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April 18, 2012 Volume 33, No. 28

Faculty share triumphs, challenges of teaching Writing Intensive courses


Applications for fall faculty program are being accepted

On the last Friday of each month, 10 MU faculty members meet at the Conley House to exchange ideas, thoughts, problems and successes related to teaching Writing Intensive (WI) courses. 

New for this semester, the seminar, run by the Campus Writing Program (CWP), is not like other tutorials or retreats the CWP has available for faculty. Only professors who have taught Writing Intensive courses for years attend it. 

Since 1987, every undergraduate degree granted by MU has come with the Writing Intensive requirement, which calls for students to take English 1000 followed by two WI courses. 

The CWP works with the Campus Writing Board to review and approve courses that emphasize writing. Over 170 courses from disciplines across the university are offered each semester. All WI courses use writing as a tool for thinking and learning. One WI course may be taken in any discipline, while the other must be an upper-division WI course within the student’s major. 

The Campus Writing Program works with faculty in developing WI courses and holds regular seminars and tutorial sessions for faculty to better their writing skills.

“These seminars are critical to the long-term viability, momentum and health of Writing Intensive programs at MU,” said participant Glen Heggie, a clinical professor in the School of Health Professions. 

Amy Lannin, director of the Campus Writing Program, explained that many of the programs her department has in place are focused on the development of new faculty members or faculty new to Writing Intensive teaching. By contrast, the seminar for veteran WI teachers offers participants a chance to share their work with like-minded colleagues in a supportive and interactive environment. 

“These faculty don’t want to work in a vacuum,” Lannin said. “They want to share ideas and hear other faculty members’ thoughts on teaching. They want to continue to develop their own teaching.”

In addition to hearing about new practices and teaching methods, the seminar provides an opportunity for participants to share their experiences with faculty who have similar stories.

“It’s a chance to see how others, from a wide range of subjects, use writing in the curriculum,” said seminar participant Wayne Brekhus, an assistant professor of sociology. “You see commonalties across the variety of fields, but there are also differences. To be able to discuss those is very beneficial.”

It is also a chance for faculty to refresh their knowledge of teaching WI courses. 

“Several faculty have projects that they put in place many semesters ago,” said Bonnie Selting, a Campus Writing Program coordinator who designed and initiated the new seminar. “This encourages faculty to find new techniques for utilizing writing in their teaching.”

In the case of Deanna Sharpe, an assistant professor in the personal financial planning department, learning new methods is just part of what she has gained from the seminar.

“Teaching Writing Intensive courses requires much thought and incorporates another way of grading and administration,” she said. “Being able to meet with others committed to using writing in the teaching process is very energizing.”

The participants run the seminar by taking turns giving presentations. At the February gathering, Sharpe led a conversation about teaching Writing Intensive in a large classroom. 

The presentations usually lead to discussions, which can last well beyond the allotted two hours. 

“I think that shows their enthusiasm and that they are finding great value in the seminar,” Selting said.

Seminar participation is by invitation only and a stipend is provided for those who attend. Those two elements add to the uniqueness of the program. Applications are currently being accepted for faculty interested in participating in the seminar next fall.

 If those participants are anything like the current group, they will see this as an opportunity to continue to develop their teaching. They will also find benefit in meeting with other faculty who have experiences to share.

“It’s like the commercials say,” Heggie said, ‘It’s nice to know you’re not alone.’ ”

For more information on the Campus Writing Program, contact Bonnie Selting at

— Josh Murray