Foundational Writing Skills Initiative
Foundational Writing Skills Initiative
The Foundational Writing Skills Initiative builds on a long history of pedagogical approaches to the improvement of undergraduate writing skills at UTM. The Writing Development Initiative, funded by the Office of the Dean, UTM, and administered by the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre (RGASC), has been a successful program for the improvement of writing in specific courses and disciplines, and will continue to function, especially for upper-level and discipline-specific writing. There has been widespread recognition for a more targeted and universal approach by writing experts, however, and this has culminated in the Foundational Writing Skills Initiative described below, which we are offering for the first time in Fall 2020.
What is it?
This initiative is offers a general first-year course on developing writing skills, taught by specialists in the topic, which will eventually be offered to all first-year students at UTM. This course is now being offered regularly and is being taught by the first five faculty members for the initiative, who were hired with a start date of July 1, 2020. These faculty members along with the RGASC make up UTM’s newest academic unit, the Institute for the Study of University Pedagogy (ISUP). Three departments have volunteered to add the course as a requirement for entry into their Specialist and Major degree programs in this first year. The initiative will continue to roll out over the next five years, growing to twenty-five continuing, full-time faculty members.
The course, Writing About Writing, is a 100-level, one-semester, 0.5-credit course offered every term with many sections, capped at 25-30 students per section. In the first week of each term, all students will take a very basic English writing assessment; the great majority are expected to pass at various levels and will continue the course with instruction on improving their writing regardless of their starting level. Students whose English writing skills are at a very low level and who cannot pass the assessment will be transferred into a 10-week, 0-credit course: Basics of Writing in English (BoWiE), which will instruct them in these skills. Students completing BoWiE will then be given the opportunity to enroll in Writing About Writing in the following term, and are expected to this time pass the first-week assessment and successfully complete the course. BoWiE was piloted in Fall 2019 as a Co-Curricular Credit offering for a select group of ELL (English Language Learner) students.
Who is involved?
ISUP is the ground-breaking academic unit responsible for delivering this initiative (https://www.utm.utoronto.ca/isup/welcome).The Department of Visual Studies (all Majors and Specialists), the Department of Anthropology (Majors and Specialists for both the BA and the BSc streams), and the Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences (Majors and Specialists in the Earth Sciences and Physics streams, but not yet Chemistry) are piloting this initiative in 2020-21. Further departments plan to join this initiative in 2021 as more faculty are hired and more sections can be taught.
History of Development
Professor Amrita Daniere, Vice-Principal Academic and Dean, constituted the Foundational Writing Skills Working Group (FWSWG) in December 2017. The FWSWG discussed the development of foundational writing skills relevant to students in all disciplines at UTM, but also expressed a need to develop more advanced, discipline-specific writing skills throughout the curriculum. Following an investigation of comparative models implemented in Canada and internationally, the FWSWG concluded that UTM should develop and offer a first-year foundational writing course, which would be followed up by discipline-specific pathways through existing upper-year courses.
The FWSWG's report was presented to the Chairs and Directors in September 2018. It was then brought to open town halls to gather feedback from faculty and staff in October 2018. We provide here the most recent version of the report with recommendations and its appendices (A) (B), current as of April 25, 2019. Based on these recommendations, the implementation plan presented here was developed in the summer and fall of 2019, in concert with the development of the new institute that will house this program and associated faculty, along with other UTM faculty and programs focused on the study of university pedagogy.