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Campus and WCCC faculty collaborate on writing across the curriculum

PSNK and WCCC faculty
Lois Rubin, associate professor of English at Penn State New Kensington and John Wicinas, adjunct instructor in English and history at Westmoreland County Community College, coordinated the collaborative workshop for faculty.
10/21/2013 —

 

Penn State New Kensington and
Westmoreland County Community College
workshop discusses challenges of teaching writing
in all academic disciplines

Student writing skills was the focus of a workshop Oct. 11 with faculty from Westmoreland County Community College and Penn State New Kensington.

The New Kensington campus hosted the collaborative workshop, “Writing Across the Curriculum,” and ten professors and instructors from each institution discussed the challenges of teaching writing in all academic disciplines. Penn State alumnus John Wicinas, adjunct instructor in English and history at Westmoreland County Community College, and Lois Rubin, associate professor of English at Penn State New Kensington, coordinated the workshop program.

“The day was a total success, beyond anyone's expectations," said Wicinas, who was named 2012 Outstanding Adjunct Teacher of the Year. “WCCC students are very excited to be involved with Penn State New Kensington.”

“I’m pleased that so many participants found at least one new idea at the session that they intend to try out in their classrooms,” said Rubin, a longtime proponent of writing across the curriculum and a 30-year veteran of teaching composition at the campus.

The genesis of the joint effort was talks between administrators of the two colleges about developing collaborative events. Andrea Adolph, director of academic affairs at New Kensington, Andrew Barnette, dean of Public Service, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Westmoreland, and Patrick Coulson, director of the Westmoreland Center in New Kensington, broached their respective faculty who immediately embraced the concept.

“Writing is such a central part of a college education, and the workshop provided faculty a chance to discuss strategies for bringing writing instruction into their classes,” said Adolph, who holds a doctorate in English Literature from Louisiana State University. “Just because students are taking courses in engineering or business doesn't mean that they won't need to write clearly and well.”

The roundtable discussions centered on the challenges and benefits of a writing component in all disciplines. Heading the challenges list were the poor wring skills of students. A variety of factors contribute to this lack of preparation for college writing, including weak analytical skills, very little or no outside reading, and poor ability to form cogent thoughts. Overall, students get little exposure to good writing, and what they are exposed to is sometimes bad writing. Time spent in the classroom helping to undo bad writing practices is time lost on teaching good writing practices.

In addition to being difficult for students, writing assignments present challenges to faculty. Grading writing assignments is a time consuming task, and professors who don’t hold English degrees sometimes struggle with grading writing.
The panel discussed the benefits of implementing writing in an array of courses. The underlying theme was that writing is inseparable from thinking and analysis. A writing assignment forces students to comprehend the material as opposed to memorizing the material. Comprehension leads to better expression of ideas.

In addition, all participants received copies of materials contributed by faculty at both institutions. The 12-page booklet included suggestions for best practices, sample writing assignments from various disciplines, and sample responses to student writing. The workshop was the initial step in developing a new curriculum for the two institutions. Additional collaborative efforts by faculty and administrators will be scheduled.

“I look forward to more opportunities like this one for faculty to share ideas and to see how we can improve the educational experiences for students in our communities," Adolph said.

For more about Penn State New Kensington, visit www.nk.psu.edu

For more about Westmoreland County Community College, visit www.wccc.edu

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