Karen Golets Pancer
Humber College in Toronto has a longstanding commitment to writing instruction: each of our 11,000 fulltime students must complete two Communications courses in order to graduate. Students in business and media studies take an essay writing course and a business writing course while students in technical programs take two consecutive technical writing courses. We also offer specialized Communications courses for some programs, such as Music, Journalism, Radio Broadcasting, and Film and Television Production.
Students in the Pre-University program take two academic writing courses, as well as literature and philosophy courses that require a considerable amount of writing.
Humber's Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) policy provides full-time students with a minimum of one writing course per semester. In a typical first year, the Communications courses mentioned above cover the WAC requirement. In second and third years, all full-time students are to take one WAC program course, in which the students should produce around 2500 words, preferably in a mix of informal and formal writing and over a few shorter assignments rather than one long one. The 2500 word limit is meant as a guideline for program teachers as they design assignments.
While other institutions describe their program writing courses as Writing Intensive (WI), I have suggested we call them Writing Included, a less intimidating term for faculty who may not have had much experience assigning writing in the past. However, the term WAC course seems to be what people at Humber prefer.
When I was appointed WAC Resource Person, I was given a one-course reduction, to four courses per semester from the usual five. One of my primary responsibilities has been to publish a newsletter, called the Humber WAC Letter, twice a year. Articles in the WAC Letter have profiled faculty who are teaching WAC courses, explained some of WAC's theoretical underpinnings, and given tips on how to design a WAC course. One of our Learning Disabilities consultants contributed an intelligent and amusing article on Writing and the Brain and another faculty member has begun a regular column on Electronic Communication Across the Curriculum, which he calls Words with Wings. I've also held grammar workshops for faculty and given a talk on the differences between writing to learn and learning to write. I'm often asked to go into classes to give students a refresher session on topics such as report writing. Until recently most of what I've done has been rather ad hoc, responding to faculty requests for help, but Humber's current Generic Skills Initiative is bringing some changes to my role.
In 1995, Ontario's College Standards and Accreditation Council (CSAC) released a report, Generic Skills Learning Outcomes, stressing that graduates in the 21St century need solid background in generic skills and general education to accompany their vocational training. After a long preparation period, Humber is now working toward systematically incorporating generic skills into program courses. Consequently, WAC now falls under the Generic Skills Initiatives umbrella. The hierarchy for Humber's WAC objectives has been revised to reflect this new generic-skills focus: 1) To give students opportunity to practice their existing writing skills, 2) To teach students about forms of writing they may have to do on the job, and 3) To use writing as a means of learning and/or applying-eontent in their program-courses. Overall, I appreciate this relocation of WAC under the college wide Generic Skills Initiative because it places the responsibility for ensuring that the WAC policy is being followed on the programs rather than on the WAC resource person.
I've compiled a draft Manual for Incorporating Writing Assignments into Program Courses whick is currently part of a Generic Skills pilot project in our Hospitality, Recreation, and Tourism division. I'm also about to solicit successful writing assignments and marking schemes and compile the results in a Best Practices: Writing in Program Courses document. This second task will be useful in two ways: we'll have a varied collection of student-tested writing assignments, and I'll get a better sense of how many faculty are actually assigning writing and where the gaps are that I need to address.
Trying to implement WAC, and now WAC as a generic skill, has been a sometimes frustrating process, yet I've also been amazed on several occasions at the energy and creativity of many of our faculty. Surprisingly, reading about how other colleges or universities have dealt with WAC didn't help me as much as I'd first expected; it seems to me every institution has its own culture and its own pace for implementing and accepting change. Still, if Inksheddefs would like to contact me, I'd be happy to tell you in more detail about developments in Humber's continuing efforts to encourage and improve students' writing.