I'm afraid I have only the evidence of two different personal
experiences and some strong semi-political feelings to address Wendy's
question. About 10 years ago, I taught a lecture course on writing
non-fiction prose for 100 students at UBC, which broke up once a week
into workshops of 25 each. I also, more recently, taught a
writing-intensive intro to women's studies course at U of Manitoba to
70 students. I had a TA, who marked short summary/analysis pieces.
The UBC lecture course was interesting, and it sort of worked, but only
because the TAs and I weren't really teaching students how to write as
academics, but rather how to analyze non-fiction. On the other hand, I
found the arrangement at U of M quite unsatisfactory--for one reason,
there was no way for smaller groups students to practice writing with
instructor assistance. That kind of WI course is, in my view, a
profoundly second-class way to teach first-year students how to write
as academics. Writing was simply grafted onto a course mandated to
focus on a particular content-area. Bright students were OK because
they didn't need a thorough overview of strategies. The ones who
really needed help received little benefit from being in a large WI
course, in my view.
At U of W, we do something along the lines Natasha describes: we teach
small courses on writing IN particular disciplines and disciplinary
areas; classes are no more than 32 (and yes, we do our own marking). I
favour that model because it creates a much more satisfactory learning
and teaching experience when students to learn how to write within
rhetorical and social contexts that are relevant to them. But I find
it hard to imagine such a discipline-specific writing course packing in
120 students, let alone 250!
I think WI or WID models can be--if carefully planned and fully
resourced--genuinely the best ways to teach writing in given
situations. But I do believe administrators grab onto these models
without fully understanding them, thinking it's a way to "save money."
If anyone proposes WI (especially online courses) for these reasons,
faculty who teach writing must absolutely and unequivocally protest.
Wendy, I don't know how much power you have to change what sounds like
an institutional fait accompli, but if you are still able to influence
how this WI model plays out, then insist that courses provide all
opportunities for students to practice writing in smaller groups, and
remind administration (which I'm sure you've done and are doing ad
nauseum) that teaching writing requires resources and expertise and
can't be short-changed.
(What would happen if administrators decided, for example, to require
Math-Intensive courses? How would mathematicians feel?)
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