Background

The Writing in the Majors Initiative is an essential component of the long-term strategic goals of Skidmore College; specifically, the goals of improved communication, enhanced student learning, and more effective pedagogy through assessment.

Skidmore is keenly aware of the crucial connection between writing and student achievement; embedded within our Strategic Plan are calls for greater attention to various forms of student communication, especially during a student's first year of college. After a year of intense debate, the faculty in 2007 approved an enhanced Writing Program that builds on the previous set of requirements while embedding a distinct writing component in each major. "The Plan for Improving Student Writing at Skidmore" mandates that each department and program "bear the responsibility for promoting effective communication, including writing... and [the responsibility for creating] a culture that seriously values writing both as a primary means of communication and as a significant mode of learning." "The Plan" left in place the pre-existing one-course Expository Writing requirement, but it added a provision that students acquire the tools to understand and practice discipline-specific writing conventions. The new requirement underscores our vision of writing improvement as continuous and links that vision with the major where a more rigorous exploration of ideas and topics may be expected.

The Writing in the Majors Initiative represents an important advancement of institutional culture: the success of this initiative will depend on collaboration and conversations across departments, divisions, and even institutions. As the most common thread that runs through so much of our teaching and creative and scholarly work, writing can be a powerful catalyst for greater intellectual community-building.

In order to realize a cultural shift that recognizes the centrality of writing as a means of engagement and of acquiring and making knowledge, all departments and programs delivering a major must participate in sustained dialogues about writing as a form of communication, about the exercise of writing as a factor in student achievement, and about the assessment of writing.

Anticipated Outcomes of the Initiative

We imagine two principal outcomes from this initiative:

  • for departments and programs to work individually and collectively to identify, develop, implement, assess, and ultimately support their particular curricular writing plans, and
  • for the College to assess coursework that aims to improve writing while simultaneously encouraging deeper engagement with the content in the major.

By the end of the project, we will have at least 36 reports that will contribute to the scholarship on teaching and learning writing in the majors. Our goal is to promote a longitudinal approach to student learning based on an assessment/improvement/reassessment model.

Support for the Initiative

The Writing in the Majors Initiative is partially supported by money from the Teagle Foundation. To request funds to help develop and implement Writing in the Majors, departments and programs should prepare a memo (addressed to Sarah Goodwin, Faculty Assessment Coordinator). Guidelines for these requests are available here.

In order to qualify for faculty development grants, individual instructors must agree to:

  • assess student writing and student learning in the revised course
  • refine or improve the course based on these preliminary assessment findings
  • teach the course at least one more time within a two-year period,and
  • submit a final assessment report that reveals student learning trends over the (at least) two iterations of the course.

Phases of the Initiative

Phase I: Defining Disciplinary Expectations

Phase I provides support for separate departments to engage in systematic conversations about what writing in their discipline means at the undergraduate level and what curricular additions or modifications are needed to develop a departmental program that elucidates those conventions of writing in the discipline. We expect each of Skidmore's departments and programs that delivers a major to take approximately one year to conduct the conversations that will result in a comprehensive writing plan. These plans may take the form of one or more departmental offerings, components of sets of courses, portfolio requirements, courses that are cross listed across areas, or other yet-to-be-imagined models. Outside consultants, especially those from colleges and universities that have successfully implemented Writing in the Majors programs, will prove especially helpful throughout Phase I. Click here for links to writing programs at other colleges and universities.

Phase II: Implementation

Once a department or program completes its curricular plan and submits it to the College's Curriculum Committee for approval, it moves into Phase II: implementation. Phase II provides support, in the form of faculty development grants, for individual faculty or teams of faculty to develop or modify the courses in their disciplines that will allow for the realization of the department's overall writing plan.

Phase III: Assessment

The third phase of the Writing in the Majors Initiative involves systematic and iterative asssessment efforts. We plan to use outside consultants to help us develop disciplinary rubrics for assessing writing as well as its impact on the understanding of content within the particular majors. The primary goal is for each department and program to develop an individualized assessment tool that allows it to measure improvements in students' writing, as well as comprehension of general topics. 


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