Last week we had a meeting of our Writing Programs Advisory Board. This is part of the Slippery Rock English department’s attempt to move beyond the experiences of our students to employ those of our graduates and of others as possible reference points for future decisions regarding curriculum and teaching approaches. Obviously, this blog is also seeking to explicate and invite reflection on such experiences, for similar ends. We know we are not alone in taking this approach, as correspondence I have had related to an article I am currently producing suggests that seeking out alumni as potential guides and stimulants for writing programs appears to be gathering interest within composition studies.
Four members of the board were able to attend the meeting—three graduates of our programs (two from our Masters-level professional writing track and one from our undergraduate creative writing track) and one creative writer and teacher who was spending her first evening ever on our campus. A fifth member, who had to beg off because of family obligations, is a graduate of our undergraduate writing program as it existed before we split it into professional and creative tracks. (See our postings from early March.) All five board members have pursued careers and avocations that demand plenty of writing.
The theme governing last week’s meeting was to have the board members share their experiences, recollections, and observations regarding the fit between their current writing practices and their preparation for such practices in their undergraduate and graduate writing programs. To help the board along, we asked the following questions:
· Were the writing activities you performed as a student helpful to performing the writing you do now?
· Can you think of other writing activities we should have students perform that would help them prepare for later writing?
· Were the strategies you learned for responding to, interpreting, evaluating, and appreciating others’ writing helpful to the editing and evaluating of others’ writing you do now? Can you think of other strategies it might be useful for students to learn?
· Did your undergraduate or graduate writing program provide you with a level of proficiency in document design and hypertextuality sufficient to the writing activities in which you now engage?
These questions worked some kind of magic, as we literally had to encourage both board members and faculty members to leave our department lounge because of the lateness of the hour, after close to two hours of lively and intense discussion. We recorded the meeting and will produce highlights of what was said soon. One small example of the meeting’s value, however, was reaction to the word “hypertextuality,” a bit of lingo left over from the 1990s that has been embedded in our professional track’s stated learning outcomes for more than a decade. One quick action our faculty now know they should take is to delete that language and see if we can come up with wording that better reflects the experience of contemporary web-based writing.
Readers of this blog are welcome to reflect upon and seek to answer any of the above questions themselves. Putting their responses in the form of comments following this posting will cause outbreaks of celebratory shouting in some quarters.