We focused on revision in this assessment cycle. “Revision” here needs to be understood not merely as turning a first draft into a final one by fixing specific mechanical problems after proofreading, but as sustained reflection on one’s writing, inspired by both one’s own evolving ideas and by feedback from others, and leading to new and better versions of one’s work. Revision is thus a continuous process that happens in multiple, perhaps overlapping, cycles and constitutes a key component of the writing process. INTD 105 attempts to “sell” revision as a hallmark of a skilled writer, but the process is not something our students understand fully. Developing students’ ability to do it well is thus an important part of achieving INTD 105’s “write sustained, coherent, and persuasive arguments” outcome.
Considering the importance of revision, we proposed and got Senate approval for a change to the INTD 105 requirements effective fall 2015. As of that semester, every INTD 105 section assigns at least three essays that explicitly include revision as part of the writing process. This assessment report gauges how effective that change has been.
Method and Results
We gathered assessment data in spring 2016 by asking instructors to score one of their “revision” assignments against a rubric. We developed the rubric in a workshop with current INTD 105 instructors. The rubric classifies essays as “excellent” (revision clearly improved the essay by drawing on multiple sources of feedback), “adequate” (revision improved the essay by resolving explicitly identified problems but without comprehensively considering all feedback), or “insufficient” (revision didn’t improve the essay or wasn’t attempted).
Thirteen sections completed the assessment, covering a total of 253 essays. The distribution of scores was as follows:
- Excellent: 46%
- Adequate: 41%
- Insufficient: 13%
The fact that 87% of the essays show evidence that students can effectively revise their writing is a good result, although we hope that it becomes even better in the future. In particular, it would be nice to see a stronger bias towards “excellent” rather than merely “adequate” revision skills, and to see even fewer students falling in the “insufficient” category.
Looking Forward (Closing the Loop)
The activities students do in INTD 105 and the support instructors provide for those activities are key to extending the successes indicated by our assessment data. Thanks to generous support from the provost’s office, we have revived the INTD 105 instructors’ workshops, which we now offer near the beginning of each semester. We also encourage new instructors to meet with us to discuss the course and plan their syllabi. Finally, we have a wiki space for INTD 105 news and resources. We will use all of these channels to keep revision in particular, and writing as a process generally, prominent in the ways instructors teach INTD 105.
The next three to four years will be important ones for INTD 105 as the College moves towards a new suite of general education requirements. While it seems likely that some critical writing course will remain part of Geneseo’s general education program, its exact form is unclear. The value of the current format of INTD 105 as a small first year writing seminar taught across disciplines cannot be argued. Geneseo prides itself on high-impact educational practices, many of which are central to INTD 105. It is a first year seminar, a writing-intensive course, and an intellectual experience common to all Geneseo students. By spreading the course across departments, Geneseo reinforces the message that writing matters to everyone, and increases the likelihood that every student will find a section based on a personally interesting topic.
However, this structure also causes some problems, which general education reform is a good opportunity to address. In particular, having nominally all departments teach the course means that none is really responsible for it, and so departments’ priority inevitably goes to teaching courses in their majors or to which they otherwise have a clear obligation. Few faculty see introductory writing as a central interest. As a result of these pressures, finding instructors who not only understand the course’s goals but are committed to them has been persistently challenging. It is difficult to offer enough sections each semester, section sizes are larger than desired, and many sections are taught by temporary faculty. In seeking to solve these problems, the INTD 105 coordinators will continue to work with the provost to improve the quality of teaching and learning at Geneseo.