Anyone who has ever made an honest effort at writing in college knows that the process can be tough. It involves plenty of reading, researching, critical thinking, writing, rewriting, editing (and typically you also get to enjoy the process in reverse before you’re done, too). But we emphasize writing because it is so vitally important. Written communication is one of those developments that distinguishes humans as unique and that makes increasingly rich, vibrant, and complex society possible. One can rightly expect a technology as powerful as writing to be necessarily difficult.
Given the complexity of composition, we all struggle with it at times, and people confront an array of challenges in first-year composition courses. For some time now in academia, we’ve categorized a number of those students facing such challenges under the somewhat vague umbrella terms of underprepared or at-risk. How students end up in these categories is a different essay altogether (or, really, a very, very long and ongoing argument that stretches within and beyond the bounds of the University). So, this post isn’t about how we got here; it’s about what we’re going to do now.
This post is about how the University of North Georgia is working to transform remediation to accomplish our strategic goal of preparing students for the workforce ahead–for a job market that, by the year 2020, will require some form of postsecondary certification or degree for over 60% of all jobs in Georgia. We don’t want to pretend to be the only ones addressing this issue, but at UNG, we are trying out one particular new initiative: the EASE project.
The EASE project, or more properly, the Embedded Academic Support Experience, is a pilot program on the Oconee Campus that integrates writing tutoring into coursework for an ENGL 1101 class. Students enrolled in this course visit the Oconee Campus Writing Center in pairs to receive two-on-one tutoring sessions on a bi-weekly basis, and a writing tutor also visits the classroom on a monthly basis to provide assistance in that setting, as well. The aim of this project is to incorporate tutoring support services into coursework in such a way as to provide individualized and student-focused instruction and feedback that enhances student performance, engagement, self-efficacy, retention, and progression.
Sounds intense, right? The basic idea is that underprepared students will learn about writing by receiving a lot of instruction on writing, by working often with writing tutors both in and out of the classroom setting, and by generally just writing a lot.
In the past, we’ve tried other models, such as splitting students into READ 0099 or ENGL 0099 depending on their particular needs. More recently, we’ve shifted to a course that synthesizes those reading and writing needs; that course is called ACAE 0099. Certainly, there is still a place for these sorts of courses and efforts to assist our students; however, EASE attempts to do things a bit differently.
By embedding writing tutoring into the coursework of ENGL 1101, we’re providing our at-risk students with more support from the outset. We’re taking a highly proactive approach to providing these students with academic support that will greatly assist them in ENGL 1101 and beyond. So, in a way, EASE is an outreach program that brings tutoring to our students very early in their academic careers. By reaching out to the students, we help them discover how impactful our campus resources and services can be, and they learn to be proactive about seeking out such support now and in the future.
Some other added benefits of EASE are a direct result of the collaborative process that characterizes writing center practice and pedagogy. The small group setting of the regular tutoring sessions helps build and strengthen writing communities, and the members of these communities invariably approach writing topics from the vantage point of their diverse backgrounds and fields of study. This collaborative context immerses students in the thick of the ongoing conversation that is good, academic writing, and through participation, students learn to appreciate the cross-disciplinary nature of academic writing and to subsequently comprehend their worlds more complexly.
So, yes, this will be an intense course, but it will also accelerate the speed at which underprepared college students fulfill Learning Support requirements, it will provide the support those students need throughout their academic careers, it will teach them the importance and impact of collaboration, and it will instill proactive habits of success. The EASE project will combine rigorous expectations and standards with ample feedback and support, and for those students enrolled in EASE, the program will yield dividends throughout their collegiate and professional careers.