I find a great synergy between teaching and program administration. Through my experiences as Developmental Writing Coordinator at Eastern Kentucky University; Coordinator for a BUS102: Business Writing and Assistant Director for the Howe Writing Initiative in the Farmer School of Business at Miami University; and Assistant Writing Program Administrator at West Virginia University, I have found my teaching improved by insights gained as an administrator, and my decisions as an administrator directly shaped by my perspectives as an instructor. As a teacher-administrator, I see my role as supporting and empowering students and instructors.
Good curricula should engage instructors and students alike, and it is the responsibility of a WPA to facilitate and encourage this engagement. Equivalency of learning experience in each section of a class is an obligation a program administrator has to their students. At the same time, an administrator also owes it to students to encourage instructors to modify courses in ways that take advantage of their expertise and the energy of their enthusiasm, something a cookie-cutter syllabus may not achieve. Instructors should have the freedom to make a course their own, while the WPA may assist them in ensuring that the standard course outcomes are met. The exact features of a course might change from section to section, but students must come away knowing the core principles outlined in the course goals, and have an equal opportunity to succeed across sections. This balance of academic freedom while ensuring consistent learning outcomes is best supported through frequent and meaningful professional development opportunities, as well as by fostering a culture of peer mentoring and mutual classroom visits. Such activities should focus on identifying teacher strengths and foster conversations about successful teaching strategies and styles.
Achieving and maintaining an excellent program also requires constructive curricular assessment. Curricular assessment is at its most constructive when conducted with an eye toward finding both strengths and weak points in a program, and then making adjustments based on those results. It should focus on curricula and programs, not on individual instructors; rather, instructor performance should be assessed through annual review. As Developmental Writing Coordinator at EKU, I am working to monitor and assess the success of our co-requisite, integrated reading and writing curriculum we implemented in Developmental English. To this end, in both Spring 2017 and 2018, I planned and lead an assessment reading of 40 sample student papers and 20 tutors’ records of consultations from these integrated reading and writing courses, to learn whether the new curriculum is helping students to meet desired learning outcomes. I gathered and anonymized student essays, prepared a spreadsheet for recording and comparing results, and prepared print copies for the assessment day. On the day of the assessment, I organized eight faculty readers, ran a score-norming session, and monitored results to ensure that readers’ scores were within acceptable range of each other. Following the scoring, I lead a debriefing session with the faculty to discuss trends we saw in papers and to brainstorm ways to enhance instruction and student success in future semesters; in this way, the program remains adaptive and responds to student and faculty needs.
While at Miami University, as Coordinator of BUS102, I was also involved in ongoing program assessment. During 2012–2013, in response to an assessment of over 30 sections of BUS102 conducted the previous year, I identified some flaws in the course’s final assignment. The prompt asked students to write for an audience and in a genre the rest of the course had not prepared them for. As a result, the final project did not serve as an effective capstone for the course and evaluation was onerous for instructors who found it difficult to grade fairly, given students’ unfamiliarity with the task. In response, I redesigned the project to build directly on previous assignments and better match the course goals. I collaborated with the instructors to ensure the prompt met their teaching needs. After a successful pilot in the Fall semester, we had a full rollout in Spring, with further assessment at the end of the term. This second assessment resulted in some minor tweaks to the shared assignment, but also gave the instructors confidence that the new assignment—and their teaching of it—was working well and meeting program goals. This example demonstrates several important points: Assessment should commence for the sake of better learning and to support successful teaching. It should be followed by course revision in response to results that includes instructors in the planning process. These adjustments should likewise be followed with further assessment of the changes. Assessment should be done in a way that does not interfere with the teaching of the class.
Effective writing program administration requires great care and attention on the part of a WPA. It involves a balancing and consideration of the needs and interests of students, faculty, and staff. An effective WPA is willing to reach out to all stakeholders and take time to listen before making a decision. Collaboration is key, as we are all part of this project of teaching and learning.