Tuesday, May 10, 2016

FYW Assignment: Responding to the university's academic plan

I've been writing about the assignments that I tried out this past semester in ENGW 1102, our writing program's first year writing course for multilingual students. In my first post, I briefly described the "English and Me" (English and I?) assignment, in which students wrote about their relationships to the English language(s). In my second post, I discussed an assignment for which students defined the concept "international students." In this post, I'll describe the third assignment, which was a collaborative response to our school's academic plan for 2025.

As I was preparing this semester's syllabus, I saw that the university was in the planning stages for an academic plan that included emphases on "the global university" and "diversity and inclusion," among other "strategic themes." I was interested in how I could give students the opportunity to be involved in that conversation, given their positions as multilingual and/or international students who were also mostly first-year students. After thinking about various options, I decided that the best choice would be to ask them to join the discussions on the "strategic theme" page of their choice. I assumed (correctly) that most students would choose to participate in the "global university" or the "diversity and inclusion" discussions. So that those discussion boards wouldn't be overwhelmed by the comments of 30 students, I decided to have them work in groups on their responses. I also left open the possibility that groups' responses would be combined if they were very similar in content or emphasis.

My assignment consisted of two parts, which I'll quote from here:
1) You will write a response that you will post on the appropriate section of the Academic Plan website, and 2) You will write a longer discussion of your post and the Academic Plan that you will post on Digication (along with a copy of the response that you posted to the website).

The posted response could vary in length depending on what you decide to do, but it should be an original contribution to the discussion (in other words, it shouldn’t be a repetition of others’ posts or an “I agree” statement). ...

The longer discussion could be written as a memo to the class that explains the context of your response (what aspects of the Academic Plan or what comments others had posted that you felt called for your input) and describes how you developed your response.
By requiring the longer discussion, I asked students to make sure that they had read the previous comments carefully to determine how their own ideas might fit into that discussion. For the first draft of the assignment, I asked them focus primarily on the "longer discussion" and to "summarize and quote from--and respond to--what [their] sources say." By "sources" I primarily meant the other comments on the Academic Plan website, but I also encouraged them to bring in other relevant sources. Once they had laid out the context for their responses, for the second draft I asked them to write out those shorter responses along with the longer discussions.

Students seemed enthusiastic about the opportunity to have a say in the direction that the university would be taking during the next ten years, though there was the expected amount of skepticism regarding how much effect their responses would actually have. One thing that came out of the process was that we all learned more about what services and programs the university had in a number of areas, such as study abroad programs, international internships and co-ops, services for diverse students, etc. We also debated how well these programs and services were publicized and what could be done to publicize them better. (Some students, for instance, felt that sending out more emails about particular study abroad opportunities would be good, while others felt that the school sends out too many emails already.) Some students felt that the university was doing a good job already with the programs and services it provides, and that the problem was that students weren't taking advantage of those opportunities.

One problem with this kind of assignment, of course, is that it's not really that repeatable. Since the Academic Plan is supposed to be finalized in the fall of this year, it's not likely that students in my future classes will have the opportunity to take part in this kind of university-wide discussion about the school's future. Perhaps, however, other similar opportunities will come up for future students.

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