October 19, 2005
RE: Recommendations regarding how to create a research-based model with one mission and central direction to establish the University of Minnesota as a national leader in undergraduate writing in all of its forms, including freshman writing, technical writing, writing across the curriculum, senior writing projects, and tutoring.
I have two suggestions:
1. Continue to develop civic engagement and service-learning courses that provide cross-disciplinary learning and outreach opportunities to writing students. We can make civic engagement part of every freshman-level course while continuing to appeal to student interest in globalization or nature and the environment and the other thematic offerings. Advantages of making civic engagement a common theme include a distinctive identity for the program aligned with research, teaching, and outreach activities that serve the Universityís mission.
2. Increase curricular emphasis on publishing as a culminating act of writing. Doing so meets pedagogical goals of engaging students on a personal level while deepening their understanding of social, political, economic, and cultural influences that attend the publishing process.
Publishing student writing can raise the level of public debate about the quality and purpose of writing instruction at the University. One side of the current debate seems to take the presence of errors in student writing as absolute proof of poor writing instruction. Complaints are more complex than that, of course, but few acknowledge the complex range of our studentsí achievement in writing. A great deal of what goes wrong in student writing can be traced to causes that donít have much to do with writing instruction (time pressure, culture shock, assignment design, among others). And authentic learning is not always accompanied by victory over error.
Publishing student work lets our successes out of the closet. It also raises the stakes for students, instructors and the program, which is one of the goals of strategic repositioning.