By Vicki Tolar Burton, Director, Writing Intensive Curriculum
First Impressions from Bacc Core Committee Assessment of WIC Courses
The Baccalaureate Core Committee (BCC) is charged with periodic review of all courses in the Bacc Core. Now involved in a seven-year review cycle, the BCC is reviewing WIC courses by college, reviewing about 25 courses per year. The first round of reviews includes the Colleges of Agricultural Sciences (CAS), Business (COB), and Public Health and Human Sciences (CPHHS). This review is not complete in that the BCC has not yet completed discussions or re-certified any courses under review; but some general observations can be made based on early data available.
On the plus side:
On the minus side:
Why class size matters: In order to improve as writers, students need detailed feedback (but not line-editing) on their writing followed by robust revision of their draft. The time a faculty member can devote to giving feedback is finite. The larger the class, typically, the less feedback writers receive, especially when faculty members have research demands of their own. The amount of writing assigned also tends to decrease as class size expands.
Assessment results are prompting conversations in units, colleges, on the WIC Board, and in the Bacc Core Committee. During spring term, the BCC will report their review results, and units will begin to close the feedback loop with changes and improvements in their courses. The WIC program is here to help.
Copious, Imperfect Feedback: Phil Harding on Teaching Writing to Engineers
By Jillian Clark, WIC Intern and Summer Wimberly, WIC GTA
You’ve been teaching at OSU for over 6 years now. How did you get started with teaching?
My dad taught at Evergreen State College; he was an architect, and he taught art there. He was always saying, “Phil, you need to be a teacher one day.” I said, “Dad, there’s no way in this day and age that I’m going back now, with a wife and kids and a mortgage, and do tenure track. There’s no way.” I was always very negative. I look back now, and I regret being so hopeless about the prospect. I was on the Industrial Advisory Board for the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering, and this position opened up, this Linus Pauling Chair. This is an endowed chair that’s dedicated to undergraduate education. I applied, and I got the position. It was just a great day. My dad had passed away, and so I like to think that he knows and he’s very happy upstairs. But that’s how I got here. I enjoy working with teams. The atmosphere with seniors is more collegial. Students need a strong leader, but I love and respect my them.
Before teaching at OSU, what was your background in industry? How has your background in industry influenced your teaching?
I worked in a variety of roles in industry, from manufacturing to research and development. I had the luxury of working pulp and paper, petroleum, microelectronics, and even life sciences in the context of my HP time. That breadth of experience really suited the three disciplines we have here—chemical engineering, bioengineering, and environmental engineering. It really has helped to have seen different approaches to work and how people have been successful or not successful or partially successful, and then I preach what I practice.
For teaching engineers writing, I think that if you have someone who doesn’t have an engineering background—someone who isn’t accomplished in the technical world—it’s going to be difficult to get the students’ attention. We need to acknowledge that there are these chasms. It’s important for me to teach technical rigor, hopefully early in my exposure to students, so that they can see that I can relate these problems to industry.
Can you describe your WIC course for us?
Our WIC class, this senior capstone laboratory class, is structured so that you have a lecture and then you have multiple lab periods throughout the week. When I started, there were 4 labs that had 12-15 students each. Now, we have 7 labs that have 21-24 students each. I taught the largest WIC course on campus last year with 118.
We understand that you have a distinctive approach for teaching WIC. Can you tell us more about your teaching strategy?
When I started here six years ago, there were 40-some students in this class. It had just been declared the WIC class a couple of years before that. I would take these papers home on the weekend. I would work very hard, and I wouldn’t see my family. And I did that for the whole first time I taught the course. Because I refused to allow the quality of the instruction, in my estimation, to drop, I had to metamorphose this in order to survive.
Having a lecture and these multiple labs Monday through Friday has turned out to be a real convenience with regards to the WIC course execution. I train my TAs well to run the labs, to make sure the students are safe and text me if there are problems. I make sure the students have trained themselves well with doing pre-laboratory technical assignments and such. Then I go to the library; I disappear to a secret place on the sixth floor, and for two hours and twenty minutes, I go through all these papers with a rubric of some kind, record the scores, and then get back to the lab. Their early scores are very low, but I believe in copious, imperfect feedback. Engineers are notorious for wanting to be perfectionists, and that is one of the main reasons that engineering professors really struggle with WIC feedback. I cover the papers in so many marks (I buy whole packs of pens) that students aren’t even going to think about saying, “I deserve more points,” because look what an…opportunity for growth I have. That’s what I have embraced.
The benefit is that, although it is profoundly exhausting to do this for two and a half hours, it means that I get home at 6 o’clock, and other than email, I do not bring any papers home. I love my family time, and I just refuse. A lot of this evolution came from frankly selfish reasons. I was tired and miserable. My whole life, I’ve organized my way through everything. I had to prepare better, organize better.
Three years ago, I started training undergraduates who had been through my class before to help [in the lab and with writing]. We have a writing training workshop for two hours a day for the week before classes start. I give them one old report and seven minutes, and I tell them to mark it. I don’t give them a rubric; we just talk about it. What did they find? What was flawed?
Then I give them five more minutes for the abstract, and I ask them what makes a good rubric. What elements should be included? Five minutes, three abstracts. I tell them that I’m probably not going to change my own rubric, but I want them to see that they can arrive at those elements on their own. Then I tell them they have one minute to score the abstract. It’s worth 20 points, so how do you assign those points? One minute. I get them into the mentality of minutes, never hours or stacks of papers. It’s all planned out. This preparation course builds their confidences, gets them used to the speed.
We split the class this year, so I only had 96 students this fall and my colleague Líney Árnadóttir had 46. Thanks to her flexibility, I only had one of those three hour labs a day this fall, and I was light on my feet.
How do you structure the progression of assignments and revision?
There’s a persona paper, then resume; you understand yourself and professional expectations, and then you write a cover letter and have to apply for a job.
Students start with small assignments, but do so immediately. On the very first day of class I have students write what they imagine themselves doing in five years and describe their professional persona—how they’re perceived by their colleagues. This idea came from former School Head Ken Williamson. After they write, I have them self-assess, critically, as if they’ve never seen it before. They always think it looks great. So I have them swap it with someone they don’t know, and I say “Ok, whoever is the peer reviewer, put your name on it, do not tell them it’s great because I will call you down and show you why it’s not great. They are counting on you to give feedback”.
Students then take what they did in lecture, and they bring it to their first lab period. I take those personas and correct whatever is necessary; I literally dot their “i”s. I just hammer—rewrite, rewrite. And they have to bring that back every week. It’s a really quick, 20 second thing for me.
While I focus on the persona, the writing TAs are correcting a draft of their resume. Meanwhile the technical work is starting, so they write update reports from lab. That’s really when it gets more serious. With the update report, I begin copious, imperfect feedback in earnest. I give students a feel for what we’re looking for—everything. I tell my TAs, we need to write down every rubric number on the margins so they say, “Wow, they are looking at so much detail.”
I don’t give out rubrics. When you go out and work, are you going to go to your boss and say, “Hello, I’m really excited to be here for this job. Could you give me a rubric so I can get a pay raise next year? Because that’s what I want.” Everyone laughs. So no rubrics are shared with students. I do verbally discuss with students and the class about what they think I’m looking for in an abstract, for example, and at this point I’ve already lectured about it.
After receiving that copious, imperfect feedback on the update report, students write a final report, adding new stuff like presentation of results and how to put good captions on figures. Then more copious, imperfect feedback, but the average climbs 5 or 8 points. Almost everyone sees, “Oh my score went up! It’s going to be ok! How long until the next assignment?” That’s how I do the feedback cycles in the engineering lab context.
I believe in this model. It distributes the student thinking. They’re writing, and it’s not everything the night before—which is a notorious issue. It distributes the student work. And it makes the feedback easier for instructors. Just have more, smaller writing.
Given your experience as an Engineering and WIC professor, what are some strengths and challenges you find with students as writers?
Engineers specifically don’t have very many opportunities to write during their first three years, and all of the WIC classes are stacked into the Senior year. The kids starting to come into my class have been texting for so long, that if they email, it’s all lowercase with no spelling or punctuation. They think that they can turn it on, that they can turn on the ability to see a word and recognize that it’s misspelled. They cannot.
It is very important to me how we at OSU represent ourselves. Now, I look at this page [Harding holds up project document] and I can immediately see this [misspelled word]. This team submitted their first version to me on a project they’re working on with an external industry colleague. However, despite their best efforts, here in the first sentence, the notorious misspelling of “engineer.” They’re good human beings; they work very hard, but they have lost the ability to see it. It’s terrifying for me because they’re going to go out and work for someone like me, people in my generation who are out there hiring. I’m saying that students coming in have huge challenges about attention span, attention to detail, and fundamental writing skills.
What other reflections can you share with Engineering faculty, WIC faculty, or instructors with large course enrollment?
On teaching writing
I don’t know formal grammar rules and lingo, and I don’t care. I know extra words when I see them. “The calibration of the pump”—pump calibration. Two extra words for the reader. “Because the pump needed calibrating (forget the comma) we chose to measure flow rates…” No, don’t make the reader wonder what’s going to come. Be direct in technical writing. “We calibrated the pump.” Tell them. The pump was calibrated this way. This is technical writing, again. Fewer words, communicate clearly.
I don’t use the word grade, by the way. I think it’s a very emotional word for us in America. I provide feedback. Then, if someone insists, I will tell them I scored it because I had to. If a student says I gave them a bad grade, I say, “What are you talking about? I didn’t give you a grade. What makes you think I had a grade in mind?” I’ll tell them that they wrote 100 units, and I found a flaw in 1/3 of them. That’s pretty good. Do they want me to find more? Of course not. When they go out and work, sometimes 1/3 of their work is going to be flawed. Get used to it. So I don’t use the word grade.
As a final question: What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Henry David Thoreau’s journal excerpts, and I read that so I learn new words. I keep a pen, and I circle the words and look them up. Right before that I read Kurt Vonnegut’s science fiction—Galapagos.
Nominate your Student for the WIC Culture of Writing Award
By WIC Team
Along with flowers blooming and more sun shining, Spring is the time to nominate students for the Culture of Writing Award. The award is a way units across the disciplines can recognize and praise exceptional student writing, communicating to both the student and the university that good writing matters in all subject areas.
Nominating Students and Paper Selection
If a unit (school or department) is participating, faculty can nominate and submit student writing to the unit. Of all of the submissions, the unit then selects the best paper. After determining the winning paper, each unit should fill out this nomination form and submit it to WIC Assistant Summer Wimberly (Elizabeth.Wimberly@oregonstate.edu). Once the form is accepted, the unit grants the winning student a $50 award which WIC then matches. The student, in total, receives $100, an award cirtificate, recognition in the WIC Spring Newsletter, and often in the student’s hometown newspaper.
Please submit the nomination form by 5pm PST, May 30, 2014. A more complete description of the Culture of Writing Awards policy and submission instructions can be found on the WIC website or by clicking here.
Tips and Models for the Award Nomination Process:
For any questions or concerns, please contact WIC GTA Assistant Summer Wimberly at Elizabeth.Wimberly@oregonstate.edu.
Quick WIC Advice from WIC Faculty
By Jillian Clark, WIC Intern
We surveyed recent WIC Seminar alumni, asking which strategies work well in their WIC courses. Here are a few ideas:
“[Follow brief] lectures with writing assignments in class that pertain to the lecture, which provides me with insights on what students understood. [It also] provides students with an opportunity to work on their writing skills and rehearse new information. The next class then begins with a discussion of points gleaned from the writing that ‘fill[s] the gaps.’ This allows the instructor to both guide writing development and tailor lectures to the students’ needs.”
“Have students write a section of the core project, no more than 300 words, in class. [They] exchange those with a fellow student who then attempts to edit the piece down to fewer words and correct errors; these are returned to the original student. The goal is to learn brevity of expression, editing skills, and to participate in peer review. Students find this to be very informative.”
“I found what I learned about having students do peer review was very helpful. I wrote up a document to help them understand the difference between meaningful and unhelpful feedback, with specific examples of comments in each category. I also listed some other helpful tips for them. On average, I found the peer reviews most people wrote to be much better than what I expected and was quite pleased. There are a few things I can improve on next year, but for my first time guiding a peer review, I think it went well!”
“I have found informal, writing to learn strategies to be beneficial to students in all of my courses, not just my WIC course. Students become more active in the classroom through these activities, and they are more willing to engage in conversation after having a moment to think more deeply about a topic.”
More to come in the spring newsletter!
It’s time to Dine, Discover, and Discuss: The 2014 WIC Spring Lunch Schedule
By Summer Wimberly, WIC GTA
We at WIC are excited to announce that WIC’s Spring lunch seminars are coming up quickly. This year’s topics are lively and we are looking forward to the conversations to be had. All lunches this year are being held on Friday in Milam 215 from 12 to 1pm. To RSVP for one or more of the lunches, please click here. If you have any questions regarding the seminars, please contact Summer Wimberly at Elizabeth.Wimberly@oregonstate.edu. As always, delicious American Dream pizza and beverages will be provided.
Friday, April 11, 2014
Anne-Marie Deitering (Valley Library), Hannah Rempel (Valley Library)
Anne-Marie Deitering and Hannah Rempel are interested in the intersections of WIC and curiosity-based learning. This panel will discuss curiosity-based research and how it can be used in the classroom.
Friday, April 18, 2014
Self-Assessment & Goal-Setting
Tracy Ann Robinson (MIME, College of Engineering), Tim Jensen (School of Writing, Literature, and Film)
This discussion will look at the role of goal-setting of writers as well as self-assessment of their writing processes.
Friday, April 25, 2014
Ehren Pflugfelder (School of Writing, Literature, and Film), Sara Jameson (School of Writing, Literature, and Film), Dennis Bennett (Writing Center), Celeste King (INTO)
One form of providing student feedback that WIC believes to be advantageous to both student and instructor is peer review. In this panel discussion we will hear and discuss the practices instructors are using for peer review.
Friday, May 9, 2014
Teaching WIC Online
Kryn Freehling-Burton (Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies), Scott Heppell (Fisheries & Wildlife), Mary Nolan (Anthropology), Penny Diebel (Agriculture Sciences)
The growing interest in online teaching has been a hot topic nationwide as many colleges and universities, Oregon State included, expand their online course offerings. This panel discussion will consider the methods, modes, successes, and challenges of teaching WIC online.
WIC Students Publish
By Summer Wimberly, WIC GTA
WIC would like to give a hearty congratulations to the following students who are being published based on work done in their WIC courses: