Martha A. Townsend, "Writing Intensive Courses and WAC," in: S. McLeod et al (eds.), WAC for the New Millennium: Strategies for Continuing Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Programs (Urbana: Nat. Council of Teachers of English, 200x), 234f.

Defining Writing Intensive Course Requirements

Experienced WAC practitioners know that for WAC programs to be successful they must be institutionally specific. That is to say, WAC programs must be locally designed to fit within a given institution's particular context. Similarly, WI course requirements should be defined within the local context to ensure the best possible chance for success. The language that defines course requirements at a comprehensive research university may not work at a small liberal arts college or in a large, multicampus, two-year college system. Despite variations in language, however, the guidelines for WI courses at most institutions are surprisingly similar. Farris and Smith provide an excellent overview of features that typify WI courses, paraphrased and summarized here:

  1. Class size or instructor-to-student ratio: Most guidelines call for a maximum enrollment of fifteen to twenty-five students; in larger-enrollment classes, teaching assistants may be provided to reduce the instructor's workload.
  2. Who teaches: Many guidelines require that WI courses be taught by faculty rather than teaching assistants.
  3. Required number of papers or words: Some guidelines specify a page or word count, which may include a combination of formal and informal writing, in-class and out-of-class writing, and a variety of genres; some guidelines specify the number of formal papers that must be written.
  4. Revision: Some guidelines specify how many papers must undergo a complete revision process; some indicate who will read drafts (instructor, peers, teaching assistants); some specify that feedback and revision go beyond correcting surface errors to include substantive rethinking.
  5. How writing will affect final grade: Some guidelines stipulate or recommend that grades from writing make up a certain percentage of the course grade; not always easily negotiated, these percentages can vary widely from, say, 20 percent to 70 percent or more.
  6. Types of assignments: Guidelines may require or recommend that writing be distributed throughout the course rather than concentrated in a term paper; some specify particular tasks, e.g., summary, analysis, source integration; some call for assignments typical to the discipline of the course or for controversies in the discipline to be addressed.
  7. Assignment-related instruction and evaluation of papers: Some guidelines may suggest, require, or provide teaching techniques such as collaborative work, directed lessons on research techniques, checklists for feedback, and minimal marking.
  8. Support services: Some guidelines suggest or require that WI instructors attend workshops or consult with WAC staff, or that their students use a particular writing center for tutoring (Farris and Smith 73-74)

The characteristic that is probably most variable among programs is the amount of writing required. Actually, many WAC directors find page- or word-count stipulations one of the least intrinsically relevant aspects of their programs, but they acknowledge the need to provide them so that faculty and students have some common sense of scope. More meaningful to WI course quality are the frequency of writing, the usefulness of instructor feedback, the opportunity for revision, and, most important, the design of the writing assignments and their "fit" with the pedagogical aims of the course. Usually, WI courses will include some combination of both writing-to-learn and writing-to-communicate assignments, although the balance of these will vary based on instructor preference, course goals, and the course's place in the curriculum, e.g., lower division, upper division, for majors only, for general education purposes. Typically, traditional term papers are discouraged unless they are assigned in sequenced segments with teacher feedback and revision incorporated.

The more astute programmatic guidelines are couched in diplomatic language, allow for flexibility among disciplines, and account for individual instructors' teaching preferences. In most universities, oversight committees responsible for vetting WI courses have little finite authority; moreover, they recognize the perils of constituting themselves as the campus "WI police." Instead, most programs are interested in overall pedagogical change. Susan McLeod, in sharing an anecdote on how WAC had changed one teacher's life, concluded by noting that: [end of page]

scanned and OCR by H. Marcuse, April 2003
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