Students across all majors will begin to see changes to their writing curriculum this year as part of a transition before writing requirements are completely revamped next fall.

The proposal, passed in February 2013 by the Main Campus Executive Faculty, approves changes to the Humanities and Writing core requirements as well as the treatment of writing across all academic departments.

“We spent about five months really finishing the process of a conversation that has been going on for several years about how to do a better job preparing students at Georgetown as writers,” Director of Writing Curriculum Initiatives Sherry Linkon said.

The first major change, to go into effect in fall 2014, will be the renaming of “Humanities and Writing I” to the “Writing and Culture Seminar,” a small, first-year writing seminar capped at 15 students.

“Right now, only a little more than half of students take the first-year writing course,” Linkon said. “We believe because writing is just so essential that everyone should be exposed to that course and that students who are already pretty good writers really benefit from having someone pay attention to them.”

Currently, students must complete both a “Humanities and Writing I” course and a course that satisfies the more general “Humanities and Writing II” requirement. Students who receive a score of 4 or 5 on Advanced Placement exams in English typically place out of one or both classes.

“Humanities and Writing II” will become a humanities distribution course, allowing students to choose courses from the art and theater or performance studies departments to fulfill their requirements. Students can already take an English or foreign language course for the “Humanities and Writing II” requirement.

Linkon hopes to eventually change requirements so that only a 5 on the AP exam would exempt students from the “Humanities and Writing II” requirement. To fulfill that, however, would require hiring three full-time writing faculty. The university has already hired two new faculty members to help teach the new “Writing and Culture” seminar.

“We’ve not yet been able to find the money to hire the faculty that we need to do that. It’s on the provost’s radar to do this. We’ll get there at some point,” Linkon said.

Writing requirement changes, however, are not limited to “Humanities and Writing” requirements and will affect departments across the university. Part of the proposal was an integrated writing core that will become part of the Georgetown core by fall 2015.

“We’re asking every academic program, every major to have a conversation and think about what students need as writers in their field,” Linkon said. “It will be very rare that any program will add a course to fill this requirement.”

An Integrated Writing Advisory Committee, which includes professors from all four undergraduate schools, was created to ease the transition into the new requirement.

German professor Heidi Byrnes — who serves on the committee — said that the committee will be involved in discussions with Linkon and department heads throughout the coming year.

“I think the push for this academic year will be to encourage all departments to have that kind of internal discussions and begin to lay out its plans with regard to how it will foster the development of writing abilities in this discipline,” Byrnes said. “The committee would be involved in helping to facilitate that kind of discussion within departments.”

Professors across several science departments took part in a “Writing and Disciplines” pilot program this past summer during the Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute organized by the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship.

“It’s something we’ve been talking about for years,” said Heidi Elmendorf, a co-director of undergraduate studies for the biology department who took part in the TLISI workshop this summer. “Our students do a lot of writing — we had writing expectations, but we hadn’t systematically thought of ourselves as teachers of writing.”

Elmendorf does not believe that teaching writing is limited to the English department.

“We used to think the job of teaching writing was the job of the English department,” Elmendorf said. “It’s the recognition that writing in different disciplines is inherently different. At the same time, we’re realizing, hey, we all believe in thesis statements and paragraphs.”

To that end, Elmendorf hopes to begin incorporating more writing across entry, mid-level and upper-level biology classes this year.

“We’re committed to starting in the first-year course, setting aside time in class and lab for writing [and] peer review,” Elmendorf said. “For their first lab paper this year, students will write it together in the lab. We want our students to start writing, and as they do that they’ll start thinking more.”

Elmendorf and the department are also exploring the idea of attaching a one-credit, “communication-intensive” recitation to a set of second-year courses.

Linkon contends that the importance of writing in everyday life has increased with technology.

“People are understanding that a huge amount of our conversation is in words,” she said. “Writing is a much more accessible thing — just look how many people keep blogs.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *