CCCC 2001 in Review: D.24 Composing Strategies for Writing Program Success, chaired by Anne Ruggles Gere
Bill Condon presented "Building the University Community into the Writing Programs: Building the Writing Programs into the University Community."
Condon stressed "consilience"-a jumping together of many types of knowledge. The term was created by E.O. Wilson and was used by Condon as a directive toward a "unity of learning." Condon's sense of a learning community is that it depends less on hierarchy and "chain of command." Wilson's notion of consilience expresses a cross disciplinary coming together and offers theoretical premises that writing programs already enact. Condon claimed that when networks begin with individual ideas, others join, find consensus, and find active space to enact more thinking. Condon argued that the functionality of a network is based on "spider-like strength" that doesn't depend on linearity as much as other institutional configurations.
Condon described his role as a new director of writing at Washington State University and focused on a decentralized, democratic process to create his school's new OWL. Condon described his writing program approach in terms of what he calls "The network paradigm." This field leader cited Howard Rhiengold to note that networks connect people with people. Condon went on to discuss how structure determines the way energy patterns move and stressed his role in designing administrative structures that moved toward community and communication. He argued that consilience plus networked communication paradigms show knowledge is not lost but gained by more access. Anne Ruggles Gere asked why Condon used "consilience" instead of interdisciplinarity" and the presenter explained that the term gave more depth to his notion of how ideas are shared. It was clear that Condon had a vision of creating a writing program that could use theory and technology to create a more effective learning community.
Margaret Marshall presented "Assuming the Mantle of Leadership."
Marshall noted that professionalization of teaching is concentrated in one's first year of teaching but no one believes that one year is sufficient to prepare effective teachers. Marshall described a culture of sustained conversations about teaching in her program with graduate students and adjuncts. One of her best "tools" was that she scheduled one hour where everyone was free for "Comp Talk." As a new director, she worked quickly to clarify the goals of her institution's first-semester writing course. During "Comp Talk" instructors did mini-presentations of what they were doing in classes and got to know each other. When discussion of texts began, goals helped focus discussion. Next, Marshall explained that she gained release time for teachers to set up "Teaching Circles"--small groups to observe classes, review syllabi, etc.. Part of the release-time work was based on her claim that "I know of no teacher who can teach 90 students term after term without suffering from burnout."
Involvement with curricular decisions led her TA's to think about teaching higher-level courses, but Marshall said that is still up in the air. She described a process of composing a program-proposal document to gain support. At first the document wasn't referred to in administrative discussions but it has become part of the strategic plan and has been used in a variety of administrative ways. Marshall said that getting the proposal approved was a good step toward developing her program. Her next step concerned finding out that her coordinators were experienced teachers, but not experienced in working with other teachers. She saw that her coordinators were thinking about supervision instead of thinking about support and development. A key development challenge for Marshall was getting teachers to teach writing instead of lecturing on readings. One of her solutions was stressing faculty development to help her composition teachers become professional decision makers. Marshall stressed newsletters and Web sites to make policies and good teaching practices more evident. In contrast to Condon's larger vision, Marshall discussed particular situations and offered listeners insights about her individual tactical solutions.
Michael Rossi presented "Playing the Political Game: Rescuing a Writing Center."
This presenter described the academic arguments and lobbying efforts needed to save a writing center. He used a committee to assess the writing center in order to generate a report that recommended continuing the Writing Center at Merrimack College. Although Rossi believed the Writing Center was effective and well-used, he realized the need to do more to publicize success and include decision makers in the Writing Center's activities. The presentation simplified issues so that it sounded a bit too much like "evil administrators" vs. good teachers, but Rossi did offer several good strategies for any WPA to consider.
Ann Ruggles Gere responded to the presentations and emphasized the idea of distributive expertise while foregrounding how no one individual is going to solve WPA problems. [WH]
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