Assessing the Writing-Intensive (WI) Requirement
As part of its charge from the Faculty Senate to conduct ongoing assessment of the Senate-mandated writing-intensive (WI) requirement, the University Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Committee periodically collects and reviews syllabi from WI courses across the university. The summaries below present the findings of these reviews.
2018/2019 Report on Review of Writing-Intensive Syllabi
In spring 2019, the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program staff conducted its sixth review of syllabi from all writing intensive (WI) courses in fulfillment of its Faculty Senate charge for ongoing assessment of the requirement. Following is a brief summary of our main findings.
- 120 syllabi were reviewed from the spring 2019.
- 26 (22%) of the 120 syllabi collected met all of the recommended guidelines for WI courses.
- The remaining 94 (78%) were missing one or more elements identified in the guidelines.
2015/2016 Report on Review of Writing-Intensive Syllabi
In spring 2016, the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program staff conducted its fifth review of syllabi from all writing intensive (WI) courses in fulfillment of its Faculty Senate charge for ongoing assessment of the requirement. Following is a brief summary of our main findings.
- 108 syllabi were reviewed from the spring 2015, fall 2015, and a few previous semesters.
- 29 (27%) of the 108 syllabi collected met all of the recommended guidelines for WI courses.
- The remaining 79 (73%) were missing one or more elements identified in the guidelines.
2010/2011 Report on Review of Writing-Intensive Syllabi
In fall 2010, the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) committee conducted its fourth review of syllabi from all writing intensive (WI) courses in fulfillment of its Faculty Senate charge for ongoing assessment of the requirement. Following is a brief summary of our main findings.
- 47 designated WI courses were taught in fall 2010 (out of a total of 52 representing all majors).
- Approximately 75% of the 72 syllabi collected met all of the guidelines for WI courses.
- The remaining 25% were missing one or more elements identified in the guidelines; of these, most were taught by faculty new to the requirement. For this group, the individual faculty members and/or undergraduate coordinators were contacted, informed about the criteria for WI courses, and asked to submit a revised syllabus for the spring. All did so.
- Some correlation was noted between the amount of information about writing given on WI syllabi and positive departmental results for writing questions on the Graduating Senior Survey.
2007/2008 Report on Review of Writing-Intensive Syllabi
In Spring 2008, the Committee conducted its fourth review of syllabi from designated WI courses taught in Fall 2007 and Spring 2008, collecting WI syllabi from majors in all of the colleges and also in the Institute for Conflict Resolution. Of the 65 syllabi collected, approximately 81% met the guidelines for WI courses as outlined by the Faculty Senate, which mandated in 1993 that all students must take one upper-level WI course in their major.
This percentage is higher than the 70% compliance rate from the WI syllabi review conducted in 1999-2000 and the 71% compliance rate from the 2003-2004 review. As in past years, the WAC director contacted faculty whose syllabi did not meet the WI requirements and asked for revision and resubmission. In a few cases, WI syllabi submitted by departments did not match with the WI course designated in the catalog; these departments were also contacted about the discrepancy. Finally, in three cases, WI courses had not been designated for new majors. Directors/coordinators for these majors were contacted and have submitted WI courses for committee review. The Committee was satisfied that all of these listed concerns have now been addressed.
2003/2004 Summary of Results of Writing-Intensive Syllabi Review
In Spring 2004, the committee conducted its third review of syllabi from designated WI courses taught in Fall 2003 and Spring 2004. Syllabi were collected from departments in CVPA, SOM, CNHS, ITE, and CAS, and from the Recreation, Health, Tourism department in CEHD (formerly GSE).
51 of the 71 syllabi (72%) collected from the departments met the guidelines for WI courses as outlined by the Senate. 20 of the syllabi submitted did not fully meet the requirements for one or more of the following reasons: they did not state on the syllabus that the course fulfills the WI requirement for the major; they did not indicate the ways in which the course meets the WI requirements and/or contained no description of the writing procedures and assignments by which the course fulfilled the requirement (e.g. 3500 words, drafts, feedback, revision, class time given to instruction in writing the assignment). Only two departments failed to submit syllabi for their WI course(s). The number of syllabi fully in compliance with the requirement is slightly up from the last review cycle in academic year 1999-2000.
Overall, the committee is pleased with the high level of compliance to the requirement. Further, our follow-up on non-compliant syllabi enabled us to detect and address wider issues, e.g. WI courses listed incorrectly or missing in the catalog. We believe that our continued high national ranking in the U.S. News and World Report College Issue and the recognition given to our program by the National Education Association Advocate Online (Feb 2004) speak to the success of the program and the hard work of our faculty. For a description of the WI requirement, click here.
Results of Fall 1999/Spring 2000 Writing-Intensive Syllabi Review
In Spring semester 2000, the University WAC Committee conducted its second review, collecting and reviewing 101 syllabi from designated writing-intensive (WI) courses taught in Fall 1999 and Spring 2000. New Century College and Public and International Affairs were not asked to submit syllabi as, by prior agreement, all courses above the 300-level in these two units are considered to be writing-intensive.
The WAC Committee received information on 57 of the 67 WI courses listed in the catalog, represented by 101 syllabi. Again, this number does not include information on any of the NCC or PIA courses above the 300-level. Nor were all the WI courses listed in the catalog necessarily taught in the semesters for which we collected syllabi. After receiving the syllabi and the report from the departmental member assigned to reviewing his/her department’s WI syllabi, the WAC Director, with the assistance of a graduate student, noted syllabi not fully in compliance.
Approximately 70% of the WI syllabi collected and reviewed were in compliance with the requirements. Those not in compliance were not egregiously non-compliant; rather, it seemed to us, that many faculty are not aware that the Faculty Senate has mandated that explicit descriptions of the guidelines and procedures for WI courses appear on the syllabus. Of the 101 syllabi reviewed, 31 were not in compliance. To be in compliance, according to the Faculty Senate motion passed in May 1997, all syllabi must contain 1) an explicit statement that the course “fulfills all or in part the writing-intensive requirement for the major” and 2) a specific description of the assignments and procedures by which the course fulfills the WI criteria. The 31 syllabi did not comply for the following reasons:
- 26 did not state that the course fulfills the writing-intensive requirement for the major;
- 15 did not indicate that students will be graded on a minimum of 3500 words, divided among two or more assignments or a longer project divided into stages;
- 19 contained no description of writing procedures (e.g., drafts, feedback, revision, class time given to instruction in writing the assignment) prescribed by the WI requirement; in some cases, a collaborative project is being used to fulfill the 3500-word requirement with no indication that individual students are writing and receiving feedback on that number of words.
In addition, according to section sizes listed on the web, 6 WI sections enrolled more than the maximum number of 35 students. Because the Committee works under the assumption that all WI courses will be in compliance with the Faculty Senate mandate, we must work to achieve 100% compliance. Given the issues which surfaced in our review of WI syllabi and given the renewed emphasis on WI courses in the new plan for general education, we recommend the following actions:
- The Director should revisit departmental agreements, which were negotiated when the requirement was first mandated.
- The Committee should draft guidelines and policies to submit to the Senate regarding collaborative writing assignments, minimum page requirements, and the revision with feedback requirement.
- The WAC Director should continue her efforts to provide faculty development in a number of venues.
1997 Interviews and Syllabi Assessment
The third phase of WAC assessment (Fall 1997) used in-depth interviews with department chairs/undergraduate coordinators to update and go beyond the information supplied in Phase One. Carried out by the Director and Associate Director of WAC, these interviews focused on such topics as:
- the perceived benefits and drawbacks of the current WI policy, plus the impact of the requirement on faculty attitudes and practice;
- the perception of overall strengths and weaknesses of writing by students in the degree program;
- the prevalence of writing in courses across the department, in WI and non-WI courses;
- use by faculty of WAC publications and support services and suggestions for improved service.
Results of these interviews, along with the results of a review of WI syllabi to determine level of compliance with the requirement, were analyzed and reported to the WAC Committee, the Senate, and all departments and colleges in Spring 1998.
Findings included the following:
- almost complete minimal compliance with WI criteria;
- almost complete satisfaction with the current requirement;
- wide-ranging departmental variation in the extent to which writing is part of the major curriculum;
- mixed satisfaction with and concern about student writing competence;
- relative similarity in the kinds of support needed by departments to sustain and improve the WI effort.
Based on these findings, the Director of WAC made the following recommendations to the Faculty Senate, Deans, and the Provost:
- continuation of current requirement and its administrative support;
- departmentally-focused faculty development in teaching methods related to student writing;
- continued recognition of the efforts of identified faculty and students;
- earmarked funding for in-depth assessment of 1) actual faculty practice in working with student writers and 2) development of student writing ability within majors and across the university;
- growth of the University Writing Center in ways that support discipline-based writing (e.g., online, peer, and satellite tutoring; in-class workshops on writing issues).
1996 Interviews and Opinion Surveys
The first phase of the assessment was to query chairs, undergraduate coordinators, and faculty about the extent of their participation in the WI program. 90% of degree programs returned surveys in 1996 that indicated their total or near total cooperation with the criteria for the WI courses. Accompanying these surveys were copies of WI course syllabi. The Committee and Director used these documents to report in Spring 1997 to the Faculty Senate and back to the degree programs about how fully the criteria were being met across the University.
On the basis of this evidence, the Senate in May 1997 moved to require all WI syllabi to (1) indicate that the course fulfills all or in part the WI requirement in the major and (2) include explicit mention of the assignments and practices by which the course meets the WI criteria.