Saturday, June 09, 2012

Could be worse

Change is in the air. Our Curriculum Review Task Force is currently attempting to overhaul our general education curriculum (the Integrative Liberal Studies [ILS] Program) and provide recommendations and requirements that will guide departments as they redesign their curricula. There's a lot of give-and-take, but mostly give: since our curricular change is being driven by a push for sustainability (faculty simply can't continue to deliver the current curriculum without sacrificing mental or physical health), the curriculum we're proposing will almost certainly be slenderer and more streamlined than the current one.

One potential victim of change is our current "intensives" program. At present we require students to complete intensive courses of four varieties: diversity (1 course), information literacy (2 course), quantitative (1 course), and writing intensives (3 courses). Our tentative plan eliminates all such course requirements. The quantitative intensive requirement will be folded in with the core mathematics requirement, and the fate of the diversity intensive requirement has yet to be decided. Meanwhile, the other two requirements are to be pushed into the departments, made "competency-based" requirements rather than "course-based" ones. More specifically, each department will be asked to design their major programs so that any students completing those program will necessarily complete at least one course treating, intentionally and intensively, discipline-specific information literacy and at least two giving such treatment of discipline-specific writing.

For the past several months I've felt poorly about this move, but several conversations and sessions in which I've taken part here at the 11th Annual International Writing Across the Curriculum Conference (what up, Savannah?) have made me rethink my position. How so?

1. Alignment with departmental learning goals. Under the proposed plan, the courses would be even more closely aligned with departmental learning outcomes, and would involve even more authentic disciplinary writing. Moreover, while several departments currently have only one WI course, forcing their majors to fulfill the WI requirement in part by taking courses from outside the major, under the proposed plan all students would be required to take two writing-competency courses within the discipline: even recalcitrant departments wouldn't be able to escape.

To be sure, currently all proposed WI courses campuswide must meet explicit criteria regarding writing instruction, assessment, and integration into course activities, and we'll lose that in the proposed move. However, now that we've designed careful assessment procedures to keep tabs on writing-intensive courses' efficacy, we'll be able to measure the success of whatever courses department identify as writing-competency courses.

2. Retention of departmental autonomy. It'll be up to the departments to identify the courses they feel offer students the most authentic writing-in-the-disciplines experience. Moreover, we will likely offer leeway to departments in tailoring assessment procedures to their own needs.

3. Campus culture of writing. The proposed plan is a feasible one: almost every department already offers one or two (or more) writing-intensive courses, and I'm certain most departments would have little trouble in identifying one or two more such courses. This feasibility highlights the way in which writing has become a part of the academic culture on campus. Six or seven years ago, when the ILS program was young, there were few WI courses campuswide; now there are many. We've come a long way.

Moreover, moving the WI courses into the departments would likely strengthen writing's presence in the campus academic culture, given its greater proximity to department curricula and learning outcomes.

4. Precedents elsewhere. Chris Anson's keynote address here highlighted several other institutions, big and small, that have implemented or are implementing department-based writing-across-the-curriculum programs. (McDaniel College (MD), the University of Minnesota, and UNC-Charlotte have all adopted some kind of department-based WAC program.) Of course, anyone familiar with Anson's work knows the models he and his colleagues at NC State have promulgated for successful department-based writing and writing assessment. I'd be happy to help UNC Asheville's departments in designing effective WAC programming, drawing heavily on Anson's work.

5. It could be worse. WAC is getting cut back everywhere in the face of budget cuts (here, Sue Doe spoke of defunding at Colorado State University, home of the WAC Clearinghouse), and at least we're not facing system-wide mandates for standardized benchmarks (here, Ohio State's Kay Halasek told horror stories of mandatory granting of credit for certain AP scores and placement for certain ACT scores). We've retained a good deal of autonomy in this regard. Moreover, I'm confident that most of our students, and most of our faculty, recognize the important part writing plays in education...and the particularly important part it plays in our QEP (which focuses on developing critical thinking through inquiry into, application of, reflection on, and communication of course content). Given the recognized centrality of writing, it's unlikely to go away anytime soon.

So...we'll labor on. I'm not so bummed about our situation anymore. We'll see how things work out as we move forward with our plans. Further bulletins as events warrant.

1 comment:

Jack Derbyshire said...

Not too bad. Definitely could be worse. Far from ideal, though!

So, a question for you - what would be the "ideal" outcome for the curricula at UNCA? If you had to dream big, what would be the perfect UNCA curricula strategies?

Also... when you start using UNCA's ridiculous QEP to support a decision, things must be rough!

Hope all is well,