Revolution Lullabye

June 25, 2013

Melzer, Using Systems Thinking to Transform Writing Programs

Melzer, Dan. “Using Systems Thinking to Transform Writing Programs.” Writing Program Administration 36.2 (Spring 2013): 75-94.

Melzer explains Critical Systems Thinking (CST) and argues that it can be used by writing program administration to target “points of leverage” within writing programs that, if adjusted, can lead to system-wide change. His article builds on Porter et al’s call for institutional critique, and shows how CST’s focus on discovering holistic patterns and relationships as well as uncovering and addressing inequalities within larger systems serves as a useful methodology for writing program administrators who need to look beyond individual actors in order to make gradual change. Melzer uses an example from his institution, when he served on a reading and writing faculty senate subcommittee, to show how following a CST approach helped that institution target the junior writing exam as a leverage poin through which to rethink the campus-wide writing program from a focus of deficiency and placement to one that more fully embraced campus-wide, vertical writing instruction.

Notable Notes

CST thinking from management, systems thinking designed in biology and engineering, educational research

Stages in Critical Systems Thinking

1. Creating a model of the system and its underlying ideologies (his example of the flowchart that represents the existing writing program model, which includes an placement test, first-year writing, remedial writing courses, a junior proficiency exam, and upper-division writing intensive courses) (82-83)

2. Recognizing ideological differences and defining an alternative model of the system (84-85) (his example shows the principles, derived from CWPA, CCCC, and NCTE, that the subcommittee wanted the new writing program to be defined by, characteristics for both students and faculty in the program.)

3. Finding points of leverage to change the system (86-87) (his example is the junior writing exam, changing the requirement from passing an exam to taking a writing-intensive course, making the writing intensive course the “centerpiece of the campus writing program” (88))

Quotable Quotes

“Work for change at the systems level rather than tinkering with an isolated course, program, or department by finding points of leverage within the system” (90).

“Embrace the idea of perpetual change” (93).

“A systems thinker’s attention is on the ways the structure of a system will construct behavior” (78)

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November 22, 2010

Campbell, Two Memos to Colleagues

Campbell, Hugh. “Two Memos to Colleagues.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (1991): 268-371. Print.

Campbell (which is a pseudonym) argues that, given the history and current state of the discipline of English, the current narrow understanding of the field of English (one limited to literary study and criticism) is unsufficient, and rather, faculty members in English need to expand their understanding of the field to one that studies issues of literacy and composition and rhetoric. He also argues for the necessity of a real, university-wide writing program, one that offers upper-division courses in advanced, technical, and professional writing, one that is anchored by a university-wide writing center that is designed for all (undergraduate, graduate, faculty, and community members) to come and use.

Notes and Quotes

“I do not understand why it should be more worthwhile or complex to interpret a work of fiction than a work of nonfiction. Furthermore, I am convinced that interpreting student writing is more difficult and potentially more rewarding than interpreting “imaginative” literature.” (369).

He sees composition and rhetoric as an integral part of English departments.

“The director of any writing program should be a tenured faculty mem-ber who (a) teaches writing and (b) publishes scholarship. This person should also be a writer in the broad sense: one who enjoys writing, not merely a com-petent drudge capable of doing an occasional satisfactory article for a scholarly journal and memos. I cannot stress this strongly enough: the head of a writing program should be more than an efficient administrator.” (371)

 

November 19, 2010

Cooper, et al, What Happens When Discourse Communities Collide

Cooper, Allene, et al. “What Happens When Discourse Communities Collide? Portfolio Assessment and Non-Tenure-Track Faculty.” In Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers: Scenarios in Effective Program Management. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: NCTE, 1999. 44-52. Print.

Cooper, the Writing Program Director at Boise States, explains in this case study how her program moved from a proficiency exam to portfolio assessment to evaluate students at the end of the required writing courses. This change in assessment method came at a difficult time for many of the adjuncts in the program: 1. the new president of the university called them, along with the other adjuncts at the university (who taught 40% of the courses) “a dime a dozen,” 2. the number of TAs teaching in the program quadrulpled (making the adjuncts feel like their jobs were threatened, and 3. the TAs formed a strong teaching community around a shared syllabus (making the adjuncts feel outside this new constituency and thinking that they too would have to teach around a shared syllabus.) There was obvious tension between the adjuncts and TAs, a tension that came out in a shared grading session of the portfolios, where instead of focusing on the students’ writing, the adjuncts and TAs began to attack one another’s assignments and teaching methods. There was hope that the portfolio assessment would help cultivate camaraderie, but it was apparent that there were deeper issues between the two discourse communities, who “ran aground on issues of theory, pedagogy, hegemony, and economics.” (48). Cooper describes the options a WPA has in this situation and the WPA’s conflicting responsibilities: running this student assessment, training TAs, cultivating morale.

Notes and Quotes

“Your adjunct faculty, like their counterparts at other colleges and universities, have traditionally faced problems of low pay, no job security, no benefits, and no upward mobility within their profession. In addition to these issues of professional insecurity, they have faced the more subtle problem of isolation. They teach at odd hours and odd sites. Many feel almost invisible – it’s not uncommon for other faculty members not even to recognize them as fellow teachers” (48).

suggests that replacing adjuncts with full-time instructors might be a solution (50)

June 3, 2009

Barrios, Grading the Writing Program Web Site

Barrios, Barclay. “Grading the Writing Program Web Site: Assessing Some Assessments.” Computers and Composition (Spring 2004). http://www.bgsu.edu/cconline/barrios2/index.html

A writing program web site, since it serves numerous audiences (administration, funding sources, teachers, students, prospective students), must have multiple assessment measures because each assessment has advantages and disadvantages that serve each audience in a particular way. Barrios reviews the many kinds of assessment the Rutgers Writing Program used to evaluate its web site, including corporate tracking services, server logs, anecdotal evidence, online surveys, and print surveys. He draws on Yancey’s assessment heuristic as a possible alternative assessment.

Notable Notes

Yancey’s heuristic: 1. What arrangements are possible? 2. Who arranges? 3. What is the intent? 4. What is the fit between the intent and the effect? Yancey, Kathleen Blake. (2004). Looking for sources of coherence in a fragmented world: Notes toward a new assessment design. Computers and composition, 21, 89-102.

assessment depends on the audience – need to use lots

March 31, 2009

McAllister and Selfe, Writing Program Administration and Instructional Computing

McAllister, Ken S. and Cynthia L. Selfe. “Writing Program Administration and Instructional Computing.” In The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Brown and Enos. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002. 341-375.

McAllister and Selfe argue that the issues in instructional computing are intellectual as well as pragmatic, encompassing broader theoretical and pedagogical issues including rhetoric, social theory, social justice, education, and the social and literacy aspects of technology. WPAs, then, should see instructional computing as part of their intellectual administrative work. McAllister and Selfe identify five “moments” in which WPAs might work in expanding their program’s use of instructional technologies: focusing on programmatic and curricular goals (professional development and conversations about program objectives); focusing on issues of access (number of computers, availability of technical support, what those computers and classroom offer); focusing on issues of administration (scheduling, conducting assessments); focusing on issues of professional development and support (creative ways to give instuctors support the skills they need); and focusing on issues of funding (program and university-wide).

Notable Notes

best programs are started slowly and have wide, broad university support and funding (362)

programs need to train instructors who will be teaching computer-intensive classes (356)

do to issues of classroom and computer access, it’s best not to require large courses (university-wide 1st year comp) to have mandated computer-intensive assignments or requirements (355)

WPAs should start by assessing what their program already has, their needs and their goals

two questions to ask: “What are the instructional goals of the writing program? How can these goals be made to drive a computer-based program/course/activity/facility/decision?” and “Who is being served by these goals and the computer-based instruction that is derived from them? Who is not?” (345)

February 22, 2009

Phelps, Telling a Writing Program Its Own Story

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Telling a Writing Program Its Own Story: A Tenth Anniversary  Speech.” In The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher: Inquiry into Action and Reflection. Eds. Shirley K. Rose and Irwin Weiser. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 1998.

 

This version that I am reading and taking notes on is the uncut version. The  speech was significantly cut in the collection.

 

This article combines the tenth anniversary speech Phelps gives to the Syracuse University Writing Program in 1997 with her analysis and reflection on speech as a form  of administrative rhetoric and highlights the intellectual work of both administration and leadership. The speech is divided into three sections – narrative, analysis, and reflection – which are based on the common moves taught in the Syracuse writing studios. Phelps shows how the Writing Program, founded in 1986, can be described as a sort of “Great Group,” who risked chaos in a outpouring of inventiveness and creativity in the early  years of the program. This complex open system became self-organizing, subcritical, and more orderly as the Program reached relatively high “fitness peaks.” However, in order to remain responsive and relevant to changing context, Phelps argues that the Program must be inventive still by bringing in new faculty and new leadership, developing new programs like the graduate program and a major, and by constantly searching out large and small opportunities to connect with other departments, colleges, and outside organizations that will allow the Program to grow, expand, and evolve. Phelps then steps outside her speech and analyzes it as a form of administrative rhetoric, arguing that WPAs, especially women, must not cede their authority as a leader. Rather, they should embrace the public form of administrative rhetoric in the form of speeches for they provide an opportunity to explain to the community that they lead the ideas and principles inherent in their organizing narrative. Strong reflective leadership is not coercive; it is necessary for the survival of a complex, dynamic organization like a writing program.

 

Quotable Quotes

 

“The Writing Program chose the Great Group model, where disparate people are drawn together by mutual commitment to a project and became energized by the power of collaboration, because we believed that it is a social structure more conducive to creativity and more successful in the long run.

In that choice, we risked chaos.”

 

“If the early development of the Writing Program represented the gamble of falling into chaos, after ten years one must imagine that we now risk the possibility of too much order. We are likely to find ourselves trapped on relatively high fitness peaks, where there is a big cost for coming down and trying another one that isn’t likely to prove that much better.” – reminds me of Jefferson/Adams, a  revolution every generation, tension and questioning whether the next wave is going to be as good as what you got already

 

“I came ever more strongly to believe that it is right for writing program administrators to aspire to leadership as an honorable role, to explore and analyze the role of rhetoric in administration, to make creative and ethical use of the rhetorical power their office (and their training) lends them.”

 

 

Notable Notes

 

Great Groups

 

Important sources: Bennis and Biderman (Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration); Gould (Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History); Kaufmann (At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity); Senge (The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization)

 

Reference to working on institutional invention piece

 

Used reflections from people who were in the early years of the program

 

WP wasn’t an  exact Great Group  because the people involved were so heterogeneous; not everyone bought into the idea, so that caused conflict and pain.

 

Ecological/systems  model

 

In a complex open system, there must be smaller, more local groups with autonomy that can grow and evolve, together creating a network to form the entire system

 

Evolution isn’t a linear path – there comes a point where there is an explosion of creativity (supracritical) that then is tamed by a learning or S-curve, when you reach high fitness peaks.

 

That “cascade of novelty in uncoordinated, chaotic interactions” was the fear of those who wanted a common text and curriculum.

 

Coevolving systems

 

Move from romance into a fruitful marriage

 

WPA is a “convenient euphemism” for administrators who don’t want to take on the name of leader – why are we so reluctant to use power wisely?

 

Speech as intellectual work of a writing program administrator

February 3, 2009

O’Neill, Crow, Burton, A Field of Dreams

O’Neill, Peggy, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton, eds. A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies. Logan, Utah: Utah State UP, 2002.

Royer, Daniel J. and Roger Gilles. “The Origins of a Department of Academic, Creative, and Professional Writing.”

This chapter explains the history of the gradual separation of writing and composition duties from the rest of an English department faculty and the subsequent creation of an independent department in academic, creative, and professional writing at Grand Valley State University. Over the course a of decade in the 1990s, the English department hired eight new tenure-track faculty in rhet/comp (in a large department of 40 full-time faculty), and with this cohort of writing specialists, teamed with part-time instructors and full-time, post-doc composition fellows, the literature faculty gradually opted out of teaching the required composition courses. When the administration discovered this imbalance, they told the English chair that until more faculty taught composition, there would be no new hires, as it was clear by their attitude that composition was low on the department’s hierarchy. The faculty then were faced with three choices: give up teaching elective speciality courses so everyone could teach a section of composition, hire new comp/rhet faculty into the department to teach it, or reduce the number of sections by allowing some students to opt out of the course. The faculty, realizing that none of these solutions was desirable, agreed to allow academic, creative, and professional writing become its own department, one completely focused on the discipline of writing studies, able to branch out and make partnerships across campus without having to be moderated by a large English department that wasn’t interested in rhetoric and composition as a legitimate field of study.

Quotable Quotes

“Indeed, separate from English, writing can finally begin to see itself once again within the context of the liberal arts more generally – rather than as a ‘basic skill’ relegated to preliberal education. It can now exist alongside other parts of the liberal-arts whole, rather than beneath them, servicing them, holding them up.” (36).

Notable Notes

A rhet/comp PhD is trained to teach more than first-year composition; advertising for a job that only teaches first-year (because the rest of the faculty don’t want to teach it) isn’t going to attract quality candidates.

Developing the culture of the program – valuing writing as the central organizing concept – is essential for new departments

confidence for making an independent department worked came from developing a successful university-wide writing program and writing assessment/evaluation system.

Agnew, Eleanor and Phyllis Surrency Dallas. “Internal Friction in a New Independent Department of Writing and What the External Conflict Resolution Consultants Recommended.” 38-49.

This chapter shows the problems of a top-down administrative decision to create an independent writing and linguistics department at Georgia Southern University in 1997. The administration decided that the large, 75-faculty member department of English and Philosophy needed restructuring, and the faculty submitted three models for consideration: stay a single department with three program directors (writing, literature, graduate studies); become two separate departments (philosophy and literature, writing and linguistics); become two separate departments under a new school. The administration picked the second model, thus divorcing the faculty from each other and withholding any collaboration and collection that would have come from being part of the same school. The faculty were not consulted about what department they would be placed in, so the department of writing and linguistics inherited several literature instructors with their MAs along with new rhet/comp hires. The diversity of viewpoints about pedagogy, content, research expectations, compounded by different salaries and degrees (PhDs and MAs) created a department rife with internal conflict. An external conflict resolution team came in and suggested structural changes, such as developing two associate chair positions, and joint projects, like the National Writing Project and a new BA in writing and linguistics have united the department somewhat since.

Quotable Quotes

“The faculty in our department were polarized based largely on degree and background – Ph.D’s versus master’s, composition-rhetoric background versus literature background, new hires versus veterans. But we wonder if it is possible that the fighting and one-upping were exacerbated because of the low status, low salaries, and perception as a service department, which both groups have in the whole academic system” (47).

Notable Notes

Warning – don’t go with restructuring just because administration pushes for it. Faculty need to be on board and know what is happening, understand the identities and cultures being made and reinforced.

Phelps, Matching Form to Function in Writing Program Design

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Matching Form to Function in Writing Program Design.” Talk. Michigan State University. 7 November 2002.

A writing program needs to be designed so that it finds a home between the two, often conflicting functions of writing programs: 1. the horizontally-structured undergraduate writing program that serves all departments across the university and 2. the departmental, research-oriented faculty core that provide the theoretical foundations for the pedagogical work being done. In order to do this, a writing program must be independent, controlled at a high administrative level (a department cannot effectively run a university-wide program), recognize alternate forms of scholarship by its faculty; and resist calcifying as a traditional department, because that will squelch moves towards experimentation and context-driven negotiation and redefinition. A writing program must have some flexibility because it is a dynamic entity, always changing shape and focus to meet the changing demands and circumstances of the institution and its students. This doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be defined, however; it just must be conceived broadly as an unique part of the institution that is always growing and experimenting, both in the classroom and in its structure and organization.

Quotable Quotes

“A university writing faculty must have a core research faculty to authorize its teaching mission” (4)

“The political effectivity of a writing program rests on its ability to be accepted and integrated within the intellectual mainstream of a university” (5) – importance of full-time, researching faculty to lead the program

“There is a fundmental mismatch between the needs, goals, and nontraditional functions of writing programs and the available forms and structures in higher education institutions for organizing and implementing them. For that reason, writing programs are a valuable irritant and provocation to examine how systmeic features of academic life can impede desired innovations” (7).

A writing program design must somehow find a way structurally to reconcile needs, features, and functions that gravitate toward one of these two poles—the complex structure and broad horizon of the whole system versus the human-size community for living and learning; the decentered, loosely coupled network and the focused core; the generalist, distributed instructional mission and the expertise that grounds it and finds its source and expression in scholarship and advanced teaching.” (11)

Notable Notes

writing program as enterprise to recognize the intellectual and programmatic nature of it (4)

expertise and generalist functions

writing programs as Pluto – are they really a discipline (is it really a planet?)

connective tissue that holds the university together (8)

importance of locating a writing program – placing it high enough administratively to have the resources and flexibility it needs.

Christopher Alexander – growing whole, design

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