The City University-wide Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) initiative, which began in 1999, is an exhortation to all CUNY faculty to reevaluate their pedagogical theories and practices. It is effectively a challenge from the administration of the entire university system to reflect on how knowledge is gained or constructed, the role of discipline-specific discourse, their teaching methods, syllabi and course organization, and the writing assignments they give.
At Queensborough Community College, the WAC initiative has taken the form of a dual program that emphasizes both Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and Writing In the Disciplines (WID), that is, the use of writing-to-learn activities to promote improved writing skills in general, as well as within discipline-specific discourses.
This year, Writing Fellows Karece Lopez and Rejitha Nair are conducting an ongoing study of the WI training and certification process. They have completed an extensive survey of faculty and students designed to assess the impact of WI methods in the classroom, and are now in the process of sorting out through the data they collected. So far, the results have been exciting. Many of the faculty surveyed indicate that they continue to explore different ways of using writing in the classroom as a way for students to learn course material. Also, a majority of the students polled for the study state that WI courses are beneficial, and that they have been helpful in improving their writing skills.
Also this year, the WID/WAC program has undertaken (with the invaluable help of English Department's Secretary Holly McLean) the digitization of all WI portfolios from past semesters (193 so far, and counting!). Once digitized and organized for easy access, this material will constitute a rich, user-friendly database that will allow us to gain a finer understanding of the evolution of the program over the years. Writing Fellow Andre Bregegere is currently engaged in the sorting and organization of the raw data, a painstaking, but necessary step towards a more comprehensive study of the material.
Finally, writing fellow Dominique Zino is currently designing a group page for the WID/WAC program on the Cuny Academic Commons (under construction). This group will be a place for exchange with other faculty and campuses engaged in the Writing-Across-the-Curriculum initiative.
Professors involved with the WAC program at QCC have found that confronting the challenge has been rewarding thus far. Music instructor Sheila Schonbrun notes, “I had been looking for years for ways to bring students to have belief in their own powers of thought, and to liven discussion of the material that we were studying. Most of the work done under the ‘writing intensive’ umbrella seems to be effective in doing just that.”
Yet, Instructor Schonbrun’s comment might be countered with the argument that many faculty are wary of getting their students to express their own thoughts at the expense of rigorous content absorption. Art History Professor Jo Ann Wein has found however, “judging from my experience [in the Fall 2001] semester, I believe that the combination of ‘low stakes’ and ‘high stakes’ writing assignments that will be distributed throughout the semester will enable students to work and learn steadily through writing, and to gain the skill, information and enjoyment of art within a knowledge of the civilization that produced it and its contribution to our collective culture today.”
Some professors are finding that the format of their courses has changed, such as Politics and Government Professor Peter Bales who states that he posed one of the key questions of his government course at the end of the semester, but that “I now intend to post the question at the beginning of the course and allow the students to make their minds as we progress.”