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Entry-level and Freshman Writing

Overview

Writing instruction during the first several quarters of a student's life at UCSD represents a major commitment by the institution in terms of time, effort-of both students and instructors-and resources. Producing UCSD graduates with skills to communicate effectively in standard written English has been important to the institution from its earliest days. UCSD's approach to teaching writing is different from most Research 1 universities. Writing instruction is not the responsibility of a single academic department such as a Department of English; rather, the six undergraduate colleges and the UC Entry Level Writing Requirement (formerly known as Subject A) office are responsible for this aspect of undergraduate education. The result of this distributed approach to writing is that there are multiple units responsible for the development and delivery of writing instruction, and each has its own philosophy and approach. Some colleges utilize a series of stand-alone, rhetoric-based programs, while others have embedded writing instruction within the core curriculum. Despite the investment of substantial resources and attention to writing pedagogy, there have been complaints from the faculty that many students cannot write at a level commensurate with their college standing. The Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) and the Committee on Preparatory Education (COPE) of the Academic Senate have raised questions about the efficacy and adequacy of writing instruction. University administrators have taken these concerns seriously and have invited an outside panel of writing specialists to advise the university on how best to assess the nature and effectiveness of its writing programs. (The panel's report may be found in Appendix 5.) Despite these concerns and efforts, the fundamental question, "Can UCSD freshmen communicate adequately in standard written English after completing the General Education required writing sequence?" has not been fully answered. Ralph Wolff, in his 1998 letter re-affirming campus accreditation noted that although UCSD provided substantial documentation supporting the high quality of its education enterprise, the material "...does not provide the University with much specific evidence on the capacities of graduates in vital areas, such as writing...." With these concerns in mind and with the "culture of evidence" as a guiding principle, one area of proposed self-study is the evaluation and assessment of entry-level and freshman writing.

Proposed Actions

To this end, the Academic Senate, through its Committee on Educational Policy and Committee on Preparatory Education, mandated an empirical review of the six college writing programs along with a review of the English as a Second Language (ESL) and Entry-Level Writing programs. These reviews and their consequences will be the focus of our first self-study. The process will involve the collection of a random sample of student writing from each of the writing programs, i.e., the actual student writing products in fulfillment of the requirements of the courses. For the freshman writing programs, evaluators will collect writing samples from forty to sixty students in each of the college's core curriculum writing programs; four samples will be collected from each student. The examples will represent a writing exercise from early in the first quarter of writing instruction, one from late in the first quarter, one from early in the second quarter, and one from late in the second quarter. A faculty appointed Writing Review Committee, consisting of members of the Academic Senate who are themselves not associated with any of the writing programs, but who come from disciplines in which writing is critical, will evaluate the samples according to the University-wide "Subject A" criteria and guidelines articulated by CEP. The committee will then assess the degree to which each individual has improved. (The detailed instructions given to the evaluators in the pilot study of this process are included in Appendix 6.) A similar process will be conducted for students who are placed in ESL or Entry-Level Writing. The collective and cumulative evidence will be used by the Writing Review Committee to evaluate, in an evidence-driven process, the degree to which the campus writing programs achieve the goal of training UCSD students to write clearly and concisely.