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Campus-Wide Handbook Adoption

posted: 4.15.14 by Steve Bernhardt

A few weeks back, I wrote about a visit to the University of Georgia to learn more about how they were using Writer’s Help in conjunction with their home-grown Emma software, a program that supports peer and instructor review and commentary. We learned recently that UGA would be moving to a campus-wide adoption of Writer’s Help, meaning all students would have four-year access. This is our first campus-wide adoption at a major university, and it represents an important opportunity. In that earlier Bits post, I described the ways Writer’s Help had been integrated with UGA’s peer review software, with the result that students were consulting Writer’s Help with much greater frequency and on a wider variety of topics that we have seen elsewhere. Now, we will have the chance to see what happens after first-year writing, as students move into their disciplines and take courses across the curriculum.

From the initial conception of Writer’s Help, we hoped to create a resource that would follow students as they developed as writers. Wouldn’t it be good for students to become familiar with a writing handbook as first-year students, and then to leverage that expertise as they moved into more advanced courses? Could we design a resource that would continue to be useful and valued, consulted with some frequency? Could a handbook become a key resource for independent learning? Could we develop an audience of student writers, in general, as opposed to students in a first-year writing classroom?

As we reworked the content of the Bedford handbooks (especially Writer’s Reference), we imagined students moving outward from first-year writing. We reworked example sentences to reflect the wider world of writing across professional contexts. We expanded coverage of documentation styles beyond MLA and APA to include Chicago and Council of Science Editors (CSE). We added annotated model documents to capture a wider range of genres. We added content on professional style, document design, and multimodal composing. And we added to existing writing-in-the-disciplines chapters to include engineering, music, criminal justice, and other disciplines.

UGA will be a good test of whether we’ve been successful in designing a handbook that supports students throughout their college experience. It will be a learning experience for professors in the disciplines, who will need to recognize they have access to a widely shared resource and who will then need to develop patterns of teaching that encourage frequent use. And it will be a good test of whether students can port skills and behaviors from one setting to another, a good indication of transfer. My suspicion is that a truly successful experiment with a campus-wide handbook adoption will require the kind of intentional implementation that characterizes the writing program at UGA, where program goals, shared syllabi, embedded technology, and staff development all contribute to success for student writers.

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