The Journey is the Destination: The Place of Assessment in an Activist Writing Program

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LOCAL CONTEXT Eastern Michigan University is a comprehensive university of about 24,000 (about 22,000 of whom are undergraduates). Our students typically come from southeastern Michigan and northwestern Ohio. They come to EMU for a variety of reasons--proximity to their homes, cost (we're fairly inexpensive, as colleges and universities go), friends who have come here before, or because they want to be teachers and we're well-known as a "teacher training" school. (EMU started as the Michigan Normal School in 1849.)

When we were both at EMU, we were director and associate director of first-year writing, respectively. (Linda remains director of first-year writing.) The first-year writing program actually "hosts" two first-year courses (English 120, Composition I: Reading and Writing the College Experience and English 121, Composition II: Research and Writing the Public Experience) and one second-year course (English 225, Writing in a Changing World). Overall, we run about 190 courses a year in the program. About 100 of those (give or take) are sections of English 121, which is also the required, general education writing course on our campus. About 97 percent of all incoming students take the course.

Our dynamic criteria mapping (DCM) work is linked to a programmatic assessment of English 121. In 2003, we surveyed students at the beginning and end of the course to determine their degree of confidence in their learning outcomes. We also asked them to comment on the usefulness of English 121 with respect to future coursework. We learned a lot from the results about what students thought was working--the results were generally very positive--and about where to focus professional development efforts in the first-year writing program.

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