Student surveys, faculty assessment of writing collections, and instructor experience all strongly suggest that it is possible for these three kinds of courses to work toward shared foundational goals and that each course can still retain its unique characteristics. Moreover:

  • Students taking these pilot courses, faculty teaching them, and additional faculty assessing the resulting writing all expressed a high degree of satisfaction with the work and the learning that resulted.
  • Pilot faculty able to participate in course development activities and pilot-planning discussions also underscored that these activities and discussions were immensely valuable. As one pilot instructor put it during discussions around the drafting of this report: “It was really helpful to be part of this group working out our issues of how to teach these courses, to be really invested in this pilot.”

At the same time, pilot faculty and the assessment teams note four challenges that would need to be addressed should UVM move toward a foundational requirement for all UVM undergraduates via English 1, HCOL 85, and TAP:

  1. Writing collections from the ENGS 1 and HCOL 85 sections taught by faculty who did not participate in most pilot planning course development activities (which would have, not including the time of creating and revising course materials and assignments, involved an additional 40+ hours of time) received noticeably lower scores in both the post-semester assessment and student surveys than those taught by faculty who did participate. Assignment handouts are not enough; course-development support and time to participate are needed for all faculty learning to teach first-year courses to meet shared writing and information literacy goals.
  2. The ENGS 1 pilot instructor who did not participate in course development activities was unable to do so because of her part-time, short-term appointment. Full-time faculty appointments are needed so that instructors can participate in course development activities and so that UVM’s investment in developing faculty to teach these courses pays off in subsequent semesters.
  3. Writing collections from a TAP seminar that was also taught to meet a major requirement received the lowest scores in all categories among the four TAP seminars. Although it can’t be concluded from one section that TAP seminars cannot do “double duty” in meeting both a major and general education requirement, if TAP and HCOL 85 become two of three means through which students may satisfy a foundational writing and information literacy requirement, a shift in emphasis will be necessary and will likely also take more than one iteration of a course to figure out how to achieve: from seminars that use writing assignments in service to introducing students to a body of disciplinary knowledge to using a disciplinary realm of inquiry in service to fostering students’ writing, critical reading, and research skills.
  4. The pilot instructor for another TAP section, which received high ratings for its writing collections and from students reflecting on their learning in the four foundational areas, reported that students also found the work very challenging, frequently complained that the course was not what they were expecting, and on the department course evaluation scored the course a point lower than is typical for her introductory courses. If UVM adopts a foundational writing and information literacy requirement via TAP, HCOL 85, and ENGS 1, it should be made visible to students that these three different kinds of courses are part of a common program devoted to students’ development as critical readers, writers, and researchers.

There is plenty of cause to be optimistic that these challenges can be met:

  • It is only over the past decade that UVM has seen a shift in English 1 teaching from full-time to part-time staffing—a shift that can be corrected.
  • The Honors College is already re-envisioning its first-year two-semester seminar sequence to make writing central to its long-standing goal of promoting critical thinking.
  • A recent survey of all TAP seminars by the CAS Dean’s office and the Writing in the Disciplines program found that (1) virtually all TAP seminars are already writing-intensive; and (2) TAP faculty are actively seeking more advice about what aspects of writing they should be focusing on and support for teaching writing in their seminars. A move toward articulating and providing support for meeting shared foundational goals thus answers a need voiced by TAP faculty.

While more detailed recommendations are not part of this report—deferred until the April Faculty Senate meeting to allow more time for reflection on the pilot results and feedback on this report—pilot faculty Deborah Blom of Anthropology, Becky Miller of Biology, Deb Noel of English, Lisa Schnell of Honors College, and Peter VonDoepp of Political Science offer these recommendations regarding support for course and faculty development:

  1. Following the model of the annual four-day Writing in the Disciplines Institute, launch a First-Year Writing Institute to bring together up to a dozen faculty each year for intensive work on creating or revising their ENGS 1, TAP, or HCOL course to emphasize the foundational goals.
  2. Because faculty time is so scarce, make it more possible for faculty to participate in such an institute with compensation in the form of a direct stipend that might be used to offset other time commitments (for instance, to make it possible to hire house cleaning or childcare services) rather than through the current practice of compensation in the form of professional development funds.
  3. Because most faculty do not have academic backgrounds in composition and rhetoric, they often require one-on-one and small-group consultations throughout the semester they are teaching a writing-intensive course. This can be accommodated by creating a First-Year Writing Faculty Fellows program, which might include those trained in writing instruction but also faculty beyond the English department who are beginning to develop rich perspectives and approaches they can share. Two (eventually expanding to four) faculty each year would be released from half of their regular teaching commitment to meet regularly with and provide mentoring and workshops for faculty teaching ENGS 1, TAP, or HCOL 85, as well as to help plan and guide annual program assessments.

While implementing a coordinated, campus-wide approach to first-year writing and information literacy at UVM will take resources, and would be coming online at a time of declining revenues and difficult budget decisions, pilot faculty also observe that UVM is moving toward doing something so unique and likely attractive to faculty and administrators at other institutions, we might also look toward launching an annual summer institute for interested faculty throughout the Northeast. Such an institute could begin to generate some of the revenue needed to support first-year writing program activities such as a faculty fellows program. Such an institute would also spotlight and allows us to share with audiences beyond campus what we believe will be distinctive program, one in which many faculty—not just those in English and the libraries—are involved and invested in students’ literacy educations.