by Casey Dawson, WIC Graduate Assistant

This year, the WIC Program added an additional member to our team: Dennis Bennett.

Dennis joins us as our first ever Assistant Director, though he’s no stranger to Oregon State’s writing programs. Dennis is a writing and learning technology specialist with two decades of experience in writing program administration here at OSU. He currently serves as the Director of our university’s Graduate Writing Center and also teaches technical writing courses through the School of Writing, Literature, and Film. He has a combined three decades of experience in writing programs as a teacher, tutor, writing program administrator, and project manager.

We caught up with Dennis to talk about his experience coming into the WIC Program, what he’s excited for in higher ed, and more.

What has been the most exciting aspect of joining the WIC team?
One of the things I like about WIC is that it’s both faculty and student facing. My writing center background has given me perspective on the student experience, but I haven’t had much formal faculty-facing experience since leaving Washington State University in 2004. At WSU, I was part of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and hosted faculty workshops on a semi-regular basis. Becoming part of the team that supports faculty here at OSU has been exciting.

In higher ed, what has shifted or stayed the same since your last experience in a faculty-facing role? What challenges or opportunities do you think these changes present?
Higher ed has changed a lot since 2004, certainly. But what has really stayed the same is that faculty still want time to talk to each other. They’re most excited when they’re talking to one another and sharing their knowledge about teaching and learning together. I was doing faculty-facing work in the ’90s, and this was even true back then! You never want these things to change, at OSU and elsewhere. Get faculty in a room talking to each other, tackling problems and sharing information–it’s great. It benefits faculty to do so and they feel those benefits.

As far as changes in higher ed in the past 20 years, I’ve noticed that faculty today are generally more positive about the students they’re working with at both the graduate and undergraduate level. Overall, faculty are far less prone to the “student deficit” learning and teaching model.

You’ve been the director of the Graduate Writing Center here at OSU for some time, and also have decades of experience working with student writers from both the instructor and tutor perspective. How do you think these experiences have shaped the perspective that you bring to the WIC program?
Writing center work is inherently student focused. Its fundamental to writing center work that you listen to your students–not just to the ways that they struggle with the content, but also their struggles with the institution. It’s important to pay attention to their own interpretations and experiences across all the parts of the institution. I spent about 20 years doing that, so I bring a real student-centered focus to this work. I think that focus aligns really well with the values of the WIC Program. 

How do you think the WIC program is evolving to meet the needs and experiences of the newest generations of college students?
The WIC program is especially evolving with the rise of generative AI – that’s a place in which our program can play a strong leadership role, since we’re stewards of writing, critical thinking and the connection between them, as well as ambassadors and advocates for students and the student experience. Generative AI is probably the next frontier in writing education, so I’m really excited to be part of that.

Who has had the greatest impact upon your work as a writer and writing educator?
That’s a tough question. Probably Nancy Grimm and her short book Good Intentions, in which she details the ways that having “good intentions” when working with students isn’t always enough–that you have to theorize and uncover how your good intentions may actually be counterproductive to students and their perspectives and experience in the institution.

In an alternate universe where you didn’t work as a writer or in writing programs, what do you think your career would be?
I think I’d be an engineer – probably a computer science engineer.

by Marisa Yerace, WIC GTA, and Matt Fuller and Alex Werndli, WIC Interns

Sarah Perrault received her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Nevada, Reno. Dr. Perrault comes to OSU from the University of California at Davis, where she was an Associate Professor of Writing. Her writing and research focuses on writing pedagogy and scientific writing. Her book, Communicating Popular Science: From Deficit to Democracy (Springer, 2013), has been taught in classes at OSU. Her appointment at OSU will be half time in WIC (.50 FTE University Academic Programs) and half time in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film, where she will be teaching courses in her areas of expertise at the undergraduate and graduate level. 

When did you start teaching writing, and what kinds of writing have you taught?

I started teaching writing in 2001 when I started a Master of Fine Arts in Nonfiction Writing at Northern Michigan University. I actually had never taken a composition class, I hadn’t seen a composition textbook until I got them in the mail a month before I started teaching. I still remember looking at one and thinking “Aha, this would have been really helpful when I was an undergrad.” I taught there, and then at University of Nevada, Reno where I was a grad student, and then for the years I’ve been here in Davis. I’ve taught comp at all levels from basic writing to advanced comp. I’ve taught a number of writing in the disciplines classes; writing in the sciences, engineering, technical writing, writing for business. I had actually worked as a technical writer between my bachelor’s and my MFA, so that one came pretty naturally to me. Here at Davis I’ve taught a couple of sophomore-level electives that have been really fun. One is called Style in the Essay. I’ve taught that with a focus on blog writing because I think blogs actually fill some of the rhetorical genre function of essays today. And I’ve taught a sophomore-level elective on research papers. I’ve taught Popular Science and Technology Writing, Rhetorical Approaches to Scientific and Technological Issues, and History of Scientific Writing; those three are classes I created here. And I’ve taught a Dissertation Writing class.

What do you wish more people knew about teaching writing?

I wish people knew that faculty in every field have something to offer when teaching writing. Faculty in all areas have something to bring to bear. I wish people understood that writing varies from one context to another–and this means everything from usage, to how to cite things correctly, to more abstract things like what even counts as evidence. What counts as “good evidence” is so incredibly disciplinary. I’d like people to know that, and know that what seems obvious to us is only obvious to us within our fields because we’ve gotten used to it.There’s so much variability in what counts as “good writing,” and we should recognize our own expertise but recognize that much of that expertise is tacit knowledge. Our job is to bring that to the surface and articulate that to our students.

Why teach writing?

Selfishly speaking, I love language and I love written communication. Teaching writing is the dream, I mean, I get to talk to people about writing, and language choices they made, and why they made those choices–I get paid to do this incredibly fun thing! I also really love helping people solve problems, and learning to write is basically learning a set of problem-solving strategies and meta-strategies: how people solve problems they’re having now and gather and practice skills that are going to help them in what they do next.

In terms of other people teaching writing, if I may tell an anecdote here: I came to college as a horribly underprepared student. I went to a small liberal arts college, I was a scholarship student, and there was a required humanities course we all had to take. I kind of floundered my way through my first semester, and in our second semester we had a new teacher named Edwin Gerow. He got my first paper that semester, and he brought me into office hours and he looked at me and said, “You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?”

I still remember the combined feeling of, “Oh my god I’ve been found out,” and “Oh thank god, someone has finally noticed and maybe can help!” And he did. He brought me into his office for the next paper and had me come in three times a week. He would say “Where are you now with your thinking? With your writing?” and I would say, “Well, I’m thinking A and B and C,” and he would say, “Okay, well, A is good but not really relevant, forget about C, that won’t take you anywhere useful, come back in two days.” And we did this for a month. And at the end of it, I had actually written a paper and he had walked me through that process. This was not a professor of writing, this was not a professor of rhetoric: this was a professor who saw that a student was struggling with what it meant to write in college, what it meant to analyze and synthesize and so on. And it was absolutely transformative. If he hadn’t done that, I don’t know if I would have survived my undergraduate career and gotten my degree.

I think any professor who wants students to succeed needs writing to be part of that.

What drew you to WAC/WID studies?

I think it’s the interdisciplinarity of it. Like a lot of people in rhet/comp, I sort of am in love with… everything! I mean, I started out with a Bachelors in Anthropology because I wanted to understand cultures and communication and how people from different worlds get along. I did a lot of other work that involved communicating and sharing knowledge and understanding what people needed. I worked at a bike shop for a few years: I was really bad at sales, but I was really good at educating the customers. I was a technical writer for about 10 years. In my nonfiction MFA, I focused on natural history writing. So that bridge between worlds.

When I was doing my MFA, I asked my advisor, “Do you think I have what it takes to make it in this world?” And he thought about it, and then he said very tactfully, “I could see you running a writing program someday.” I found that when I was doing my MFA, and I felt down, I would just start doing research about writing: what writing does and how it does it.

And then I found WAC/WID, where you get to learn what writing does and how it does it everywhere! You don’t have to box yourself into a little niche.

What are the qualities of a successful teacher of writing? Are these qualities the same as those of an effective writing program administrator?

I think the answer is there’s an overlap, and there are obvious differences. The qualities of a successful teacher of writing, to a great extent they’re the qualities of a successful teacher of anything. You’ve gotta care about students, meet students where they are, learn where their strengths are and how to help them build from those strengths. I think good teachers don’t take a deficit mindset. They take a sort of, “Wow, these amazing people are here to learn and they’ve already brought so much!” mindset, having respect for students as people who want to learn as well as for their reasons for wanting to learn. Maybe they’re intrinsically motivated, maybe they’re here because it’s a requirement and because it’ll help in some other endeavor, and that’s something to respect too. Another overlap is that both a good teacher and administrator are always interested in changing understandings of pedagogy. Helping students learn how to identify their own challenges and equipping them with ways to overcome those is in some ways very similar to a WIC/WAC leader working with faculty. Obviously, WPA work and teaching both require being very organized. They both require keeping track of details while keeping track of the big picture; don’t be so visionary that you forget to pay the bills and keep the electricity turned on!

I think the larger goals are where the differences come into play. A teacher has to know how a course fits into a degree or a series of requirements, but a teacher is ultimately focused on each individual student’s success, whereas a WPA is focused on how a program fits into the educational infrastructure of the university. They’re focused on success at the program level, not the individual level: how well the program is doing its part in strengthening the educational aims of the university. Students and student learning are definitely the end goal for both, but for a WPA, there’s a degree of removal: you’re affecting student learning by affecting the things that affect student learning. It’s kind of like working with an ecosystem, and of course I think of forestry because OSU emphasizes sustainable practices and forestry is big in Oregon. Good forestry practices aren’t about an individual plant or animal species – they’re about fostering a healthy environment and healthy ecosystem where all the plants and animals can thrive. You’re looking holistically and trying to keep the system healthy so that everything within it can be healthy and grow.

How does your research in scientific communication inform your approach as a WAC administrator?

WAC/WID is really about understanding how writing works in a specific context. As a humanities/social science person, studying scientific writing has really driven home to me how deeply disciplinary writing practices are – because, man, they are really different from one area to another! What they do, how they do it, why they do it… I mean, obviously, there are things that carry over, but studying science writing really drives home that writing is part of a disciplinary epistemology, disciplinary norms, and disciplinary values. It’s also given me a lot of chances to work on interdisciplinary teams and learn about how people in other fields make knowledge and communicate knowledge, as well as what their values are in their teaching. Ultimately, that’s most important because it has helped me shift my mindset into different contexts. WAC is about faculty empowerment; it’s about going into other peoples’ contexts, learning how things work there, working in those contexts to help them make changes. Even having that awareness of how different a world another discipline might be, even if it’s only in the next building over, really helps me walk in with that “Okay, I’m not gonna assume things” mindset while at the same time having an understanding of the range of things that I might encounter.

What else should people know about you?

I would like to say what an incredible honor it is to have been chosen for this job. At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, it’s basically a dream come true. It’s not even a dream I knew was a possibility until I saw the ad back in October. I am incredibly excited and deeply grateful for this opportunity, and really, really looking forward to it.

More information on Sarah Perrault can be found on her website.

Above picture description: Sarah Perrault (left) with WIC Director of 25 years, Vicki Tolar Burton (right), at an annual meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

by the WIC Team

The 2019-2020 WIC Staff

Dr. Vicki Tolar Burton, Professor of English and Director of the Writing Intensive Curriculum, retires after 29 years at Oregon State University at the end of 2019. WIC Interns Matt Fuller, Alex Werndli, and Regan Breeden, and WIC GTA Marisa Yerace, sat down with Vicki to discuss her work, experiences, and legacy as a writing teacher, rhetoric scholar, and Writing Program Administrator.

On the Writing Intensive Curriculum at OSU

What drew you to WAC/WID studies?

I think I have an interdisciplinary mind, and I’ve always looked at things from multiple directions. I’ve had jobs where I was working in different environments, from labor law administration to the National Institutes of Health. I saw different kinds of discourse, and they all interested me. So Writing Across the Curriculum felt like a good fit for me from the start. This job requires rhetorical sensitivity, specifically an understanding of audience and context and an ability to persuade people to do the right thing for their students, which I also enjoy.

How have you articulated the value of the WIC program to the university community and beyond?

The WIC requirement’s purpose is to help OSU undergraduates become effective writers in their discipline. The WIC program’s purpose is to support faculty who teach WIC courses, to help them employ best practices for teaching writing in their discipline, and to help with the assessment and certification of WIC courses. The best argument for the WIC program’s value is the success of WIC faculty who feel their teaching has been improved and even transformed by taking the WIC seminar or gaining support from another aspect of WIC. These confident teachers of writing in the disciplines become the face of the program and the best argument for the program.

WIC gains value in the university through collaborations between the WIC director and staff and WIC faculty and academic units, as well as with other writing entities like the Writing Studio (formerly the Writing Center) and the Writing I and Writing II courses.  

On Teaching Writing

When did you begin teaching writing? What kinds of writing have you taught?

I started teaching writing the day after I turned 22. I was in a master’s program at Duke University. Duke arranged with different school systems to employ their grad students as regular salaried high school teachers. So, I went to a really interesting high school in Westport, Connecticut, which is a bedroom community to New York—very artsy, and a lot of brilliant people live there, and their kids go to the public high school. The faculty were among the most interesting faculties I have ever taught with, because many of them had other careers in the arts and business, finance and publishing—all different fields—then they decided to be high school teachers as a second career. It was an amazing education for me. That was my start, I was teaching 10th grade English. When I got married, my then-spouse was in the Air Force, so we moved around and I was always able to get a job. If I couldn’t get a teaching job, I did something else, like labor law administration. I’ve taught 6th grade through PhD students, including community college. I’ve taught at a historically black university in Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith University. So, I’ve had a quite varied career—all this before I got my PhD at Auburn and then came to OSU.

What do you wish more people knew about teaching writing?

One thing is the value of robust revision in response to feedback. Also, I wish more teachers and students knew how to give feedback that is both specific and encouraging, that helps writers prioritize revising tasks and say, ‘Hey, I can do that. I can fix that.’  I would like to free faculty from the urge to line edit all student writing. We need to help students get the big things right first—audience, purpose, organization, accurate content—and leave correctness for a much later stage.   

What do you think people struggle with most with when teaching writing?

One of the big challenges is helping students identify, understand, and practice the particular kind of writing that is valued in their field. Faculty often assume students understand this by osmosis, just because they are majors, but many don’t. Teachers need to articulate these characteristics to students. The other biggest challenge is probably giving effective feedback that leads to robust revision.

What are the qualities of a successful teacher of writing? Are these qualities the same as those of an effective writing program administrator?

I don’t think they’re necessarily the same. I think you can be a great teacher of writing and know that you’re not suited to direct a program. And, that’s good—you have other gifts. Successful writing teachers are student-centered. They’re not just delivering information under the banking model—making deposits of information in students’ heads. They have clear standards, so the students know what’s expected. They design writing assignments that require critical thinking and push students out of their default position. Successful teachers of writing are committed to the success of all levels of students, not dismissing struggling students, not overlooking middling students, not leaving the best writer on their own. Every writer can improve with the right feedback and practice.

A successful WPA has to have a larger vision of the program’s purpose and be able to keep all the parts moving in the right direction. After my grandson, 4, visited my WIC office, he told me he has an office with a big round table like mine and two computer screens. “What kind of work do you do in your office?” I asked. “I sit in a big black chair, and I spin,” he replied. So there is that part, too.  

Why teach writing?

I teach writing because I believe it’s something that is important in people’s lives. Writing is a skill that people need, and I think it helps people become who they are—find themselves, find their best selves, share what they know, discover new knowledge. And if they can improve as writers and gain confidence as writers, then they can make choices in their lives and not be held back by lack of communications skills. I love teaching writing; I’ve always loved it. I like reading what students write, I like giving them feedback, I like talking to them as writers.

On Rhetoric

“Rhetoric and Composition” wasn’t always as clearly defined of a field as it is now. What led you to become a rhetoric scholar?

There were very few places, when I was getting my PhD, that had a Rhetoric and Composition PhD. I had rhetoric and composition coursework in my English doctoral studies.

Rhetoric and Composition was a clear choice. When I was teaching in Charlotte, North Carolina, I participated in faculty development based on the National Writing Project. It brought together teachers from many disciplines around teaching writing, especially as a process. I remember thinking, ‘That’s brilliant! I want to do that.’

I was drawn to more study of rhetoric because of a project that I happened into. When I was first working on my PhD, an elderly family member gave me an old book that was published in 1834. It was the spiritual journal of an 18th-century British Methodist woman who had the same name as my mother’s family. And this elderly relative said, ‘Somebody gave me this book and said this woman might be kin to us. Maybe you’d like to have the book.’ That night I looked at the first ten pages, I realized the author, Hester Rogers, was from England and I hadn’t been able to pin anybody in our family to one place in England, so I put the book away.

Then, a few months later, I had a dream. About the book. That I hadn’t read. And the dream was the book was important. And that I should read it! I sometimes have really strong dreams, so I got up in the night and–we had moved, everything was still in boxes and I had to go through boxes to find this book–but I found it. It wasn’t very long, so I just stayed up the rest of the night and read it. I didn’t say, This is the best thing I’ve ever read, but her writing style was very Jane Austen, even though she was writing pre-Jane Austen. That was kind of intriguing to me; she was obviously educated. I started trying to find out who Hester Rogers was. But this was pre-internet search, pre-Google, so I was just looking in the library at Auburn.

The first place I found her was an engraving of John Wesley’s (the founder of Methodism) deathbed scene, and she was in the room with John Wesley when he died. I said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting!’ Not only was she in the room, she was kneeling next to his bed, she was physically the closest person to him, and she had her hands up on the bedclothes while he was dying. I thought, ‘There’s definitely rhetoric in that picture.’ So I started looking for her, just for my own satisfaction. And I started thinking of the whole project rhetorically – and historically – so I started applying my rhetorical knowledge to something I was personally interested in, and I ended up writing my dissertation as a rhetorical study of Hester Rogers’s journal and her place in early Methodism. My argument was that she was used as the model of the ‘good woman.’ There were other early Methodist women leaders who preached, but Hester Rogers did not preach, and I think they – the men – picked her because she was ‘the good woman in the pew.’ In the 19th century, the preaching women were silenced but Hester’s journal went into more than 40 American editions. The women preachers were protected by John Wesley until he died, and then the men said, ‘Ladies, you can go home now, we have plenty of men to preach.’ So the ‘Good woman’ became the woman who was teaching Sunday School, leading the women but not running the church. It took more than a century, almost two, for Methodist women to get back in the pulpit.

That’s how I got into rhetoric: because I wanted to know something, and I wanted to have a frame for looking at it, and rhetoric worked for me.

On Her Legacy and Future Plans

What kind of legacy do you hope to leave at OSU?

The WIC teachers I’ve trained and supported and the OSU students across the university who have learned to write in their majors: they are my legacy.

The wonderful WIC GTAs and interns who have learned about writing program administration from working with WIC and taken that knowledge forward: they are my legacy.

A sustained and sustainable WIC program that contributes of OSU’s excellence in the land grant mission: this is my legacy.

And the undergraduates and graduate students I have taught in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film, and especially the graduate students from across the university who have completed their degrees at least in part because they found my course, WR 599, Writing Workshop for Thesis and Dissertation Writers Across the University: these writers are my legacy.

I hope part of my legacy will be a contemplative one. I introduced the thesis and dissertation writers to contemplative practices that could help them with stress, focus, with balance—and with writing. Once in the airport in Portland, one of my former dissertation writers came running over and said,  “I’m on my way to Sweden to give a paper. I’ve been wanting to tell you that Amy (someone also in WR 599) and I taught our whole lab how to meditate.” I love the image of an OSU lab of grad students learning to meditate together.

That’s the beauty of cross disciplinary learning. That the lab is good for more than just measuring things, it’s good for mutual support.  So part of my WIC legacy of writing in the disciplines is that WIC led to teach WR599 and to all of the graduate students who have finished and defended and gone out in the world, some of whom have taught their labs to meditate.

What is next for VTB?

I plan to spend more time with my Oregon grandkids and with my East Coast grandkids. I’m going to do lots of hiking, some traveling, and, I hope, lots of writing. 

Dr. Vicki Tolar Burton will be presenting at two upcoming conferences: the 71st Conference on College Composition and Communication (March 25-28, 2020, in Milwaukee, WI), and the 19th Biennial Meeting of the Rhetoric Society of America (May 21-24, 2020, in Portland, OR). She also has a chapter, “Ethical Writing in the Disciplines,” forthcoming in After Plato: Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Teaching of Writing, and an article, “Mapping Dual Credit for College Writing: Notes from the Oregon Trail,” forthcoming in Teaching English in the Two-Year College, written with Jordan Terriere-Dobrioglo.

“We Are Nothing More Than Stories”: An Interview with Natchee Barnd

By Marisa Yerace, WIC Intern

Natchee Barnd is an Associate Professor in the School of Language, Culture, and Society. A 2017 WIC Seminar alum, he taught the Ethnic Studies WIC course, Public Discourse and Writing on Race, last Winter term. He also recently published a book, Native Space: Geographic Strategies to Unsettle Settler Colonialism, last year. In this interview, WIC Intern Marisa Yerace chats with Natchee about his research, his book, teaching a WIC course, and his writing process in general.

Q: How long have you been at OSU? What is your research specialty?

I’m newly-tenured, so it’s like a whole new world now. I’ve been here seven years, I’m a comparative ethnic studies scholar. I also have expertise in indigenous studies and I do cultural geography, race and space, and indigenous geography work, more specifically.

Q: Let’s talk about your new book! What do you want people to know about it?

I would say it’s an interdisciplinary book. It reflects my training (ethnic studies) and my approach to questions or problems.

I had a question about what indigenous geographies look like, and how do they continue? What sort of practices are used to maintain them? The question wasn’t so much whether they did continue—I knew they did—but more of, “How do they do this?” What are the ways in which they’ve done this, from sort of infrastructural questions—like streets and street-naming—to artistic versions of that to cultural practices and performance?

This is all rooted in a notion of geography and space as always in production. It doesn’t just exist out there. We only understand it as we exist and engage with it and make sense of it. That, in turn, shapes how we see ourselves—by the way we engage with it and the structures we’ve created. I wanted to see how that works with native communities in the more mundane ways. What about those more nuanced ways we make meaning and sense of the world? When we see a forest, do we just see trees? Do we see them as potential resources? Do we see it as relatives, as part of the stories of our creation? Those are all very different questions which create different kinds of space, and then we reflect and create different kinds of identity based on the answers to those.

Some people say we are nothing more than words. I agree with that. On my syllabi, I say “We are nothing more than stories.” That’s the way we convey our understanding of the world, is through our words, through our languages. Without that we can’t actually produce or reproduce or sustain. We can’t make sense of the world. We’re just kind of bumbling around with no ability to process anything.

Q: What was your writing process like for your book?

It’s a project that sort of stretched over time, a small piece started in a dissertation, and a lot of that dissertation was written—actually, I think I kind of paralleled this as I wrote the book—at some point I hunkered down and was practicing writing every single day. Literally, every day I had to write, so when I was finishing—I had been working on it for years as an ABD—I had a deadline and I thought, now it’s a 9-5 job. I was writing every day.

I think all writing instruction or guidance tells you that you need to practice it like anything else. You need to practice that craft every day. Writing, for me, has always been a means of thinking. Like many people, I wrote to think. I edit a lot—I try really hard to not edit as I go. I definitely get into these modes where I’m writing every day as much as I can, in spurts. I allow myself to go where the writing or the thinking’s taking me, and sometimes I go elsewhere and come back. I trust that is always, in some way, going to be beneficial.

I did the same with the book, I spent a lot of time every day—just carving out a little bit of time, whenever I had a little bit of spare time. Sometimes I had a word count, just trying to get to 300 words. I think it was more word count than time, ‘cause you can say you’re going to write for three hours but if you only write 300 words you’re not very productive. I thought, if I aim for a small amount, and it went from there—it was great, it felt more productive. I think the psychology is really important, you have to feel like you’re making moves, it’s so easy to stop yourself or make excuses, or undercut your writing, and as a faculty person there are so many things that take you away from your writing. You have to carve it out. My process was always about trying to protect that time, and then letting it flow as loosely as I possibly could.

My schedule was different every single week, but I would try to block it for a morning time—I’m a morning writer, I’m a morning person and morning thinker. Somehow, if I could both work out and write at the same time, like really early in the morning, that would be amazing, but for some reason I can’t figure out how to do that. I feel like exercise and writing are the same in my mind: you have to make the choice to get that done in the beginning, before other things sort of overtake your day.

Q: Do you still try to write every day?

I try… I have other things I’m working on and those kind of keep me going.

Q: What other kinds of writing do you do?

I write for different audiences. I do stories for speculative nonfiction stuff. I have a course that’s a methods class which is an archival research and writing course that then also delivers, as a spoken tour, an actual tour of the community. I’ve written a few pieces for those with my students.

I was writing a conference presentation, which I write for oral delivery, but I’m finding my written and my oral styles are actually coming closer together. I tend not to actually change a lot, depending on what the argument was at different points. In my book, I started off with narrative beginnings, and then I go into a more formal and academic analyses and discussion. I usually start with a story and then I use that as an illustration or encapsulation of the analysis they’ll see later.

Q: Do you find that there are specific Native American genres in writing, or specific aspects of Native American genres?

Yes. Story is always a sort of major writing and telling mechanism—speaking, conveyance, communication mechanism. I think everyone tells stories, but in this case, there’s a difference between stories that are explicitly understood as stories and stories that are more than stories.

This is in my brain right now. I have a Native American Activism and Assimilation class, and throughout the term every week they are assigned—in addition to the usual scholarly pieces and poems here and there—they are assigned stories from graphic novels based on either trickster stories or native sci-fi-slash-fictional stories, and I give them to them for a couple reasons: one, because there’s a lot of information in them, and two, they’re enjoyable and accessible and easy-to-read. I think people will think of them like fables, like sort of Aesop’s fables or something like that. This is something I kind of realized this term more than I have before—they were just kind of looking at the moralistic outcomes, like what is the lesson? And those were definitely part of the stories, but what they would miss was actual traditional knowledge also embedded in them.

Let’s say I would have a story that’s eight-to-ten graphic novel pages. That’s just a little bit of dialogue, but also a lot of imagery. There are little indicators. They describe a location or they mention something about an animal doing something with another animal. If you’re looking at just the moral of the story, there’s a lot of information—biological, geological, geographic, botanical, zoological—all these pieces of information are actually being conveyed. If that story then gets meshed-up with some other stories in the network of stories, then that story is going to be read differently.

The one we talked about in class, for example, was a story about a racoon who sees a rock that kind of looks like a person, pushes it down, and after running under it, getting squished. There was this moral lesson around the treatment of elders and mischievous behavior, but what was being missed was the anatomy of the raccoon, why it looks the way it does. The story ends up talking about the shape of the racoon and why it moves the way it does and the body form. The rock itself was a very distinctive rock, so if you’re from a particular area, you’re locating the story to a very specific place in the world. It’s not an abstracted, generated story about just a rock that could be anywhere—no, it’s a very specific rock in a very specific place, so if you’re from there, you’ll know what that is. Then that story is attached to that place, and there are other elements of the landscape.

Actual knowledge that’s embedded in that may seem like context or decoration. I think those are really important in native stories—they are not abstracted. Usually they are very specific about place and relationships. Maybe there’s a relationship between two animals that hunt together, and Western science has always told us that they’re both predators—why would they cooperate? Then, in recent years, they find out, Oh, they actually do that. I think that’s something unique about those stories. They aren’t always writing, per se, but now they’re in writing form a lot.

It’s opening up students’ awareness of what’s there and what they may not be able to access and being okay with that. I’ve told them, sometimes you can’t access this, you don’t know all the things, but you should be able to see the possibility that this is connected to something more and realize these stories are not just fictionalized accounts and the reason they have the detail. In a novel, you have detail to try to craft a reality or what seems like a reasonable, tangible, kinesthetic experience. In this case, details are not created for that effect—they’re conveying certain information and knowledge that’s been passed along from direct experience, basically through a scientific process—engagement, learning, observation—so it’s in the form of a story, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold that knowledge.

For students, it’s a matter of recognizing you’re just reading this in a really simplistic way, but what if these are all real things (which, I argue, they are)? The value of the story becomes so much more intensified if you’re losing those stories. In order to sustain a culture, it becomes harder if all of that knowledge is embedded in those stories. One story is not going to be enough: you need all those stories. I think that’s where I tend to leave them.

Q: What was the topic of your Winter WIC course? How did you design it?

The WIC course I taught last winter is called Public Discourse and Writing on Race. A lot of times what I try to do is connect an external motivator to courses, so in this case the timing was such that Oregon had just passed a requirement for K-12 to teach ethnic studies in the curriculum. There’s a task force that is working through that curriculum, trying to lay out what those curriculum guidelines will be, so I asked my students to target high school, and to write to this task force or to teachers to explain to them why discourse around race in particular was a really important thing for them to consider while constructing these classes.

It was a persuasive set of essays. They had to use the material and draft this over the term and pitch it to these educators and their administrators—who will be thinking about how we implement this in 2020, so this was a real thing. I had one of the task force members Skype in and talk to them about what they’re doing so the students saw that this was something that can go outside of the classroom. It’s not just me as an audience, it’s different teachers.

It shaped their writing: how do you pitch this to someone who, maybe, is nervous about doing this, they don’t know how to incorporate this, they don’t understand this element of discourse, how a racial discourse works in a way that is not just “Let’s add another story besides Martin Luther King, Jr.?” How do we think about the larger discourse, which is not just adding stories or adding historical events, but thinking about how we understand race through discourse as a whole? It’s something that’s more fundamental.

So that was their charge. I find that when there’s something really concrete, they do really, really well with it, having to craft a voice, figuring out what to expect, what their audience will know and they don’t know, how to provide examples to help them make their argument—and they had to think about what that person would be concerned with. Part of that was because Ethnic Studies doesn’t have a single sort of audience. Some disciplines they have a single audience, or a fairly narrow set of audiences. Ethnic studies can apply to any audience, so it’s a matter of in which capacity you want to write. You’re dealing with the fact that most folks think they understand race and racism, but they do not very well, so you have to undo some of those commonsense understandings which are not really right.

In this case it was very specific, it was helpful to have educators and administrators who would be funding those classes, to point to those folks and think about how you need to talk to them opposed to the general public. Some students were thinking about their high school teacher–“Oh! I have this one teacher who this would really resonate with.” I need to circle back to see how they did with that.

Q: How would your course change when you change the external motivator?

I always shape courses specifically to the kind of tasks they deal with, or I would change the materials, but there are certain ones I think I gravitate towards because they make sense to me. I would definitely adjust things based on what I thought my goal was.

Q: How do you incorporate informal writing into the WIC course?

Informal writing matches my practice of just wanting to let myself write without the editing voice as much as possible. When you have informal writing, people need to be aware it’s okay to just write—don’t edit, don’t worry about spelling, get those ideas out, get moving. I think students tend to want to be efficient, get it done once, get it done right, validate themselves, they did it right, got it done the first time—and I have to remind them, “That will never happen, you will never get the perfect thing down.” I tell them I want them to fail, and fail as early as they can, and I say “failure” loosely—they hate that though. They don’t like process-oriented as much as they like outcome-oriented. It’s hard to sell that.

In [my WIC] class, and I need to do more of this, I had them project, like pre-flection of what they expect to see, what sort of questions they need to be thinking about, before getting into a reading, as a sort of guidance. I have these great pieces I’ll give to students, but they won’t always know what to do with it or why I’m assigning it. It’s not necessarily that I’m looking for a main point, it’s thinking about certain things to look for.

I had them writing each time we met—sort of pre-thinking, post-thinking, as a way to generate thinking on the spot, getting used to the idea, all those things. We were going to read this piece that was a critique around tourism culture and the power dynamics that were at play, specifically in the Caribbean. I asked them to think—before they read, before they knew anything about what the piece was about—to imagine they were going to the Caribbean on a trip. Why are they going there, what are they doing, what do they see? Just sort of thinking through the normative visions of what it means to go to the Caribbean. A lot of the thoughts were about vacation stuff: the ocean, sunshine, they were having fun. And then they get this piece that has a pretty dark turn to it—while folks are here as tourists, here’s the other side of what’s happening in this community, how people are locked in by economic disparity, by race, by the history of this particular island. It sort of really flips that and makes people rethink how they imagine themselves in relation to the Caribbean. But they wouldn’t have thought about it quite as strongly as if they hadn’t envisioned it, it would’ve been easy to pretend as if—but I already had the evidence of what they’d been thinking, and they have to reconcile that.

With things that are pre-reading, they usually have some ideas and thoughts that they can utilize. Sometimes it’s just questions. It’s just a way to really up the amount of processing they do. And they have something to write about later! “I thought this, and now—” How do you feel embarrassed? Not that my goal was to embarrass them… in that case it kind of was.

Q: What are your primary goals for writing assignments in your WIC course?

They’re the goals that were laid out for us in some ways. I think a lot of the students came away from this knowing who you write to matters—your audience. It’s helpful to understand there are different ways of writing, different modes of writing. I have them do that exercise of thinking about, “What are the different kinds of things you write? What are the kinds of things professional you could write? What are the different kinds of audiences that are out there?” With Ethnic Studies, because it doesn’t have a specific kind of audience—it’s not a science audience, it’s not a policy audience, it could be any and all of those things—being clear about what that audience is, at first, and then crafting writing to match is critical.

There’s the idea of revision. It seems to be a novelty to students. Everything I’ve written in my book, I’ve probably edited, like, a hundred or two hundred times. I have draft after draft after draft of those things. The idea that revision is making it better, is making your thinking better, is obviously important to WIC, so that’s one of my purposes.

Then, for me to see which ways their writing is applicable to current, real things. I think those are my goals for them.

Q: How did the WIC faculty seminar help you teach your WIC course?

I was doing it [the seminar] right before I was doing the class. I was a lot more thoughtful about how to make it most productive for students—how to actually develop their writing and thinking. I was a lot more encouraged to use the kind of creative prompts I normally like to use.

I like to be a little more flexible, and that can be frustrating to students, and I think in this case I had to have that stuff prepared, with a purpose and why I was going to do those things. I think, if nothing else, it gave me a space to kind of plan out that class a little more thoroughly. I don’t always like to plan that detailed, but I think those were some of the best things about it.

We used a lot of techniques from the seminar—write and pass, process memos. I was just talking about process memos the other day in (my non-WIC) class. It’s a kind of way for me to get a sense of what they think they need help with, and it’s a way to minimize the labor. It can be an all-encompassing thing if you’re doing a Writing Intensive and unlimited feedback. It’s a way to narrow down what they think they’re having trouble with, or that they really want attention to, and then I can maybe do one more thing in addition to that, so they have three things to deal with rather than 55. It really refines your thinking and your labor, which is crucial!

Q: Has your WIC training affected your teaching outside of the WIC course?

Yes! I mean, I say yes, and here I am this term thinking “Aah! I should’ve used more of those strategies!”

I definitely am still using some of the assessment time-saving techniques of not pointing out every little thing, and thinking, What are the three important things? I guided my TA to do the same, and I think those are important strategies because this is a class of forty, so I can’t spend the attention that I could on a WIC class. I think that works better, not just for me, but also for students. They feel it’s more accessible, more successful—they can actually meet those goals.

I remember using a lot more of [the WIC techniques] even the term after, ‘cause they’re so successful, they’re so helpful as engagement tools.

Q: What advice do you have for other people teaching or designing WIC courses?

I think if you take the seminar it’s helpful. It gives you a good frame for getting out of the idea that, no matter what the discipline is, the writing and the writing intense model is somehow external to the content, and that it’s one more thing you have to do, rather than using it as the tool by which to do the thing you want to do. That was a good thing for me to be reminded of, the thinking through writing. I can’t ask them to perform this final writing without having given them the chance to practice that, and have those revision processes, and understand what writing is and use it as a way to move along thinking. It’s a simple reframing, and it’s common sense, on some level. You have your content and you’re like, Oh, I have to make them write multiple things, and this is actually a really great way to get them to think through this material.

Interviews with WIC Seminar Alumni: Deanna Lloyd

By Mohana Das, WIC GTA

Deanna Lloyd, a WIC Seminar 2017 alumna, teaches for the Sustainability Double-Degree Program and the Crop & Soil Science Department. She delights in exploring and teaching about the complex interconnections between environmental, social justice and economic issues. Additionally, she coordinates service-learning and experiential education for her department, each term soliciting and managing projects for approximately 300 students.

In this interview, Mohana Das chats with Deanna about her experience of teaching a WIC course at OSU and how the seminar has helped her pedagogy.

Q: When did you come to OSU? What were you working on before you came to OSU?

A: I have had a few different “positions” within OSU.  My time at OSU started in December 2012 as a classified staff person managing service-learning projects for the Crop and Soil Science Department.  I then became involved with the Small Farms Program in 2014 and was able to complete a Masters working with that program.  After receiving my MS in Crop Science, I was hired as an instructor for the Sustainability Double-Degree Program. Throughout my time here, I have continued to manage service-learning projects and experiential education opportunities and have expanded those opportunities into our SUS courses.

Getting students out to engage and learn in their community is important to my pedagogy so I resonate with the service-learning/experiential education coordinator role. In my five and half years at OSU, I have helped place over 3,000 students in over 500 projects with 50 unique organizations/events. This equates to over 12,000 hours of service provided to the community and that many hours of learning in the “real-world.”

Prior to being hired at OSU, I was the manager at the Corvallis Environmental Center’s SAGE Garden, a local non-profit farm that grows food for local hunger relief agencies and offers educational programs.  In this role, I was managing service-learning students as a community partner who benefited from their service.  It was easy to transition to then help manage the projects for the CSS department as I understood what it meant to be on the community partner’s side of the relationship.

I was in Bellingham, WA for about 9 years prior to moving to Corvallis.  Up there I completed my undergraduate work including a post-baccalaureate teaching certificate for secondary science education and then helped launch a school garden non-profit.


Q: What made you interested in teaching a WIC class? What, in your opinion, feels different when teaching a WIC course compared to teaching another course in your discipline? What sets it apart? 

A: I loved the idea of having a small, in-person class to get to know!  As mentioned, after a couple undergraduate degrees, I studied education and discovered how much I love teaching.  As a kid and young adult I had a fear of speaking in front of people and was incredibly shy so I never saw myself becoming a teacher. What I realized though is that teaching for me isn’t standing and talking in front of people, but rather it’s an art in creative engagement.

With a WIC class, I’m not focused on teaching discipline-specific content, but rather creatively exploring new material with students as they practice writing.  Students still learn discipline-specific content but engage with it in a deeper way as they evaluate evidence, discuss, explore perspectives, write for different audiences, review the work of others, etc.

Additionally, since we are examining “agricultural predicaments” in my course, there are no easy right or wrong answers. These type of questions and issues make for the best discussions! Students have to grapple with the ideas and practice “systems thinking” which is pivotal to sustainability. The “ah ha” moments I witnessed were so wonderful to see and they weren’t because I was up lecturing, but rather because students were engaging with one another on meaningful, and sometimes intense, topics. The cap on WIC enrollment ensures not only quality assessment on students’ written work but also the ability to facilitate discussions and learning opportunities that challenge students’ perspectives and encourage growth. Here is what a student expressed in their final reflection:

“I took quite a lot away from this class this term. The material influenced my perceptions on a couple topics but overall, I got more out this class on a personal level.  I am generally pretty shy and don’t like to talk in classes, but because of the causal nature of the conversations, it made it easier to share my thoughts on things.  As the term progressed I was less nervous about sharing, and on the last day the poster talks were easy.”


Q: How did the WIC seminar influence your WIC course?

A: I was encouraged by the WIC seminar to not underestimate the power of informal writing and assessment.  This opened up my creativity as I utilized techniques shared in the seminar and blended them with techniques I had learned through my time educating in grades Pre-K through high school, both in the classroom and outside.

As I reflected on the WIC seminar and conversations, I noticed restrictions on what some people consider discipline-specific writing. It wasn’t the WIC programs expressing these limits, but rather the underlying, and sometimes unconscious, bias of us participants.

For the sciences, a classic scientific paper in the format of a journal article is often considered “discipline-specific.” Yet when polled, only 10% of my students expressed a desire to go to graduate school or into research.  I planned accordingly and had a “scientific paper” as a project, but also had students write Extension publications, article reviews, place-based essays, and letters to the editors. These different genres of writings were also encouraged by a faculty member who had previously taught the WIC course and had success with different writing styles.


Q: What advice would you give to instructors who are working on proposing new WIC courses?

A: I would encourage instructors proposing new WIC courses to consider the full spectrum of careers available in their discipline and then create writing assignments, engage in activities, and invite guest speakers that reflect the variety.

For example, I teamed up with Natalia Fernandez at the Multicultural Archives to co-lead an activity examining photographs from the Bracero Farmworker program in Oregon in the 1940s. The activity was so different than their usual science courses that I was uncertain how students would feel about the activity. Student feedback about the experience and resource ended up being incredibly positive!  There are so many amazing resources on-campus that we can incorporate into our classrooms with a little planning and creativity!

In a way, my WIC course was also a reading course because reading different types of writing helped students better understand the target audience, voice, persuasion, good organization, etc.  This also allowed me to bring in voices and perspectives that were not represented by the students in the room and thus helped expand our conversations.

Q: And finally, if you had to share one anecdote from your WIC class, what would that be?

A: For this question I’ll just share some quotes from my student’s final reflections:

“My job occasionally involves me meeting with legislators or lobbyists and the majority of the discussions involves knowing how to work with people who have completely different political beliefs than you. Getting the different perspectives and learning the best ways to communicate and receive information and opinions is what I will take away the most.”

“It is rare in this day and age that citizens of the U.S. with such different backgrounds and political beliefs can get together and share opinions and try to pinpoint problems that need to be addressed. I say this in all honesty, it is too bad that our government isn’t a little more like this class.”

“This approach brought a new idea to sustainability as not just the idea that we need to save the world as individuals but rather that if we build a culture of teamwork, we can make a much bigger impact.”

Interviews with WIC Seminar Alumni: Nate Kirk

By Ruth Sylvester, WIC Intern

Nate Kirk is a course instructor in the Department of Integrative Biology. He teaches two WIC classes: Field methods in marine ecology and critical thinking and communication in the life sciences. Broadly speaking, he is a molecular ecologist that is interested in coral symbioses ranging from mutualism (where both partners benefit) to parasitism. He is also interested in the incorporation of educational best practices to increase equity and inclusion in the classroom.

Ruth Sylvester interviews WIC Seminar 2017 Alumni, Nate Kirk about teaching a WIC course.

Q: How has it been to teach the Marine Ecology class as a WIC class?

A: I have had the pleasure to teach Field methods in marine ecology 4 times now. Twice before it became a WIC and twice after. Prior to the redesign of the course (by another faculty member, Su Sponaugle, also a WIC alum), the focus was on the process of science. Starting with broad questions students were challenged to design experiments, collect and analyze data, and finally write up their results. With the WIC designation, the writing process has taken the forefront. There are many opportunities to practice scientific writing in class and for homework. Multiple drafts coupled with peer review has made the generation of text a larger focus. The writing process has nicely supplemented the experimental design and they are largely complementary pieces to help students advance their science.

Q: How do you approach informal writing activities in your WIC class?

A: The overall goal is to draft of cohesive, concise, and precise primary research article that could be submitted to the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series. However, the dry and technical writing style is hard to start writing. To help students revise for conciseness and precision of words, editing exercises are frequently done on their own work and in exemplars. I have also introduced the practice of reflection in writing. I frequently have students answer questions related to their work on index cards (writing microthemes) as part of the typical daily routine. Likewise, I have students write in class process memos to accompany all submitted work (complete drafts and finished papers). This reflective work allows the student to explain what went well and what they struggled with in their writing. I find reading this memo to be refreshing and it allows me to mentally prepare my lens for evaluating their work. I also have students practice numerous brainstorming techniques that I obtained from the WIC training.

Q: What are your tips for helping students do peer review in your discipline?

A: The hardest thing is often facing a blank piece of paper. Writing perfect sentences, although enviable, is often not plausible or productive. It is better to draft and revise than to write the final draft. Starting with an outline of topic sentences can also make or break the flow and logic of the presented data. Starting with topic sentences is a great way to generate an outline and provide structure for the argument that will be advanced in the paper.

Q: What is your process for designing rubrics for WIC?

A: I have been lucky enough to work with other faculty members teaching similar classes who were willing to share notes and their rubrics. I am indebted to Devon Quick, Andrew Bouwma, Meta Landys, and Lori Kayes for their materials and inspiration. Now that I have several working drafts of rubrics for various assignments, I generally modify existed elements and criteria. When starting from scratch, I try to identify the most important elements of the work (e.g. accuracy, content, style, etc) and try to image 3-4 categories ranging from what would a perfect paper look like to what would a misfire look like. I try to be very concise and precise in meaning so that it is obvious why a student received the score they did. Iteration, personal reflection, and student feedback help with refinement.

Q: How has your experience teaching WIC influenced your teaching methodology as a whole?

A: There are several general pieces of advice that I have incorporated from the WIC training in non-WIC classes. 1) Titles of assignments matter. I used to call my assignments “final paper”, “Homework #1”, and  “OpEd”. These assignments are now called: “Writing your grant proposal”, “Revising for clarity and content” and “Finding your voice: Writing a letter in support of your position” 2) I agree with the idea of writing in class to retain information. It also keeps students active in the classroom. I now incorporate the write and pass in each non-WIC class to demonstrate its power as a study tool with a group. 3) I now use minimal marking instead of fully explaining the loss of points on exams. This has facilitated more interesting dialogue between students as they try to determine what may have gone askew. I also try to find positive, useful and constructive comments to write. I used to write “well done!” on papers quite a bit, but now I try to explain what was good. I also frame all criticism in a positive light.

Q: What are your favorite things about teaching in your discipline?

A: I have always loved biology. After all, it is the study of “life”! There are few better topics than life in my very humble opinion. It is also a familiar topic to many people and I love helping people find connections to patterns that they have observed to biological principles that we cover. I also enjoy that many of the questions that students pose are novel in the field. Despite all of our advances, there is so much that we don’t know about our field.



Teaching and Learning Genres in the Disciplines: An Interview with Chris Nelson

By Ruth Sylvester, WIC Intern

Last winter, we featured an interview with Dennis Bennett on the new undergraduate Writing Studio. In this issue, we talk with Chris Nelson, director of the graduate Writing Center. We asked Chris to share his ideas about teaching genre.

WIC: The second WIC learning outcome addresses students learning about how to write in their field: “Students in writing intensive courses shall demonstrate knowledge/understanding of audience expectations, genres, and conventions appropriate to communicating in the discipline.” Why is it important for students to learn to write in a variety of genres?  What kinds of assignments do you think are effective in teaching genre?

Chris Nelson: Genre allows us to define the ways groups of people communicate—not just the conventional forms that we use but also the values and perspectives that form those groups. The genres that we find in scholarly fields also tell us important things about how each field builds knowledge. When students first enroll in a writing class at a university, they are exposed to important, conventional ways of communicating ideas in academic settings. This exposure is important, because it is necessary for becoming familiar with the norms of academic writing: summarizing, paraphrasing, arguing, analyzing, synthesizing. We often encounter these tasks on their own—in exercises, activities, or even formal assignments.

But the purposes these tasks serve can seem unclear to many students when separated from the knowledge-building activities for which they are used. Instead, when we recognize genre, we understand that writing plays specific roles in exploring and communicating ideas in a field—that there is a social function that writing plays. In short, genre takes us from the commonly understood situation of writing for an individual teacher (not to mention for a grade) and allows us to consider the more rhetorical purposes that a document must accomplish if it is to be a worthwhile or useful piece of work for other scholars who share your interests. For example, when we see a white paper in engineering, we know that the writer is synthesizing current information about a given research direction to query other engineers whether that research direction is worthwhile. The function of that document is to prompt the evaluative expertise of the community to decide whether a research idea has merit—so it is ultimately the writer of the white paper who benefits from the genre, assuming the writer has done their job of meeting the conventional expectations of that white paper.

Students who learn to write a variety of genres, then, have the opportunity to learn about, and become part of, a larger community of knowledge builders who not only share similar interests but also communicate their ideas in expected ways. So, genre allows us to become acculturated to both the knowledge and the discourse of a given field.

This becomes a bit of a trick for any writing teacher, because assignments must require students to implement conventional forms of communication (which themselves can indeed be interrogated as the writer gains proficiency, but that is another conversation) while at the same time enable them to experience communicating ideas meaningfully. For me, any assignment that engages students in writing for specific audiences can be effective at promoting genre, but a teacher who is able to welcome students into conversations about the roles that document plays for specific audiences helps them to see that an assignment has purposes to accomplish, rather than being an arbitrary exercise for a grade only. That can be quite a tall order, but to me seems to be the role that a teacher in any discipline plays—answering the question of how to guide students into the standard practices of our fields so that they, too, become knowledge builders.

WIC: How do writing tutors address genre in the Graduate Writing Center?

Chris Nelson: Like all writing center tutors, Graduate Writing Consultants are trained to identify the rhetorical purposes of a given document: purpose, audience needs, formal conventions, and so on. The Graduate Writing Center takes that training a step further by working with what we might consider to be the professional academic forms of writing: scholarly journal articles, conference posters and presentations, funding proposals, and of course theses and dissertations. Ideally, a writing consultant would be familiar with writing and knowledge conventions in each discipline, but that is knowledge that would take years to accumulate—if it even is possible! Genre allows us to prompt writers to teach us about content and communication expectations in various fields. Their awareness of research writing conventions allows consultants to define formal expectations and allow writers to determine whether those conventions operate similarly to or different from the types of writing they encounter in their own fields.

In some respects, genre allows us to explicitly define with students the codes, so to speak, of writing—codes that many scholars absorb and learn to implement over time as part of their own graduate education, even though they may not have learned to name these codes directly. These are important conversations, since graduate students are very adept at identifying conventions in their fields, but may remain unaware of the reasoning or purposes behind these conventions. By enabling us to identify explicitly the expectations of content and communication, graduate students not only learn, but also show consultants, ways of communicating in their fields. So, consultants learn about writing in various fields just as much as students do. By virtue of that learning, consultants can then ask more substantive questions about content or the ways that content is conveyed in a given document.

By Amanda Kelner, WIC Intern

Oregon State is home to an ever expanding computer science program. It is also home to a few computer science organizations that deal with projects beyond the scope of the university. One such organization is the Open Source Lab (OSL), which is grounded in open source technology and projects.  Our WIC intern, Amanda Kelner, is an undergraduate studying music performance and English at OSU and is also the staff writer and media coordinator for the OSL. We wanted to know more about how writing and documentation played out in the open source world. Kelner sat down with Director Lance Albertson to learn more.

In an age of competition and ownership, the OSL and the larger open source community is working to expand a new frontier of accessibility and transparency in technology and information. The OSL is a hosting and development center for open source projects that often come from outside the lab and the university (from companies such as Facebook and IBM), as well as an experiential learning program for students in computer science. Students receive hands-on interaction with the coding and development process of real world projects. The projects the lab and other open source centers work on are exclusively focused on open source technology and software. Open source is the belief and implementation of free access to the internet and its technologies. Everything the OSL does is visible to the public in some way. Thus, user documentation is viewable by the public.

Documentation comes in many forms. While computer science does involve a great deal of code, it is just as important if not more so to document work. Documentation is an important part of the development process, both for interested parties and collaborators. Consider the function of lab reports. Lab reports detail the process with which an experiment is completed, including questions, methods, data, and interpretations. The lab report allows other scientists to review and possibly replicate the experiment. The same general principle applies to documentation in computer science. It describes anything from product function to code development to online information. The structure of this documentation varies depending on the purpose, but the goals are all the same: transparency.

In a recent convention known as PyCon, open source documentation was broken down into four genres: tutorials, how-to guides, discussions, and references. Each serves a different function depending on what the documenter is trying to accomplish. Tutorials are learning-oriented, how-tos are problem-oriented, discussions are understanding-oriented, and references are information-oriented. Albertson states all of these documentation styles are important to circulate information. “You use different types of documentation for different things. If you’re a developer looking up quick information, you would use some sort of reference manual, but if you want to see how a project was developed, you might look to the discussions the developers carried out online to figure out how they came to write a specific line of code.”

Git is one example of a program that not only facilities documentation, but stores this documentation and other data. Git is a decentralized version control system, which means it hosts and stores metadata, or data that informs or describes other data. Many programmers use Git during all phases of their development process and other Git users can view what they do. It is free to the public and a major documentation platform for open source users, which has been in operation for nearly a decade and is still used prevalently, even in a world of fast changing technology.

Programs like Git also keep track of who does what to any given project. Because open source means open access, this also allows for other developers to work on a project licensed by someone else. Every developer has their own account, so when they make changes to the code, Git, and programs like it, keep track of this. “All the history of who owns what is in the sourcecode,” Albertson says.

According to Albertson, this is an ideal situation. Often, documentation lags behind the real work. As projects progress, some developers may not put as much time in documentation as they do in the actual coding. To combat this, Albertson says, “At the lab, we try to have fresh eyes review our documentation. They tell us when something doesn’t make sense, or when it’s not working, and we work together to update and fix it.” This form of peer review is an important part of the development process at the lab. Not only documentation, but code is also reviewed by both students and full-time professionals.

The OSL works hard to continuously encourage and facilitate documentation among its workers. Like students in the capstone for WIC students in computer science, OSL students must relate to basic rhetoric, such as audience, genre, and language. The goals are all the same: transparency. As the open source community urges the next generation towards the next frontier of open access, the information and documentation must reflect the diligence and transparency of the ideology. Only then will the open source initiative and the OSL create a sustainable foundation.

Earlier this year, students in WR420/520 Writing Across the Curriculum were asked to interview a professor in a discipline that interests them, asking how that professor teaches their majors to write. Students were also asked to make connections to course readings as they arose naturally. Aleah Hobbs is a third year undergraduate at Oregon State University. As an English major and a writing minor, she writes quite a bit, but this is her first published work. Aleah’s initial interest upon arriving at OSU was in microbiology and, though she decided on a different degree path, that interest led her to seek out an interview with Dr. Kate Field, Director of the BioResource Research program, Director of OSU’s Bioenergy Project, and professor of writing intensive courses in microbiology.

-Vicki Tolar Burton, WIC Director


Writing in a Microbiology Classroom: An Interview with Dr. Kate Field

By Aleah Hobbs

In high school, many students were taught how to write a standard, five-paragraph, argumentative essay. This opens a few doors for students in college, and gives them a general understanding of how to present their ideas and defend them with outside sources and evidence. They further develop writing skills in Writing I and II courses. However, those majoring in mathematics, sciences, and many other disciplines, must learn additional methods of writing to effectively communicate in their discipline, new methods they may not learn until their upper-division courses. Educators like Dr. Kate Field, Department of Microbiology, have devised engaging assignments to teach students the material of a course, as well as the conventions of writing in their discipline.

For Dr. Field, the types of writing necessary for her own work are primarily published research to communicate findings to the public and grant proposals to receive funding for projects. These genres are generally not covered formally in introductory writing courses, but to ensure majors learn these skills, Dr. Field has woven them into her writing intensive course through various writing assignments. One way writing is used in her course MB 385 Emerging Infectious Diseases is through a scientific press release assignment in which students are asked to read papers from the 1800s, figure out what scientific breakthroughs are discussed in the paper, and then individually write a modern press release as if these breakthroughs had been made recently at OSU. This gives the students practice in communicating scientific discovery with the public, while also teaching them some history of microbiology. From that point, Dr. Field has each student choose an infectious disease that the rest of their assignments will be focused on. With this disease, the students are asked to write a case report like those used by medical professionals. The students get to make up their case with an imaginary patient but are required to use evidence to support the claims made in their report. This forces students to research their disease and gives them the opportunity to “write like doctors, which is fun for them because they all imagine themselves as doctors,” according to Dr. Field.

Another way that Dr. Field offers students practice in writing for their discipline is through a mini grant-proposal assignment based on the infectious disease they chose. They are asked to identify a problem involving their disease, come up with an approach to solve that problem, then write their grant proposal to get funding for the approach they’ve identified. In doing so, students have the chance to propose their own ideas for research and experimentation, which is the kind of creativity they’ll need as scientists, and it gives students real practice using the writing styles that will be applicable to their future careers. This is reminiscent of Michael Carter’s discussion of empirical inquiry in his article “Ways of Knowing, Doing, and Writing in the Disciplines.” Carter describes empirical inquiry as “a way of doing that consists of answering questions by drawing conclusions from systematic investigation based on empirical data;” he references microbiology as a discipline that exemplifies empirical inquiry. While writing to learn is also incorporated in Dr. Field’s class, these specific assignments allow students to learn how they should be writing in the professional world in their discipline.

Similar writing assignments have been incorporated in lower-level courses through the inclusion of lab report writing in the general series of chemistry, biology, and others, but these are often sans critique and guidance. Students may be asked to turn in a lab report, but are only asked to complete a single draft and thus get very little feedback on their work. This is not the case with Dr. Field’s writing assignments. In order to mark up students’ work, ensure they’re on the right track and writing like scientists, Dr. Field requires a first draft for all of her writing assignments. She leaves it ungraded to keep the stakes low and gear it more toward the purpose of learning, but students are required to hand in this draft in order to receive credit. This strategy is in line with the WAC goals involving “writing to learn,” and slowly teaches students how to “write to communicate” in their discipline. These goals, outlined effectively by Susan McLeod in “The Pedagogy of Writing Across the Curriculum,” can aid in students’ understanding of material as they write to work through their thoughts, as well as their understanding of the expectations of writing within their discipline.

As for what she looks for in her students’ writing, Dr. Field asks for the work to be succinct. There shouldn’t be any wordiness, but often students find it hard to cut out the extra things they think they need to say, “‘the data derived from the research shows that A equals B’ when they could just say ‘A equals B,’” she added. Since some articles in the scientific community have word limits, shorter is better. She states that some writers from other fields may think it sounds rude to “just put it out there,” but to scientists, the quick relay of information “starts to look correct.” In addition to succinctness of writing, Dr. Field actually doesn’t like reports to be written entirely in passive voice. “Something didn’t happen all by itself. You have to have a subject in there,” she stated. She does admit that it takes some balancing, but entirely passive papers tend to sound “very awkward.”

Of course, like most educators, Dr. Field looks for proper grammar in her students’ writing. While she knows it isn’t her job — and realistically, it shouldn’t be her job — she explained “I kind of think of it as being my job,” and marks up papers for their grammatical errors as well as content and form. This is a difficult choice on her part because she is aware that students aren’t required to take grammar courses, and grammar may not be covered in public primary or secondary schools, so many students simply haven’t received an education on proper grammar. This grammar issue puts educators in a position where they must decide whether or not they’ll mark students down for grammatical errors. For Dr. Field, grammar is important enough to affect students’ grades, but she gives them the opportunity to revise and resubmit in order to raise that grade.

Incorporating lessons on writing into an existing course in the major can be a difficult task, but Dr. Field manages to provide her students with information on both emerging infectious diseases and writing like a medical professional. Educators like Dr. Field are giving students the opportunity to practice these skills prior to entering the professional world, preparing these scientists for their future careers in research and medicine.

Works Cited

“Dr. Kate Field.” Personal interview. 21 Oct. 2016

Carter, Michael. “Ways of Knowing, Doing, and Writing in the Disciplines.” Writing Across the Curriculum: A Critical Sourcebook. Terry Myers Zawacki and Paul M. Rogers. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2012. Print. Bedford/St. Martin’s Ser. in Rhetoric and Composition.

McLeod, Susan, “The Pedagogy of Writing Across the Curriculum.” Writing Across the Curriculum: A Critical Sourcebook. Terry Myers Zawacki and Paul M. Rogers. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2012. Print. Bedford/St. Martin’s Ser. in Rhetoric and Composition.

By Addison Koneval and Amanda Kelner, WIC Interns

The OSU Writing Center is undergoing a major transformation from a one-to-one consulting model to what is called a studio model. Writing Studio director Dennis Bennett shared with us those new changes and the ways those changes affect WIC faculty and students.

As of January 2017, the former OSU Undergraduate Writing Center transitioned into a new pedagogical model and format–the Undergraduate Writing Studio.

Prior to the model shift, the Writing Center followed a “fairly traditional, middle of the road” pedagogical model, said Bennett. Under this model, student writers met with writing assistants for one-on-one conferences that lasted 45 minutes on average. During this time, writing assistants addressed what are known as high to low order concerns; writing assistants guided the session through big picture concerns such as organization, content, and adhering to the assignment before moving on to line level concerns such as sentence structure and grammar and conventions. This is a standard model for a significant portion of post-secondary writing centers across the United States.

The new Undergrad Writing Studio departs from this model in significant ways. First, the Studio no longer offers undergraduate appointments. Students walk in and fill out a form detailing basic student and class/assignment information. Students explain what concerns they would like to address. Flip charts on workstations in the Studio inform studio consultants when students would like to work on their own and when they need help.

The studio model emphasizes real-time feedback and the studio as a workspace. Students are encouraged to bring their assignment sheets, unfinished or unstarted drafts, and come prepared to work. Many students bring their laptops to work on their projects, although it is not required. Bennett says the focus is to “create a space for writing” supplemented by feedback from studio consultants.

“The process itself is cyclical. Students propose some writing that the studio consultant critiques and the student then iterates these changes which they propose once more to the studio consultant and the process continues until the student is satisfied with their work,” he said.

In response to the question, “why did the change occur?” Bennett shared that the move to the Studio model stemmed from a new pedagogical goal. The new model is meant to work two-fold, first by helping students “build competence” through learning to ask for specific help on issues in their work as they construct and edit it. Second, the new model acts to “catch the moment of kairos.” According to Bennett, this means making the writing studio a place to write. So, as questions come up during the writing process, consultants are available to respond to those relevant questions in that very “moment of kairos.” The benefit for students is that they are not just told how to be better writers, they are given the environment in which to do so.

This model moves students away from binge-writing and into incremental, process-oriented writing. Bennett explained that advanced writers tend to use this process naturally. Rather than critiquing an entire paper at once, the writer will ask a friend or colleague to review a small piece of the paper as they are writing it. The studio model simply applies this concept in a collaborative, academic setting. This shift is important for the Writing Studio’s proposed relocation to the OSU Valley Library, which could be as early as next fall; the studio model complements the natural work and study environment of a library.

What is more important is to note what has not changed. The Undergraduate Writing Studio still provides students the same benefits the Writing Center did before the shift. The studio is staffed with mostly student studio consultants, from a variety of majors, including STEM majors, all of whom receive pedagogical training prior to beginning their work at the studio. In addition, consultants receive weekly one-hour training session during the course of each quarter.

Regardless of session-specific changes, consultants continue to offer feedback, support and help on writing issues large and small, providing students with all the attention they require. On the whole, Bennett advocates for “a universal design approach” that allows for flexibility and intentionality when adjusting to student-specific needs.

For example, one common issue for English Language Learners (ELLs) is grammar. An old approach would require the consultant to spend time explaining and pointing out examples. The new model asks students to build independence in the process of collaboration and feedback.

In an instance where a student is struggling with article usage (‘a’ vs. ‘the’), a consultant might say, “I’m noticing issues with articles. Why don’t you highlight all the nouns and we can talk about those.” This approach breaks down a more complex task into smaller, more digestible tasks, helping students build independence, one move at a time. “You have to be more specific and mindful,” Bennett said, but the overarching goal of placing the responsibility on the student to bring forward concerns works regardless of specialized needs.

But what does this all mean for WIC courses? Even previous to the shift, Bennett reported that the Writing Studio has established relationship with WIC faculty to assist WIC students with their work. Then, and now, Writing Studio consultant-WIC student dynamics depend on a balance between student understanding of class material and consultant’s ability to ask process questions. When it comes to discipline-specific content, Bennett said, “the student needs to be the expert,” but “we can still ask questions about what their process is like.” Ultimately though, “the more we know, the more we can help,” Bennett said.

WIC faculty can aid WIC student writing studio sessions by providing their assignment-specific goals and expectations to the Writing Studio and its studio consultants. Bennett encouraged faculty to meet with him in person to share any course materials “so we can review assignment resources and student learning outcomes together and ensure that we’re on the same page.” Because most WIC courses discuss discipline-specific ideas and conventions, professors should contact Bennett and articulate what they would like their students to accomplish at the Writing Studio and how the studio consultants can help achieve these goals.

“The Writing Center [Studio] would love to work with WIC faculty,” Bennett said.

For more information on the Writing Studio’s other resources available to WIC instructors, go to the Writing Center’s Faculty Information Page or contact Bennett directly.