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  • Interdisciplinary Work as Professional DevelopmentChanging the Culture of Teaching
  • Joan A. Mullin (bio)

There are many lessons to learn about faculty development from writing across the curriculum (WAC) programs, for when they really began to grow in the 1980s, directors of the initiatives were often the first to undertake large-scale faculty development in their institutions. WAC directors had much to offer teaching and learning enterprises then, and many have much to offer now as a result of their experiences with faculty across the disciplines. As teachers of writing who study rhetorical contexts, they quickly learned that only dispensing guidelines and resources —university requirements for taking writing-intensive courses, Web sites on writing in biology or textbooks on writing for film, the top-ten informal writing strategies —does not make a successful WAC program. Unfortunately, there are several WAC programs in the United States today that do exist only as discrete series of rules with little or no effort placed into teaching faculty how writing can be used to teach critical and disciplinary thinking, how writing both shapes and defines a field, and therefore, how students can use writing to read and enter these fields as well as others. Based on nineteenth-century notions of the gentleman scholar, these template-bound programs operate teaching and learning initiatives under the assumption that if faculty are merely given techniques and methods, they will be able to apply them effectively in their classrooms. This strategy flies in the face of both research and experience as they apply not only to faculty development, but also to learning. [End Page 495]

For methodologies to evolve, faculty and faculty development facilitators need to shift their teaching paradigms. In the case of disciplinary literacy, they need to make apparent, to themselves and their students, ways to read systems of activity and respond to changing teaching and learning environments they produce. This should be approached collaboratively, so that a director serves as a conduit who both facilitates and benefits from a continual evolution of strategies produced with faculty. As can be seen in this special issue, rather than prescribing ways to teach, faculty developers can best effect change by listening, articulating faculty dialogues for further reflection, and facilitating internal change in faculty while modeling teaching practices they and others could adopt. This requires of facilitators a certain disciplinary neutrality, a meta-awareness of their own frames. A WAC developer often claims a department of English, writing, or rhetoric as their home department; as a result, cross-disciplinary programs may become codified through the disciplinary lens of one person and the field or group to which he or she belongs.

Shifting and Sifting through Paradigms and Disciplines: The Faculty Developer

Changing paradigms and modeling practices seem relatively simple accomplishments consistent with the strategies outlined in this issue, and the stock and trade of those trained in the analytical and critical traditions of departments of English, writing, and rhetoric. However, I want to use two strands of theoretical language that have helped me think about not just what kinds of faculty development practices I need to implement, but also why my own disciplinary inclinations might make these work —or not. I refer to Krista Ratcliffe's (2005) phrase "rhetorical listening" and to the Bakhtinian (1981) idea of inner and outer dialogue.

Reading Ratcliffe's work, which addresses race, gender, and culture, has made me nonetheless reflect on a barrier met by faculty developers: listening often proceeds out of assumptions about what we will hear and, therefore, how we construct others and our relationship to them. At workshops about writing in the disciplines, for instance, we freely use such terms as "introduction" and "conclusion"; we acknowledge the differences in evidence, in disciplinary "methods" sections; we think we all understand what we mean. And yet, as demonstrated in conversations with faculty, a word as seemingly simple as "discuss" can have different meanings to individuals in different disciplines (Mullin et. al. 1998); therefore, no matter what we may think we [End Page 496] are understanding, we don't know until our definitions and underlying expectations about these terms are unpacked.

Another example is the issue of plagiarism. In our ongoing research, colleagues...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6255
Print ISSN
1531-4200
Pages
pp. 495-508
Launched on MUSE
2008-09-18
Open Access
No
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