In its simplest form, Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) recognizes and supports the use of writing in any and every way and in every and any course offered at a learning institution. A WAC Program in its simplest term is any organized, recognized, and sustained effort--no matter how modest in people, resources, and funding--to help faculty in any and every course use writing more deliberately and more often.
The design, funding, and reporting structure for WAC programs varies widely across institutions. They are often established through temporary funding sources, such as grants and one-time funding associated with instructional innovation initiatives. Those established with base funding (permanent funding) tend to exist for longer periods of time and tend to have more enduring impacts on the student learning and success. Assessment of student learning and faculty engagement is a critical part of most WAC programs, with assessment methods varying widely across institutional contexts.
WAC programs broadly supports three, often intertwined, approaches to increasing the use of writing to support student growth: writing to learn, writing to engage, and writing in the disciplines. (These are addressed in detail elsewhere in this guide.) Very often a course will apply all three elements, but doing so is not required. What matters is using writing in thoughtful ways, with a clear understanding of how the activity assigned will help students meet course goals.
Writing to Learn (WtL) is a delightful way to use writing in a course because it does not ask learners nor faculty to focus on writing as skill, but rather as a tool to help students, well, learn. For example, pausing a lecture after speaking for ten minutes or so on a concept and asking students to take a few minutes to write a short summary of key ideas is a form of writing to learn. In this case, neither the professor nor students first concern will be with usage and grammar, nor even coherence and evidence as those are used in a formal essay. In this example, writing is a form of retrieval practice, a tool for helping to instantiate into memory what the lecture just covered. WtL in WAC focuses on helping faculty make deliberate choices about when and why to use an activity, with an eye toward how it will help students in the course. Read more about Writing to Learn.
Writing to Engage (WtE) calls for students to use writing to engage more deeply and often critically with ideas in the course. Often that means the creation of activities that may take longer than a typical WtL exercise. And very often, writing to engage overlaps with student to student engagement, perhaps seen most classically in online discussion board assignments. For example, a discussion prompt might ask students to apply concepts being taught in the course to given artifact or situation or analysis of an event. The engagement is in applying the concepts. The overlapping engagement comes as students respond to one another's applications, where students learn by seeing how others have applied the concepts, evaluating them, offering suggestions, revising their own analysis, after checking their understanding of underlying facts and knowledge. The writing can still be informal, coming as a discussion and not a formal essay or report or other genre associated with the discipline the course is in. It's worth noting that the type of engagement outlined above, if you look at the terms in italics, have students operating dynamically among the taxonomies of cognitive learning objectives identified by Benjamin Bloom. Read more about Writing to Engage.
Writing in the Disciplines (WiD) focuses WAC on the design and teaching of writing assignments that ask students to write in the specific genres of a discipline. These often call for projects that ask students to communicate professionally with audiences appropriate to the assignment: members of a discipline who read journals in the field, corporate clients who may require a white paper, city planners who might require a flood mitigation proposal, to name just three examples. WiD assignments are usually ones where in final drafts students will often need to meet the conventions and standards of a discipline and/or the genre. Frequently a WID assignment can and will build from earlier uses of WtL and WtE, but sometimes a course might require students to act more independently, with less of the scaffolding and idea engagement WtL and WtE offer. WiD assignments offer opportunities for teaching a richer an professional writing process. Keeping and turning in research notes, writing a proposal, sharing and revising drafts as research and thinking evolves, working with data and other evidence that require visuals, scheduling and sequencing the work necessary to meet a final deadline are all examples of the kinds of process work that might be required and taught or coached as part of the larger WiD assignment. Read more about Writing in the Disciplines.