8. Using Threshold Concepts to Inform Writing and Rhetoric Undergraduate Majors: The UCF Experiment
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8 U s i n g T h r e s h o l d C o nc e p t s to In f o r m W r i t i n g a n d R h e to r i c U n d e r g r a d u at e M a j o r s DOI: 10.7330/9780874219906.c008 The UCF Experiment J. Blake Scott and Elizabeth Wardle The Department of Writing and Rhetoric at UCF was formed in July 2010 with an initial group of five tenured faculty members specializing in various areas of rhetoric and composition. By fall 2013 we had reached our goal of twelve tenured/tenure-earning faculty members and around twenty full-time non-tenure-earning instructors. When we separated from English in 2010 to become our own department, we brought with us an MA in rhetoric and composition, as well as a graduate certificate in professional writing. What we did not have was an undergraduate major or the array of courses that would be included in such a major. Thus, we have spent the last three years creating and revising courses and starting a minor and undergraduate certificate—all of which helped us work our way toward a major. Our major (BA) in writing and rhetoric was approved by the university’s board of trustees in March 2014 and officially began in the summer of 2014. Because of our status as a freestanding department, our strong cadre of rhetoric and composition specialists, and the encouragement of our dean’s office to enact new curricular visions, we were able to build from our collective (and, to some degree, changing) sense of the knowledge, values, and boundaries of our field without having to cobble together programs from existing courses and curricular goals, as commonly happens when writing tracks or majors are created within English or other longstanding departments. We have had the opportunity and responsibility to consider and articulate what we know and value as a field and what parts of that knowledge are likely to be relevant for undergraduate Using Threshold Concepts to Inform Writing & Rhetoric Undergraduate Majors   123 students who would use our BA to engage in a variety of professions and civic activities. Although we did not begin the process of creating the major by directly considering threshold concepts, looking back it is clear that some threshold concepts have guided our work along the way—not only in the curricula and courses we developed but also in how we undertook this development work. Though we accomplished a great deal without explicitly articulating our threshold concepts, we have come to believe that doing so could have been a helpful addition to our curriculum planning. Some of our faculty have recently begun to more strategically use threshold concepts as a helpful frame for clarifying, linking, and distinguishing among courses and other program elements. Using the lens of threshold concepts can continue to help our faculty plan and coordinate teaching and learning across the interrelated sites and trajectories of our students’ experiences as they move through our proposed major. As we will discuss in our case history of developing an undergraduate writing and rhetoric major at UCF, threshold concepts can help faculty members imagine pathways of learning through a somewhat flexible curricular structure and help clarify underlying assumptions about a program’s curricular goals and emphases, revealing places to work toward agreed-upon understandings and practices. Such curricular planning can be imagined as flexible alignment rather than standardization ; the nature of threshold concepts offers more flexibility than student learning outcomes while still enabling faculty members to define and articulate the emphases, boundaries, and interrelationships among a set of courses and experiences. As the following chapter seeks to illustrate, working with threshold concepts implicitly and/or explicitly has been useful in our programdevelopment work thus far in several ways. First, the nature of threshold concepts—not goals, not learning outcomes, but foundational assumptions that inform learning across time—makes them flexible tools for imagining a progression of student learning across a curriculum rather than at one specific moment or in one short period of time. Second, the liminality of threshold concepts is particularly useful in the context of program development. Threshold concepts are learned over time and across liminal, unstable spaces in which learners reconstitute what and how they know. This recognition enables us to have realistic expectations about what students can learn and when—and how difficult...

Subject Headings

  • English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching.
  • Creative writing -- Study and teaching.
  • Academic writing -- Study and teaching.
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