Kairos 20.1

Transnational Writing Programs:

Emergent Models of Learning, Teaching, and Administration

David S. Martins with Patrick Reed
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My Introduction to RIT's Transnational Writing Program

"When the proximity of cultural and linguistic diversity is one of the key facts of our time, the very nature of language learning has changed."

The New London Group, "A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures," (p. 6)

When I received this message from Dubrovnik a few months after I started working as the first-year writing program director, I didn't know who Rebecca Charry was and didn't know quite how to respond. Rebecca, I learned, was a faculty member in Dubrovnik, Croatia. She was teaching Rochester Institute of Technology's (RIT) recently revised and re-named first-year writing course: Writing Seminar. She was teaching the course at the oldest of RIT's three international branch campuses, RIT Croatia, formerly the American College of Management and Technology (ACMT).

In the brief email message, my RIT Croatia colleague asks for clarification about the curriculum of a course she has taught for a long time from the program director whose name she "found on the English Department's website" (personal communication). Something has changed in how she views the appropriateness of the program curriculum for the students enrolled at RIT Croatia. By posing a simple question about her freedom to restructure the assignments in the course she teaches, she reveals two distinct, yet ultimately productive tensions: 1) the efficacy of current curricular structures for writing instruction at the two affiliated campuses, and 2) the degree of autonomy and control experienced by faculty teaching in a transnational program.

As the new first-year-writing program director, I didn't understand the curricular connections between the two schools, and was not at all clear about my role with respect to program assessment, curriculum design, and faculty professional development at any of the three branch campuses. Receiving these questions as I did challenged what had been a comfortable sense of the nature and scope of my work as the first-year-writing program director. But even more provocative was my uncertainty about the relevance of the learning outcomes and activities of Writing Seminar for the students enrolled at RIT and its branch campuses.

Questions about roles, responsibilities, and curricular relevance are, of course, the baseline concerns of any WPA. Viewed within the contexts of international higher education, the common activities and structures of first-year writing instruction looked to me impoverished. Susan Leigh Star and Karen Ruhleder (1996) described "infrastructure" as it "emerges for people in practice, connected to activities and structures" (p. 112). From this new vantage point, writing program infrastructure is clearly an institutionally specific, dynamic process. Seeing writing program infrastructure as emergent in international contexts of higher education, then, has reoriented my approach to realizing ideals, bringing about new practices, and designing alternative structures.