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Excellence in writing is a high Vision OHIO priority for students at all levels

May 5, 2006
By Dru Riley Evarts


Vision OHIO has as its first goal in undergraduate education that every first-year student gain a firm foundation in writing, speaking and mathematical/logical reasoning. Naturally, this goal calls for development of the faculty to make the relevant achievement possible for every student. It also requires strong support services for students.

The Center for Writing Excellence (CWE) works toward giving students a firm foundation in writing by helping them develop and improve as writers, whether they are in their first undergraduate year or in graduate school. It also is committed to working with faculty members by encouraging them to have students write as much as possible in their classes and to take advantage of the CWE's programs in utilizing writing as a learning tool.  Assistant professor of plant biology Sarah Wyatt, who studies plant molecular structures, said, "The Center for Writing Excellence and the Writing Across the Curriculum workshops have been invaluable in my work as a scientist and mentor of scientists. . . . One of the most important aspects is being able to get new discoveries into the knowledge base of the scientific community and writing is a crucial aspect of that mission.

"In my classes, students become aware of that mission through incorporating writing into course work. Instead of science's being a static process, students are encouraged to explore science by interpreting data, evaluating methodology and critically discussing results, and the venue they use is writing. Students are forced to defend their thoughts on paper, and they become better writers and better scientists for the effort. The CWE helps faculty develop ways of creating these opportunities for students."

The CWE serves as a universitywide resource to introduce writing-to-learn strategies to teachers who are interested in integrating writing in general and as a specific tool for more deeply engaging with the subject matter of their courses. Writing-across-the-curriculum initiatives and programs provide faculty with strategies for better teaching and learning so that they can have more successful effect on students and their writing.

Through the Student Writing Center (SWC), CWE also provides assistance to students who wish to develop as writers and to learn how to best address the writing assignments in their courses. The CWE facilitates graduate-student writing groups and provides students at any writing level, from the most basic to the most advanced, tutoring support on all academically related writing projects. The SWC tutors support students as they transition from precollege to college writers and from undergraduate to graduate writers. Tutors can often support faculty who wish to effect change in their students' writing. 

Building on earlier writing-across-the-curriculum initiatives, the CWE, established in 2000, is dedicated to enriching both learning and teaching through writing. This center includes Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and the Student Writing Center (SWC), as well as collaborative faculty development projects such as Faculty Learning Communities and Faculty Scholar-in-Residence programs with the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Center for Innovations in Technology for Learning. 

The CWE's mission is to create and support a comprehensive writing initiative and to strengthen engagement with writing on all levels and in all disciplines. Learning to write well is important because writing is a foundation tool to conduct inquiry, and to record and transmit knowledge in the academy, the workplace, and in public life. 

The CWE is committed to affirming the central place of writing in the learning process. Its goal is to provide faculty development and institutional services that support a writing-centered curriculum through writing to learn, revision, rhetorical analysis and critical thinking in general and in disciplinary contexts.

Some of the methods the CWE has developed to help both teachers and students with writing include:

Writing Across the Curriculum:  The CWE's writing-across-the-curriculum program encourages and assists faculty members from all disciplines to integrate both formal and informal writing into their courses. WAC presents seminars and workshops for faculty throughout the year, offers individual and departmental consultations on enriching the curriculum with writing, and networks with the English Department on writing  requirements. WAC strives to develop writing objectives that elicit critical and creative thinking and to raise universitywide standards for student performance.

David Holben, associate professor of human and consumer sciences, is currently a faculty scholar in residence at the CWE, in cooperation with the Center for Teaching Excellence. "The CWE has been an invaluable resource for me as a teacher," said Holben. "As a junior faculty member, I attended a Writing Across the Curriculum workshop. It truly changed my whole view of using writing to learn. Since then, most of my courses have been transformed. 

"Not only have the courses been transformed, but the student outcomes have been phenomenal," he added. "Professional writing, critical thinking and problem-solving skills have all leaped in their levels from good to great. CWE has equipped me to equip others." 

Other faculty find that the CWE supports both their research and their teaching. Associate Professor of Social Work Susan Sarnoff said that she has "found the CWE to be invaluable to my teaching and my scholarship. I became involved with the CWE to learn how to create better writing assignments in all of my courses. I did not expect to get a publication out of my experiences, but it was a wonderful benefit! The CWE also motivated me to develop a discipline-specific J course, something I would not have dreamed of doing, and could not have done, without CWE encouragement and guidance." 

From Gradin's perspective, it is exhilarating to watch colleagues from across the disciplines get excited when they begin to understand that writing and the teaching of writing is about more than crossing all of the Ts and correctly placing all of the commas.  "As they learn to help students use writing as a way of thinking, as they begin to understand that writing reflects disciplinary thinking, and as they begin to understand that writing is a complex task that students must learn to do in a variety of genres and contexts, the effect on both faculty and students can be quite profound," said Gradin. 

Student Writing Center:  The SWC provides free tutoring in the Learning Commons at Alden Library for those who want to sit down with a writing coach. The SWC has three types of appointments: scheduled, walk-in and online (see below). Any undergraduate or graduate student may schedule an appointment between 12 noon and 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 12 noon to 4 p.m. on Friday, and 4 to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Walk-ins may simply stop by between 6 and 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday for help. All of these visits to the center requrie BYOB (Bring Your Own Brain), students are advised. 

Tutors are carefully trained not to write anything for anybody, but to help their clients develop as writers. Last fall quarter alone, the SWC served 476 students in 1,064 face-to-face encounters (not counting online help for others). The SWC typically employs about 16 student tutors to help other students improve their drafting strategies, organization and their authority as scholars.

As one patron of the SWC noted, "The tutors have taught me that writing is a process, and that I can become a stronger writer by discussing my ideas with others."

Online Writing Center: A part of the SWC, the Online Writing Center offers online writing tutoring for those who want to receive, from a remote location, the help of an experienced tutor by communicating online in real time. This operates like a chat room, but a student wishing to work with a tutor online must make an appointment 24 hours in advance. The Online Writing Center can be accessed through Bobkatz MOO by using the username "Guest" after going to http://wac.citl.ohio.edu and following the directions. According to Jennifer Pauley-Gose, the coordinator of the SWC, "The Online Writing Center is a great resource for our current generation of students, who are accustomed to communicating electronically."

CD-ROM:  In cooperation with CITL (the Center for Innovations in Technology for Learning), Gradin and her assistant director, Rachel Brooks-Rather, designed an interactive CD-ROM for faculty members and administrators who are interested in writing-enriched courses to help students engage in writing as a learning tool and to develop as writers. It introduces four writing-to-learn strategies: project logs, microthemes, journals and exploratory writing. The CD-ROM also includes ideas for responding to student writing and for engaging students in peer critique. Included with each are student and faculty testimonials, demonstrations, interactive exercises and resources.

Sherrie Gradin, director of the CWE and its subprogram, WAC, can be reached at 597-1857 or gradin@ohio.edu. Jennifer Pauley-Gose, coordinator of the SWC, can be reached at 593-2646 or pauley-g@ohio.edu.  The CWE Web site can be accessed at www.ohio.edu/writing. The SWC Web site can be accessed from the CWE Web site or at www.ohio.edu/writing/swc.cfm.

Dru Riley Evarts is a longtime E.W. Scripps School of Journalism faculty member and was recently appointed university editor.   

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Vision Ohio

Published: May 5, 2006 12:00:00 AM
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