WORD Fellows applications open for spring cohort

Faculty who want to spend less time for more impact when assigning and evaluating writing in courses can apply now to be in the spring 2024 WORD Fellows cohort.

WORD, or Writing Occurring Rhetorically in the Disciplines, is a 12-week program intended to support faculty in designing more effective writing instruction from assignments to assessment. Faculty system-wide from all disciplines are invited to apply.

“Working alongside peers, Fellows learn about pedagogically proven ways to teach with writing, not to teach writing,” said Lisa Johnson Shull, Writing Program director. “Benefits then flow to the students and the faculty themselves, personally and professionally.”

The fellows will collaborate in weekly experiential 75-minute workshops and explore with peers and experts many approaches. Between sessions, participants will reflect on personal goals for students’ writing, program lessons, and their plans to develop a scaffolded writing assignment. Fellows receive a $750 stipend from the Harold and Jeanne Rounds Olsen Endowment Fund managed by the WSU Writing Program, home of WORD Fellows.

Since 2021, about 30 Fellows have successfully completed the program. The course changes they have since implemented have impacted hundreds of undergraduates.

David Makin, a WSU Pullman Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology associate professor, made changes to three large-enrollment classes and experienced “profound benefits” by bringing undergraduates more fully into the course process. Working in teams, the students help design the rubrics by which they will be evaluated.

“This overcomes certain challenges by giving them agency involving learning outcomes,” Makin said, “and they are more aware of how to meet or exceed agreed-upon expectations.”

Makin’s assignments require the creation of videos explaining scientific information to the public. Videos have covered, for example, the DNA-modifying technology CRISPR, artificial intelligence and machine learning, wrongful convictions, and misinformation. Students research the subjects, write scripts, assemble, and edit footage, record voiceover dialogue, and share the product.

Students responded well to the assignments, developed self-confidence, and were proud of their accomplishments. Makin will require videos this spring of his graduate-level class.

WSU Pullman Fellow Sabine Davis, French professor in the School of Languages, Cultures, and Race, will use her WORD knowledge this spring in the interdisciplinary capstone French 420 course, “French Culture Through Wine.” Rather than assigning a final research paper again, she will implement a scaffolded assignment featuring progressive steps.

When the course begins, students will be told they have inherited a winery and must convince investors to support their brand. They will be in charge of everything from recreating the history of their winery and designing a bottle label to describing the French region where their wine’s grapes are grown.

“They will do historical and other research, and must write about such intriguing subjects as, ‘What impact did the French Revolution have on winemaking?’” said Davis. “The semester-long assignment isn’t all about writing but uses writing throughout to bring aspects of the project to life. I want it to be fun yet challenging, and the final product will certainly be different from previous semesters and will meet the course learning goals better.”

Gibran Escalera, a WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor in the Department of English, used his WORD Fellows knowledge to help students feel more supported.

“All of my classes will offer TGIF prompt templates for writing assignments,” he said. “That is ‘task, goals, intended audience, and formatting.’”

The TGIF assignment template shared by WORD facilitators defines the most important elements of what’s expected, and helps students focus on formatting as well as relevant intellectual tasks such as critical thinking, argumentation, and source analysis.

“Using TGIF is now my bedrock, and by using it, my students’ writing and my assessment of it will be more clear and concise.”

Based on her WORD Fellows experience, Samantha Gizerian, a WSU Pullman associate professor in Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience, changed her fall semester Neuroscience 105, “Meet Your Brain,” assignment aimed to foster student engagement. Students still had to write a paper persuading her to sponsor a public-service announcement, but rather than using only peer-reviewed literature, students could use any sources they deemed credible. 

“I want them to learn to think critically and construct an argument, period,” she said. “When the assignment got simpler, they were more engaged with the task. I also scaffolded the project, so it stretched over the semester. They saw positive progress all along.”

In addition to revised assignments and curricula, Gizerian, Escalera, Davis, and Makin noted the value of the professional development they gained. By working with Writing Program experts and networking with peers from other disciplines and campuses, they agreed their WORD Fellows opportunity was invaluable. “It was a thought-provoking good time with peers new to me,” said Gizerian. “But one of the most rewarding parts of the program was to be, once again, on the learning side of education.”

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