the UW-Madison Writing Center’s Online Writing Handbook.”
Our Newest WAC Faculty Sourcebook
Through all of its programs, the UW-Madison Writing Center cares deeply about supporting a strong culture of writing across the university. Summer is always primetime for our Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program, which works with instructors–faculty, instructional staff, teaching assistants, and graduate students preparing to teach–all across the university. For the university’s Teaching and Learning Symposium in May, for example, the WAC program led a very successful panel–“Innovative Writing Assignments That Promote Student Engagement and Build Community–featuring two awesome WAC faculty, one from Genetics (Professor Ahna Skop) and one from Urban Planning (Professor Revel Sims) and a fabulous TA from Sociology (Alexis Dennis). The WAC program published a new issue of the WAC faculty newsletter, Time to Write, which is distributed across campus. Current and former WAC staff presented new research at the International WAC Conference at Auburn University, The WAC program led workshops and consulted at the week-long Teaching Academy Summer institute in June; in partnership with the university’s Delta program, led a half-day workshop on “Designing Writing Activities to Solve Teaching and Learning Problems in Any Science Course.” WAC staff led workshops for the Teaching Academy’s introductions to teaching and learning for new faculty and instructional staff (I-LEaP) and for new and future teaching assistants (TA-LEaP). And WAC staff consulted individually about designing writing assignments with faculty in many different departments, including the La Follette Institute for Public Policy, Global Health, Sociology, Art History, Slavic, Mathematics, Music, Forest and Wildlife Ecology, the Law School, Botany, Accounting, Counseling Psychology, Curriculum and Instruction, Social Work, and many more. . . .
Every other summer the WAC program takes on an even bigger project–we revise our c. 330-page WAC Faculty Sourcebook, called Locally Sourced. We distribute between 200-300 copies of this sourcebook each year in WAC workshops, faculty learning communities, and individual consultations. A big thanks goes to Mike Haen–the current TA assistant director of the WAC program at UW-Madison–who edited the new WAC sourcebook. And a big thanks to all of the former WAC assistant directors who edited previous editions.
What’s in this sourcebook? Lots! Advice for disciplinary faculty about teaching with writing, principles for aligning writing assignments with learning goals, foundational concepts from writing studies, information about writing-intensive requirements at our university, advice about peer review and conferencing, examples of information-literacy assignments, and advice for responding to and evaluating student writing and oral communication. But at the heart of the sourcebook are–the vast majority of it showcases–successful writing and oral-communication assignments created by faculty, instructional staff, and teaching assistants in departments across our university.
The Rhetoric of Our WAC Faculty Sourcebook
Every text (every thing) is, of course, rhetorical. For its audience of faculty, instructional staff, and teaching assistants, what does our WAC Faculty Sourcebook argue? I hope that it makes a number of arguments, all ones that I believe are crucial for WAC work.
First, our WAC faculty sourcebook argues that faculty in all disciplines should teach with writing. I make that argument explicitly, in a piece I wrote for our WAC Faculty Sourcebook titled “Why Should You Use Writing Assignments in Your Teaching?”
We also make that argument implicitly. The second key argument we try to make through our faculty sourcebook–as well as through our WAC faculty newsletter (Time to Write)–we want to honor some of our wonderful colleagues who use writing in such smart, innovative ways to teach the subject matter of their courses. Too rarely do we honor and celebrate excellence in teaching and learning at a research university. These great colleagues in all disciplines devote their time to designing effective writing assignments and to creating an interactive writing process for assignments and to responding to and evaluating student writing–they deserve to have that work recognized in at least some small way. And how easy it is for WAC programs to be too quiet and to struggle for attention in the complex landscape of 21st-century higher education, associating WAC programs with great teachers across their university is strategic: it cannot help but benefit the WAC program.
Third, we want to advocate for particular approaches–theoretically sound, research-supported, and experience-tested approaches–to designing effective writing activities. As Eric Miraglia and Sue McLeod explained in 1997 and the same is true today, “virtually all WAC activities are still [then, in 1997, 25 years after initial WAC faculty workshops began] designed to encourage colleagues across the disciplines to make changes in their pedagogy and to provide the tools so that these changes can be made successfully” (“Whither WAC: Interpreting the Stories/Histories of Enduring WAC Programs, WPA Journal, vol. 20, no. 3, p. 51). Most of the assignments featured in our WAC faculty sourcebook–
- carefully align the kind of assignment with specific learning goals in a course
- give students substantial meaning-making intellectual tasks
- integrate instruction and process appropriate to the level of the course and to the previous experience students have with that kind of assignment
- identify specific evaluation criteria and make those criteria part of the learning in the assignment
And fourth and finally, we believe that a locally created WAC faculty sourcebook sends a low-key but powerful message to all faculty, instructional staff, and TAs at a particular college or university–your colleagues are integrating writing activities into their teaching and their students’ learning. You can too–and you should!
A Sample of What’s New
In the new edition of the WAC Faculty Sourcebook, we’ve added c. 40 new assignments from courses across the curriculum at UW-Madison. For access to the entire Sourcebook, head to our WAC program website and in the lower right-hand corner of the home page, click on the bright green cover of the sourcebook. The following list offers a sample of what’s new in the 2018-2020 edition. I hope that you will notice the intentional variety of disciplines represented here–again, all from faculty, instructional staff, and TAs at UW-Madison–and the variety of levels, size of courses, and types of assignments. And I hope that you will see how these additions to the WAC sourcebook help make the arguments so essential to WAC that I’ve outlined above.
|Discipline||Professor, Instructional Staff Member, TA||Assignment|
|Psychology||Professor Joe Austerweil||For a course on cognition and society--a final project (analysis of societal or health issue) and recommendation to government officials, in a traditional paper, brochure, poster, website, or video.|
|History||Professor Charles Cohen||For an introductory history course, a series of 50-word assignments.|
|Communication Arts||Lecturer Kathleen Daly||For a course on rhetoric and power on the Internet, a rhetorical analysis of a hashtag as it moves across a social-media platform.|
|Biomedical Engineering||Professor Megan McClean||For a course on engineering principles of molecules, cells, and tissues, a short explanation to a student who took the class last year explaining why their equation for estimating the pressure drop across a piece of cylindrical tubing is wrong and suggesting and explaining an improved equation.|
|Political Science||Professor Yoshiko Herrera||For a course on social identities, an original research project about social identities, using content analysis, surveys, or interviews, as well as library sources.|
|Marketing||Professor Amber Epp||For a course on consumer behavior, a market segment analysis for a new product, done in stages as a group project. Includes a status report, a paper, and a presentation.|
|Philosophy||Professor Steven Nadler||For an introductory philosophy course, a final paper in the form of a philosophical dialogue, about one of the topics covered in the course and two or three of the philosophers in dialogue.|
|English||TA Brandee Easter, adapted from assignments developed by Professor Caroline Levine||For an online course on mystery and crime fiction, weekly writing assignments, online discussions, and literary analysis papers.|
|Occupational Therapy||Professor Karla Ausderau||For a graduate course on evidence-based practice, peer review questions for a systematic literature review.|
|Public Policy||Professor Emilia |
|For a graduate course, an annotated bibliography assignment as part of a cost-benefit analysis paper.|
|Physics||Professor Justin Vandenbroucke||For an introductory course on energy, a brief article-response assignment done six times during a semester.|
|Slavic||TAs Melissa Azari, Megan Kennedy, Zachary Rewinski and colleagues||Close reading of a passage from a Pushkin novel.|
|Integrative Biology||Professor Prashant Sharma||For an advanced course on evolutionary developmental biology of animals, peer-review guidelines, revision, and rebuttal|
|English||Professor Caroline Druschke||For an intermediate-level course on writing rivers, a sequenced action project and rhetorical critique of applied environmental rhetoric.|
|Biostatistics and Medical Informatics||Dr. Thomas Cook||For a graduate course, an article summary of a randomized intervention trial.|
|Asian Languages and Cultures||Professor Charo D'Etcheverry||Student create a short poem in English about an object in the textiles collection on campus, following rules from Japanese court verse, and then respond to a classmate's poem.|
|Biomolecular Chemistry||Professor Angela Kita||In-class presentation about an original scientific paper, including a written mini-proposal about the published paper.|
|Classics||Professor Nandini Pandey||For a course on the Romans, a final paper about life for a particular marginalized group without Roman citizenship.|
|Genetics||Professor Ahna Skop||For a senior capstone course, creating a website about a gene and a disease, based on an in-depth genomic and bioinformatic analysis.|
|Journalism and Mass Communication||Professor Lindsay Palmer||For a course on international communication, a group presentation pitching a proposal for a new global news network.|
|English||Professor David Zimmerman||Streamlining your writing curriculum in a literature course.|
Thanks very much for reading this post! What interests you about this WAC faculty sourcebook from the University of Wisconsin-Madison? Are there other arguments that a locally focused WAC faculty sourcebook makes, arguments you would add to the ones I’ve outlined above? Does your university’s WAC program do something similar or different to showcase writing assignments and writing-intensive courses across the curriculum? Do you have any questions about this sourcebook? Suggestions for future editions? Thanks SO much for your interest.
*Featured aerial photo of Bascom Hall and Lake Mendota on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, looking west, by Jeff Miller, University Communications.