Plans to more actively enforce the undergraduate writing requirement are moving forward, according to Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron.
Brown's degree requirements call for students to demonstrate competence in writing, but official University policy does not offer concrete avenues for students to do so.
The College Curriculum Council, which Bergeron chairs, has been looking at ways to clarify and strengthen the "implementation" of the writing requirement, CCC members said.
Currently the requirement "has been handled as a kind of deficit model," Bergeron said — the writing requirement is considered fulfilled as long as a student is not flagged for poor writing. But the CCC's goal is to ultimately have students take some tangible step to fulfill the writing expectation, according to CCC member Jason Becker '09.
Bergeron said she felt the writing requirement's enforcement is "inadequate" and that "there's a great desire on the part of the faculty who teach writing at Brown to turn this into a positive benefit."
No structures have yet been officially approved to more strongly enforce the writing expectation, according to Becker. But stronger implementation could mean students will soon be expected to fulfill one of a series of active steps, both Bergeron and Becker said.
Among the ways they identified that students might do so would be to complete a specifically designated writing development course or maintain an electronic portfolio of their college writing.
Extracurricular writing might also fall among the other ways to demonstrate writing proficiency, Bergeron said.
"The expectation was, if you're a good writer, you come to Brown and become a better writer," Bergeron said. "The next phase is to be clear about ways to fulfill this."
As a first step in that process, Becker said, the CCC has been working on drafting a new official statement of the University's writing expectation. Bergeron provided The Herald with a draft of that statement Wednesday.
"As a Brown student, you are expected to work on your writing in your general studies and in your concentration," the draft reads in part. "You may begin to fulfill this expectation by taking at least one course that engages you in the writing process."
"Remember to save examples of your best work each year," the draft statement reads. "This evidence will allow you to demonstrate your abilities, not only to Brown advisors but also to future colleagues and employers."
The draft, recently approved by the CCC, is intended to make clear to students that "this is what we expect you to do, this is the process we want you to engage in, this is what we want you to have at the end," Becker said.
Toward the end, the CCC recently approved a special designation for courses, such as those that participate in the Writing Fellows Program, in which students can expect to receive feedback on their writing and conduct revisions. Those courses will be marked with a "W" in the Course Announcement Bulletin, Bergeron and Becker said.
Becker stressed that there are no plans to require all students to take a "W" course, only a sentiment that they should be one of many ways students can satisfy the writing expectation.
The University also plans to launch an electronic portfolio this summer where students will be encouraged to store their best pieces of writing each year, Bergeron said. The portfolio is intended as a way to track a student's development as a writer over the course of their time at Brown, Becker said.
The portfolio is part of a larger effort to help advisers, deans and students assess their writing improvement. The University is "going to build in some reflective practice" to students' studies, Bergeron said.
In a report issued last fall, the Task Force on Undergraduate Education, which Bergeron chaired and of which Becker was a member, recommended that the University take a "much more coherent approach to its writing requirement." The electronic writing portfolio was one of the Task Force's recommendations, Becker said, as was an independent assessment of Brown's writing programs.
That took place last September, Bergeron said, when the University invited writing specialists from Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to evaluate writing at Brown.
Though for now the work of the CCC has focused mainly on articulating clearer principles, Becker said, "We're going to have in place at some point, some kind of check by somebody that says that a student has worked on their writing here at Brown in a constructive way."
But, he added, "We're very, very apprehensive about limiting the ways that students can do this."
— With additional reporting by Lauren Fedor