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Writing center to open in fall

By Hallie Jordan     3/7/12 6:00pm

Next fall, Rice University will implement a new writing-intensive initiative in which freshmen will be required to take a writing-focused seminar, and Fondren Library will be home to a new Center for Writing, Oral and Visual Communication.

This is the first time in the last 40 years that the graduation requirements will be changing, Associate Vice Provost and program Interim Director Matt Taylor said.

"The message is not that we think Rice students are bad writers, but that communicating is essential to the world beyond Rice," Taylor said.



These two changes are happening under a project known as the Program in Writing and Communication, which was proposed by a working group in the Faculty Senate last November.

The idea for this initiative to promote writing on campus came about after an external study was done on the campus to find out how the university compared with other schools when it came to students' ability to write and communicate well, Working Group Chair Helena Michie said.

Under the new program, all freshmen will have to take a writing-intensive seminar capped at 15 students during their first year. There will be approximately 35 seminars offered each semester on different topics and majors. Students will be assigned at random to take the class either in the fall or spring semester.

Taylor explained that though each seminar will focus on a different topic, with subjects in all fields of study, including science and engineering, the seminars will all have a focus on reading and writing. Students will be required to revise their work.

"All will have a consistency in their demands in terms of writing," Taylor said.

The subject of the seminar will determine which distribution category it will count for. The seminars may also count for major requirements, depending on what each department decides, Taylor said.

"We really want to emphasize that everyone will learn to write and communicate better," Michie, an English professor, said. "And the center should be a resource that everyone can use, including graduate students and faculty."

Freshmen will register for the seminars during Orientation Week one day before registering for the rest of their classes. In order to register for their classes, they must have registered for the seminar, Taylor said. They will not be able to drop the class after the first two weeks of school and can only do so by appealing to the dean through a letter citing an extenuating circumstance.

Students will be able to switch classes during the first two weeks, as long as there is space.

Seminars will be taught by current faculty from any department who are interested, guest lecturers and a few graduate students, Taylor said.

"There will be really interesting classes, so students should be able to find one that they feel they can do well in," Taylor said.

Currently, the only writing requirements the university has are the communication exam taken in the summer before O-Week and the COMM 100 or COMM 103 classes mandated for students who do not pass the summer exam.

These communication classes will no longer exist after the fall of 2012, Taylor said. Students who still need to fill this requirement for graduation must take their communication classes either this summer or next fall.

The summer exam requirement will still exist, Taylor said. However, it will instead be used to determine which students need extra help, such as non-native English speakers. These students will take a class that will be similar to the current COMM 100 class in the fall and then the mandated freshman writing seminar in the spring.

Aside from freshman seminar classes, a physical Center for Written, Oral and Visual Communication will be installed in the library.

The current second-floor study area will be glassed in to house the center, which will have one director, two assistant directors and 40 undergraduate and graduate student writing tutors.

"This is a big commitment," Taylor said. "We are building a reserve for the university."

He added that the university wants to make the writing center cutting-edge by employing a team with experience in writing pedagogy, technology and ESL tutoring.

Aside from writing, the center will focus on having resources to help with presentation technology such as Prezi or Powerpoint.

The budget for the library renovations is $400,000 to $500,000, according to Taylor.

"We want the space to be accessible and dynamic," Taylor said. "I think our overall goal is to build a culture of writing and communication on campus."



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