SF State to jettison JEPET
February 25, 2009 7:21 PM
As SF State students switch from the JEPET to the Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement-approved courses, a longer transition time and fear of tutoring resource limits may shake things up a bit.
In 2007, the Academic Senate voted to replace the often criticized JEPET with a writing-intensive course within a student's major. This semester marks the beginning of that switch with GWAR courses underway, covering a range of classes from philosophy and health education to broadcasting and math.
So far, according to Mary Soliday, program coordinator for Writing Across the Curriculum and Writing in the Disciplines, things are running smoothly, if not quite according to plan.
Soliday said the current semester has four GWAR courses and one pilot course. Next semester will bring three more. As WAC/WID coordinator, Soliday is helping SF State transition into a WAC frame of mind.
This means recognizing that writing promotes student learning in acute ways, and that practicing within one's discipline (WID) furthers a deeper understanding of what is being taught.
SF State's new criteria include a variety of writing assignments totaling 15 pages with multiple opportunities offered to students to revise their writing.
"This is really a national movement," said Soliday of the university's remodeling. She is currently working on a Web site that will help faculty and staff modify or create new courses satisfying the new GWAR requirements.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," she said of SF State and other universities like George Mason University, University of Richmond and Louisiana State University, all of which have modified their courses in ways similar to what SF State is doing.
Soliday felt it was obviously going to take much longer that the original two-year time frame to implement the new writing requirements, "It takes 10 years to start a healthy WAC program, and this is so much more than that," she said.
The Academic Senate has realized this as well. At their Executive Committee meeting on Feb. 10, they discussed the financial implications of the transition taking up to five years to implement. The issue has been sent to committee.
But Soliday isn't too worried about straining the university's already overtaxed resources. "We have to be careful and we have to be deliberate," she said, adding that most of the GWAR courses will be modified existing courses therefore the financial impact will be minimal.
Eric Hayashi is one of two professors currently teaching the pilot math course, Math 301: Exploration and Proof. "It's essentially the same course," he said. "Students still have to read and write in a serious way using words and logic." The only major change he could think of was a new term paper at the end of the class.
Hayashi believes that revision, a GWAR requirement, is a key part of a writing-intensive math course. "It's the only way students can cope with this more focused use of language," he added.
Hayashi's main concern is the class's already high failure rate. "Traditionally," he said, "60 percent of those students [the ones that remained after the census date] pass. 20 percent received Ws and 20 percent failed the course. This is where many students meet their limit."
It is early in the semester, but students in Professor David Meredith's Math 301 class didn't seem too worried about the slight changes to the syllabus. Most were just anxious to learn what they recognized as a new language.
"The JEPET is just an essay," said Alison Maine, a 20-year-old math major. "When you're writing a math paper it's fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It's completely different."
Maine took and passed the JEPET. Now she is taking Math 301 as a required course.
"I was ecstatic," he said. "I'm killing two birds with one stone."
The campus Learning Assistance Center (LAC) and the Campus Academic Resource Programs have augmented tutoring for Math 301, but Professor Hayashi is concerned that it may not be enough.
"This is one to two hours a week for five to 10 risky students, and it's in a group format," he said, adding that the tutoring centers will need more resources to cover the kinds of things the new GWAR criteria expects them to cover.
Deborah VanDommelen, Director of the LAC, wrote in an email that the new shift will allow the center to develop their WID approach using new models that pair tutors with entire classes, use focused group tutoring, and have peer review and small individualized group sessions.
She said the center has "received the funding necessary to meet the demand, but with the current budget situation we can't say what the future may hold."
She added that "the longer transition time will give us more time to develop programs that respond effectively to GWAR classes and students with different needs."
Justin Tiwald, an associate professor in the philosophy department, worked to modify Philosophy 320: Philosophical Analysis into a GWAR approved course; the class will be taught as one beginning next semester.
Tiwald said there wasn't much change involved in modifying the course. "We piled on a lot of workshops," he said of the course's seven writing workshops, three of which are in the first three weeks. "But it's pretty similar. It's roughly the same."
Tiwald agrees that the new writing criteria are part of a national movement to improve writing skills. A fairly new professor, he remembers some of his teacher's assistant jobs in graduate school that were solely on teaching students how to write a paper. Tiwald is excited about the university's switch. "I just have a natural interest in teaching this way," he said.
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