A first-year student student at this large state university can find herself in
entry-level classes with some three hundred people, which is why the English department's
twenty-two-student entry-level writing courses can be an academic-career lifesaver. Almost
all UW students enroll in first-year writing classes, where in ten weeks they learn
fundamental critical thinking and writing skills in an interactive environment designed to
prepare them for the rest of their undergraduate careers.
In 1990, the department argued successfully to the Provost's office that first-year students could make even better use of their instructional experience in writing if they were able to take full advantage of learning technologies. The Provost funded the "Entry-level Initiative," and the department appointed a committee of faculty, graduate students, and staff to collaborate on the creation of a facility and pedagogy that would best utilize technology in first-year writing courses.
The group recommended a selective use of technology and an integrative approach; too much technology used in superficial ways, they thought, could result in Computer Science rather than English courses. The result was the conversion of two traditional classrooms into a dual computer-integrated facility, a site where traditional and experimental writing pedagogies merge to create optimum conditions for humanities writing instruction.
The first of the two rooms houses twenty-three networked computers clustered into three-person workstations. These were custom designed and arranged to give instructors and students options to work individually online, in groups with class members gathered around one monitor, or in traditional face-to-face interaction. Students face other students, not walls or rows of computer screens. The room's interior decoration also fosters a productive atmosphere for individual and collaborative work: carpet over linoleum flooring dulls hardware noise; artwork decorates the walls; and large, paned windows allow in fresh air and light. The result is a pleasant and versatile class space quite unlike the clinical environment common to many computer facilities.
The adjacent room is linked electronically to the first classroom through a single, networked PC. This is connected to a multimedia projector, which allows instructors to project for discussion the work students draft in the room next door. This more traditional teaching space is also equipped with a VCR and a camcorder which are used to record group presentations of research designs, further encouraging students and teachers to be aware of the public reception of their private compositions. Students may also use this classroom space to lead class discussion by designing and sharing their own Power Point presentations.
Since 1990, this two-room CIC facility has housed some thirty-six sections of entry-level writing each year, all taught by English graduate student instructors. The instructors have experimented with traditional writing curricula and found innovative uses for the various technologies. They share their findings at local and national conferences, and they frequently publish their results. So the dual design of the classroom symbolizes its dual function: a site of undergraduate writing instruction and a site of graduate teaching research.
In the summer of 2000, the CIC program will move from Denny Hall to Mary Gates Hall. The new CIC facility will allow instructors to conduct online and face-to-face class interaction in adjoining rather than neighboring rooms. The Mary Gates classroom space will enable us to fulfill our commitment to teaching critical writing and thinking by continuing to integrate new technologies with teaching.
If you would like to see the architectural drawings of our new facility in Mary Gates Hall, click here.