2003 English Department External Review Self-Study
Part 1: GENERAL EDUCATION
Current English Department General Education Program
Under the current SCSU General Education program, the English Department has six courses that can be used to meet university General Education requirements in Distribution Area A: Humanities and Fine Arts.
These courses are:
- English 184: Introduction to Literature?
English 201: Classics in Literature
English 202: Gender Studies in Literature
English 203: Mythology and Sacred Literature
English 215: American Indian Literature
English 216: African-American Literature
English 203, 215, and 216 also can be used to fill the Diversity requirement (students must complete 9 credits within the Diversity block). Part of the Diversity requirement is a one-course Racial Issues requirement. We are in the process of having English 215 and 216 included in the course group that can be used to satisfy this requirement.
This configuration of courses was developed for the conversion from a quarter calendar to a semester calendar that started in the fall of 1998.
English 201-216 can also be taken for elective credit toward the English major.
Enrollment and Faculty Assignment
Since the beginning of the semester calendar in the fall of 1998, these courses have been offered as noted in the table below:
# semesters offered
# sections offered
# taught by probationary/ tenured faculty
In the last two years, the department has been experimenting with teaching large- section-lecture/ITV/and Web CT classes in English 184, 201, 203 & 215.
Assessment of the General Education Literature course block is complicated by the fact that we are finding ourselves caught between two general education programs, the SCSU General Education Program and the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum. The latter was developed over the past two decades in order to facilitate transfer of credit between institutions in the Minnesota Higher Education System. Last year the Minnesota legislature mandated that all Minnesota higher education institutions offer a version of the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum. In the long run this creates pressure to move to the MTC, and it is possible--or even likely--that the university will decide to do so within a year or two. This means that we need to be prepared to reshape our course descriptions to reflect MTC objectives, and where possible shape our version of the MTC to our institutional needs and mission.
The assessment section of this report will undertake to do that through a review of the current departmental syllabus file for this course block. This file is not a complete file for the past five years, but rather a file of representative courses taught in the spring and fall of 2002.
Current SCSU General Education Program
Under the SCSU general education program, courses are approved into the general education curriculum based on their meeting 3 of the following five criteria:
- Students will show they are competent at a bachelor's degree level in university academic skills: communication (writing, reading, speaking, listening), reasoning, quantitative thinking, researching, computer skills.
- Students will explore and integrate subjects outside their majors and minors and will relate those subjects to traditional disciplines as well as their majors and minors.
- Students will use inquiry and critical judgment to make decisions.
- Students will interpret, evaluate and integrate human values.
- Students will compare the lives of people from cultures and situations to their own and assess, and integrate diverse experiences and views, and translate or illustrate differences to others.
Courses identified as Diversity courses have been approved as fulfilling additional criterion of having 100% of their content in a diversity area. All students are required to take 3 of these courses. There is also a sub-category of Diversity courses called Racial Issues courses, and all students are required to have taken one of these courses. Currently, the 1 course Diversity requirement under SCSU's MTC program is satisfied by only these Racial Issues courses.
This is the current statement of general education criteria as learning objectives for the general education program. To be approved for general education, courses must meet three of these five objectives.
The course descriptions of the department's offerings for the humanities distribution are the following.
ENGL 184. Introduction to Literature
A study of imaginative literature to improve the understanding and increase enjoyment through reading, writing, and discussion. Emphasis on thematic organization, historical period, cultural representation, and type of literature will be the option of instructor. 3 Cr. F, S.
ENGL 201. Classics of Literature
Introduces non-English majors to in-depth study of rich literary traditions of Great Britain, the United States, and/or other nations or cultures; including at least two genres and historical periods. Does not count toward the English major or minor. 3 Cr. F, S.
ENGL 202. Myth, Legend, and Sacred Literature
A study of mythology based on Greek, Roman, and other legends in relation to literature. Sacred texts may be included. 3 Cr. F, S.
ENGL 203. Gender Issues in Literature (Diversity)
In works by female and male writers, course explores literary depiction of gender roles, gender and sexual identity/orientation, and/or gender relations in context of social structures and values. 3 Cr. F, S.
ENGL 215. American Indian Literature (Diversity)
Contemporary American Indian literature in poetry, short stories, essays, and novels. Consideration of tradition, history and current realities from an Indian viewpoint as well as negative stereotypes and discrimination that Native people face. 3 Cr. F, S.
ENGL 216. African American Literature (Diversity)
Studies in African American literature from the slave narrative to contemporary writers. Content and focus to vary. 3 Cr. F, S.
An immediate observation would be that current course descriptions do not clearly relate to the current general education program by indicating what program objectives they address. It would make sense, as we shift to the criteria of the MTC program to tie the courses clearly in their descriptions and syllabi to the program goals and objectives. Although this will require some paperwork, the MTC program system may well prove easier to work with from an assessment point of view. However, issues that will need thinking through will be the place of the department's diversity courses in the MTC based program, and how these courses should be described relative to MTC objectives of Communication, Critical Thinking, Global Awareness. Since MTC views objectives exclusively, and SCSU views them inclusively-i.e., SDSU courses are required to be designed to fulfill 3-5 objectives, while MTC courses are required to be designed to fulfill 1 or possibly 2 objectives-the conversion will require some attention.
Minnesota Transfer Curriculum
The higher education system of which St. Cloud State University is a part (MNSCU: Minnesota State Colleges and Universities), in collaboration with the University of Minnesota system, has developed different general education program, the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum. Originally articulated as a curriculum that any student could use to satisfy the general education requirement at any state public institution he or she wished to transfer to, this curriculum must now be made available for any student enrolled at SCSU to choose as his or her general education program. The objectives under this MTC program are as follows:
- Written and Oral Communication: Goal: To develop writers and speakers who use the English language effectively and who read, write, speak and listen critically. As a base, all students should complete introductory communication requirements early in their collegiate studies. Writing competency is an ongoing process to be reinforced through writing-intensive courses and writing across the curriculum. Speaking and listening skills need reinforcement through multiple opportunities for interpersonal communication, public speaking, and discussion. Course Credit at SCSU: 7.
- Critical Thinking: Goal: To develop thinkers who are able to unify factual, creative, rational, and value-sensitive modes of thought. Critical thinking will be taught and used throughout the general education curriculum in order to develop students' awareness of their own thinking and problem-solving procedures. To integrate new skills into their customary ways of thinking, students must be actively engaged in practicing thinking skills and applying them to open-ended problems. Course Credit at SCSU: 3.
- Natural Sciences: Goals: To improve students' understanding of natural science principles and of the methods of scientific inquiry, i.e., the ways in which scientists investigate natural science phenomena. As a basis for lifelong learning, students need to know the vocabulary of science and to realize that while a set of principles has been developed through the work of previous scientists, ongoing scientific inquiry and new knowledge will bring changes in some of the ways scientists view the world. By studying the problems that engage today's scientists, students learn to appreciate the importance of science in their lives and to understand the value of a scientific perspective. Students should be encouraged to study both the biological and physical sciences. Course Credit at SCSU: 6-8
- Mathematical and Symbolical Systems: Goal: To increase students' knowledge about mathematical and logical modes of thinking. This will enable students to appreciate the breadth of applications of mathematics, evaluate arguments, and detect fallacious reasoning. Students will learn to apply mathematics, logic, and/or statistics to help them make decisions in their lives and careers. Minnesota 's public higher education systems have agreed that developmental mathematics includes the first three years of a high school mathematics sequence through intermediate algebra. Course Credit at SCSU: 3.
- History and the Behavioral Sciences: Goal: To increase students' knowledge of how historians and social and behavioral scientists discover, describe, and explain the behaviors and interactions among individuals, groups, institutions, events, and ideas. Such knowledge will better equip students to understand themselves and the roles they play in addressing the issues facing humanity. Course Credit at SCSU: 3.
- The Humanities: Arts, Literature and Philosophy: Goal: To expand students' knowledge of the human condition and human cultures. especially in relation to behavior, ideas, and values expressed in works of human imagination and thought. Through study in disciplines such as literature, philosophy, and the fine arts, students will engage in critical analysis, form aesthetic judgments, and develop an appreciation of the arts and humanities as fundamental to the health and survival of any society. Students should have experiences in both the arts and humanities. Course Credit at SCSU: 6 (3 in Arts & 3 in Humanities)
- Human Diversity: Goal: To increase students' understanding of individual and group differences (e.g. race, gender, class) and their knowledge of the traditions and values of various groups in the United States . Students should be able to evaluate the United States ' historical and contemporary responses to group differences. Course Credit at SCSU: 3.
- Global Perspective: Goal: To increase students' understanding of the growing interdependence of nations and peoples and develop their ability to apply a comparative perspective to cross-cultural social, economic and political experiences. Course Credit at SCSU: 3.
- Ethical and Civic Responsibility: Goal: To develop students' capacity to identify, discuss, and reflect upon the ethical dimensions of political, social, and personal life and to understand the ways in which they can exercise responsible and productive citizenship. While there are diverse views of social justice or the common good in a pluralistic society, students should learn that responsible citizenship requires them to develop skills to understand their own and other's positions, be part of the free exchange of ideas, and function as public-minded citizens. Course Credit at SCSU: 3.
- People and the Environment: Goal: To improve students' understanding of today's complex environmental challenges. Students will examine the inter-relatedness of human society and the natural environment. Knowledge of both bio-physical principles and socio-cultural systems is the foundation for integrative and critical thinking about environmental issues. Course Credit at SCSU: 3.
The Department's humanities courses fit most obviously under Goal 6, the humanities. The competencies for this Goal are as follows:
Student competencies: Students will be able to
- Demonstrate awareness of the scope and variety of works in the arts and humanities.
- Understand those works as expressions of individual and human values within an historical and social context.
- Respond critically to works in the arts and humanities.
- Engage in the creative process or interpretive performance.
- Articulate an informed personal reaction to works in the arts and humanities.
However, these courses also relate to several other goals: most obviously, 1, 2, 7, and 8
- Written and Oral Communication:
Student competencies: Students will be able to
- Understand/demonstrate the writing and speaking processes through invention, organization, drafting, revision, editing and presentation.
- Participate effectively in groups with emphasis on listening, critical and reflective thinking, and responding.
- Locate, evaluate, and synthesize in a responsible manner material from diverse sources and points of view.
- Select appropriate communication choices for specific audiences.
- Construct logical and coherent arguments.
- Use authority, point-of-view, and individual voice and style in their writing and speaking.
syntax and usage appropriate to academic disciplines and the professional
- Critical Thinking:
Student competencies: Students will be able to
- Gather factual information and apply it to a given problem in a manner that is relevant, clear, comprehensive, and conscious of possible bias in the information selected.
- Imagine and seek out a variety of possible goals, assumptions, interpretations, or perspectives which can give alternative meanings or solutions to given situations or problems.
- Analyze the logical connections among the facts, goals, and implicit assumptions relevant to a problem or claim; generate and evaluate implications that follow from them.
- Recognize and articulate the value assumptions
which underlie and affect decisions, interpretations, analyses,
and evaluations made by ourselves and others.
- Human Diversity:
Student competencies: Students will be able to
- Understand the development of and the changing meanings of group identities in the United States ' history and culture.
- Demonstrate an awareness of the individual and institutional dynamics of unequal power relations between groups in contemporary society.
- Analyze their own attitudes, behaviors, concepts and beliefs regarding diversity, racism, and bigotry.
- Describe and discuss the experience and contributions (political, social, economic, etc.) of the many groups that shape American society and culture, in particular those groups that have suffered discrimination and exclusion.
- Demonstrate communication
skills necessary for living and working effectively in a society
with great population diversity.
- Global Perspective:
Student competencies: Students will be able to
- Describe and analyze political, economic, and cultural elements which influence relations of states and societies in their historical and contemporary dimensions.
- Demonstrate knowledge of cultural, social, religious and linguistic differences.
- Analyze specific international problems, illustrating the cultural, economic, and political differences that affect their solution.
- Understand the role of a world citizen and the responsibility world citizens share for their common global future
The department is thus currently caught between two programs that involve some significant differences in philosophy.
- Most importantly, the SCSU general education philosophy is inclusive, while the MNSCU general education philosophy is exclusive. The SCSU philosophy has produced a system of courses that provide students with program-wide experience in the program competencies of writing, critical thinking, interdisciplinary awareness, awareness of cultural differences and of values. The MTC tends-with minimal qualification-to place responsibility for these competencies in single courses. The qualification involves communication, under which cross-curriculum approaches are encouraged, and objectives 7-10. However, individual courses can not claim to meet more than 2 areas.
- The MTC tends toward defining general education in terms of content areas, rather than by general performance competencies. SCSU's is different most particularly with regard to the emphasis placed on interdisciplinarity-on the experience and ability to use disciplines as ways of thinking and understanding.
As a result, the adoption of the MTC involves a significant change in the substance of the general education program. The MTC guidelines, however, provide encouragement for thinking about the system curriculum as an evolutionary process, and encourage institutions to continue to develop their assessment and organization.
Summary observations from a review of syllabi
The syllabus set includes 4 syllabi for English 184, 1 for English 201 (with an additional syllabus for the honors course with the same title, Honors 180), 3 for English 202, 2 for English 203, and 1 each for English 215 and 216.
With regard to the SCSU program criteria, the review indicates that all the classes pay close attention to the basic academic skills of reading, writing, and critical thinking, with some variation on writing resulting from class size. Writing activities frequently involve work with revising, and tend to involve some embedding of writing assignments in journal activity and group oral presentation projects. Some courses involved research expectations (which are given remarkably little attention in the MTC program in general). Three of the MTC competencies for the Humanities Goal seem to be based on communications performances of some kind: the third requires critical response by the student to works, the fourth calls for creative or interpretive performances (already appearing in several of the syllabi), and the fifth calls for articulate and informed personal reactions to works.
The interdisciplinarity criterion has always been a problematic one in the history of the general education program. In these courses, the diversity courses necessarily involve integration of literature into a socio-psychological and cultural context, but this dimension isn't particularly obvious in the other courses. It could well be that the MTC phrase "scope and variety" would be more useful for us in that it could be met by genre differences as well. Interdisciplinarity is such an abstract concept that it tends to have relatively little meaning for freshman and sophomore college students, and discipline-authority can be somewhat problematic for the diversity areas as well.
The Critical Thinking criterion in the SCSU program is already duplicated by the critical reading/listening item in "Basic Academic Skills", and this was accepted as a way both of emphasizing the importance of this criterion, but also of permitting courses that might otherwise have difficulty meeting 3 criteria to have an easier time doing so. In the English/Humanities courses, critical thinking is omnipresent, though in varied forms: in critiquing, analyzing meaning, developing effective questions, applying terminology, finding examples, comparing and contrasting styles, characters, plots, media, etc.
The Values-Awareness criterion is omnipresent as well if we are permitted to take aesthetic value as included. In general, however, this criterion has tended to apply to moral values such as are pervasive in diversity courses, and in "traditionalist" literature. Here again, the MTC competencies may have an advantage of being clearer from an assessment perspective by focusing on values in a historical and social context.
The Multi-cultural awareness criterion has given us some difficulties in the past with regard to the difference between what the term can mean as one of the five criteria and as the foundation for the diversity courses. Diversity courses have necessarily fulfilled the multicultural criterion, but what counts as an example of multicultural awareness, say in a French or Spanish course, has not satisfied the diversity definition of multiculturalism which has been anchored to non-western cultures. The phrasing in the MTC's first two competencies concerning "scope and variety", and "values within an historical and social context may adequately cover that issue for these courses, given the fact that the diversity courses may also satisfy the diversity requirement. In fact, we may want to think about offering English 201 courses in World Literature that would satisfy the Global Requirement as well.
The MTC competencies are probably more useful from an assessment perspective in that they make it easier to identify course activities to serve as indicators for meeting the competencies: "Awareness of scope and variety" can be demonstrated by varieties of genre, style, context in the lists of readings. Comparative assignments would provide further documentation. Awareness of literary works as expressions of "individual and human values within an historical and social context" is easy to document when lectures and videos are used flesh such contexts out for the students, and such procedures are broadly seen in the syllabi set. Critical response to works is documentable by paper assignments and other writing activities, and by reports of class discussions. Most of the instructors for the syllabi did not indicate an interest in requiring creative writing projects or interpretive performances, but this competency is more appropriate to the "Arts" side of this requirement. Articulation of "an informed personal reaction to works" is again documentable in terms of paper assignments.
In general, then, it would seem that the MTC program would offer opportunities for easier and more effective assessment reporting, looking toward institutional accreditation in the next five years. The main issue we should address would be to make sure that our diversity courses could function as diversity courses in MTC as well as humanities courses. If diversity courses in MTC are satisfied only by Racial Issues courses, we can undoubtedly have English 215 and 216 placed in that category as well, but English 203, the Gender Issues course will have a problematic status if the larger group of diversity courses lose their special status.
Finally, from the perspective of the English Department's general commitment to general education, we should act on the concern that MTC does not address researching skills in a significant way. We might also want to act on the observation that Foreign Language study is given minimal shrift in humanities or Global areas.
General Education: First-year writing/Composition
The English Department has offered the following sections of first-year writing over the past 3 years:
Enrollment demand continues to exceed the Department's ability to teach first-year writing to all entering students. A test-out is available, and its use could be expanded beyond the very few who attempt it. SCSU is considering testing composition skills for all entering students at orientation.
Of present urgency is the administrative plan to increase class size for ENGL 191 from 25 to 28. The quality of writing instruction will suffer markedly, and not least of the damage is to department/university reputation from running the largest writing classes in the region. NCTE sets the professional standard of 20 as the maximum class size for university-level writing courses.
At Semester Conversion, the Department combined the two-quarter sequence 162 -163, designed to move from composition to the research paper, to create a single General Education CORE course ENGL 191: Introduction to Rhetorical and Analytical Writing: "Analytical reading, writing, and critical reasoning in various rhetorical situations. Argumentative research project comprising analysis and interpretation of information, texts, and perspectives."
The 191 Course Description, Position, Criteria, and Guidelines for Teachers
can be found in the Supplementary Materials. The following report on
assessment of the 191 program demonstrates the Department's process of
adjusting course criteria during the new course's fourth year in order
to better educate students.
English 191 Assessment Report
Within the English Department, the General Education and Composition Committee (GECC) was given the charge to develop a plan for assessing English 191 during the Spring 2002 semester.
In order to facilitate development of a plan, the Committee consulted with the university assessment coordinator, Brenda Wentworth; re-visited the five-year 191 assessment plan developed by David Sebberson, former Director of Composition; surveyed English 191 faculty; and shared a preliminary plan with the English Department. A modified plan, revised according to faculty feedback and including a specific timeline and budget for conducting the assessment, was submitted to Brenda Wentworth. Upon approval of the plan and budget, members of the assessment team were recruited. They included five faculty within the English Department and one experienced teaching assistant.
The GECC decided that a naturalistic approach-one that allows for themes to arise from the data-would work best for getting the fullest sense of the English 191 experience. Assessment team members would conduct a series of holistic readings and analyses of student-produced texts and supporting contextual materials (i.e., the "cultural artifacts" of the writing classroom). Specific assessment concerns or questions would emerge from these multiple readings. An elaborated description of the five-stage assessment process and the team's findings follow.
Stage One - Collection of Materials
Faculty teaching 191 in Spring 2002 were directed to collect teaching documents (e.g., syllabi, assignment sheets, discussion questions, miscellaneous handouts) and the written work (e.g., pre-writing, drafts, revisions, peer responses, journal entries, final papers) of three randomly assigned students for each section of English 191 that they taught during the semester. To ensure some degree of anonymity, faculty deleted identifying information (e.g., name of instructor, section number, student names) before submitting the materials.
For the Spring 2002 semester, the department offered forty sections of English 191. Requested materials were received for all forty sections, which is a response rate of 100 percent.
Stage Two - First Reading
This stage of the process involved a preliminary holistic reading of English 191 materials. Teaching portfolios were read from 75 percent of the total number of English 191 sections offered during the Spring 2002 semester, or 30 sections. Assessment team members each read five folios, each folio consisting of four folders: one containing teaching materials and a separate folder for each of the three randomly assigned students. Holistic readings were focused on the student work within each folio in order to note patterns (and questions) related to Gen Ed and 191 course objectives. The Committee considered patterns that emerged within individual student folders; those that emerged between or across folders within a particular section of English 191; and those that indicate continuities between or across sections of English 191.
Stage Three - Preliminary Observations and Questions
During this stage of the process, team members met to share observations. Several common patterns or themes could be identified that cut across sections of English 191:
- Drafting and peer-response are common class activities;
- Students are generally expected to move from generating ideas to developing a polished, edited piece of writing;
- All sections are reading- and writing-intensive;
- Students are assigned various kinds of writing, including narration, exposition, analysis, and argumentation;
- Students are required to conduct and use research to support a point; and
- Students are practicing common methods of citing and documenting sources.
Further discussion and analysis of initial observations raised a variety of questions that could have been used to assess specific learning outcomes. These questions focused on the kind and amount of revision that students do; how well assigned reading and writing support stated course objectives; how students perceive their rhetorical choices for various writing tasks; how rhetorically versatile students are; and how well students conduct and present research.
To facilitate the next stage of the assessment, the six-member assessment team agreed to develop a single specific question that would be used to frame a deeper, more narrowly focused second reading of student papers. This question would reflect values and concerns expressed not only in Stage-Three discussions, but also in published general education and English 191 course goals and in English faculty survey responses. It would also lead to findings that would inspire productive discussion about the current status and future development of our core course.
The team noted that during preliminary discussions, team members regularly used research writing to illustrate their points. They also noted that the "research paper" was a perceived emphasis of English 191 course goals and a key concern in faculty survey responses. Several faculty who returned pre-assessment surveys expressed concern about the research-writing component of the course. Researched writing was also highlighted in a previous (1999) assessment report on the composition program, prepared by David Sebberson. Mindful of the apparent general concern with research writing, the assessment team decided that a question focusing attention on student research writing would be most appropriate for this year's assessment. The specific intention was to gather data from student research projects in response to the following question:
What do the research papers suggest about students' understanding of rhetorical and analytical writing?
While considering this general question, readers were encouraged to take into account various aspects of research writing, including writing process(es), revision, relationship of writer to subject matter, genre considerations, modes of development, audience and purpose, and identification and utilization of source material.
The general data-gathering question reflected a consensus among assessment team members that the research paper offers a particularly fruitful site for considering the role of English 191, within both the department and SCSU's General Education program. The team noted, for example, that the researched essay is almost always the culminating project in English 191; it is typically presented to students in terms of engaging them in a complexly layered "process" (e.g., identify and propose a topic, develop an annotated bibliography, etc.); and a good deal of class time is allocated for development of the research project. Team members recognized, too, that when the research project is performed well, the written presentation often demonstrates command of a broad array of rhetorical competencies. As much as (or more than) any other assignment, the researched project challenges students to apply skills learned in high school and asks them to extend those skills within new arenas of inquiry and knowledge production. Finally, researched writing in English 191 is intended to support many Gen Ed Core Learning Outcomes. The assessment team noted that preliminary observations corresponded particularly well with the third general education core objective, which states, "Students will learn to learn by employing various methods to obtain, classify, analyze, synthesize, and apply knowledge."
Stage Four - Second Reading
This stage of the process required pairs of assessment team members to conduct independent readings of nine randomly selected portfolios of student work (three portfolios for each pair of readers). Each reader collected data in response to the research question. Readers were asked to make general observations and then identify specific examples from student writing to illustrate or anchor interpretations.
Stage Five - Data Analysis
This final stage involved discussion of results from the deeper readings. Before a general discussion of findings, pairs met alone to compare, synthesize, and analyze independent readings. These small-group exchanges provided an opportunity to not only share independent reader impressions of the same projects but also to consider whether-and how-aspects of student writing might be reasonably (and productively) tied back to different combinations of learning goals and outcomes. Upon completion of these discussions, the full assessment team reconvened to collaboratively evaluate the data. As part of that evaluation, team members identified major areas in which English 191 students, by and large, demonstrate proficiency (in terms of their achievement of learning outcomes) and begin to struggle or show lack of achievement.
In terms of their research papers, students are not demonstrating a high enough degree of understanding of analytical and rhetorical writing. The general conclusion is that students' work shows strong evidence of attentiveness to and awareness of formalistic aspects of writing (e.g., five-part argument structure, mechanics of citation). However, also visible, and of particular concern to assessment team members, is a wide ranging inconsistency with which English 191 students demonstrate attention to and facility with higher-order writing issues (e.g., audience awareness, idea development, interpretation and analysis of source material). Specifically, the following trends emerged during our analyses of students' researched writing projects:
- Although students are generally successful at introducing argumentative claims, they do not consistently support those claims with developed arguments. Frequently, for example, claims are followed by lists of facts that are left unanalyzed and unconnected (to other claims, to the thesis).
- Although students seem familiar with some persuasive strategies (e.g., defining unfamiliar terms, using statistics), their repertoire of strategies appears rather limited; more importantly, in numerous papers the rhetorical choices students make as writers (including their selection of source material) do not seem to be linked to a clear sense of audience or purpose.
- Although English 191 instructors frequently encourage students to self-select or propose the topics for their research projects, the personal investment that choosing topics is meant to foster seems undermined by students' apparent willingness to subordinate their own ideas to those expressed in source material. As a result, the research papers often end up reading like a compilation or assemblage of sources (e.g., stacked quotes, etc.), and often a student's stated purpose to persuade becomes buried-or lost-in lengthy presentations of superficially relevant, though carefully documented, information.
- Although students dutifully participate in various activities associated with process-oriented approaches to writing (e.g., pre-writing, drafting, collaborating, peer responding), they appear to be overly dependent on receiving individualized attention from instructors, through verbal and written feedback, in order to develop the ideas in their papers. Of particular concern is the frequency with which successive drafts of student papers suggest that English 191 students do not so much revise their papers as add content to them (often to the end of a previous draft). In addition, when re-visioning is displayed in response to teacher feedback, the extent of that rethinking is often limited to the specific area in the paper where a teacher comment appears.
Implications and Recommendations
This assessment suggests that English 191 students need more practice developing arguments, considering argumentative strategies and source material in terms of a particular audience and purpose, synthesizing their own ideas with source material to develop extended arguments, and revising longer texts . Toward these ends, the assessment team recommend the following:
- Departmental reconsideration of stated 191 course objectives to determine whether and how they could be revised to highlight the rhetorical and analytical goals of the course ( the GECC has solicited ideas and is currently revising course description );
- Regular 191 teaching forums for discussion of issues related to researched writing;
- More sharing of course materials ( the Director of Composition is developing a 191 file );
- Greater coordination of available resources (library, Write Place, etc.) to ensure that students encounter similar perspectives on researched writing for English 191.
The Write Place:
A Report on the Writing Center at St.
Cloud State University
Director, Frankie L. Condon
Location: Riverview 118
"The key to enhancing learning and personal development is not simply for faculty to teach more and better, but also to create conditions that motivate and inspire students to devote time and energy to educationally purposeful activities both inside and outside the classroom" (ACPA, 1994, p.1).
The Write Place is unable under its current budget to meet existing demand for services. This situation is caused by a constellation of factors including stagnant funding (the WP budget has not been increased in eight years), a decrease in workstudy funds, rising cost of student salaries, and increased demand for services. The Write Place is well-positioned, institutionally, to assist the University in achieving strategic goals and work plans for increasing student retention, improving student success rates, and increasing diversity. This is so because the writing center enjoys a high level of departmental support and utilization across the disciplines as well as an established program of preparation for both graduate and undergraduate tutors and a history of sustained anti-racism in hiring, training, and tutoring practice.
This report and its recommendations were endorsed by the English Department on December 5, 2002 .
Summary of Recommendations
- Increase funding to $15,000 a year for student salaries and supplies and diversify funding sources to more accurately represent the institutional position of the Write Place
- Implement a regular schedule for increasing the Write Place budget as the costs and demand for services grow
- Increase the number of graduate assistantships dedicated to the Write Place
- Increase communication between the Write Place Director and the Offices of Academic Affairs, Student Life and Development, and the Department of English by organizing a shared reporting structure
History and Current Conditions
During the 1960's and 1970's one-on-one writing instruction enjoyed a resurgence nation-wide. This shift in writing pedagogy is generally understood to be one of the outgrowths of the civil rights movement and the desegregation of higher education. The growth of writing centers through this period is associated with the democratizing of education. The writing center at St. Cloud State University was founded in the fall of 1968. Originally called The Experimental Writing Laboratory, the first mission of the writing center was to replace Basic Writing with one-on-one instruction for struggling writers from "writing counselors."
In keeping with national trends, as scholarship deepened in Composition and Rhetoric and scholars began to take up theoretical and practical issues associated specifically with writing centers, the writing center at St. Cloud State grew and transformed. The work of tutors in the writing center moved away from remedial instruction in prescriptive grammar and toward global approaches to writing instruction in the context of cultural and textual production within a university. During the tenure of Judith Kilborn, writing center tutors began to work with SCSU student writers by examining and discussing rhetorical context, features, and strategies, development of concepts and cohesive, sustainable arguments in an academic context. In keeping with national scholarship in the disciplines of Composition and Rhetoric and Writing Centers , the mission of the writing center was extended. The writing center was renamed as The Write Place. Student writers from across the disciplines, with all levels of ability and expertise were encouraged to make use of its services. Struggling writers across the disciplines continued to access the writing center, but not as part of a punitive process of remediation. Instead, using interdisciplinary knowledge of a burgeoning movement towards multiculturalism, TESL, and developments in Composition and Rhetoric with regard to holistic approaches to teaching basic writing, Dr. Kilborn enhanced the kind of educational experiences such students might have in the context of a writing center tutorial. At the same time, Dr. Kilborn began to open the possibility that upper division undergraduate students, confident and competent students writers, and graduate student writers might access the center and use its services to develop and enhance their critical thinking, intellectual engagement, and their ability to communicate complex ideas in meaningful and productive ways within an intellectual community.
The Write Place enjoys support from across the University. In particular, faculty from the English Department have worked very hard to maintain the academic and disciplinary integrity of the writing center. In accordance with national standards developed by the International Writing Centers Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, the English Department dedicates a probationary faculty line to the directorship of the Write Place (3/4 release time for writing center administration). The English Department helps the writing center with photocopying costs for handouts and flyers which are distributed throughout the university. English Department faculty encourage their students to use the writing center and refer excellent student-writers as potential tutors. Graduate Assistants in the English and TESL masters programs are assigned to the Write Place as tutors. The English Department faculty continue to affirm the experience of tutoring and being tutored as important to the development of a rigorous understanding of writing processes and production for both graduate and undergraduate majors and for all students taking English 191.
The Write Place also enjoys support from other disciplines and colleges. During the 2001-2002 academic year, Write Place tutors and the Director did over 50 presentations and workshops in classes across the University. During the fall of 2002, we have already done over sixty presentations and workshops. In the last three years, the tutors and directors have spoken to undergraduate and graduate students in such disciplines as Ethnic Studies, Democratic Citizenship, Human Relations, Music History, Aviation, Computer Engineering, Criminal Justice, Psychology, Business Law, and Information Media to name only a few.
In addition to working with student writers, the Write Place has been a hub of intellectual and creative production. The Writing Center is the organizing agent of Kaleidoscope, a multicultual literary arts magazine publishing essays, fiction, poetry, and graphic arts produced by faculty, staff, and students at St. Cloud State University . Kaleidoscope is funded through a grant from the Cultural Diversity Committee. The Write Place has hosted read-ins featuring the writing of marginalized groups including American Indian writers, African American writers, Islamic writers, and lesbian, gay, and transgendered writers. During the 2001-2002 academic year, the Write Place began publishing a bi-annual newsletter, Praxis , which addresses the teaching and tutoring of writing at St. Cloud State University from both student and faculty perspectives.
The Write Place Budget
The Write Place has essentially three funding sources. The faculty line for a director is funded by the College of Fine Arts and Humanities through the English Department. The Office of Graduate Studies provides funding for two graduate assistants. The Office of Academic Affairs provides funding for one graduate assistant, $4800 for undergraduate student salaries, and $230 for supplies. In addition to providing one full-time faculty line, the English Department has provided supplies for the Write Place including paper and other office supplies and photocopying.
The Write Place doubles as an open lab. Computers and technical support are provided by LRTS and funded by student fees.
Nature of Funding
Dollar Value of Funding
English Department (CFAH)
One probationary faculty line
English Department (CFAH)
Undergraduate student salaries
One Graduate Assistantship
Office of Graduate Studies
Two graduate assistantships
The writing center serves approximately 4000 students a year or 25% of the student population of the University. While, at first glance, the distribution of resources to the Write Place may seem generous, an analysis of the nature and extent of the work of the writing center reveals significant shortfalls.
For example, staffing to accommodate current need requires 2050 tutoring hours per semester. Graduate Assistantship funding provides for 1008 tutoring hours a semester (based on a twenty hour a week assistantship). Undergraduate tutors make up the difference in hours. Current need suggests undergraduate tutoring hours totaling 1042. The current Write Place budget, based on the $7.50 hourly wage for student workers, enables the purchase of only 320 hours each semester. In the past this shortfall has been addressed by the use of workstudy hours. This system depends on a few variables, however. Either students who qualify for workstudy need to demonstrate sufficient interest in tutoring to take English 352, the course that prepares undergraduate tutors for work in the writing center or trained tutors need to qualify for workstudy.
Several factors have converged to form a budget crisis for the Write Place. The hourly wage for undergraduate student workers has increased while the writing center budget has remained the same The writing center budget has not been increased in eight years. Because of cuts to workstudy funding and perhaps because of changing demographics in the student body, fewer undergraduate students qualify for workstudy. The Write Place can no longer provide enough tutoring to meet existing student demand. Further, as support for the Write Place grows among faculty outside of the College of Fine Arts and Humanities (evidenced by increasing demand for presentations and workshops), it is likely that demand will increase over time rather than decrease. The Write Place is not in a position to meet increasing demand.
The Effects of Insufficient Funding
The writing center's budget crisis is manifesting in a variety of ways.
- We have been forced to cut the number of hours we are open and to reduce the number of tutors on staff at any given time.
- In an effort to help the English Department with its budget problems, we are making fewer copies including fewer flyers advertising the Write Place and fewer handouts for student-writers.
- While we plan to publish Praxis again this semester, we will be forced to lower our production values in order to reduce the cost of publication.
- We are organizing fewer associated events and activities because of our reduced hours and increased workload. This year we will host only one reading and no faculty workshops.
- Although the Write Place has benefited significantly from its relationship with LRTS, we have significant need for at least one computer and printer that are not attached to the open lab. The one computer we have with which to do administrative work is supplied by student echnology fees and must, in the first instance, be available to student writers. Our confidentiality is compromised by this arrangment. That we dedicate only one computer to administrative purposes slows our administration and scheduling and hampers our ability to maintain even the most modest bureaucratic needs. We need desperately to update databases and to purchase scheduling and data collection software.
- Most seriously we are unable to meet the current demand by students for peer tutoring in writing. Between October 17 and November 17 st we turned away 220 SCSU students because there were no tutors available to work with them or we were closed at times when they were available for to be tutored. Before October 17 we were not tracking students turned away.
We are concerned that at a historical moment when the MNSCU system in general and SCSU in particular are forced to ask students to pay more for a university education and for associated goods and services that we are providing them with less academic support. We are also concerned that an existing university program which has for thirty years been doing the very work called for in both the President's and Chancellor's work plan is now and has been for several years significantly underfunded.
There are a range of ways to address the Write Place's budget crisis. Ultimately, we expect that some combination of the following ideas would enable us to continue to do the work of the writing center and to grow additional initiatives at a moderate pace.
- Academic Affairs and Student Life and Development work together to
cover the current $5437.50 shortfall in funding for student workers
and increase funding for supplies, releasing the English Department
from its responsibility to provide photocopying for the Write Place
and providing enough funding for the Write Place to publish its newsletter
and to continue to offer readings and workshops for students and faculty.
The total cash budget (student salaries and supplies) for the Write
Place would increase to 15,000. Academic Affairs purchases a computer,
printer, and scheduling software for the Write Place. Academic Affairs
and Student Support Services share the cost of periodic upgrades.
Rationale: Making up the shortfall would allow us to meet current student need. An administrative computer and associated software would allow us to streamline data collectionl, scheduling, and facilitate writing center publishing projects. There is significant overlap between Student Life and Development and Academic Affairs support of academic support services. For example, Student Life and Development supports and oversees the Academic Learning Center , and tutoring services offered by Multicultural Support Services, the American Indian Center, and the Greenhouse. The Write Place offers excellent tutoring in writing to those same populations of students.
- Integrate the writing center more thoroughly into the undergraduate
English major and the Graduate Program in English. Make ENGL 352 a
requirement for students in the rhetoric and writing major and ENGL
552 required for MA students with a Composition and Rhetoric emphasis.
Develop a writing center internship for both graduates and undergraduates
with a 452/552 prerequisite so that Mas and advanced undergraduates
could tutor for credit rather than as a paid position, supplementing
their professional development.
Rationale: Composition theory and writing center theory increasingly inform the shape and depth of scholarship in college English. Nationally, associate directorships and professional tutoring in research one institutions and directorships in community and technical colleges are a growing professional opportunity for students graduating with undergraduate and masters degrees with a writing center and composition emphasis. Composition theory and writing center theory inform one another. Composition teachers with writing center experience often report feeling able to establish more rich and textured relationships with student writers both in the classroom and in conferences.
Note: Work on the curricular relationship of the writing center courses to the English Department's programs has begun. In November of 2002 the English Department charged its Curriculum and Scheduling Committee and Graduate Steering Committee to work with the Write Place Director to examine and revise course descriptions and numbering for writing center pedagogy courses and to develop proposals for more effective curricular integration.
- Office of Graduate Studies and Academic Affairs each contribute
one more GAship to the Write Place.
Rationale: Several departments have expressed interest in developing graduate level, discipline specific tutoring in writing. Additional Gaships would provide additional tutor hours for growing the Write Place and might enable us to diversify our staff by offering GA positions to a few graduate students from other departments and colleges.
- Allow qualified faculty with writing
center experience work in the Write Place as part of their load. In
the English Department such faculty include Tim Fountaine, Glen Davis,
Cindy Moore, Bob Inkster, and Judy Kilborn.
Rationale: Such faculty would assist in staffing the Center and would make very meaningful contributions to the intellectual lives of individual students by working with them one on one on writing projects. At least a few of the faculty in the above list are eager to have such an opportunity. It is important to note that faculty working in the Center will need to have a scholarly background in Composition and/or Writing Centers and that faculty ought not be assigned to the Write Place without the foreknowledge and acceptance of the Director. It would also not be acceptable to force faculty to work in the Write Place. Done in a principled way, however, this approach opens the possibility of interesting collaborations between faculty and between faculty and students.
- Begin generating an FTE revenue stream
by offering 1 credit courses through the writing center for student
writers striving for excellence (writer meets with tutor one hour a
week for the semester; offer a one credit course for graduate students
working on Masters theses (writer meets with graduate or faculty tutor
one hour a week for a semester).; offer a one credit course for writers
in writing intensive core courses (writer meets with peer tutor for
one hour a week for a semester).
Rationale: There are some philosophical problems with this approach. Historically, writing centers have prized the consensual relationship between peer tutors and writers and our freedom from the institutional responsibility of evaluating and judging student writing. However, so long as this approach is not allowed to generate into a method of disciplining struggling writers, but stands as an elective, the degree of compromise can be minimized. This solution is only appropriate if the income generated by FTE's helps to fund the Write Place.
Future Directions: What We Would Like to Be and Do
Recent writing center scholarship explores the relationship between the kinds of sustained conversations about intellectual engagement and writing in the Academy that writing centers promote and practice and student excellence. This scholarship demonstrates not only the relationship between student access to and use of writing centers and retention and success rates, but also between such conversation and heightened student participation in the intellectual life of institutions. That is, students who use writing centers and the tutors who work in them are more likely to conceive of themselves and to act as producers of knowledge in a community of teacher/learners.
Historically, writing centers have acted as the institutional homes of writing across the curriculum programs and writing intensive programs. Writing centers have provided training and support to faculty across the disciplines working in such programs as well as to students enrolled in them. Innovative relationships between writing centers and first year experience programs are burgeoning nationwide. Such initiatives are characterized by de-centralizing writing centers -- opening writing centers in residence halls and libraries to increase access, training RA's as writing tutors, developing writing fellows programs as an integral component of first year experience programs, and linking high schools with regional universities to name a few. An increasing number of writing center scholar/teachers are exploring the ways in which writing centers can support and sustain multicultural and anti-racism initiatives by supporting in meaningful ways the intellectual lives of students of color, non-traditional students, students for whom English is a second language, and students from working class families.
I believe, that is, that the Write Place is institutionally, intellectually, and pedagogically well positioned to make meaningful contributions to enacting St. Cloud State University 's strategic and institutional plans. The following are projects the tutors and I would like to pursue. They seem to us to be both possible and to grow out of the best of current writing center scholarship and practice. Without funding to meet even our current mission and charge, these goals are currently out of reach. With adequate funding, real communication between the Director and the Offices of Academic Affairs and Student Life and Development, and an annual schedule for revisiting the Write Place budget, these goals might become attainable.
- Satellite Centers: identify and prepare students from a
wide range of disciplines to work as tutors in College writing centers
so that the College of Social Sciences, The College of Education, etc.
would house writing centers staffed by undergraduate peer tutors familiar
with and fluent in the writing practices and disciplinary expectations
of particular fields of study. Additionally, satellite centers might
be established in residence halls, in the student union, and or in
Miller Center in order to provide support to student-writers in the
places where they write.
- Writing Fellows Program: provide intensive
preparation for expert student writers to act as writers-in-residence
for particular courses. Writing Fellows could be attached to seminar
sessions of a first-year experience program; could lead study, group-work,
and writing sessions attached to large lecture courses (giving students
in such courses the opportunity for small group discussion, writing
to explore complex concepts and subject matter in small groups with
a trained facilitator); could work collaboratively with teachers
of writing intensive courses across the disciplines providing in-class
support for student-writers and dedicated tutoring in the Write Place
outside of class.
- Presidential Scholars Program or Honors Fellows:
Predicated on a model developed at Coe College , high school seniors
in the top 10-15% of their graduating class could be recruited to apply
for a teacher/scholar program through the writing center. They would
receive substantial or total tuition remission at St. Cloud State University
and would serve the University community during their tenure at SCSU
as writing fellows or tutors. This program, I imagine, could be closely
affiliated with diversity initiatives by particularly seeking highly
qualified students of color and non-traditional students. Such a program
offers the possibility of SCSU contributing to the development and
enhancement of leadership skills for students of color and non-traditional
students, bringing them to the University not as liminal students,
but as central to the project of promoting intellectual excellence
for all students.
- Faculty Development Initiative: developing and offering regular workshops for faculty teaching in a first year experience program and writing intensive core courses through the writing center as well as sponsoring faculty discussion groups about writing across the disciplines and writing to learn. Such a program could provide preparation and support to new faculty.