WAT's on My Mind
OK, not the best title for a blog post, but it was pretty hard to resist. And it’s true -- lately I’ve been ruminating/musing on/obsessing over WAT.
Next fall, my institution will be overhauling its First-Year writing program, moving from a progressive but still traditional curriculum into a Writing Across Technology curriculum (WAT). Currently, we have a somewhat intense, four-credit course called Seminar in Academic Writing. Classes are an hour and forty-five minutes long (!) and meet twice a week. I think I speak for many instructors when I say that one almost always wants just a little bit more time to cram something into a class session, but at an hour and forty-five minutes, even the most dedicated instructor starts to buckle, if only out of sympathy for the poor freshmen in front of them.
Originally, students in First Year Writing (FYW) were each required to complete thirty pages of revised writing. The number was dropped to twenty-five a couple of years ago, but it’s still a lot. Hence, the four credits. With WAT, this page count kind of goes away, as we incorporate more multimodal assignments. So, instead of writing six pages of a rough draft and expanding it to eight in a revised draft, students may have to construct a storyboard rough draft for a final (i.e. revised) podcast project. And so on.
I’m excited about this change. Though I’ve been doing multimodal projects for years, they always felt like the odd assignment out. In the new curriculum, students will have normal-length classes of an hour and fifteen minutes and a biweekly one hour studio in which they will learn more about how their rhetorical situation shifts among formats. After completing some of the proposed projects and class activities in a training institute this fall, I can appreciate the effort it’s going to take students to make these rhetorical shifts, along with the resulting frustration of learning new (but increasingly important) technology. The WAT change seems like it will be new and challenging -- in a good way -- for all. It emphasizes universal design, so the student who maybe isn’t the best writer in the world can still learn how to organize their thoughts and think critically. Plus, the podcast project I love to teach will fit in better.
I’m also hesitant, though. I realize that many of my own writing skills came from a lot of reading and writing and I wonder that, in emphasizing different modes of construction, that the craft of writing itself will somehow get lost. College composition is the frontrunner in the war to stop businesses from putting words into quotes unnecessarily. Who will take on that mantle? Or is that a game we just have to accept we’ve lost? Full disclosure, I’m not a rhet/comp person. These people seem to have no bones about changing everything up (and dramatically) at the drop of a good scholarly article. I come from the land of literature, where we happily rehash everything and sprinkle in a little queer theory to freshen up old ideas. So it’s a challenge, switching up my mindset.
Right now I’m tweaking the FYW syllabus I used the last time I taught the Seminar in
Academic Writing, but it’s a little bittersweet. This will most likely be the last time I can use this kind of syllabus -- at least I’m unlikely to encounter another institution with classes that last an hour and forty-five minutes. Maybe that’s a good thing, though. At any rate, this spring will be the last hurrah for the course now known as ENGL1010. And this summer will entail creating a new WAT syllabus (I’ve already got a great idea for one) for next fall’s new adventure.