“The principle is: we need everyone to write effectively, regardless of their majors,” said Nedra Reynolds, Ph. D., director of the University of Rhode Island’s new writing across the curriculum program.
According to the new initiative’s website, Writing Across URI will try to support faculty writing, to make faculty better teachers of writing, to help students write effectively in their majors, and to “ask more of our students as writers.” It’s part of a tradition of the Writing across the Curriculum (WAC) programs at colleges and universities around the United States that have been established since the 1970’s.
The program, Reynolds explained, is still in a “ramping up” stage. She offered her thoughts on the program she has launched, and the way it might affect students in classrooms everywhere at URI.
“We know that writing helps thinking. Critical thinking and writing are intricately connected,” she said.
That, along with the specific needs of students in all majors offered at the University, is what the program intends to address. Before coming to college, students may not have had experience with different forms of writing they will be exposed to at a higher learning institutions.
URI already has requirements in place for freshmen to take basic composition, such as in WRT 104 and 106, under the updated General Education requirements that started in 2016. However, Reynolds says, the program needs to span all disciplines and levels of writing to be effective.
“Each discipline has particular ways of writing, [it’s] not just writing for the teacher,” she said. Even though students have had introductory courses, those are not sufficient alone for writing in college. Students may be capable of writing research papers, but they need other writing skills to tackle capstone projects and upper 400-level course requirements.
Reynolds also emphasized the importance of low stakes, repeated practice, and iterating on students’ drafts, as opposed to one large grade on any one paper with no revision. She added that writing is not a “one and done” operation.
“It’s a myth that people just ‘spill’ and you’re done,” Reynolds said. “[It’s] ‘perspiration rather than inspiration’ as it’s said. There’s so much that needs to happen to ‘build the house.’ In order to write well you have to be able to imagine readers. There’s no formula. I can’t say just follow this formula and you’ll be a good writer.”
This is where Eli Review, an online peer-review software which Reynolds adopted and is promoting to other faculty, becomes important to Writing Across URI. It allows, she said, critical thinking about writing, more opportunities for students to get feedback where a professor can’t, and experience that mirrors the real world.
“A lot of times in the workplace, you’re not just writing by yourself; you’re part of a team. There’s a lot of collaboration in [real-life] writing projects,” she said.
Full implementation of Writing across URI is set to start next academic year. So far, Reynolds said, the responses have been positive. Reynolds hopes faculty will fully get on board to ensure the program’s success. She recognizes that programs like this one are easier to sustain than they are to begin.
“I need to be sure I’m being responsive to what faculty need or what students need to be able to keep it going,” she said.
Reynolds mentioned the Writing and Rhetoric Department’s slogan while she summed up why she believes effective writing supported by the program is necessary.
“People don’t realize what’s at stake in the use of writing, the use of language,” Reynolds said. “What’s at stake is Writing That Gets Things Done, like laws, like policies, and somebody has to write them.”