REPORT FROM THE HUMANITIES CORE COURSE TO THE WASC REVIEWERS

Elizabeth Losh, Writing Director

See the UCI official accreditation report at http://www.accreditation.uci.edu/ for more information.  This site includes the initial UCI self-study, the report on the review from WASC, and the official response of U.C. Irvine to the evalutation process and the recommendations of WASC reviewers.

IMPROVING COMMUNICATION SKILLS AT UCI: FOSTERING A CULTURE OF WRITING IN THE HUMANITIES CORE COURSE IN RESPONSE TO EXTERNAL REVIEW

Overview of the Curricular Structure:

The Humanities Core Course is a large introductory interdisciplinary course for freshmen with a thirty-year history of collaborative instruction. Communication skills traditionally have been fostered in a number of important ways. As an eight-unit yearlong sequential course that is writing intensive, HCC garners more curricular time and attention from a typical student than a traditional composition course would. In lectures, faculty explicitly model academic argumentation and discuss the rhetorical conventions of their individual disciplines. The course also has a long history of innovative writing assignments that challenge students with "content-rich" modes of writing. However, a 1998 External Review suggested that significantly more could be done to integrate communication skills into instruction. In the words of the reviewers, HCC was a course that "uses writing" not a course "in writing."

The Partnership of Course Director and Writing Director:

In 1999, in response to the review process, the Humanities Core Course launched an ambitious new writing curriculum. Dramatic change was fostered by the unique institutional partnership that has structured the course for decades, one in which a Course Director and a Writing Director share duties for curricular planning and instructional development. Traditionally it was assumed that each person was responsible for his or her half of the course, since the eight units of instruction were split evenly between the "lecture" and "writing" components. Each person served a three-year term. By re-imagining this partnership, so that the Course Director had more oversight of the composition curriculum and the Writing Director had more responsibility to the reading and lecture curriculum, the two parts of the course became more integrated. Working jointly, the two directors first set minimum standards for writing instruction in quantitative and qualitative terms. Then they produced all new curricular materials for the course, which were written by the Writing Director but significantly edited and revised by the Course Director. Finally, they designed new training protocols for Orientation and Staff Meetings that emphasized concrete pedagogical suggestions, model lesson plans and in-class exercises, and problem-solving demonstrations to show how teaching communication skills could be integrated into traditional "scholarly" Humanities instruction. In planning for the next cycle of HCC, the new Course Director has used these reforms in an even more synergistic fashion so that the lecture curriculum shapes the writing curriculum and vice versa.

Faculty Involvement in the Writing Curriculum:

Reform in the teaching of communication skills also was made possible by an unprecedented level of commitment from faculty to writing issues. Even before the External Review, lecturing faculty members drafted essay prompts with the Writing Director, actively presented writing pedagogy at staff meeting, and taught composition skills from the podium. With the new writing curriculum faculty are even more involved in the teaching of writing and oral communication. For example, in the current 2000-2001 year, there has been one "model" lecture per quarter that makes explicit the relationship between the current writing assignment for students and the faculty member’s own process of generating academic discourse. All nine lecturing faculty members also contributed samples of their own writing to serve as instructional models in the Writer’s Handbook that students use throughout the year of instruction. Ten to fifteen additional faculty members each year are engaged with writing issues, because they serve as instructors of Honor sections in the course. A total of 14 faculty members contributed teaching suggestions or in-class exercises to the exemplary HCC instructors’ web site for the writing curriculum. The results of faculty consciousness-raising extend far beyond the confines of the Core Course: feedback from faculty indicates that these curricular materials and approaches get reused in departmental courses for majors and faculty-led courses in Upper Division Writing. The new Course Director has solicited several faculty members with Composition expertise, two of whom have a record of publication in Rhetoric and Composition, for 2001-2004 cycle.

A Collaborative Model for Curricular Development:

The new writing curriculum also succeeded, however, because it was designed differently from "top down" institutional models to take advantage of an experienced and committed teaching staff of lecturers and advanced graduate students. This collaborative effort is reflected in curricular materials that are both published in the traditional medium of the course textbook and posted to the extensive pedagogical website for HCC. Nine section leaders authored chapters in the Writer’s Handbook, and, as a result, half of the writing assignments were shaped by the work of section leaders. Over eighty percent of our instructors contribute on-line pedagogical materials for use by their colleagues with an emphasis on innovation, adaptation, efficiency, and interdisciplinary collaboration. This electronic pedagogical library now includes over two hundred separate web pages on writing instruction. And because the new composition pedagogy of the course seeks to go beyond traditional "literature-based" approaches, many of these contributors are historians, philosophers, classicists, and critics from the visual arts.

Outreach to Other Innovative Programs:

Reforms in the Writing Curriculum were not done in isolation from other reform efforts on campus. Regular consultation and planning began with Composition program, which provides Lower Division Writing instruction for the over three thousand students who do not take Humanities Core. This coordination began with the course director of "Argument and Research" to design a new research curriculum that better served campus-wide goals, and then expanded to the course director of "Fundamentals of Composition" to better educate the generally second-language students who enter U.C. Irvine without having passed the "Subject A" writing competence exam. At the same time, the Humanities Core Course launched several new programs with the Learning and Academic Resources Center, which traditionally provided tutoring, workshops, and individual appointments with professional writing counselors. These programs included more services for second-language learners, more sentence-level writing instruction, and more on-line advice provided via jointly developed materials on the World Wide Web. Perhaps the most obvious collaboration is between the Humanities Core Course and the campus library, since all HCC students complete six required "Discovery Tasks" that link to curricular materials jointly developed with the Humanities Librarian. Outreach efforts to the English as a Second Language program, Upper Division Writing programs, and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program have also been highly successful.

Imaginative Uses of New Technologies

Technology has been key to efforts at collaboration and outreach. The instructional web page (http://e3.uci.edu/faculty/losh/resources) and electronic mailing list allow instructors to efficiently integrate writing pedagogy into instruction and evaluation of student work. The web page for students (http://e3.uci.edu/programs/humcore) makes reference materials on communication skills easily available to students and provides links to the web pages of other on-campus programs that work with HCC to develop those skills.

We also recognize that the World Wide Web is changing both the form of academic discourse and its objects of study. We prepare students for electronic modes of discourse in a number of ways. Many sections use computer labs or the electronic mailing lists to develop students’ writing skills. This is actually consistent with the traditional mission of HCC to foster multiple literacies. Before the advent of the Internet, teaching emphasized two very different rhetorical situations: the lecture and the section; now students are introduced to a third rhetorical situation in electronic communication.

Students use the World Wide Web in four essay assignments: the first two are "close reading" assignments and the second two are "research" assignments but the technology offers teaching opportunities unavailable with traditional texts. Our two web-based close reading essay assignments focus on two different pedagogical goals: the development of visual literacy and the development of critical thinking about literary analysis of texts in translation. In the first case, students were asked to write about film clips from the movie Rebecca. In order to emphasize particular images in the activity of the students’ close ‘reading,’ sequences were edited into groups (female costume, shots of the ocean, shots of food, etc.) and made available in password-protected form via the essay prompt on the Web. In the second, students were assigned a close reading of a passage from the Odyssey with the option of using the web-based Perseus project at Tufts University to follow ‘morphological hyperlinks’ in the text to words in the original ancient Greek and supplemental information about etymology and connotation. Web-based close reading is particularly well-adapted to ‘texts’ that are difficult to close read using traditional media like film scenes or texts in translation. Students use scholarly articles chosen from the library’s electronic journal collection for the final two writing assignments in the course. This has greatly improved the amount of independent research that is possible to teach in such a highly centralized course, given the limitations of traditional "hard copy" resources in the library.

Diversity and Dialogue with a Common Syllabus

The writing curriculum is highly integrated in several different ways to allow lecturing faculty members and section leaders from many different departments and disciplines to have a common "language" with which to develop a writing curriculum that emphasizes both similarities and differences in humanistic inquiry.

Each quarter there is a broad theme for the writing curriculum that runs parallel to the content of the lecture curriculum: Fall Quarter is "Discussion and Writing"; Winter Quarter is "Reading and Writing"; and Spring Quarter is "Research and Writing."

There is also a weekly writing "topic" that is covered in 2-5 pages in the Writer’s Handbook that the students read every week. To maximize the teaching of writing with each topic, the Writing Director gives a presentation on its pedagogical issues at the weekly staff meeting, offers model in-class exercises and teaching suggestions on the World Wide Web, and facilitates discussion on the "topic" on the instructors’ listserv. These exercises are designed to integrate multiple skills from at least two of the following topics: informal discussion, oral presentation, note-taking, reading, informal writing, academic writing, and research.

The sequence of assignments is designed to use the student’s knowledge of weekly writing topics directly and to build cumulatively to an academic research paper that integrates the following skills: Definition of Terms, Counterargument, Rhetorical Analysis, Image Analysis, Narrative Analysis, Textual Analysis, Textual Explication, Comparison and Contrast, Application of One Text to Another, Evaluation, and Causal Analysis.

For many years student writing in the Humanities Core Course has been evaluated with a five-area rubric: Conceptual, Thesis, Development and Support, Structuring, and Language. Since the reform efforts, course materials are designed to integrate teaching across this rubric. Much of the prior writing curriculum focused just on organizational features of writing, but the new writing curriculum devoted several separate weeks to "topics" in logic and sentence-level grammatical instruction. Model in-class exercises provide instruction "across the rubric" from conceptual sophistication to sentence-level correctness.
 

UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES IN A RESEARCH UNIVERSITY: RESPONSES IN THE HUMANITIES CORE COURSE TO THE BOYER COMMISSION REPORT

The Boyer Commission Report suggested that freshmen rarely experience the benefits of research resources at a research university and that institutional size and structure prevents meaningful faculty mentoring of research skills.  The report also suggests that problems with the basic literacy of college students could be ameliorated with more meaningful research-oriented experiences earlier: "Many students graduate having accumulated whatever number of courses is required, but still lacking a coherent body of knowledge or any inkling as to how one sort of information might relate to others. And all too often they graduate without knowing how to think logically, write clearly, or speak coherently." The report endorses an "inquiry-based freshmen year" experience," which is the primary focus of the Humanities Core Course and key to its pedagogical philosophy from inception. In the words of the report, "The freshman experience needs to be an intellectually integrated one, so that the student will not learn to think of the academic program as a set of disparate and unconnected requirements." In the last two years, the Humanities Core Course has changed its traditional mission to include more research with one entire quarter devoted to "Research and Writing."  Faculty who participate in Humanities Core make a concerted effort to bridge the gap between their scholarly research and their teaching duties with entering freshmen by modeling modes of academic discourse. Several faculty members have described the innovative and collegial atmosphere of the Core Course as key to rethinking particular scholarly projects. On the other end of the circuit of knowledge production, as students see research methods modeled by faculty and section leaders, they learn more about the disciplinary features of research and innovative approaches to multiple research problems.

Web-Based Research Resources

Discovery Tasks

The Virtual Research Project

Building Writing to the Research Project: integrating sources, annotated bibliography, prospectus, etc.

Humanities Core and the PBL Institute

UROP – Faculty Mentoring of Students
 

ASSESSMENT OF UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION

The Humanities Core Course uses several methods of assessment to improve the curricular structure of the course and the educational experiences of individual students.  Souirces for assessment data include:

External Review

Longitudinal Study of Student Writing:

Student Evaluations

Evaluations from Instructors

Demographic Data

Student Grades

Deficient Student Reports

Instructor Feedback Samples

Questionnaires on Pilot Projects

Grade Data on Pilot Projects

Writing Contests / Recognition and Collection of Exceptional Student Writing

Reports on DUE Grants