- Writing Theory for the Multimajor Professional Writing CourseWriting Theory for the A Case Study and Course Design
Multimajor professional writing (MMPW) courses are becoming extremely common in English departments, for which effective pedagogies are not always readily available or adopted. Such courses, because they are often taught by nonspecialists, frequently focus on the formalistic teaching of generic business genres (e.g., the business memo or proposal). Focusing too narrowly on generic business genres, most compositionists realize, divorces writing from the specific rhetorical and professional contexts students need to understand. Further, teaching genres apart from their specific contexts departs from what we know about the importance of rhetorical knowledge for writing transfer. In their article "Writing about Writing and the Multimajor Professional Writing Course" (2015), Sarah Read and Michael Michaud seek to address this issue and to provide theoretically relevant models of writing pedagogy for MMPW courses through a discussion of the applicability of writing about writing (WAW) approaches to teaching (Downs and Wardle). In this article, we build on the work of Read and Michaud to provide a case study of a specific MMPW course designed and taught within a WAW framework that employs writing theory as a means for teaching transferable and practical writing concepts for the diverse demographics typically present in these courses. We also engage in critical reflection to comment on the curriculum's successes and failures. In the appendix we share a brief syllabus, [End Page 157] overview of major projects, and class schedule to encourage other instructors to adapt similar designs.
By providing an example of a particular WAW-influenced curriculum, this course design, as it was designed and taught at Ohio University, furthers the discussion started by Read and Michaud. Our design leans heavily on concrete knowledge domains—genre knowledge, social knowledge, procedural knowledge—and their application to specific disciplinary or professional contexts. The challenge of the MMPW course emerges from the diversity of the major and professional goals of students it enrolls. The design of a course that places a central focus on writing theory and writing knowledge can encourage transfer and help overcome such a challenge by allowing the study of a common subject among students hoping to enter a number of different professions after college. As Read and Michaud have acknowledged, such a design also extends WAW approaches into professional writing contexts. This course design provides an applicable model for such a course while acknowledging the specific institutional context in which the course was designed and taught, as well as our specific experiences as instructors.
English 3840J: Writing, Reading, and Rhetoric in the Professions is an upper-level professional writing course that satisfies the second in a two-tiered general education composition requirement at Ohio University. As a general education course, 3840J attracts juniors and seniors from multiple majors, presenting specific challenges for curriculum development. Ohio University is a public, four-year research institution, with its main campus located in Athens, Ohio, about seventy miles southeast of Columbus. Student enrollment at the Athens campus is approximately 23,000; across all campuses, enrollment is about 39,000. Located in the Appalachian region of Ohio, the university serves an economically diverse demographic of students and offers over 250 programs of study. As part of the general education requirement at Ohio University, students complete one semester of first-year composition and then complete a junior-level composition course. The English department offers several different junior-level writing courses that fulfill this requirement, with English 3080J: Writing and Rhetoric II and English 3060J: Women and Writing having the most sections offered. 3840J: Writing, Reading, and Rhetoric in the Professions is one of the courses that fulfills the junior-level composition requirement, with only two or three sections offered each semester. 3840J is usually taught by PhD students in rhetoric and composition, postdoctoral fellows, or full-time faculty in rhetoric and composition. [End Page 158] As a general education course, 3840J usually consists of students from many different majors. A full class of twenty-two students, then, might have students from twenty majors, including psychology, audio-music production, journalism, Spanish, mathematics, English, engineering, geographic...