Revised Upper-Level Writing Requirement Guidelines Approved

In October 2014, the LSA Curriculum Committee approved updated guidelines for the Upper-Level Writing Requirement (ULWR), the second writing course required of all LSA undergraduates, and generally taken in the major. Sweetland oversees the Upper-Level Writing Requirement, and approves the courses that fulfill it. The previous guidelines described the ULWR as designed “to help LSA students recognize and master the writing conventions of their chosen discipline, so that, upon graduation, they are able to understand and communicate effectively the central concepts, approaches, and materials of their discipline.” The Curriculum Committee approval marked the final step in a process that began with Sweetland’s review of the ULWR program, initiated in 2010 at the request of then-Dean of LSA, Terence McDonald.

The review study drew on institutional data about the departments and instructors offering ULWR courses, and students’ patterns of fulfilling the ULWR, as well as survey data from 1703 undergraduates and 252 faculty and GSIs who took and taught these courses, reporting their experiences with the ULWR—including students’ rationale for their course choice, the kinds of writing and number of pages written, whether or not courses included new media writing, and open-ended questions about what it means to “write like a member of the discipline.” Based on responses to the surveys, Sweetland conducted interviews and focus groups with students, GSIs, and faculty, which were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed. Additionally, a subset of ULWR syllabi dating back to 1978 were analyzed to learn more about the amount and type of writing assigned in ULWR courses.

Among the more salient findings from the study were that a significant percentage of students fulfill the ULWR outside the major, for a range of reasons, many of them pedagogically driven; many faculty do not feel that it is appropriate for undergraduates to learn to write like academic experts in the given discipline, since only a small number of them will pursue graduate degrees in the field; and relatively few ULWR courses use digital media, which is rapidly growing in importance as a mode of writing in many fields and professions. Accordingly, the revised guidelines affirm that the ULWR may be completed outside the major; allow more flexibility about disciplinary conventions; and include specific reference to new media. They also strengthen the affirmation of the ULWR commitment to sequenced assignments, feedback, and revision as core components of an advanced writing curriculum. The full, revised ULWR Guidelines may be found on our website.

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