|Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)
Course Title: Essentials of Writing
Status: This project originated as part of NCAT's Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R) program, 2006 – 2009. Due to a variety of factors, this project was not completed. The project plan serves as a good example of how to think about redesigning a large-enrollment course.
Essentials of Writing is a developmental writing course for students whose entering essay does not meet college-level writing standards. The content covers grammar, punctuation and paragraph composition. Approximately 20% of entering students are assessed at this level despite the fact that many of them have completed writing credits before entering Regis. As a result, many of the students who are referred to Essentials of Writing do not enroll. In 2008, 210 students registered for Essentials of Writing. Of those, 70 (33%) dropped the course and 25 (18%) received grades of D or F.
Regis will eliminate the Essentials of Writing course. Instead, Regis will develop required first courses in all majors and will use the first writing assignment in these courses plus the results of a comprehensive grammar quiz to assess student writing skills. At the first meeting of the content course, students will receive information about the writing program, the name of his/her assigned writing instructor, instructions for submitting work to SMARTHINKING, an online tutoring service, and instructions for registering for MyCompLab to take the grammar quiz. Students will be instructed to submit their first course assignment to SMARTHINKING.
Regis has developed a set of writing competencies that students are expected to demonstrate by the time they graduate. The first level of competencies aligns with the outcomes of Essentials of Writing. These competencies are aligned with SMARTHINKING’s primary review categories. The writing faculty will use SMARTHINKING’s evaluations to establish the degree to which students have mastered the competencies. The competencies also align with tutorials and exercises in MyCompLab software. The exercises in MyCompLab are designed to allow students to practice their writing skills in the context of ongoing assignments so that students never have to do auxiliary writing assignments.
Once the student receives SMARTHINKING’s comments on the initial assignment, he/she will submit the assignment and the SMARTHINKING comments and the results of the grammar quiz to his/her writing instructor. Writing faculty will provide feedback and direct students to particular MyCompLab exercises to address weaknesses. Students will follow the same process through a series of writing assignments in the major course, receiving direction at each stage from their assigned writing instructor, either online or by telephone. This instructor will also monitor the student’s progress and intervene as needed. (Currently about 95% of Regis students get writing assistance online.) If a student would like a meeting in person, he or she can call and schedule a tutoring session at one of the Regis campuses. Students who have not achieved the required competencies by the end of the first major course will continue submitting writing assignments from other courses to the writing instructor via SMARTHINKING and will receive feedback until they achieve the required competencies.
The planned redesign will improve the quality of the writing program in a number of ways. The university will be better able to identify and articulate the writing skills students need to succeed and will guarantee that all students get the support they need to develop those skills. A well-articulated set of college-wide writing standards will be consistently applied in all schools. The combination of well-articulated standards and a common rubric that will be used for evaluation and feedback in all courses will give students a better understanding of what they need to know and how they can learn it. Targeting specific problems rather than offering general courses with standardized content will improve learning because students can focus on only the areas that need improvement and not be distracted with work on topics that they have already mastered. Finally, providing this instruction within the context of the discipline rather than in a separate course will improve quality by reinforcing good writing habits in a professional context.
The redesign will be piloted in Business Essentials in a Sustainable Environment (BA 300), the first course in the Regis business program. Its impact on student learning will be evaluated by comparing the assessment scores on student papers. Regis will evaluate three writing samples using standard rubrics: 1) the last assignment in the traditional writing course, 2) the last writing sample from the traditional BA300, and 3) the last writing sample from the redesigned BA300 during the pilot semester. All papers will be first submitted to SMARTHINKING for evaluation and then assigned scores using the competencies and rubrics using the feedback from SMARTHINKING.
Regis will develop a model for the pricing structure of the program. One of the problems with the existing course format is that students who have completed all their writing credits are understandably reluctant to pay for another writing course. On the other hand, other students need writing credit. Regis will work out a model where students who need credit pay the regular tuition and receive credit as they complete the series of competencies while students who just need to improve their skills pay a lower rate. Assuming that the mix of credit-seeking and non-credit students remains stable, Regis hopes to be able to meet the needs of this increased number of students through the more efficient redesigned course.
The cost of providing remedial instruction in English will be reduced by eliminating the formal course with its small sections and independent studies, while providing individualized services to those students who need them. Trained adjuncts will serve as writing instructors, providing guidance for students either face-to-face or online, as needed. The writing tutors in the redesign will be able to handle ~50 students each term rather than the current 15-20, the expectation in the traditional format. The number of students served will increase from 140 to 275 per year, and the cost-per-student will decrease from $216 to $51, a 76% reduction.