What Designs are Typical for WAC Programs?


Getting Started

Why include writing in my courses?

What is writing to learn?

What is writing to engage?

What is writing in the disciplines?

Useful Knowledge

What should I know about rhetorical situations?

Do I have to be an expert in grammar to assign writing?

What should I know about genre and design?

What should I know about second-language writing?

What teaching resources are available?

What should I know about WAC and graduate education?

Assigning Writing

What makes a good writing assignment?

How can I avoid getting lousy student writing?

What benefits might reflective writing have for my students?

Using Peer Review

Why consider collaborative writing assignments?

Do writing and peer review take up too much class time?

How can I get the most out of peer review?

Responding to Writing

How can I handle responding to student writing?

How can writing centers support writing in my courses?

What writing resources are available for my students?

Using Technology

How can computer technologies support writing in my classes?

Designing and Assessing WAC Programs

What is a WAC program?

What designs are typical for WAC programs?

How can WAC programs be assessed?

More on WAC

Where can I learn more about WAC?

WAC programs can take on a variety of designs, from more informal and micro-level programs such as faculty development workshop series to more extensive and macro-level programs such as writing-intensive (WI) or writing-enriched curriculum (WEC) models. Following are descriptions of some common WAC program designs. Many WAC programs are made up of a combination of these designs.

General Education Writing Requirements

Many universities have general education writing requirements that include all general education courses or are targeted for specific courses. Sometimes this requirement is merely a certain word count, but more robust general education writing requirements will include some shared criteria for writing pedagogy and expectations. Often a first-year writing requirement is part of writing requirements in general education—especially in U.S. universities—and many universities have a required two-course general education composition sequence.  

Writing Intensive Requirements

A common design for a WAC program is an upper-division writing intensive (WI) requirement. Sometimes students are required to take only a single WI course, but more robust WI requirements involve multiple course requirements. WI courses are usually taught by faculty across disciplines, although sometimes they are offered through a campus writing program. It’s been well documented in the WAC literature that WI requirements are more effective if they have clear criteria for WAC courses (such as requirements related to word count, revision, instructor and peer response to drafts, multiple writing assignments, informal and formal writing activities, etc.) and an institutionalized method of approval and assessment of WI courses. A common design is for approval and assessment of WI courses to be handled by a campus writing board or a faculty senate writing committee. WI initiatives that do not include substantial faculty development and ongoing support from a formal WAC program are rarely sustainable.

Writing Enriched Curriculum

The writing enriched curriculum (WEC) model encourages departments across disciplines to integrate writing throughout their curriculum, rather than designating certain courses as writing intensive. In the WEC model, typically a WAC specialist consults with departments across disciplines to map their curriculum, develop learning outcomes for writing, and create plans for integrating writing in a scaffolded and sequenced way throughout courses in the major. These plans are usually approved by a campus writing board or faculty senate writing committee. One critique of the WI model is that because it only labels certain courses writing intensive, students do not expect substantial writing to happen outside of WI courses. The WEC model addresses this concern by integrating writing throughout the curriculum, and in a more strategic and sequenced way than is typical of WI requirements. Developing a WEC model requires a great deal of time and support and a long-term commitment to WAC, but campuses that have successfully developed WEC programs have reported a transformation of the campus culture of writing.   

Graduate Writing Support

A number of WAC programs are designed specifically to support graduate student writing, and many general university WAC programs design specific projects to target graduate writing support. WAC graduate writing support can take the form of graduate writing centers, general or discipline-specific graduate writing courses, or workshop for theses or dissertation writers.   

Writing Centers

Writing Centers and WAC programs are typically complimentary, with writing centers focusing on support for students writing and WAC programs focusing on support for faculty teaching writing. However, many WAC programs are an outgrowth of a writing center, and many writing centers offer assistance for faculty who want help with designing writing assignments or responding to student writing. Many writing centers offer faculty workshops on the teaching of writing or sponsor faculty writing groups. Many successful WAC programs are either connected to a writing center or are part of writing center outreach. One word of caution regarding WAC program designs that come from writing center outreach is that WAC efforts are expansive and can be difficult to sustain if a writing center director is asked to create a WAC program in addition to directing a writing center.   

Communication Across the Curriculum

21st Century WAC programs often take a more expansive view of literacy and go beyond the confines of print literacy to include multiple modes: oral communication, digital literacies, visual literacies, etc. Communication Across the Curriculum (CAC) programs support the teaching of multiple modes of communication, and encourage teachers and students to engage in multiple literacies. CAC programs often include a multiliteracies center to provide faculty and student support for multimodal composing.    

Writing Assessment

Some WAC programs are located in assessment offices, although more common is for WAC to collaborate with an assessment office or initiative to assist with writing assessment. This might involve assisting departments with writing assessment and designing writing rubrics, or assisting with university writing assessment activities. WAC programs have encouraged universities to move away from one-shot timed writing tests as assessment tools, and many WAC programs support student longitudinal ePortfolios as a best practice for formative and summative writing assessment.   

Faculty Development Programs

University writing requirements are rarely successful without faculty development programs, and most WAC programs design projects that are focused on supporting faculty across disciplines in the teaching of writing. Workshops on topics such as designing writing assignments and responding to student writing are common forms of WAC faculty development. Many WAC programs offer faculty development opportunities that are more extensive than workshops, such as retreats or learning communities. Faculty writing retreats or writing groups are also popular WAC program projects. WAC programs often highlight student writing as well, through events such as celebrations of student writing or undergraduate research conferences or through student writing prizes or journals. Sustainable WAC faculty development requires leadership by a faculty member or team of faculty with writing expertise, release time for the faculty development leader or leaders, and a dedicated operating budget.     

Regardless of the specific design of individual WAC programs, the WAC literature and the example of long-standing WAC programs point to certain features of sustainable and successful WAC program designs:

  • A designated leader or leadership team with writing expertise and appropriate release time.
  • An operating budget appropriate for the scope of the program design.
  • Support from stakeholders across disciplines through a campus writing advisory board or an academic senate writing committee.
  • A clear and realistic mission for the WAC program.
  • Campus writing curricular reforms and adequate faculty development and student support to insure the success of the initiatives.
  • Both grassroots development and top-down support from administration and faculty governance bodies.
  • A timeline for developing and implementing WAC that takes into account the fact that WAC programs are not a “quick fix” for teachers’ concerns about student writing, but rather a long-term commitment to transforming the campus culture of writing.