June 16, 2011

WAC: The View from Introduction to Psychology

Dr. Lonna M. Murphy of Passaic County Community College made a presentation at the Atlantic Coast Teaching of Psychology Conference this summer. Her topic was "Writing across the Curriculum: The View from Introduction to Psychology"

Dr. Murphy has been teaching a writing intensive section of the Psych 101 course since 2009.

This is her "guest post" summary of her experience teaching the class as WI and as a "regular" section.

"All educators understand the importance of having our students obtain strong writing skills, regardless of the level at which we teach. At Passaic County Community College (PCCC), we have decided to address this concern by making writing intensive courses mandatory for our graduates as of 2009. In order to meet this goal, PCCC applied for and was granted a $2.5 million federal grant. This writing initiative included creating writing intensive courses for twenty of our General Education courses. All students must take at least one writing intensive course before graduating. Introduction to Psychology (PS 101) has been offered as a writing intensive course since fall 2007.

Writing intensive courses at PCCC must contain both formal and informal writing, assignments that incorporate information literacy and critical thinking, pre-writing and editing strategies, and have no fewer than 2500 words required for assignments. Students must also have completed the first semester of two required semesters of English Composition. Finally, writing intensive courses at PCCC are not allowed to have more than 25 students per class.

I have taught one writing intensive section and one non-writing intensive section of PS 101 for most semesters that they have been offered. I have found no difference in final grades for the two sections (M = 2.18 out of 4.0 for both types of PS 101, n = 160 over three semesters for the non-writing intensive sections and n = 70 over three semesters for the writing intensive sections). I do not have access to the data regarding the students’ performance on the CWE, but as of year three of the grant, we have seen an improvement in general CWE scores, and that improvement was greater for students who were required to take writing intensive courses when compared to those who were not required to take writing intensive courses.

As part of my poster presentation, I will be including and discussing the specific assignments that I have used in my writing intensive PS 101 course. These include a journal article assignment, a five-paragraph argumentative essay, and a synthesis assignment, as well as other informal writing assignments.

In conclusion, PS 101 is a useful course when trying to teach writing to students. This is especially true because of the emphasis on critical thinking in the field of psychology. Also, we have seen that the creation of writing intensive courses has improved."

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