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Revisiting Freshman Composition

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.349.1 - 2.349.9



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Paper Authors

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Michael Alley

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3553

Revisiting Freshman Composition

Michael Alley ASEE/University of Wisconsin–Madison

Before the Fall of 1995, over eighty percent of the freshmen at the University of Wisconsin–Madison were able to place out of freshman communication. Responding to a general reduction in the quality of writing, speaking, and library research skills by undergraduates over the previous two decades, the faculty senate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison passed guidelines making it much more difficult to place out of this course—these guidelines raised the percentage of students having to take the course from less than 20 percent to greater than 75 percent. In addition, the faculty senate established the following goals for this course: improvements in writing, reading, speaking, and listening skills; fostering of critical thinking; and practice in performing library research. Given that many more sections of freshmen composition were to be taught in the coming years, departments other than English wrote proposals for courses in freshman communication. Under the direction of the Dean of Engineering, the Department of Engineering Professional Development proposed one such course, Basic Communication (EPD 155). Across the campus, particularly in the College of Letters and Science, there was much resistance to the College of Engineering teaching freshman communication. However, primarily because of the efforts of the Dean, the College was awarded the opportunity to teach the course for one year on a probationary status. During this year, an independent group from the College of Education would assess the performance of the various departments teaching the courses, and based on those results, the deans would review the probationary status. Why did the College of Engineering want to teach freshman communication, a course that historically is taught by English and Communication Departments? One reason was to help retain female students. Having a small section class in the College of Engineering during the freshman year was an opportunity to make female students feel a part of the College. This opportunity early in the engineering curriculum to retain women is important because as Felder and others [1995] discovered, by the end of the third semester a large percentage of women have already left engineering. Another reason for the teaching the course in the College of Engineering was the reduction of credits in the curriculum. Given the guidelines established by the faculty senate, the College of Engineering had the opportunity to teach the course in either two or three credits. As it turned out, the College of Engineering course was the only course on campus that taught the course in two credits—something that added to the distrust of the College of Engineering teaching the course. A third reason to teach the course in the College of Engineering was to insure that engineering students receive a quality course that would help them communicate in their remaining undergraduate courses. Like engineering curricula at other universities, the engineering curricula at the University of Wisconsin require that each student take a technical communication course in the junior or senior year. Given that the College knew what was expected of students in those technical communication courses as well as in the laboratory and design courses with writing components, the College was in an excellent position to design the freshman communication course.

Alley, M. (1997, June), Revisiting Freshman Composition Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 10.18260/1-2--6767

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