Reading and Writing Conference Brings Interdisciplinary Faculty Together for Professional Development

More than 110 faculty members from disciplines in music, math, science, humanities and the New Student Experience — just to name a few — all joined together on West Campus on Saturday, September 23, 2017, at the Valencia Reading and Writing Conference for interdisciplinary discussions and professional development on encouraging reading and writing across curricula.

Feature keynote speaker Mike Palmquist, associate provost and professor of English at Colorado State University, kicked off the half-day event on “Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and Critical Thinking: Enhancing Student Learning Through Writing.” He explained that incorporating writing in all curricula can help students learn, improve their communication skills and prepare for careers by:

  • Challenging students: When a course is challenging, students are often more successful as it encourages critical thinking
  • Engaging students: Writing encourages students to spend more time on the subject being taught, to learn course concepts and to apply what they learned
  • Supporting interaction: Through peer review and discussion forums on writing, students are forced to interact
  • Providing feedback: Writing assignments allow professors to determine if students are learning the course concepts, beyond just in a mid-term and final exam

“Prior to attending this conference, I deliberately avoided discussions around Writing Across Curriculum (WAC),” shared attendee Benjamin Ohwovoriole, professor, English. “Surprisingly, at this conference, I discovered that WAC espouses what I believe in and what I teach my students that writing does: writing helps people to learn, to engage with information, to improve communication and to prepare people for career and civic life.”

He added, “The reason I had considered the idea of WAC as irrelevant to my current teaching praxis, previously, is because the concept had always come across to me as a practice that privileges skills necessary for interdisciplinary scholarship which, in my view, is mostly important for graduate studies, unlike the freshman classes that I currently teach. The discussion today, however, made me to understand that I have misconstrued the notion all along. Whereas today’s discussions made me realize that I have been using WAC ideas in my composition classes unknowingly, moving forward, I am set to embrace WAC and the ideas it teaches without any reservations. I can always gain more knowledge in the service of my academic community.”

Following the keynote, faculty had the choice to attend two of 10 breakout sessions, such as “Creating Gamified Experiences in the Classroom,” taught by Richard Thomas, professor, English. Richard’s session covered gamification techniques that teachers can implement in the classroom, such as leaderboards, stories, badges, experience points and avatars.

This session was a favorite for Eileen Bobeck, adjunct professor, humanities, who also teaches high school classes for Florida Virtual School. She explained that Richard uses gamification to allow students to earn quality points, so they can trade them in for deadline extensions later. “Many students will ask for an extension on their work, and I try to be flexible,” Eileen explained. “By encouraging students to do activities, such as gamification, it not only engages them, but they see value as they can turn the points in for a late pass. It makes them accountable.” She added that it also allows her to connect to a generation of gamers.

The conference concluded with a second keynote by Joanna Burkhardt, professor and university library head at the University of Rhode Island, on “Teaching College-Level Writers Essential Values and Concepts for Information Literacy.” She explained the importance of information literacy, especially in a time of information overload and bias news. Information literacy, she explained, includes how to find and select information, determine the validity, reliability and accuracy of information, and apply selected information to a problem.

Like with the first keynote, Benjamin Ohwovoriole was inspired by the presentation, especially when it came to the recommendation to not limit students’ research just to academic resources. He compared research today to the “Wild, Wild, West” for the internet’s vast and often unreliable resources.

“The second keynote address … stripped me of the apathy I have for the ‘Wild Wild West’ as a scholar,” he said. “I must confess that I am one of those professors who make it a point of duty advising students-as-scholars to limit their research activities to quality-controlled, academic databases and journals. However, today’s presentation on information literacy has softened my stance on the internet. Although I will still preach caution, I will encourage my student-scholars to explore the internet generally in search of contemporary information that should aid their preliminary research… In spite of this, the crux of their academic arguments will always be informed by scholarly conversations.”

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