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How Do You Scale This Thing–More?

posted: 7.7.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs


In one of my first blog posts I asked, “how do you scale this thing?” At that point, I was wondering how you scale a writing-about-writing (WAW) approach for an entire program. This fall we will have completely moved to a WAW approach at UCF (the second largest university in the country, by the way), so we have some evidence that a full-program “scaling” can be done. But just to ensure that I don’t spend too much time enjoying and exploring that milestone, now I have been handed an even bigger challenge: working with 66 teachers from 16 schools to introduce them to WAW and help them consider whether it might work for their own writing programs and, if so, how to implement it.

This challenge came about somewhat serendipitously. Our Center for Distributed Learning at UCF had the opportunity to partner with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) to apply for a Next Generation Learning Challenge Grant that would help numerous AASCU schools around the country redesign some of their composition and/or algebra courses in a blended (partially online and partially face to face) format. Debbie Weaver (who cowrote the Writing about Writing Instructor’s Manual) and I were invited to be a part of that grant. In April we learned that the grant was funded, with the majority of the redesigned courses to be taught this fall. That’s right, this fall—a few short weeks from now.

Debbie and I had insisted that the composition portion of the grant include an intensive six-week teacher discussion and training, in addition to the required sample “template modules” for teaching various possible units in a WAW course. As a condition of the grant, all of the materials we create—the training itself, as well as the teaching template modules—are available for others to freely use and adapt.

So for the past three months we have been hard at work creating an online training and discussion site with a lot of help from the instructional designers in our Center for Distributed Learning. It is housed in Blackboard’s free CourseSites learning management system ( The training includes weekly Webinars; readings from composition theory and research; and guided planning of course outcomes and relevant scaffolded readings, activities, and writing assignments.  The participating teachers will work in small groups with discussion leaders who will engage with them as they work through the reading and consider how to design their courses.

Debbie worked tirelessly to create four different teaching module templates for units on discourse communities, writing processes, and constructing meaning through language. The sample modules she created are so detailed that they include every in-class activity, online discussion prompt, and homework assignment, and even peer review questions. In addition, six of our very successful teachers agreed to freely share their syllabi and assignments and ideas as resources on the site.

Yet our deepest desire is that these templates and syllabi will serve mainly as examples; instead of using these as-is, we hope the teachers who participate in the training and discussion will deeply consider what they want their writing-related course outcomes to be, then design their own courses and units around those outcomes. At the same time, we know that models are important, especially for newer teachers who might want to try what worked for someone else before they design their own course.

So as of Tuesday, July 5, working with three of our other experienced UCF teachers, Debbie and I will find out what it takes to “scale this thing” beyond one program. What happens when 66 teachers from 16 very different institutional contexts start engaging in discussions together about the content of composition and how to introduce students to declarative knowledge about writing?

I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, if you would like to access to the teaching materials available on our CourseSites, send me an email and I will sign you up:

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Categories: Writing about Writing
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