Reshaping Institutional Mission: OWI and Writing Program Administration

Reshaping Institutional Mission: OWI and Writing Program Administration

Jacob Babb (Indiana University Southeast, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1718-4.ch013
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Abstract

This chapter examines the relationship between online writing instruction (OWI) and the material and pedagogical impacts of OWI on institutions and their missions, using the author's regional campus to illustrate those impacts. First, the chapter explores the institutional mission and context of the author's institution, exploring how OWI works with and against the university's mission and how the growth of online instruction reshapes that mission. Second, the chapter asserts the need for professional development by exploring campus-wide resources for instructor training and then by detailing the writing program's efforts to provide discipline-specific training that emphasizes pedagogy and collaboration. Finally, the chapter asserts that writing program administrators are uniquely situated stakeholders on their campuses who can make a significant impact on the implementation and ongoing development of OWI on their campuses.
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Introduction

In 2014, Indiana University Southeast, a regional commuter campus in the greater Louisville metropolitan area, installed a new chancellor who has taken the helm at a moment when the university faces declines in all the numbers that are crucial for the ongoing vitality of the institution: enrollment, revenues from tuition, and state appropriations. In his Installation Address in December 2014, Chancellor Ray Wallace asserted: “We will need to change our philosophy about how we serve our students. We will have to become more customer savvy about how and when we educate.” In his description of the kinds of philosophical changes the campus would need to make, the incoming chancellor noted that “hybrid classes and totally digital classes, programs and degrees must be the order of the day. We will need to bring our programs to the students who want them, whether digitally or face to face.” Demonstrating that moving toward online courses, whether in hybrid or fully online forms, has indeed become the “order of the day,” Chancellor Wallace informed faculty and staff during his 2015 State of the Campus that our campus has seen a 455% increase in online student credit hours since 2012, in contrast to the university system’s overall increase of 85%.

In a symposium on MOOCs published in College Composition and Communication, Jeff Rice (2013) writes, “Despite the persistent critiques, distance learning still hasn’t destroyed face-to-face interaction or education. It has been with us for some time” (p. 697). Similarly, Courtney Adams Wooten (2013) argues, “Correspondence study has often been overlooked as a precursor to online distance education” (p. 40). Jason Allen Snart (2010) asserts that distance education has always been tied to advances in technology, “including the development of first the postal system, then radio and later video communications, and now the Internet” (p. 59). These reminders that MOOCs and other forms of online education are in many ways a continuation of distance education rather than an entirely new phenomenon are an important counterpoint to consider in light of the steep increase of online course offerings at my institution and at other institutions globally.

However, even as online education functions within the broader historical context of distance education, as a writing program administrator (WPA), I see significant philosophical, logistical, and material challenges in such a significant shift from face-to-face (f2f) instruction to online instruction for my campus. In this chapter, I examine the relationship between online writing instruction (OWI) and the material and pedagogical impacts of OWI on a regional campus, asserting that as WPA, it is my responsibility to direct the increased implementation of OWI with an eye toward maintaining sustainable labor practices for faculty, especially the many part-time instructors who teach the majority of our writing courses, and toward meeting the specific needs of our student population. First, I examine the institutional mission of IU Southeast, exploring how OWI works with and against our mission and how the growth of online instruction reshapes our mission. Second, I move from mission to professional development by exploring campus-wide resources for instructor training and then by detailing the writing program’s efforts to provide discipline-specific training that emphasizes pedagogy and collaboration. Finally, I assert that WPAs are uniquely situated stakeholders on their campuses who can make a significant impact on the implementation and ongoing development of OWI on their campuses.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Institutional Mission: An institution’s mission is a broad, public statement about what a particular institution values and how those values shape the goals, purposes, and actions of that institution. I interpret mission statements as predominantly descriptive statements, but mission statements may also take on prescriptive roles when they inform the shape and direction of new initiatives and programs. Ultimately, mission statements are living documents, open to interpretation and revision as institutions evolve and change.

Exploitation: Significant economic disparities exist in higher education among different classifications of instructors. Full-time instructors, especially those who are tenure-stream, typically have greater access to institutional resources (office space, technology, and professional development) and receive more financial compensation for their labor, while part-time, contingent instructors often have very little access to those institutional resources and are usually paid on a course-by-course basis from one term to the next. Because contingent instructors have less access to resources and compensation, the possibility that they will be exploited as workers is high, especially as national trends in higher education show that rough 70% of instructors are contingent.

Connectivity: The term connectivity, in the context of this chapter, refers both to an institution’s desires and efforts to connect with local and regional communities as well as to instructors’ and students’ abilities to access online education.

Professional Development: Throughout this chapter, I employ the term professional development to indicate formal (and to some extent informal) access to further training in pedagogy and technology for faculty members. Formal access is provided through workshops, training cohorts, and facilitated discussion groups. Informal access is provided through one-on-one consultation between instructors and WPAs, instructional design experts, or even other instructors.

Digital Divide: This term refers to socioeconomic disparities between regions and demographic groups and their ability to use modern technology to connect with others. In this chapter, I focus on the digital divide that exists among students who may wish to access online education as well as the divide formed by the resources made available to different kinds of instructors.

Writing Program Administration: In writing studies, a person who directs a writing program can be referred generically as a writing program administrator, or WPA. This term includes a number of roles, including director of first-year writing, writing center director, or writing across the curriculum director. Writing program administration comprises a significant area of inquiry within writing studies, with numerous conferences, journals, edited collections, and books dedicated to its study. In this chapter, I tend to use the term WPA to refer to someone who administers writing courses, although it is noteworthy that many kinds of WPAs, especially writing center directors, have worked for many years to adjust their practices and philosophies as they work with students in online environments.

Instructors: Throughout this chapter, I refer to those who teach as either instructors or faculty members. While I use the terms interchangeably, faculty members may refer more specifically to instructors who are full-time employees at institutions, while the broader term instructors includes both full-time and part-time employees.

Part-Time Instructors: I have elected to stick with the term part-time instructor in this chapter because the language of contingency varies at different institutions and in different regions. Institutions with unions may distinguish between instructors who are union or non-union. Other institutions may distinguish between types of faculty with terms such as affiliate faculty or associate faculty. My institution uses the term adjunct to mean any instructor who teaches part-time. These instructors have significantly less access to university resources than full-time faculty, who may be tenure-track or non-tenure-track.

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