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By Maurice Levesque | Published September 13, 2012

I am struck by the potential of the Writing Excellence Initiative to have a positive impact on student learning and how it may complement other initiatives such as assessment or deepening curricula.  I see considerable overlap with the learning goals articulated in department assessment plans.  The summary stresses the intention to integrate QEP work within existing structures and processes.  This is particularly true in the section on Academic Departments (Action 1). In many important ways, I think this can and will work.

I would offer a caution: let us not lose sight of or underestimate the amount of difficult work articulated in Action 1 that is, to varying degrees, new.  Faculty work to carefully discuss, plan, and implement how, when, and what students are taught and do within (and across with respect to general studies) a curriculum regarding writing (and, by inference, other equally important student abilities such as critical thinking, content mastery, critical reading etc….) will be a challenge.

We should not rush this work; it is too important and has much potential to enhance student learning.  So, in addition to acknowledging and celebrating this work as necessary, challenging, and valued, I would encourage us to carefully consider how to resource, in flexible ways, this work and how we as an institution work to constrain other initiatives that draw upon the same limited department and faculty resources.

Similarly, I am struck by the challenge of balancing attention to writing with sustaining efforts to enhance other skills and abilities.  The goal is to avoid swamping those other efforts by capitalizing on improvements driven by the QEP to improve assessment practices generally, including how we provide feedback on assessment practices and use assessment results.

I encourage us to think carefully before creating new structures that add layers to these processes unique to writing.  So, I wonder whether

  • we have thought creatively enough about the committee structure and the best use of the current writing across the curriculum.
  • it is really necessary to add another oversight committee.
  • the proposed structures might unnecessarily duplicate efforts.
  • there are ways in which the functions of the new committee might be more efficiently folded into efforts closer to the units doing the work (e.g., school/college faculty structures for assessment).
  • we are asking departments to be responsive to another unit (the QEP structure) for curricular work that is already the purview of faculty curricular bodies and the Deans.

Finally, I wonder whether we are capitalizing on the opportunity to discuss and assess the writing support structures.  For example, the proposal implies that we will commit significant resources to the Writing Center, but I don’t see a focus on assessment.  Perhaps this work is implied or explicit in the full plan.  Regardless, I think it would be useful to ask the following:

  • What types of programs/supports would be most useful to departments/programs?
  • What are the goals of such programs?
  • And, if a program is intended to enhance students’ understanding/ability to use evidence to support an argument, for example, can we develop an appropriate direct assessment of how well the program assists with achieving that goal? 

If we take this approach, might this suggest a slower roll out of some supports to ensure (1) adequate needs assessment, (2) clarity and shared vision on goals for those programs, and (3) development of assessment plans?

About the Author

Maurice LevesqueMaurice Levesque is the Associate Dean of Elon College, The College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Psychology.

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