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Program in Writing and Communications launches two initiatives

By Brooke Bullock     8/30/12 7:00pm


The inaugural First-Year Writing Intensive Seminars are required for graduation for the class of 2016 and future classes. Incoming students are placed in either a FWIS 100 section or a FWIS subject course based on their score on the composition exam, instead of placing in or out of the Communications 103 course of years past. 

The change came after a committee conducting a study on Rice communication courses reported that more could be done, according to Associate Dean of Undergraduates Matt Taylor. 

The new initiative will be geared toward improving not only writing, but also oral and visual communication skills, which are important to 21st-century communication and education, Taylor said. Communications staff and some communications courses were integrated into the Program in Writing and Communications, Taylor said. 

Students who scored a "not satisfactory" on the composition exam were required to enroll in FWIS 100, a course intended to serve students with problems with sentence structure or students for whom English is a second language, Taylor said. Seventy students are currently enrolled in one of the 15-student FWIS 100 sections. 

Students who received a "satisfactory" score on the composition exam could choose from a variety of FWIS classes capped at 15 students and taught by faculty members from a wide range of disciplines, Taylor said. 

English professor and Faculty Director of the PWC Terrence Doody helped recruit and train professors to teach FWIS courses. 

Faculty members proposed their own FWIS courses, which were then reviewed by Taylor and himself, Doody said. 

"The range of courses proposed is really something else," Doody said. "That will make this more than just, 'Oh God, freshman English.' It will be an introduction for a lot of students to things that they would never have thought of as part of their education."

According to Doody, current professors include professor of biochemistry and cell biology Kate Beckingham and professor of physics Brian Padley teaching The Body Against Itself: Autoimmune Disease and Diagnosis and Current Event Physics, respectively. 

"We have faculty from physics, sociology, cell biology, and many other majors who are teaching writing courses at the FWIS level and hope that the word spreads throughout the faculty," Doody said. "If this is going to work, we are going to have to have many more people like them from departments outside English, history and philosophy that always teach writing," 

According to Doody, faculty were required to attend workshops over the summer directed by him to prepare for teaching the FWIS courses. The workshops were especially helpful for younger faculty and faculty who had never taught a writing-centered course before, he said. 

Taylor said there were several guidelines to help plan a writing-intensive course set out by a faculty committee that reviewed the Rice communications program. Writing assignments throughout the entire semester, assignments carefully integrated with course readings, required rewrites, one on one time with professors to discuss critiques, class time spent discussing the process of writing, and at least one oral presentation were the general guidelines set out for faculty members, Taylor said. 

Jones College freshman Adeene Denton said she was glad to see oral communication included in her course syllabus. 

"I didn't realize they make us do oral presentations, which is cool because I already communicate better in writing," Denton said. 

Wiess College freshman Jinal Mehta said the quantity of writing involved in the FWIS classes will help her improve. 

"It's different [from] what I ever had in high school," Mehta said. "There are different kinds of writing assignments."

According to Taylor, the FWIS courses will also provide all first-year students with a seminar-style course in hopes of creating student-professor connections and encouraging students to be active in their own education. A small class size experience will help maintain the feeling of a small school, Taylor said. 

One of the major concerns Taylor had going forward with the FWIS system was whether or not students would be able to register for their first- or second-choice courses. The freshman class was split into two semesters, with a group of 550 required to take a FWIS course in the fall and the other approximately 430 registering in the spring, Taylor said. Forty-two FWIS courses were offered for the fall semester, meaning a total of 630 spots were available. A second session of a FWIS course on the Civil War had no enrollment and was dropped, while 23 sections are fully enrolled and another 10 have 12 to 14 seats full, Taylor said. Despite the extra seats, Taylor said he wants to poll students to see whether they received their first- or second-choice FWIS. 

Denton said she was able to register for her first-choice FWIS course, "Graphic Novels and the Art of Communication."

"If I get to read about Wonder Woman, I'm in," Denton said. 

Taylor said he and the faculty will continue to tweak the FWIS system throughout this year and for future years. 

"This is a pilot year," Taylor said. "We will be constantly looking for feedback."

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