Fall 2011 Minutes

September 23, 2011 – Mt. Ida College

Attendance: Steve Corbett (Southern CT State University), Michelle LaFrance (UMass, Dartmouth), Neal Lerner (Northeastern University), Cynthia Gannett (Fairfield University), Sue Hudd (Quinnipiac University), Tom Deans (Univ. of Connecticut), Tianne Donahue (Dartmouth University), Kati Pletsch DeGarcia (Mt. Ida College), Anne Geller (St. John’s University), Maria Vitagliano (Mt. Ida College, School of Design), Lorainne Higgins (WPI), Catherine Savini (Westfield State University), Kathy Shine Cain (Merrimack College), Michael Cripps (University of New England), Ed Morgan (Mt. Ida College, Center for Learning and Teaching Assessment), Rich Murphy (Bay Path College).

Introductions. We began the meeting with introductions and explanations of our respective roles on our campuses.  Anne Geller outlined the theme for the day – how do students experience WAC.

NSSE. Michael Cripps provided an overview of the NSSE process and talked about the ways in which NSSE data are gathered, and the process by which institutions can join consortia to compare their students’ writing experiences with other like institutions, as well as with faculty perceptions of writing assigned at the institution.  As a result of work done by the Consortium of the Study of Writing in College, there are 27 new questions related to writing (a handout of these questions was provided, available at:

The NSSE data can be broken down by major, and in a variety of ways that can be used to deepen understanding of the ways in which writing is experienced by students.  Michael highlighted the core findings of the NSSE data:  that there are strong correlations between WAC best practices and deep learning experiences and student engagement.  He provided a handout that offered additional details on the findings.  He ended by noting that the analysis of results on his campus has led him to consider how he might qualitatively assess the experience of students on campus and discern whether interviews and focus groups will affirm and help to explain the quantitative findings further.

The NEWACC members discussed at length the nature of the consortia to which their respective schools do (and in several cases, don’t) belong to.  There was a suggestion that for those without access to a consortium pool it might be useful to compare data among NEWACC members in some way.  Likewise there were concerns expressed about the response rate on some campuses.

Research on Reading. Lorraine Higgins presented preliminary findings from a small longitudinal study she is in the midst of conducting on students’ experience with reading in college.  The plan is to track the reading and writing of 23 students throughout their 4 years.  Some of her core questions include:  Where do different majors encounter academic reading and writing in their curriculum?  How much and what kind of academic reading and writing are they assigned?  To what extent do faculty scaffold this work or teach explicit strategies?  And how do students respond – what do we know about their compliance, time on task, attitudes, approaches or perceived changes?

Lorraine is working (unfunded) currently with three students to try to gather data on reading and writing for the academic year. Her preliminary findings with this pilot sample are intriguing:  1) in the first year, a full third of the coursework required no reading at all; reading compliance is split (students always/frequently do the reading in 43% of their courses that require it, and they seldom or never do it in 41% of the courses requiring it).  Almost all of the courses where compliance is high are humanities courses.   The print textbook still dominates (57% of courses require a textbook).  Students report only 9% of all courses assigning reading offered explicit instruction in how to read and/or take notes on the sources.  Lorraine hypothesizes that students might perceive a disciplinary split early on in their studies (i.e., between reading in the humanities and reading in the sciences).

A rich discussion regarding the connections between good writing and reading followed.  It was noted that instruction in reading is even less thought of than instruction in writing.  There was a great deal of interest in the project, and Lorraine indicated her potential interest in perhaps expanding the study to multiple institutions and her intent to apply for grant funding to sustain the larger project.

Suggested Readings and Discussion of the Student Experience of WAC. After lunch, the NEWACC members shared the written pieces that they had brought that inspired them as they think about the “student experience of WAC.”  A list appears at the end of the minutes.

The discussion considered options for accessing/working with data in the Institutional Research office on our various campuses to examine questions of interest.  The discussion ranged across a variety of possibilities.  One institution compares WI and non-WI courses as a means to examine where students experience writing.  Collections of syllabi at another institution revealed that writing is not always noted in detail in the syllabus, that data gathering to address the question of where/what kind of writing must be broad.  There was a lengthy discussion about failure rates (v. melt rates – i.e., students who drop out prior to completing the course).  It was suggested that the melt rate can be higher, and that multi-method evaluation (triangulation) of data is key to addressing concerns about these issues.  It was also noted that admission criteria need to be considered (i.e., the extent to which the students admitted had test scores that suggest the potential for success, as opposed to attributing failures to poor performance of the writing program.

New Business and Agenda for Next Meeting. There was a discussion about whether it was feasible to complete the biography/photograph directory of NEWACC members on the website.  Michael Cripps agreed to send the request again to all members, as there was much interest in completing this.  There was a brief discussion about perhaps also providing a brief template of each institutional program on the website as well.  It was suggested that perhaps at each meeting, the host program could take an hour or so to do an in depth description of its program.  Other possibilities for the next meeting agenda included:  1) a discussion of strategies for expanding NEWACC membership; 2) structuring the meeting in a similar way (i.e., half on some sort of institutional practice related to writing and half on a discussion of someone’s ongoing research); 3) the relationship between writing centers and WAC programs; 4) a discussion of institutional research/funding perspectives related to writing; 5) learning communities as a means for WAC; 6) portfolios and WAC.  Other suggestions for meeting topics can be forwarded to Anne Geller and Tom Deans ( and

It was noted that the conference at MIT is upcoming and the information is posted on the NEWACC website.  The possibility of a collaborative presentation at IWAC was raised as well.  To our knowledge, we are still the only regional WAC group in the country.

Next Meeting:  April 15th, 2012 (NEWCA Conference April 13-15, 2012), St. John’s University, Queens, NY with the NEWCA meeting.  The call for papers for NEWCA is currently posted.  The meeting was adjourned.

List of Suggested Readings (in order of how they were offered when we went around the table): Collision Course: Conflict, Negotiation, and Learning in College Composition by Russell Durst; Student Writing: Access, Regulation, Desire Theresa Lillis; Mckinney and Naseri, “A Longitudinal Descriptive Study of Sociology Majors:  The Development of Engagement, the Sociological Imagination, Identity and Autonomy,” in Teaching Sociology April 2011; Engaged Writers/Dynamic Disciplines by Chris Thaiss and Terry Zawacki; Articles by Kevin Roozen and Elizabeth Moje; “Writing Fellows as WAC Change Agents: Changing What? Changing Whom? Changing How?” from Across the Disciplines, 5: How Writing Shapes Thinking: A Study of Teaching and Learning Arthur Applebee and Judith Langer; Sharing and Responding by Peter Elbow/Pat Belanoff; The Idea of a Writing Laboratory by Neal Lerner; Everyday GenresWriting Assignments across the Disciplines by Mary Soliday; Becoming W-Faculty in a New Writing Curriculum by Wendy Strachan; Persons in Process: Four Stories of Writing and Personal Development in College by Anne Herrington and Marcia Curtis; The Lab – Creativity and Culture by David Edwards.