Four faculty teaching the College of Arts and Sciences’ Teaching and Advising Program (TAP) seminars, four faculty teaching the first semester of the Honors College’s The Pursuit of Knowledge seminar (HCOL 85), and one faculty member plus one GTA teaching two sections each of the English department’s Written Expression first-year composition course (ENGS 1) designed their Fall 2012 courses to help students work toward four foundational goals:

  • Rhetorical discernment, giving students practice in composing for varying purposes and/or audiences, developing their texts with the detail, organization, and documentation, diction, and style suited to these varying purposes.
  • Substantive revision, challenging students to revise, through persistent inquiry and informed by peer and/or instructor feedback, so that their texts and ideas grow in effectiveness and complexity.
  • Critical reading, moving students beyond reading for information or a main idea and into critically engaging with ideas and texts, learning practices of summarizing, paraphrasing, and quotation to effectively integrate others’ texts into one’s own writing.
  • Information literacy, introducing students to ways of accessing, and working effectively and ethically with print and digital sources, including learning to discern searchable key words within a complex research question; distinguish between primary and secondary and scholarly and popular resources; critically evaluate sources for relevance, currency, authority, and bias; and manage and appropriately document information sources.

(PDF icon Appendix B [PDF] presents these four foundational goals with examples of assignments and assignments from the pilot courses.)

Of all pilot-section instructors, four-one part-time faculty member teaching ENGS 1 and three full-time faculty teaching HCOL 85—did not participate in any or most pilot-planning discussions and workshops but followed a syllabus and assignment sequence created by those that did. The remaining six instructors—one from ENGS 1, one from HCOL, and four from TAP—participated in a modest program of course development and ongoing discussions about course planning and experiences. Course development activities included a full-day workshop in May 2012 on crafting assignments that draw on foundational skills to advance course objectives plus afternoon workshops through the Fall 2012 on designing innovative research assignments, responding to student writing, reflecting on and adjusting from midterm results, and promoting substantive revision.

These six pilot faculty members plus additional members of the First-Year Writing Working Group (composed of faculty from CALS, CAS, CESS, CEMS, and the Libraries) also met during the late Fall 2012 semester to make plans for assessing the pilot, with a focus on three questions:

  • Is it possible for these three first-year courses to work toward shared writing and information literacy goals?
  • Should the shared goals remain, or remain with refinement, the four articulated for this pilot?
  • What do pilot results and pilot faculty experiences tell us about the resources and supports needed for these courses to work or work more effectively toward shared goals?

As the next sections of this report will show, student experience, pilot faculty experience, and assessment of randomly selected writing collections from the pilot sections strongly suggest answers of “Yes” to the first two questions. We also present in this report some detail about the process and the results of the pilot assessment both to provide a possible model for faculty-driven assessment of a general education course and to make visible the areas where, in response to the third question, further work and greater support are needed for greater effectiveness within courses and consistency across courses.