wac wtf

As some of you know, I’ve been working with my dept’s D of C to develop what could be the template syllabus for 3010, our Intermediate Comp course (and the terminal course in the university’s required gen ed writing curriculum).  Dr. B— (I feel like I’m in a Stendahl novel) is interested in seeing the 3010 course become a Writing Across the Curriculum/Disciplines course, in lieu (at least for now) of an interdepartmental WAC program.

Knowing this, and lacking any hardcore ideas of my own for my first time teaching 3010, I volunteered to draft a possible template syllabus for use in my own sections and, later, for other 3010 instructors in my dept.  Dr. B— is a believer in standardization and regularization of the composition curriculum, and although I am not entirely convinced by the arguments in favor of standardization, Dr. B— presents her case in ways that at least make institutional sense (if not always, to my interests, theoretical sense).  Note though that I do not intend these comments as critique of Dr. B— so much as an acknowledgement that, given my own theoretical and pedagogical interests (not that the two are isolated from one another), I do perhaps seem an unlikely volunteer for the project I have taken on.

So why did I do it?  First, as noted above, it gave me a hook for the 3010 syllabus for this semester when I didn’t have any other ideas of my own.  That was the most attractive reason for volunteering.  Second, bald careerism.  If my syllabus is, in fact, approved as the (basis for) the 3010 model syllabus, well, there’s a line about “Curriculum Design” on the CV right there.  Moreover, it gives me a chance to work with my D of C, who is a respected scholar in her own right (obviously) in hopes of garnering a letter of recommendation some day.  And, not the least of these reasons, I like working with Dr. B— and have already learned a great deal from her, both about the management of a Comp program and about designing courses and curricula to meet deptmental, collegiate, and institutional demands.  I am not ignorant that I may at some point be applying for D of C/WPA jobs and I hope to use the time spent working on the Eng 3010 syllabus with Dr. B— as something of an unofficial apprenticeship so that I have at least some passing knowledge of the demands of such a post.

Now, really all of this to get to the point that I wanted to write about.  Namely, the syllabus.  Syllabi are always works in progress, I’ve learned, but I think this one needs some work.  I do like that the projects are arranged in a way that, to my eyes at least, establishes some kind of narrative through line across the semester.  That’s solid.  But I don’t like that the syllabus is, frankly, boring.  I have no one to blame but myself.  But I don’t know yet how to make the WAC syllabus “sexy,” as J— P—- might say.  One thing I think is at fault is that other than the course being WAC, I don’t have a hook to it beyond that, so everything is pitched at a very general level–which makes it difficult sometimes to connect to the material, both for myself and for my students.  On a related note, I’m not sure yet I’ve really found a way to enact Emig’s “writing to learn” experience for my students–and given that the assumption underlying much WAC scholarship and pedagogy is that writing is an epistemic, learning experience, I think I need to make some changes either to my teaching of the course or to the course design itself.

I’m not resolved yet about how to manage the pedagogy side of the question.  In terms of course design, the idea I’m toying with right now is to center the course somewhat around the twin poles of ethics and epistemology.  Here, the course would be rechristened, from “Research and Writing Across the Disciplines” to (tentatively) “Knowledge Work: Research, Writing, and Responsibility Across the Disciplines.”  The focus would be twofold.  First, research and writing aren’t just things people “do” in the university; rather, they work to create knowledge about the world and about the way(s) we inhabit it.  Second, this knowledge work is done in communities of practice (a phrase I’m lifting from Dourish’s book Where the Action Is rather than use “discourse communities”) and, as in any community, inhabiting these c’s o p mean likewise agreeing (tacitly often) to embrace expectations of what counts as personal, communal, and institutional ethical guidelines.  What unites these two threads (epistemic and ethcal) are the processes of research and writing: How do we ethically create knowledge?  How do we create knowledge aout ethics?  What obligations do our communities of practice assume we share to other scholars in our field?  To different levels of community–departmental, institutional, local, national, global?  What role(s) do research and writing play in creating, managing, and changing those obligations?

Obviously, this is a very ambitious program.  I am aware of that.  What is frustrating me now, though, is that I don’t have the resources to carry it off at present and I’m not sure where to turn.  Of course, there is no single WAC textbook that works the way I want it to (and, yes, I know I should make the text work for me and not the other way round).  I could try to pull together a coursepack-type set of readings, but I don’t have reliable access to a scanner to create *.pdfs and the WSU libraries, under the recent scare of copyright cases like that at Georgia State have been laying down the law and being very careful to abide by the demands and wishes of copyright holders (I am led to believe this was not always the case, or at least that copyright holders used to be more forgiving).

All this as a prelude to my closing request.  Anyone know of either some crackerjack readings that might fit this little scheme of mine or of a really great WAC text that could be made to serve these ends?


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