Program Creation and Curricular Design

These core categories of WPA labor, as "Evaluating the Intellectual Work" explains, overlap significantly:

  • Program creation involves "activities that reconceive the philosophy, goals, purposes, and institutional definition" of a writing program, with emphasis on significant development or revision;
  • Curricular design is defined as "the overall articulation of the administrative unit [reflective of a] coherent and explicit philosophy" (CWPA).

In other words, creating (or recreating) a program establishes its core mission while designing (or redesigning) a curriculum implements that mission, a distinction that is rarely clear. For that reason, I combine these categories here in order to reflect the interplay of philosophy and practice demonstrated in the scholarship.

This broad area of WPA work is where student participation is most often referenced, in accounts of how programs are established, reviewed, and revised to serve student learning and institutional needs. Throughout these processes, students are invited to reflect on and respond to various aspects of a writing program; their feedback is then analyzed and employed by administrators for the purposes of program development.

Students provide feedback on new initiatives

Student participation is most often solicited during periods of significant change.

Efforts to elicit student input are most often referenced during narratives of significant programmatic change (Chase; Gradin), adoptions of new curricula (Adler-Kassner and Estrem; Carter-Tod; Chase; Lynch and Wysocki), or particular course experiments (Paretti, et al.).

In several cases, a pilot course or project relied on—and was revised based upon—students' contributions gathered through surveys, focus groups, and/or interviews (Blakely and Pagnac; Glau; Grego and Thompson; Marzluf; Royer, et al.). In other instances, students participated in planning and testing curricular spaces like computer classrooms (Takayoshi and Huot) and studio facilities (Gresham and Yancey). On the whole, these accounts follow a standard pattern of design, research, and revision.

Students may prompt program self-evaluation through resistance and deliberative dialogue.

A rather more complicated narrative appears in Paul Butler's "Composition as Countermonument: Toward a New Space in Writing Classrooms and Curricula." Drawing upon James Young’s concept of countermonument as a site of both resistance and recreation, Butler recounts a particularly fraught process of curricular revision that overlapped with an institutional prioritization of diversity. During this time, program-sponsored diversity forums and events highlighted campus tensions in general and particularly in relation to the new writing curriculum:

Perhaps unwittingly, with its traditional structure (the monument) in place, the writing program at Syracuse put itself in flux by inviting the kind of dialogic participation necessary to allow change (the countermonument) to emerge from the bottom up. This countermonument was created in part through the forums in which students as well as other participants became the authors of ideas and, at least on an advisory level, of program- and university-wide policies. (Butler 15)

Although the specific events were of a limited duration, their influence on the program's culture and resulting classroom practice was significant and lasting. Reflecting on this experience, Butler advocates for a "new hybridity" in which programs may be strengthened by surrendering—however partially or temporarily—authority to students (22). In this case, of course, the surrender of control was not completely voluntary; circumstances conspired to open the writing program to critique. Nevertheless, Butler makes a compelling case for the generative potential of open dialogue among students and administrators, especially during times of change or conflict.

Students evaluate curricular design

Student responses, both formal and informal, are regularly used to evaluate curricular design.

Curricular effectiveness is regularly addressed through commentary provided in end-of-semester questionnaires and reflective statements on major assignments or portfolios, as well as through the more conventional course evaluations discussed on the next page.

Less formal, anecdotal evidence may reveal curricular weaknesses, as when problems were detected through "student-to-student hallway comments overheard in passing" (Dew 92) or within faculty-student conversations (Lynch and Wysocki; Rodgers Comfort, et al.).

As Bradley Peters recalls, his early explorations as a new WPA led to a "revelation" (much like mine) that student informants were sometimes more helpful than potential campus partners in that "undergraduates—freshmen and sophomores especially—provided some of the most thoughtful critiques of the program as they responded to questions I posed to them in the sections of composition that I taught" (125). In this way, everyday interactions among WPAs, faculty, and students seem to frequently if indirectly shape processes of program creation and curricular design.

Students could participate in program governance

WPAs acknowledge that greater student participation would be worthwhile—and challenging.

Despite the clear value placed on student feedback for programmatic development, the scholarship examined in this study contains no examples of formal student involvement in program-level decision making. In addition to Butler's challenge, two articles recommended (in passing) greater inclusion of students in program governance.

Jay Carson, reflecting on the endurance of a WAC program, suggests inviting students who have taken relevant courses to serve on advisory committees. More generally, Susanmarie Harrington, Steve Fox, and Tere Molinder Hogue advised that WPAs "should find more ways to engage the various stakeholders [including students] in our writing program in the conversation that sustains us, and we must seek out the key disagreements that will provide the momentum for forward growth" (62). Such an expectation of dissent, along with possible rewards of engagement, is a common subtext in discussions of student participation within this high-stakes category of WPA work.