As I mentioned in the posting for April 14th, our Writing Programs Advisory Board met recently with our faculty and discussed a series of questions directly related to our curriculum. The discussion was lively and extended (nearly two hours worth) and this posting will discuss some of the highlights.
Readers of this blog may recall from posts at the beginning of March that when we split our undergraduate writing program into professional and creative tracks back in the nineties, we decided to make sure that creative students were exposed to professional writing and that professional students would have to do some creative work. Our Board endorsed that approach and the one member who had never attended SRU remarked that even though her degrees featured “straight literature” she has had to do a lot of professional writing, including grant applications, conference proposals, and applications for residencies. It is as much about writing about your writing as it is about the writing itself. For students in the professional track, the program gave them practice being “out of their element,” and to understand communication among co-workers with different technical backgrounds. Students who minor in English Writing, or who come into the professional track, often have non-“English” backgrounds and can feel challenged by courses in literature and literary writing. However, they also discover in those courses techniques for responding to others’ writing, and the realization that they should take concepts like “audience” and “readability” seriously, especially in scenarios where there are multiple stakeholders.
Learning critical theory can be a struggle for the professional writing majors (it’s probably a struggle for the creative writing students as well) but does contribute to the ability to engage in critical thinking in a variety of instances. There doesn’t seem a consensus about its direct applicability, although that is often the case with such humanistic study. Both professional and creative writing graduates also see a need for the exploration of writing and editing practices not covered as extensively as would be ideal because of curricular limitations. Creative writing students and faculty would like a second capstone course, a companion to our Advanced Research Writing, a course that would focus on development of a single long piece, such as a novel. Professional writing graduates would like still more work with publishing, editing, collaboration, and grant writing. All of these remarks echo statements we have heard from interviewees in the writer profiles posts, and from comments posted by blog readers. They also illustrate a common tension between all there is to learn and the amount of credit hours and courses that degree program can reasonably be expected to require. This tension will clearly never dissipate, but its chronic nature also doesn’t let faculty off the hook when it comes to striving for the best balance, and the most effective inclusions of study and practice.
Another difficult problem to resolve is how to reconcile the need to learn ever changing software packages with the need to take more theoretical and encompassing approaches to document and page design, and to internal and external organizational communication. Faculty struggle to learn these software packages themselves, and to acquire their updated versions so they are accessible to our students. English is not often seen as in great a need for the latest software as other departments. Creating projects that allow for practice with software without having the course overwhelmed by practical technical instruction will continue to be a challenge. We welcome readers who have struggled with this curricular and instructional problem, and with others mentioned earlier in this post, to jump in with comments, suggestions, and reflections. Everyone on the board agreed that having experience with such packages was beneficial.
One final note: another colleague in Slippery Rock’s English department has initiated a professionally related blog, this one featuring a scholarly interest in late medieval and early modern English literature. (He teaches courses in Chaucer, Shakespeare, and the historical development of our language.) Unlike the extended posts and comments featured in our blog, this newer one has considerably briefer posts but ones that contain lots of interesting links and research tools. Check it out.