Surveying the Landscape

Building on several local strengths, notably the FYC program, the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Writing Intensive Program (WIP), and the Center for Undergraudate Research Opportunities (CURO), the task force presented a set of recommendations that would create more writing resources and support services that allow for flexibility and adapation in a diverse curriculum, while spreading a pedagogy fostered in FYC and WIP—a pedagogy of process, revision, and understanding disciplinary conventions. Some key actions from the task force's report have been adopted, resulting in the creation of a growing Writing Certificate Program (WCP), which like FYC uses portfolio assessment in the form of a capstone eportfolio representing the writing-intensive courses taken by students in the program; and the institution of a Writing Fellows Program (WFP), a faculty development program that comes with a small grant for developing writing courses, assignments, workshops, or the purchase of materials or support staff ; and the approval of a W suffix which faculty can use to identify courses as writing intensive based on a set of standards that were already being used by the WIP. The emphasis is on the process of learning to write, viewing the development of writing skills as arising out of communities of practice and ongoing discussion and revision of that practice.

This attention to creating communities of practice is embodied in the interface of the writing infrastructure. More than simply creating intuitive navigation and attractive design, we are looking for the ways in which the interface itself encourages writing improvement. Much of instruction relies on what might be called presence. The intersection of the infrastructure and pedagogy is the immediacy of collected and shared materials. Process is built into the interface, encouraging (though not forcing) instructors to stage writing projects from pre-write to multiple drafts to reflective post-write, and students can see in retrospect how much process work they have completed. Access to previous drafts and all the accompanying comments helps students recognize how a particular writing projects evolves. Similarly, having easy access to peers' work and a simple way to offer review outside of class, students can do much more peer review. The quality of peer review certainly increases with careful guidance but most importantly with more practice. Lee-Ann M. Kastman Breuch and Sam J. Racine (2000) argued that an effective method of improving peer review is "critical practice" in which peer reviewers respond to each others' writing and then evaluate the feedback they received to determine if the reviewer effectively addressed relevant issues in the particular rhetorical situation (p. 257). Additionally, in their argument for email peer review, Ellen Strenski, Caley O'Dwyer Feagin, and Jonathan A. Singer (2012) pointed to a sample peer review that they found effective largely due to "the camaraderie generated by this conversational medium" and the way that an online medium like email promotes an "informal intimacy" (p. 195). The virtual classroom atmosphere that a CMS has the potential to provide can certainly allow for the development of this "camaraderie" and "informal intimacy" that is conducive to the development of peer review skills and can provide a "safe" dialogic space in which students can practice different methods for providing feedback and evaluate their own and others' responses.

The persistent storage of peer review creates an ongoing conversation about the text and allows for the possibility of instructor review and intervention, which is particularly important for guiding the development of peer reviewing skills. The immediacy of access and the permanence of the repository help fashion the community of writers and allow greater depth of reflection on what the students are learning in the classroom. The collision of immediacy and permanence shines through in the creation of the portfolio. With complete access to the work of the term and a very simple interface for building the portfolio, students can focus on their writing and their learning about writing per se, rather than on the mechanics of creating a portfolio.

Go to "Building the Ecosystem"

Check out the video to see how Ron and Elizabeth use <emma> to research and develop ideas as they surevey the landscape of writing curriculum and pedagogy on their campus.

Read the transcript for this video, or view the texts shown in the video.