From 2006-2014, I directed the CU Denver Composition Program. My time as a Writing Program Administrator (WPA) profoundly shaped my teaching and how I imagine, and interact with, higher education. I’m currently interested in how a writing program can construe its goals within university contexts (preparing students to write in their other college courses) and beyond graduation (as our writing courses may be the only ones some students ever take). I’m also interested in what it means for composition to be a course that students must complete to graduate from most colleges and universities, given that many disabled students struggle with reading and writing.
I believe that a successful writing program is attentive to context: to the historical context of how writing has been taught in the program and university; to the cultural context of the instructors and students who are (and are not) in the program; to the institutional context of the program, whether situated in an English department or elsewhere; to the financial context that often dictates whether a program can merely persist or productively develop; and of course, to the myriad ways that these contexts intersect with and contradict each other. My experience as a WPA has been in the historical context of being the first given release time to build a program; in the cultural context of a diverse university; in an institutional context where a culture of writing is desired but still developing; and in a financial context much like the rest of public higher education.
I regard my work as Director of Composition as “macrolevel teaching,” as explained by Richard Gebhardt in “Administration as Focus for Understanding the Teaching of Writing.” He notes that “macrolevel teaching” means selecting books for a program (rather than a single class), working with new graduate teaching assistants on their pedagogies and curricula (rather than planning and troubleshooting for my own class), and imagining how a new trend in teaching or writing might impact a series of classes and teachers (rather than a single course). At the same time, a WPA must have her finger on the pulse of writing politics on campus and beyond. A writing program administrator must be internally connected to instructors, students and program colleagues while sustaining external connections with faculty, university decision-makers, and larger disciplinary and political players. While writing programs and classrooms are often students’ first academic communities – both for undergraduate students and graduate instructors – such programs also serve the larger intellectual and pedagogical aims of a department and thrive when writing program administration is considered to be part of the critical work of the university. Part of this work is a keen awareness of the working conditions of those who teach writing.
Details! (Also see my teaching & writing program portfolio.)
I directed the CU Denver Composition Program from 2006-2014. The Composition Program consists of English 1020 (Core Composition I) and English 2030 (Core Composition II). Approximately 45-55 sections of on-campus and online English 1020 and 2030 were taught each semester while I was WPA. A sampling of my activities is below.
- Program Development & Wiki: The Composition Program Guide I created reveals my outcomes-based approach and is supported by a CompTrain wiki I designed.
- Teacher Training & Support: I created a five-day TA training for English 1020, detailed in the ever-evolving TA training manual. I also developed an Composition II training manual, designed for our more experienced full-time instructors. But more than anything, I believe in an open-door, open-email approach so teachers can get the support they need, both in terms of professional development and dealing with plagiarism, aggressive students, and grade complaints. I have advocated for pay equality and a living wage for those in my program.
- Assessment: I believe that genuine assessment means providing opportunities to reflect on our teaching practices and identify needed resources for improvement. I participated in a four-year assessment project and my approach is detailed in the Composition Program Guide.
- Culture of Writing: I coordinated a “common reading program” where composition courses read books by CU Denver and visiting scholars, including Teague Bohlen’s The Pull of the Earth and Stephen Hartnett’s Incarceration Nation, with public talks by both scholar-writers. I also coordinated for all composition courses to receive free copies of Copper Nickel, and students attended campus talks by visiting authors featured in the issue.
- Lab Development: A modern writing program must be attentive to technology. While I have managed computer classrooms for composition courses, I also believe in attending to the digital divide among undergraduates in college classrooms.
- Previous Experience: I am grateful for my experiences as a Research Assistant in the University of Washington’s Arts & Sciences Writing Program (Writing Across the Curriculum, 2005), as well as my time as Assistant Director of the Expository Writing Program (2002-2004).