University Writing-an organization, housed in the English Department, designed to serve BYU's general education program-is committed to improving writing instruction across campus through First-Year Writing, Advanced Writing (i.e., the English offerings), and Writing Across the Curriculum, ultimately helping students to be effective communicators, critical thinkers, and careful readers. We achieve these aims by developing theoretically and pedagogically sound curriculum, innovative and student-focused faculty, and transformative WAC initiatives.
Specifically, UW provides writing courses that achieve the outcomes established by GE in its foundation documents; it also helps faculty across campus design curricula that help students become better writers.
Since the signature course of University Writing-Writing 150-is a single course, not a program, the following assessment material should be read in conjunction with other assessment documents for Undergraduate Education.
The following outcomes come from the First-Year Writing Requirement foundation document approved by the Faculty General Education Council in 2007. Writing 150 and English Language 150 (taught outside University Writing in the Department of Linguistics and English Language) align their outcomes to this document.Rhetorical Knowledge
Students should demonstrate that they can focus on a well-defined purpose in writing, write clearly for a specified audience, use conventions of format and structure appropriate to the rhetorical situation, and adopt a voice, tone, and level of formality suited to the purpose and audience. They may also learn about and practice the following: responding to the needs of different audiences; responding appropriately to different kinds of rhetorical situations; writing in several genres; and exploring the ways different genres shape writing and reading.
Students should develop productive and flexible individual and collaborative writing processes, including prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and proofreading. These processes could include the following: collecting data, finding supporting evidence, and creating good arguments; organizing the material for a paper; writing successive drafts of the same paper; group writing; seeking and using peer responses; revising; editing grammar, usage, and punctuation; and using conventional formats.
Students should be able to read and evaluate written materials from a variety of genres. They should demonstrate their ability to read critically, which would include some of the following: analyzing and evaluating arguments; identifying authors' claims and main ideas; identifying supporting evidence; identifying premises and unstated assumptions; evaluatinglogic and logical fallacies; drawing inferences; synthesizing ideas; identifying and evaluating analogies and figurative language; and distinguishing among emotional, ethical, and rational appeals.
Students should demonstrate that they can locate and evaluate print and electronic sources and use these sources to write a documented research paper.
Students should demonstrate their knowledge of the following: common formats for different kinds of texts; genre conventions ranging from purpose and structure to tone and mechanics; methods of documenting borrowed information; and conventions of edited syntax, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Evidence of Learning
Following recommendations for best practices in writing program administration, University Writing assesses Writing 150's effectiveness each year by evaulating samples of student writing to see whether-and how-students are achieving the course outcomes. Below we report on our assessment activities from 2011:
2011-In 2011 we collected 281 student research papers and developed an analytic scoring rubric that assessed student performance on LO1, LO3, LO4, and LO5, with particular emphasis on the traits of argument, research, organization, and style. To create interrater reliability, we carried out a norming process with several anchor papers; in the end we achieved 88% agreement on holistic scores of the student papers.
2012-This year we collected student analysis papers (see LO2, above) and held a rating activity similar to the one mentioned in the paragraph above, only now focused on analysis, organization, and style. For the analysis reading, we scored 246 papers, achieving a 79% interrater reliability holistic score. (You can see the analytic scoring rubric here.)
2013-Instead of assessing student writing this year, we engaged in overall programmatic assessment by hiring two external consultants from the Council of Writing Program Administrators. Their campus visit resulted in a 25-page report detailing perceived strengths and weaknesses in several programs associated with UW (like the writing center, writing fellows, writing across the curriculum, and the first year writing program). Since the visit, UW has implemented several of the consultants' recommendations that we hope will lead to more effective student learning: For example, UW set up a mentoring program between experienced, successful adjunct writing instructors and new graduate student instructors. UW continues to reflect on the consultant report's recommendation to make the curriculum at BYU less generic and more responsive to the unique needs and interests of BYU students.
2014-In 2014 we plan to dig more deeply into the findings from 2011 related to LO5-how students evaluate and cite sources in their papers. Instead of using a scoring rubric exclusively, we plan to use dynamic criteria mapping through rater discussion to determine what we value in student research essays and how we can help them improve.
UW has also distributed surveys to first-year writing students at the end of each semester that asks students to evaluate
- whether they feel they are achieving course outcomes;
- the relative effectiveness of various teaching strategies for helping them improve their writing;
- the value of the different writing tasks and their rhetorical situations; and,
- the value of curricular materials in helping students learn.
Learning and Teaching Assessment and Improvement
University Writing is committed to effective college writing instruction, and we show that commitment in seven ways:
- We have a curriculum and outcomes aligned with best practices as laid out in the "Outcomes Statement" of the Council of Writing Program Administrators.
- We make sure every instructor has received-or is receiving-a masters degree in English or a related field and that they have taken a graduate course in rhetorical theory and writing studies.
- We observe every graduate instructor once a year and every adjunct once every three years. Recently we have discussed whether we should observe adjuncts teach more often.
- We require every adjunct instructor to submit a self-assessment portfolio every three years. With that portfolio, instructors create an online teaching portfolio available to the public that includes a teaching philosophy, some curricular materials, and an active vita. These self-assessments are reviewed by the UW Coordinator who also reviews each instructor's student ratings for the past three years.
- We hold frequent training and professionalizing meetings for all instructors. The graduate instructors go through a week-long training seminar before their first semester teaching, and they receive around 50 hours of in-service training to teach writing more effectively. Adjuncts attend one half-day of course-specific training in the Spring and another half-day training in general writing instruction practices right before Fall semester; they also have the option of attending at least one course-specific training lunch during the year.
- All our advanced writing courses have course coordinators who plan training for that course and observe instructors. Our advanced writing program (which Undergradate Education assess) is directed by a PhD faculty member who specializes in Writing Across the Curriculum.
- Finally, the University Writing leadership (coordinator & associate coordinator of UW, coordinator of Writing Across the Curriculum, and coordinator of the Writing Center) meets regularly to collaborate on inquiry projects, solve problems, plan training, and carry out assessment practices. We've also formed (starting in Fall 2013) a University Writing Curriculum and Assessment Committee made up of UW leadership, an adjunct instructor, and a graduate program assistant.
We believe that through these practices, UW adheres to a high standard for teaching and learning in the courses we direct, specifically Writing 150. We are committed to helping students become better writers when they work towards the outcomes the University has established for effective communication.