As Faculty Senate prepares class audit, a deeper look at what’s in a ‘W’ and ‘O’

Elika Roohi / Sun Star Reporter
March 8, 2011

Before UAF students graduate, they’re required to take two writing-intensive classes and an oral-intensive class. A variety of these classes, dubbed W and O courses, is offered in every major.

The goal is that “anyone who graduates from here is competent in writing and speaking,” said Cathy Cahill, the president-elect of the faculty senate.

The writing-intensive and oral-intensive requirements are supposed to take what students learn in introductory English and communication classes and apply it to higher-level courses. There’s a difference between writing or speaking about literature and writing or speaking about chemistry, Cahill said.

This year, the faculty senate is reviewing the core curriculum, which involves taking a close look at the W and O courses offered on campus. Professors were asked to submit their syllabi in an email at the beginning of the semester.

If their class is selected for further review, the professor of the class in question will be asked to submit samples of students’ work at the beginning and end of the semester to show improvement.

Finding W and O classes is easy, said Rowland Powers, a junior at UAF. “It’s all lined out in my major, and I just sign up for them.”

That’s the idea, Cahill said. Some students might take W or O courses out of their major, but UAF tries to keep them within their major by outlining specific writing- and oral-intensive courses in each degree’s requirements.

“That guarantees that the students will have taken W and O courses in their major,” said Cahill.

W and O courses are supposed to be at or above the 300 level. For instance, Abstract Algebra, taught by John Gimbel, is a writing-intensive class.

“There’s a lot of writing in every class I teach,” Gimbel said. “We’re required to designate a course that’s writing intensive, and it just made sense that it would be this one.”

Abstract Algebra involves the writing up of mathematical proofs.

“A typical homework set would be two or three pages of writing,” Gimbel said, “And there’s usually one set a week.”

There’s also Lighting Design, an oral course that is offered via distance education.

Each student enrolled in the course is required to give two or more 20-minute presentations each. They must record their speech in an mp3 file and send it to Kade Mendelowitz, who teaches the class.

Reviews of W and O courses are done every year, but not every course is reviewed every year.

“That would be impossible,” said Jayne Harvie, the faculty senate coordinator.

During the review process, the Faculty Senate Review Committee assess only the parts of the course that deals with the W or O designations.

For O courses, at least 15 percent of the grade should be based on speaking.

Writing assignments in W courses should be supervised in stages, according to Harvie. There should also be at least one personal conference with a student over the course of a semester, and several drafts of every piece of writing should be turned in and evaluated by teachers or peers.

“I’ll give students feedback and ask them to improve it,” Cahill said. She has taught Instrumental Methods in Physical Chemistry, a W-designated class.

To get a W or O tag for a class, a department has to submit a request. In any given year, there are between two and four requests for the W or O designators, according to Harvie.

After that, the faculty senate core review committee works with the departments to make sure they meet the requirements of a W and O class.

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