Reviewing First-Year Writing at the University of Connecticut

First-Year Writing Courses

First-Year Writing (FYW) offers foundational courses to fulfill the General Education writing requirement; at least one course is taken by approximately 85% of the incoming first-year class. At present, approximately 3300 students enroll in FYW courses on the Storrs campus. At regional campuses, nearly 1500 students enroll; another 3500 are part of the Concurrent Enrollment program. In short, 8300 students take FYW courses every year.

Austin 162 as a Happening

Crossing Our Thresholds

Our Work Has Been Supported by

  • UConn CETL-Provost Large Course Redesign Grant
  • Steelcase Active Learning Center Grant
  • GEOC and CETL: ENGL 1003-1004 Assessment
  • Adobe Ed Ex 2017 Participants (Lehi, Utah)
  • Adobe MAX 2017 Participants (Las Vegas, Nevada)
  • Digital Media and Composition Institute, The Ohio State University (2017 and 2018), Invited Speakers, 2018, "WAT Are We up to at UConn?"
  • Michael Mundrane, Chief Information Officer, UConn
Friends are Good

Changing Spaces

Of the several grants we won was one worth $67,000 from Steelcase for a complete redesign of the existing "computer classroom" (c. 1992). Out of more than 1,000 applicants, we were among the 8 selected in the country for a redesign of classroom space valued at $67,000.

How quaint the computer classroom / Persisting as paean / To technologies past.

Makeover: Multimodal Workspace

Active Learning Center Grant: Austin 245

On the Road Again

Some of our travels: Adobe MAX in Las Vegas, Nevada and Adobe Ed Ex in Lehi, Utah.

Visions & Revisions

WAT's That You Say?

In First-Year Writing, we are moving toward "Writing Across Technology" (WAT) to account for the "increasing multiplicity and integration of significant modes of meaning-making, where the textual is also related to the visual, the audio, the spatial, the behavioral, and so on...and the realities of increasing local diversity and connectedness" (Serafini & Gee p. 2). Through WAT, we hope to "challenge views of literacy as involving primarily written language and as the master of a relatively stable and unitary set of rules and conventions for the use of this language” (Serafini & Gee p. 3). In particular, we argue, along with Cynthia Selfe, that “literacy education focused solely on writing will produce citizens with an overly narrow and exclusionary understanding of the world and the variety of audiences who will read and respond to their work” (p. 607)

Can students be both university educated AND career ready?

According to the World Economic Forum, essential skills by 2020 will include complex problem-solving, judgment and decision-making, critical thinking, creativity and innovation, collaboration and negotiation, and cognitive flexibility (“Ten Skills”). The workforce appears to be looking for the experiences, habits of mind, dispositions, and critical practices we value at the university, after all.

Making Meaning across Modes

The WAT initiative will ask students to compose multimodally, exploring linguistic, aural, visual, gestural, and spatial modes of meaning-making. The course will focus on both critical engagement with and producing innovative composition through these modes, the technologies for which run from pencil or keyboard to performance and digital media.

Digital media are not just ‘external wrapping’ put on a ‘thought package’ to make it seem cool. This is how thinking and learning are increasingly happening in the first place: Everywhere across the curriculum. Todd Taylor, Director of the Writing Program at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The multimodality of the work will open the course to more interdisciplinary engagement through introductions to methodologies, genres, technologies—and epistemologies— in the humanities, hard and social sciences, engineering, business, the arts, and so on.

Inception Points

Technologies are not simply neutral means of delivering content. We’re not approaching writing across technologies in a functional or instrumental way.

The student-as-maker’s engagement requires more fluency in and agility with the technē, technologies, and tools to create knowledge and content, to participate in cross-disciplinary and transnational collaboration, and to position themselves as responsible digital citizens. The difference between functional skills and “technē,” knowing how to do, would be the difference using an application to produce a vector graphic and imagining how to visualize the data that vector graphic would represent.

Marshall McLuhan delivers his message via media

How We Write Now

Composing technologies change as our needs evolve. Cuneiform started as a means for documenting barley harvests. The printing press changed the content of written work—and shaped ideologies. And now, digital technologies move and network knowledge globally; they've also made "authenticity" difficult to assure.

From stone tablets to iPads, what other affordances and limitations do different composing technologies negotiate? What meaning do we make when we compose texts, podcasts, or 60-second concept videos?

The revised course will maintain its grounding in inquiry, problem-based projects, and process-driven learning, while helping students develop new literacies, adaptable skills, and agile processes.

Proposed Architecture for Course

NB: the architecture sketched below is an unfinished DRAFT

  • Collecting & Curating (e.g., doing, documenting, experiential research; selecting, creating a meaningful assemblage [entry-level visual/audio/video skills in lab portion]).
  • Engaging & Entering a Conversation (e.g., approach working with texts differently; work on unpacking assumptions & values, reading beyond “information” & “pro/con” arguments; understanding "appeals" and spin).
  • Contextualizing (e.g., researching the field, developing questions and projects, etc; working with historical and critical sources, etc. These moves build on "entering the conversation" and add "juggling more than one voice" as well as "using other texts to varied ends; attention to "problematizing" and "problem-solving" in compositions).
  • Theorizing (building new approaches, processes, analyses, arguments; in the writing studio, emphasis on variations of “design thinking” and “agile development”; underpinnings in “complexity theory").
  • Circulating (advanced curating, revising, revising, and"threading" own work [or, if a "group" book is assembled, then through group's work], presenting, publishing, managing/maintaining if placed into interactive space like a public forum [work in this unit could include digital portfolio building]).

Emerging Learning Objectives

  • Practice composing and writing as creative acts of inquiry and discovery through written, aural, visual, and video texts.
  • Identify yourself as a writer who can contribute to others’ knowledge and understanding through your research and the compositions you create.
  • Recognize the situatedness of ideas, information, texts, and writers/creators of content.
  • Approach projects and problems from multiple ways of knowing.
  • Recognize technologies are not neutral tools for meaning-making.
  • Analyze the context and mode or technology you are composing in (for example, video, audio, and infographics), including its affordances and limitations; respond to the situation with productive choices in approach and execution to deliver meaningful texts.
  • Develop new methods for all forms (including digital) of textual analysis, synthesis, and representation including text mining, building web-based digital archives, “distant reading,” and data visualization.
  • Discover, analyze, and engage with others’ ideas in productive ways through complex texts.
  • Use others’ work in a variety of ways, including as motivation for writing, as context to your own ideas, as a frame or method for analysis, as a way of moving your ideas forward, and as exhibits for analysis and interpretation.
  • Extend your ideas to new ground in the context of others’ work.
  • Develop methods and strategies for the conceptual, investigative, practical, and reflective work of writing.
  • Determine and analyze conventions of disciplines; decide how to address the genre expectations of a discipline’s work, including how knowledge is created and how evidence is used to forward work in the discipline; includes the functional components of format, organization, document design, and citation.
  • Employ the principles of universal design to make your work accessible and legible to the widest possible audience.
  • Practice ethical scholarship and develop strong identity as a responsible maker of meaning.
Align FYW course "areas of inquiry" with GEOC's new models for integrative, inquiry-driven learning.

Some areas of inquiry currently being discussed in the "Delta GenEd" committee

  • Diversity & Multiculturalism
  • Environment & Sustainability
  • Civility & Ethics

Some Benefits

  • Introduces students to developing coherent lines of inquiry and the rewards of participating in integrative learning experiences.
  • Engages students in making meaning in multiple modes using deliberate, intellectually engaging, cognitively sophisticated methods.
  • Enables students to reconsider what they believe they already "know" when it comes to composing.
  • Binds FYW into General Education.


Created with images by byzantiumbooks - "One Page at a Time" • Wokandapix - "rock craft people friends support friends friends" • music4life - "movement technology how works" • Gabriele Barni - "Hammurabi" • janeb13 - "computer pc workplace" • MemoryCatcher - "misty fog walk pathway rock walkway nature"

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