January 17, 2003
New approach to composition courses piloted this spring
by Linda Charles
A pilot unit in three sections of English 105 this semester will be the
first real step toward revising first-year composition courses. It's part of
a plan, known as ISUComm, to improve student communication skills.
ISUComm planners hope that eventually students will work on their
communication skills not only in the foundation courses, but throughout
their entire university careers. Already, a few departments are working with
ISUComm consultants to revise upper-level courses to include more
Students lack communication skills
ISUComm is a response to widespread faculty and employer concerns about the
communication skills of Iowa State students. Under the proposed plan, the
basic writing courses English 104 and 105 gradually would be replaced by
courses tentatively titled UComm (for "University Communication") 112 and
212, said Michael Mendelson, English, and chair of the ISUComm steering
committee (an ad hoc extension of the Faculty Senate).
"The new courses will retain their primary focus on developing college-level
writing and critical thinking abilities," Mendelson said, "but they also
will involve some visual, oral and electronic communication activities as
complements to the central focus on writing.
"Also new to the courses will be an emphasis on specific civic and cultural
themes and a learning community-like format," he added.
Special units planned for spring
"Iowa State's learning communities program will be supported by these
changes in the composition courses, and ISUComm will expand an already large
involvement of campus courses with the learning communities," said David
Russell, English, who is coordinating efforts to revise English 104/5.
"This semester, we're piloting a two- to three-week unit that will integrate
WOVE (written, oral, visual and electronic) learning activities in three
sections of English 105," he said.
About 75 students will participate in the pilot unit, he added. An
evaluation team will observe and interview students, then compare their
papers to work done in a standard section of English 105.
The plan is to substitute pilot UComm 112 classes for four or five sections
of English 104 next fall, and UComm 212 classes for a similar number of
English 105 classes during spring semester 2004, Russell said. Eventually,
UComm 212 will become a sophomore-level course, making the foundation
courses a two-year sequence.
In time, ISUComm principles could be integrated into upper-level courses,
Departments will determine what changes should be made to their curricula.
"ISUComm assumes that faculty in the individual departments best understand
the communication skills required of their students," Mendelson noted.
At present, seven faculty (from English, Greenlee School of Journalism and
Communication, and art and design) have begun working with departments that
wish to integrate more communication experiences into courses.
English faculty help with the written component, Greenlee School faculty
look at the oral experience and art and design faculty concentrate on the
visual aspect of the class, said Denise Vrchota, Greenlee School, who is
coordinating the consultant efforts.
The departments of materials science and engineering, accounting, mechanical
engineering, and human development and family studies currently are working
with the consultants.
Each department decides what courses the consultants should review. In the
case of accounting, consultants are evaluating the entire curriculum, while
materials science and engineering requested help for a core of eight
classes, Vrchota said.
Dorothy Winsor, English, has suggested several ways to improve written
communication in materials science and engineering lab reports. If accepted
by the department, they could be implemented this spring. Art and design
faculty are preparing a Web site with suggestions on how materials science
and engineering students can use PowerPoint in their classes. The Web site
will be put into action in specific courses as soon as it is completed,
On the horizon for ISUComm may be electronic portfolios. The ePortfolios
would consist of a Web site where students would display their best work.
"At present, ISUComm is considering the use of ePortfolios only in the
foundation courses," Mendelson said. "Decisions about continuing their use
in upper division courses will be made by the departments."
There is much to do before ISUComm can be fully instituted. The ISUComm
steering committee currently is conducting discussions about the proposed
new curriculum with all college curriculum committees, Mendelson said.
The Faculty Senate, which adopted the "Basic Principles of ISUComm" in 2001,
will deliberate on more specific features of the proposed curriculum in
March. A vote may come in April.
At that point, Mendelson said, "Students at Iowa State may be able to take
advantage of one of the most innovative communication curricula in the
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Published by: University Relations,
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