Kairos 20.1

Transnational Writing Programs:

Emergent Models of Learning, Teaching, and Administration

David S. Martins with Patrick Reed
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Responding to Questions, Reconsidering Ideals

"An infrastructure is more than material, is never static, and is always emerging."

Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, Ellen Cushman, and Jeffrey T. Grabill (2005), "Infrastructure and Composing" (p. 22)

As the new WPA at RIT's Rochester campus, I was attempting to balance my responsibility for high-quality instruction and programmatic continuity with teacher control and autonomy in a faculty comprised of over 40 adjuncts, lecturers, and tenured/tenure-track faculty. Two years before my arrival, the writing curriculum had changed from a two-course sequence—Writing and Literature 1 & 2—to a ten-week Writing Seminar course based on the WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition. The faculty hired to teach literature-based writing classes were now teaching a much different course. Some faculty were finding the transition challenging, as evidenced by the texts and writing tasks they assigned.

Rebecca Charry's message from Croatia asking to alter the program curriculum for the students in her classes highlights a tension between her teacherly authority and her intention to maintain continuity between the coursework at RIT Croatia with that of RIT. To use the words of Star and Ruhleder (1996), Rebecca's email articulates a tension between the "local, customized, intimate and flexible use [of a technology] on the one hand, and the need for standards and continuity, on the other" (p. 112). The technology in this case is the course curriculum.

Still unfamiliar with the curricular connections between the two campuses, I responded to Rebecca's questions based on two primary ideals: 1) program coherence, and 2) open dialogue. I reiterated the official expectations of the courses and invited further conversation:

This response and our subsequent conversations reveal my own framing of the work the course accomplishes and my WPA role in relation to that work. For example, I link together specific notions of academic writing to class activities that are intended help students create meaningful literacy practices for producing academic writing. As the WPA, my role is to monitor and coordinate the activities of the course and to learn from instructors what they experience in the teaching of the course. Within this frame, I take for granted the kind of preparation faculty might have for teaching a first-year writing course, the instructional resources faculty might have available to them, and the educational and language backgrounds faculty and students in the course are likely to have.

An American expat living in Croatia, Rebecca frames her response to my answer in terms of the students in her classes, their linguistic and educational backgrounds, and their experience of the course activities:

While the experiences of the students in her classes mirrored those of the students in my own—at least in terms of being rushed and feeling the need for more time—Rebecca also raises her concern for what the students' education and language backgrounds mean for their ability to participate effectively in the course. In fact, in later email exchanges, Rebecca talks more specifically about her professional interest in her students' experiences:

Understanding the linguistic and cultural background of students in Croatia, I clearly saw numerous implications of exporting Writing Seminar to a branch campus. The exported curriculum doesn't, for example, reflect what Bruce Horner and John Trimbur (2002) called an "internationalist perspective" (p. 624). And the course itself can be seen as what Min-Zhan Lu (2010) called an "'English Only' projection" (p. 42). As such, the exported curriculum may fail to offer students at its international locations the writing support they need to achieve articulated learning outcomes. And those learning outcomes may limit all students at RIT and any of its international locations from developing the 21st-century literacy practices engendered by the international branch campuses themselves.