A New WAC Faculty Sourcebook for a New Academic Year

Events, From the Director, Graduate Students, Higher Education, Science Writing, Uncategorized, Undergraduate Students, Writing Across the Curriculum / Monday, September 3rd, 2018

By Bradley Hughes –

A photo of Brad Hughes, standing on the deck of a replica of Magellan's ship, in far southern Chile, in spring 2018.
Brad Hughes is delighted to be starting his 35th year as director of the Writing Center and his 29th year as director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Here he is standing on the deck of a replica of Magellan’s ship, in Punta Arenas, Chile, where he was a speaker and consultant in spring 2018 at the Universidad de Magallanes.

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
The bright green cover of the 2018-20 edition of the WAC Faculty Sourcebook at UW-Madison.
The cover of the new (2018-20) c. 330-page edition of the UW-Madison WAC Faculty Sourcebook. Cover design by Kathleen Daly.

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
Photo of four instructors discussing draft assignments at a WAC workshop for science instructors at UW-Madison, August 8, 2018.
Faculty, staff, post-docs, and teaching assistants participating in a WAC workshop done in partnership with the Delta Program at UW-Madison, on August 8, 2018.

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.

Four teaching assistants from writing-intensive courses--Kayci Harris from History, Harvey Long from the Information School, Angela Serrano from Sociology, and Micah Kloppenberg from Biology--participate in a panel discussion as part of WAC training for c. 70 new writing-intensive TAs from across UW-Madison on August 27 and 28, 2018.
Four TA Fellows–Kayci Harris from History, Harvey Long from the Information School, Angela Serrano from Sociology, and Micah Kloppenberg from Biology–help lead WAC training for c. 70 new writing-intensive teaching assistants from across UW-Madison, on August 27 and 28, 2018.

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.

DisciplineProfessor, Instructional Staff Member, TAAssignment
PsychologyProfessor Joe AusterweilFor 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.
HistoryProfessor Charles CohenFor an introductory history course, a series of 50-word assignments.
Communication ArtsLecturer Kathleen DalyFor a course on rhetoric and power on the Internet, a rhetorical analysis of a hashtag as it moves across a social-media platform.
Biomedical EngineeringProfessor Megan McCleanFor 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 ScienceProfessor Yoshiko HerreraFor a course on social identities, an original research project about social identities, using content analysis, surveys, or interviews, as well as library sources.
MarketingProfessor Amber EppFor 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.
PhilosophyProfessor Steven NadlerFor 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.
EnglishTA Brandee Easter, adapted from assignments developed by Professor Caroline LevineFor an online course on mystery and crime fiction, weekly writing assignments, online discussions, and literary analysis papers.
Occupational TherapyProfessor Karla AusderauFor a graduate course on evidence-based practice, peer review questions for a systematic literature review.
Public PolicyProfessor Emilia
For a graduate course, an annotated bibliography assignment as part of a cost-benefit analysis paper.
PhysicsProfessor Justin VandenbrouckeFor an introductory course on energy, a brief article-response assignment done six times during a semester.
SlavicTAs Melissa Azari, Megan Kennedy, Zachary Rewinski and colleaguesClose reading of a passage from a Pushkin novel.
Integrative BiologyProfessor Prashant SharmaFor an advanced course on evolutionary developmental biology of animals, peer-review guidelines, revision, and rebuttal
EnglishProfessor Caroline DruschkeFor an intermediate-level course on writing rivers, a sequenced action project and rhetorical critique of applied environmental rhetoric.
Biostatistics and Medical InformaticsDr. Thomas CookFor a graduate course, an article summary of a randomized intervention trial.
Asian Languages and CulturesProfessor Charo D'EtcheverryStudent 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 ChemistryProfessor Angela KitaIn-class presentation about an original scientific paper, including a written mini-proposal about the published paper.
ClassicsProfessor Nandini PandeyFor a course on the Romans, a final paper about life for a particular marginalized group without Roman citizenship.
GeneticsProfessor Ahna SkopFor 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 CommunicationProfessor Lindsay PalmerFor a course on international communication, a group presentation pitching a proposal for a new global news network.
EnglishProfessor David ZimmermanStreamlining your writing curriculum in a literature course.
An Invitation

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.

10 Replies to “A New WAC Faculty Sourcebook for a New Academic Year”

  1. I loved reading this post, Brad!

    I was absolutely thrilled to see the new version of the sourcebook when I picked up my copy last week (and I’m honored to have a couple of my assignments included alongside materials from all of these fabulous faculty and instructors!).

    While working as Assistant Director of the WAC program from 2015-2017, I carried my copy of the sourcebook around just about everywhere I went. In consultations, workshops, discussions, and trainings, I found it to be one of the most valuable resources that I could offer to faculty, instructional staff, and TAs. Why? Because the sourcebook reveals something that isn’t always made evident in other contexts, namely, that a LOT of UW-Madison faculty, instructional staff and TAs from a LOT of different disciplines are teaching with writing, and they’re doing it in a LOT of smart and creative ways.

    Although it has been over a year since I served as AD of the WAC program, I have continued to keep the Sourcebook close. I find myself returning to it quite often, not only in the context of my WAC work, but also in the context of my own teaching. And each time, I come away with new insights, refreshed motivation, and “locally-sourced” inspiration. Needless to say, I can’t wait to continue digging into the newest version of the sourcebook.

  2. Thanks, Brad, for this wonderful summary of our summer 2018 Writing Center work and a preview of the new edition of the WAC sourcebook!

    This post comes at an opportune moment as I design new assignment and redesign old ones. Although I am teaching a composition course, I am continually inspired by the many creative and critical ways instructors across disciplines teach with writing. I genuinely enjoy creating writing assignments and as WAC has taught me, I view each assignment as an argument to students that what I am asking them to do is a productive means of reaching our learning goals.

    I have also used the WAC sourcebook when educating Undergraduate Writing Fellows. When I taught English 403: Seminar in Tutoring Writing Across the Curriculum, a required seminar for new Undergraduate Writing Fellows, I hauled stacks of sourcebooks into our classroom when we discussed the debate over disciplinary versus generalist tutoring. I asked Writing Fellows to select a handful of sample assignments from the sourcebook and do some detective work about what kinds of thinking and skills they attempt to teach. Students found that in general, even across disciplines, many instructors hope that their writing assignments will teach similar kinds of thinking and skills. While Writing Fellows are sometimes intimidated by the idea of tutoring writing in a discipline they are unfamiliar with, this activity helps Writing Fellows see that while disciplinary conventions and content may vary, some of the thinking and writing skills remain the same. More than anything, though, Writing Fellows are simply AMAZED at this wonderful resource and they request to take a copy of it home with them, even if it weighs down their already-heavy backpacks.

  3. Hi Brad,

    Thanks for this post about the WAC sourcebook, which gave me a really interesting window into the culture of writing instruction across the university! As a writing center instructor who gets to see the great variety of assignment prompts that students bring in, it’s clear to me that the WAC sourcebook and WAC programming have had a profound influence on the way professors approach writing in their course design. Writing is foregrounded here as a way to learn, and it’s thanks in part to everyone who has worked on the WAC sourcebook!

    I was also really interested in your mention of Neil Simpkins’ workshop about communicating with professors about access needs. To me, this workshop seems unique because it takes an explicitly activist approach to the discussion surrounding academic writing and disability. I can’t wait to hear more about it.

    Thanks again for this post, Brad!


  4. Hi Brad (and everyone),

    Thanks so much for spreading the word about the new sourcebook. I enjoyed editing it and I hope everyone takes the time to learn about the strong culture of writing across campus–these new additions (and really everything in the sourcebook) are a great starting point for that.

    As I worked on the new edition, I was most excited about the multimodal assignments (Skop), the peer review resources (Sharma; McKinnon), and the resources for teaching online (Easter) that we added. I learned a lot from those additions and I am confident teachers across the university will find them helpful too.

    I also think readers of the new sourcebook can learn a lot about the ways they can use writing in-class (I’m thinking of Kita’s assignment you cite above). While we can encourage teachers to use writing in their classes, some will not be able to assign longer papers due to large class sizes/lecture courses. Nonetheless, I think there are countless opportunities for using low-stakes writing in the classroom, and I’m happy that we value that in the sourcebook.


  5. Thank you for writing about the latest additions to the WAC Sourcebook. and the Online Writer’s Handbook. I think the new additions to the Sourcebook especially is a testament of your argument’s effectiveness, Brad! So many faculty have joined the Writing Center’s commitment to creating a culture of writing on campus, and hopefully more will come.

    What I like about Sourcebook is not only how many professors from different disciplines feature writing assignments in their courses but also that some writing assignments mirror genres that students may write themselves in their actual profession. For example, Professor Amber Epp’s status report assignment caught my eye; writing isn’t confined to the Book Review or the Research Paper (which is what I had to write in high school and in my freshman year in college). Writing is flexible. It’s versatile. it shape shifts to meet writer’s rhetorical needs. And that can make both writing a thing do and a fun thing to teach. The Sourcebook brings the range of assignments together to really underscore this point.

    Congrats to everyone working in the UW-Madison Online Writing Center and in Writing Across the Curriculum on these new editions! I hope it’s a great year for you, the faculty and, most important, the students!

    Antonio Byrd
    2017-2018 Assistant Director of the UW-Madison Writing Center

  6. Thank you, Brad, for this post and sharing this remarkable WAC Faculty Sourcebook for those who are not at UW. It really is amazing on so many levels.

    First, in terms of writing process, I have used the sections on assignment sequencing with my colleagues here at Suffolk University (giving full credit to Brad Hughes and Rebecca Schoenike Nowacek of course!). Faculty have found it remarkably helpful.

    Moreover, the sheer range of assignments contained in this book is simply stunning. After reading about writing assignments for an English class on mystery and crime fiction, I found myself looking at an assignment from a science class that contains symbols in a formula that I didn’t even know existed! It simply reinforces one of the central messages of this book: one can strategically use writing in every discipline as a means of promoting reflection, engagement, and deeper thinking.

    Finally, reading this book makes one realize that one can always learn new ideas from others regardless of how long one has been teaching writing. The 50-word assignments in Professor Cohen’s class provides a much better model of something I have tried myself in the past. I completely agree with the premise behind this assignment: challenging students to summarize succinctly the main point of a reading (or a lecture, or a series of maps, etc.) requires them to truly grapple with the essence of that “text.” I plan on using a variation of this assignment in future classes.

    Wisconsin is so lucky to have you, Brad, as well as the many people who compiled this incredible resource. My sincere thanks for your generosity and for sharing it with the world!

    Bryan Trabold
    Associate Professor, English
    Suffolk University

  7. *scurrying off to bookmark the latest Sourcebook immediately*

    It’s so energizing to read about these latest updates to the Sourcebook. It has been invaluable for me in its various incarnations as I find ways to engage in WAC work, whether through creating workshops for faculty across campus about incorporating writing into their courses or developing our fledgling Writing Fellows program. The variety of assignments is wonderful, and the depth of the partnerships both the Sourcebook and the WAC program as a whole represent is impressive. Kudos to you, Brad, and to everyone involved!

    Rachel Azima
    Writing Center Director and Assistant Professor of Practice, English
    University of Nebraska-Lincoln

  8. “Locally Sourced”–such an apt title for this invaluable resource. Can anyone claim credit for it?

    Thank you SO much to all involved in the production of this latest version AND for making it accessible online. The productivity and generosity of those involved in the Writing Center and WAC program at UW-Madison is truly inspiring.

    And thanks, Brad, for the big-picture reminders about WAC work and the sampling of new materials in the sourcebook.

    On, [WAC at] Wisconsin!

    Dave Stock,
    Coordinator, BYU Writing Center
    Assistant Professor, English

  9. Brad–All the work done at your Writing Center and on the Sourcebook during the summer is impressive! I read your post with great interest because we don’t have a WAC program or even the signs of a university-wide WAC culture here at Iowa. The irony is that we call ourselves “the Writing University” mainly because of our creative writing programs. However, we do have a Writing Fellows Program and a multifaceted Writing Center that serves 55 departments in our liberal arts and sciences college and courses with writing in 4 other colleges within the U. So there’s potential.

    In fact, in our Center, we’ve designed a university-wide faculty survey to find out who uses writing in their courses and if so, what types of writing they use. Your post and the Sourcebook inspires me to use the survey to include the explicit message that if instructors share and upload their writing assignments, we will compile them into a sourcebook also and use it like you do–to train faculty and also to recognize and commend instructors who use writing-to-learn and learning-to-writie (professionalizing) assignments in their courses.

    Carol Severino
    Professor of Rhetoric and Director of the Writing Center
    The University of Iowa

  10. Thank you, Brad! Downloaded Locally Sourced and will be reading it riding the Broadway local. You must be exhausted, doing all of our jobs for us!

    Seriously, though–I WAS being serious! I have learned more from you, including what I’ve been doing right, what I could be doing better, and what (if we had the budget and staff) we could be doing, than I have from any other single source in the field. It helps, as it helps us all, to have extraordinary colleagues, in the Center and across the curriculum. But you demonstrate, in your rhetorical self, the principled ethos of Centers and WAC: the generosity of spirit that is not only enthusiastic about learning, but excited to share that enthusiasm with other learners.

    And you look great on a boat–

    Dennis Paoli
    Rockowitz Writing Center
    WAC Program
    Hunter College, CUNY

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