Writing samples help improve campus

Erica Clark

Campus Life Editor

Ever wonder why we’re required to submit writing samples to the school at the end of each year? And, not to mention, to do so during a time in the term when we’re all fighting to make it through the most treacherous parts of our classes and our millions of extracurricular activities?

Logging on to Moodle and clicking a few buttons might seem to some like another mindless and pointless task to add to your to-do list. Others, however, including Dr. Scott Whiddon, the director of the Writing Center, see it as helping the university improve its curriculum.

This portfolio project, which has been under way for several years, is not solely for major courses and classes with a writing focus.

“It allows students to turn in pieces of sustained writing from a variety of genres, from a variety of disciplines and from a variety of rhetorical situations,” said Whiddon. “This is not to assess the students but to assess ourselves as faculty.”

The project is meant to answer questions such as “How successful is Transy at teaching writing?” and “How successful is the faculty at developing a culture of writing at Transy?” and “How can the faculty help students become better writers both in their own disciplines and across disciplines?”

“In this job market, biologists have to have the skills not only to write in their discipline, but also to explain themselves to people from other disciplines,” said Whiddon.

At the end of the academic year, first-years are required to submit four writing samples, and students are required to submit two for every subsequent year. While in the past this has been a paper-based initiative, those in charge of the project have jumped on the “going green” movement and, with the help of Instructional Technology Coordinator Steve Poynter and Vice President for Information Technology Jason Whitaker, the project is now paperless.

Whiddon emphasized that by submitting their writing samples, students are contributing to the intellectual mission of the college.

The committee hopes to measure growth in writing from the first year to the fourth year and how Area V classes play into student growth.

“We are looking at such questions as ‘Does the number of Area V classes that a student takes overall in her or his time as a Transylvania student drastically affect their overall growth as a writer?’ ” Whiddon said.

With great success, Whiddon and one of the writing assessment committee’s chairs, Dr. George Kaufman, assistant professor of chemistry, presented the project at a faculty open hour meeting. It has now been accepted to the International Writing Across the Curriculum Conference this June.

Other members of the committee include Dr. Melissa Fortner, associate professor of psychology, and Dr. Jeremy Paden, assistant professor of Spanish.

“This isn’t a punitive thing,” said Whiddon. “We aren’t judging individual writing. We’re about gathering a large body of texts from a variety of rhetorical situations, disciplines and genres so we can get a ground-level sense of the kinds of writing students do at Transylvania, how they grow as students, and what we can do in terms of faculty development to help us be an even better faculty than we already are.”

Portfolio submissions are due April 13. Simply log on to Moodle and follow the instructions to submit your samples.

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