First Year Writing course adopted

New year, new core curriculum. This fall, the University of San Diego introduced an updated core curriculum for first-year students. The new core curriculum requires fewer classes to graduate than the previous core.

Within the new core is the “Written Communication” requirement, which features a new course that all first-years must take: First Year Writing (FYW). FYW replaced ENGL 121, Composition and Literature. While some believe the new class and curriculum will improve overall writing and reading comprehension, others like first-year Amelia Smith deem it unnecessary.

“There doesn’t seem to be a true purpose to the class,” Smith said.

The USD Fall 2017 core curriculum outlines the learning outcomes for students in this new  course. As stated on USD’s website, the outcomes include “writing effectively in multiple discourses by distinguishing and responding to rhetorical contexts,” and “writing clearly and fluently, with few errors in syntax and grammar.”

Hugo Werstler, Executive Assistant of the Writing Program, explained that when the college decided to revamp the core curriculum, they did so with the goal of helping incoming students to be more well-rounded.

“Looking into [the new core], we saw a definite need to implement stronger writing courses,” Werstler said. “We wanted freshmen to come out of their freshmen year with a better understanding of how to write.”

According to Werstler, to help accomplish these goals, professors have control over the content in their FYW class.

“They can choose what they want the students to study,.[Learning outcomes are] very much dependent on what the faculty is trying to get the student to get out of the class, while at the same time implementing this new curriculum for FYW,” Werstler said.

Amanda Moulder, Writing Program Director and assistant professor in the Department of English, shared that all professors teaching the course have gone through a workshop.

“[The workshop is] to get them to think deeply about the learning outcomes and changes to the course,” Moulder said.

She added that a big aspect of changing the core was the ability for professors who don’t work in the English department to teach FYW.

“[The core change] opened the course up so that they could get taught by people in different disciplines,” Moulder said. This course is still located in the English department, but other people can apply to and get trained to teach it if they want to.”

Each class is meant to have a focus. Amelia Smith’s class focuses on relations between the U.S.- Mexico border.

“I like the topic we’re discussing, being from the Midwest,” Smith said. “I’m from Kansas City, Missouri and it’s very interesting to see how immigration affects San Diego and specifically Tijuana.”

The purpose for having various focuses is to expand students’ minds in terms of what they think of as ‘good writing.’ Moulder believes this skill will be imperative for first-years as they transition into their upper-division courses.

“Students will compare enough different discourses to come away with the concept that good writing varies based on context and rhetorical situations,” Moulder said. “Students come in thinking that there’s one way to write well. And there’s nothing further from the truth. So what transfers out is a deep knowledge of how different discourses of writing vary based on different disciplines, different discourses, different genres.”

Along with the varying themes in the FYW classes, students also read various types of literature. Smith’s class, focused on border relationships, engages with a lot of articles on current events, specifically about President Obama and President Trump and their roles in the national discourse.

In class, Skalecki has been reading poems by Emily Dickinson, essays by Montaigne, and the opera Tales of Hoffmann and Bradeen will read two novels during the semester. It seems as if every FYW class varies not only in theme, but in structure as well.

Werstler explained why there are so many different types of literature taught in FYW. “What these courses are meant to do is give [first years] confidence to understand that writing isn’t so narrow-minded,” Werstler said. “If you look at the types of writing that you see in different majors, such as in our science-based majors, you see scientific writing, with abstracts, followed by large amounts of resources. The possibility is that students can leave these courses with the understanding that these types of writings exist.”

The USD writing website claims that FYW’s “learning outcomes acknowledge that ideas, evidence, research methods, organization, and style vary depending on writing context, and that it is important to teach this by developing students’ discursive awareness.”

While the writing program promotes different contexts from class to class in the course, some students, including first-year Tessa Bradeen, are unhappy with their lack of input regarding which class they were placed into.

“I wish we were able to choose between each class, and to choose what we were doing,” Bradeen said.

She also said she believes the FYW course is not entirely necessary for all first-years.

“I think it’s important that everyone has a basis in writing,” Bradeen said. “But I think if people prove that they already have a good idea of writing, then they probably shouldn’t have to take it.”

And while Amelia Smith finds the course content interesting, she believes it is not actually accomplishing the goal of improving writing skills.

“I think FYW is making me a worse writer,” she said. “The professor thinks we’re stupid and goes over the same thing over and over. He’ll make it so elementary so I’m losing all skills in complex writing and going back to the basics.”

FYW seems to have both positive and negative aspects. The FYW course will likely begin to shape into one that has a clearer purpose and learning outcomes that are understood by faculty and students throughout the community.

As for now, both first-years and professors are working together to unravel the mysterious First Year Writing in order for it to grow into a beneficial course within USD’s core curriculum.

Celina Tebor | Feature Editor | The USD Vista