I began reading for my six-week (plus or minus) independent study on Writing Program Administration today with three selections from The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators. For each of these pieces (ordered by how I read them), I am providing a brief summary. In addition to this brief summary, I am providing a short discussion about whether I see this selection as being useful to the scope of a future WPA class, which my colleague Mark Blaauw-Hara (also blogging) and I are designing. This class design will introduce students to WPA work with an emphasis on responding to what we have called the “apocalyptic turn” faced by the academy. This class will focus on exploring how WPAs can serve as agents of change in the face of difficult academic climates.
Schwalm, David E. “The Writing Program (Administrator) in Context: Where Am I, and Can I Still Behave Like a Faculty Member?” Eds. Irene Ward and William J. Carpenter. The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators. New York: Longman, 2002. Print. 9-22.
This selection poses as a series of questions to help a new administrator come to better understand their role and location within their institution and department. The author helps the reader to consider whether they hold a task or a position within their department and then helps them to probe into the exact nature of what it is they are assigned to direct. Next, the article asks the reader to situate their program within the college by first considering what department it falls under and then where it fits within the institutional context as a whole. Building on this framework, the article then has the reader situation their university and then the state of higher education as a whole. Lastly, the article considers where the money is with respect to all these considerations. Through this guided tour of the academy, the reader comes to see their position as one that is deeply complex as a result of the intricate politics afforded by all of these considerations. The article, by way of this Socratic method, helps the reader to see how their concerns must broaden as an administrator and the drawbacks of not seeing the full picture of their context.
Discussion: This article was eye opening for me even after having served as an administrator. It helped to reveal deficits in my understanding of my own institution and made me question the precise role (task or position?) that my own administrative position entails. I think this is a perfect selection to start any WPA class because it helps contextualize the problems and challenges WPAs face, but also help those who have only served in faculty positions understand and empathize with the complexity of administrative work.
Ward, Irene and Merry Perry. “A Selection of Strategies for Training Teaching Assistants.” Eds. Irene Ward and William J. Carpenter. The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators. New York: Longman, 2002. Print. 117-138.
This article provides, as the title suggests, strategies for training TAs. The authors situate the needs and pressures that TAs encounter when beginning their work as new teachers. This treatment brings the challenges of TA training into focus. The authors then provide a series of questions that writing program administrators and graduate program directors can use as a heuristic to begin thinking about reshaping or reconsidering their own institution’s training practices. Finally, the chapter provides several sets of suggestions for approaching TA training. They provide a list of what is seen as typical in programs, then what they perceive as being the minimal acceptable requirements for a training program and finally suggestions for making existing programs more robust.
Discussion: I think this piece may be useful to the unit we have considered on professional development. It does give many good ideas for training practices in relationship to TAs. It may be, however, that other resources out there are more detailed in evaluating the effectiveness of specific approaches to training. In that case, those readings might be preferable to this reading, which is less “results” driven.
Hout, Brian A. and Ellen E. Schendel. “A Working Methodology of Assessment for Writing Program Administrators.” Eds. Irene Ward and William J. Carpenter. The Allyn & Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators. New York: Longman, 2002. Print. 207-226.
This piece situates the role of assessment in the work of a writing program administrator and outlines different kinds of assessment and their functions. The piece maintains an optimistic tone about assessment; the authors suggest that assessment is an ethical obligation and can be a productive practice in improving efforts of those within the writing program. Placement, exit and programmatic assessment are all explored in detail, with the authors providing commentary on the uses and limits of various approaches to these mechanisms.
Discussion: This piece will be useful particularly because of the optimistic tone it takes. Rather than adopting the panicked “fight or flight” stance that is echoed so often in relationship to assessment today, these authors reveal why WPAs cannot simply ignore or avoid assessment and how this daunting task can actually be used productively. Thus, it fits nicely into a course design that emphasizes WPAs as change agents.