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The Intersection between WAW and WAC: An Examination of the Reading, Writing, and Research Processes of UCF Faculty from across Disciplines

posted: 10.31.12 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Today’s guest blogger is Dan Martin, a full time Instructor in the Writing and Rhetoric Department who has been teaching composition courses at UCF since 2004. His research interests include writing studies, composition pedagogy and classroom instruction, writing across the curriculum, and writing about literature.

Writing about writing (WAW) creates a unique space for students and faculty to discuss how writing transfers, connects, and recontextualizes across disciplines. Writing Studies scholars have tried to connect theories from writing across the curriculum (WAC) and writing in the disciplines (WID) with composition theory for many years. In “Playing Devil’s Advocate: Evaluating WAC/WID Literature,” Robert Ochsner and Judy Fowler explain how scholars like Charles Bazerman embedded WID theory in composition course objectives back in the 80’s. Students were asked to explore “their disciplinary community’s respected discourse: its preferred genres, vocabulary, types of arguments and uses of evidence, and other rhetorical concepts.” Sound familiar? The WAW community knows that its objectives and writing commentary extend well beyond the walls of a writing department.

Ignoring the connections between WAW and WAC is hard. WAW creates broader writing knowledge that students can build on when they encounter discipline-specific writing knowledge in other courses. It expands a student’s understanding of what writing does and looks like in multiple disciplines that serve specific audiences, contexts, and objectives.  But students entering writing-intensive, discipline-specific courses with WAW knowledge won’t have all of the answers to the questions that writing in that discipline will pose. They have a foundation of writing knowledge that instructors from other disciplines can extend; however, this advantage is irrelevant if instructors from other disciplines are unaware of their students’ writing knowledge and what role they can play in developing it.

David Davis notes in “Eight Faculty Members Talk about Student Writing” that several faculty from multiple departments “shared the view that writing instruction is the responsibility of teachers in all disciplines,” but many of them were not willing to invest the time and energy it takes to make a difference in student writing. What if faculty outside writing departments were armed with some basic writing knowledge like our students? What if they were aware of what students were learning in WAW and how they could build on that foundation?  Perhaps student writing could improve across the curriculum. Exposing faculty from across disciplines to WAW concepts, assignments, and objectives may foster a larger dialogue about writing with several faculty and administrators across the university that may lead to better writing. Davis reiterates this point: “It may be that merely initiating extensive dialogue about student writing will lead to improved teaching practices by many faculty members.”

To help facilitate this dialogue, and as a means to reach out to faculty from across the university to discuss writing, I am conducting personal interviews with faculty from across disciplines at my university, investigating their writing, reading, and researching processes and their expectations for student writing. I am video recording and editing these interviews to use as instructional resources in the classroom. The interviews stress the importance of continued development of student writing across the university and the ability for WAW to foster a means for writing dialogue.

I am using these video interviews to initiate a discussion about what writing does and looks like in a specific course or field. Students and faculty can watch and listen to faculty from the history, psychology, nursing, and education departments tell their stories about writing in ways that connect and support WAW objectives. The videos explore faculty perspectives on drafting and revising, where good ideas come from, how writing and texts are connected to other texts, strategies for moving past blocked moments, and how to collect sources.

Exposure to the expansiveness of academic writing and its connection to WAW does many things for our students and now, potentially, faculty across departments. Students can see that writing is contextual and audience specific, and just because they excel at one kind of writing, in one discipline, it does not mean they will excel at other kinds of writing in the same or another discipline. Knowing this can help students and faculty make the right adjustments in the classroom to improve student writing. Secondly, academic writing requires expansive knowledge of a particular field because each academic community communicates in highly specific ways, using specific concepts, language, approaches, and perspectives to guide their writing. Faculty from multiple departments can’t expect students to come into their courses capable of writing for that discipline, even if they have excelled in writing in the past. Faculty members that are aware of this concept can play a greater role in developing and improving student writing without overextending themselves.

WAW can engage and connect with WAC/WID as a means to facilitate a discussion about writing with faculty from across the university. We encourage faculty from all departments to visit the University of Central Florida WAC webpage and watch some of the video interviews about writing with our faculty and spread the word.

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