Program Curriculum and Learning Outcomes

NCCU’s First Year Writing Program (FYWP) is answerable for its own course-specific student learning outcomes (SLOs) as well as general education program learning outcomes (PLOs). The relationship between these two sets of outcomes can bee seen in the program’s assessment reports. When asked about these outcomes and how they’re embedded in FYW courses, Dr. Fulford refers to how the program reports on student learning by assessing their English 1110 and English 1210 classes. Instructors are asked to submit their reports the day after grades are due. Dr. Fulford says that the idea is to base assessment “on an artifact already embedded in the course guidelines rather than layering on a writing sample that is primarily for the purpose of assessment.” Here, she is referring to the recent spring 2018 English 1210 assessment change in which they retired the end-of-course essay and instead based their assessment on either the annotated bibliography or the literature review, projects that are already embedded in course guidelines.   

Beyond the FYWP program, looking to the outcomes embedded in surrounding programs – elements of the program’s architecture (Finer and White-Farnham: 2017)- the outcomes become less explicit.

The Department of Language and Literature at NCCU offers advanced coursework for their Bachelor’s of Arts in English with a concentration in writing. Here, program outcomes are implicit, referring to a set of English degree outcomes that consequently, and loosely, inform how English faculty design their upper-level courses.

Beyond the department, a university-wide writing intensive program is administered by Karen Keaton Jackson, who supplies the program with a list of writing intensive (WI) outcomes that faculty are asked to embed in their course planning when the course is listed on record as a WI course..

Clearly, learning outcomes are embedded across the university, relating to one another in sometimes expected and unexpected ways.

This report will cover those learning outcomes related to the work and practices of the FYWP, directed by Dr. Fulford. In doing so, this report will speak towards those theoretical and historical orientations (Smit: 2002) used to shape a curriculum and learning outcomes. This report aims to outline the specific orientations taken up by Dr. Fulford as well as the corresponding challenges to implementing these curricular goals and assessing outcomes.

Dr. Fulford sees the FYWP curriculum focusing on theories of current-traditional, process, and social with the student learning outcomes for each course, English 1110 and English 1210 respectively, hinting at the theories behind them. Per Smit’s (2002) review of curriculum design in first-year writing programs, the theoretical and historical approaches to teaching writing each differ in how they conceptualize the relations and practice of writing. For “current-traditionalists” writing is taken up as a set of knowledge and abilities, while “process theorists” would argue that writing is based on a writer’s lived experiences and what they desire to accomplish in a particular social context. As for those approaching writing at the “social turn” focus shifts towards the different discourse communities in which all writing occurs – the significance of context as well as issues of race, class, and gender.

When asked what forces seem to drive their combined theoretical focus, Dr. Fulford says that the dominant force is their collaboration, their working together from “diverse pedagogical and theoretical lineages.” She says that they shape the curriculum from “a pastiche of priorities and assumptions.” To that extent, “individual histories, institutional values and requirements, and experience teaching at this location all play [a role] in how we revise and enact the curriculum.”

To gain a better sense of this in practice, below are Dr. Fulford’s annotations to the English 1110 student learning outcomes.

1. RHETORICAL STRATEGIES & ARGUMENTATION: Given instruction in basic argumentation and rhetorical strategies, students will analyze and evaluate others’ texts and apply rhetorical knowledge to develop their own arguments.

We changed this from a modes-based curriculum as an update. It was partly informed by the experiences of many faculty who had taught composition as graduate students at UNC-CH.

2. READING: Given instruction in critical reading strategies (i.e. annotating, summarizing, analyzing, questioning, synthesizing), students will read to understand both content and rhetorical methods.

Reflects a fusion of current-traditional literacy approaches with contemporary attention to the role of reading in writing pedagogies.

3. WRITING FOR LEARNING: In the process of reading and discussing course materials, students will use informal writing as a means for thinking through challenging ideas.

Reflects WAC background of the director (me).

4. WRITING PROCESSES & RESOURCES: Through the practice of varied writing processes (i.e. reading, drafting, discussion, research, instructor feedback, peer feedback, revision, editing, and proofreading), students will demonstrate a working knowledge of processes for developing polished essays, assess the strengths and weaknesses of their own writings, and use suggested resources (i.e. Writing Studio, reader feedback, handbook and other reference works) for making improvements.

Process pedagogy lives on because it’s practical.

5. RESEARCH & DOCUMENTATION: Given instruction in basic research and documentation techniques (conducting library and electronic research, note-taking, paraphrasing, summarizing, and using MLA or comparable style), students will develop and demonstrate a working knowledge of basic methods of documenting sources.

6. TIMED WRITING: Through the regular practice of responding to writing prompts in a timed setting, students will become accustomed to composing under time constraints.

My colleagues persuaded me that students need experience with this onerous task.  They cited institutional history of struggle with standardized literacy tests (GRE, LSAT, bar exam, PRAXIS…)  

7. TECHNOLOGY: Provided with instruction on various forms of electronic media (i.e. Blackboard, internet sources, word processing tools, etc.), students will use such technologies to create, revise, and/or distribute their writing

This is from a longstanding top-down requirement that all general education courses include a technology SLO.

For the FYWP, there are always challenges to implementing these goals and assessing these outcomes. For Dr. Fulford, any problems when implementing goals at the program level are as pervasive as those challenges at the individual class level. As a teacher, she sets up each semester with a robust set of goals in mind. She says, “When I’m working with a real group of students, I often find myself adjusting the formal goals in light of the group’s unique combination of strengths and needs. I think making such adjustments is an ethical choice at the course level and ethical at the program level because instructors need the wiggle-room to read their students and revise plans accordingly with their learning in mind.”

Dr. Fulford’s approach and concerns as they relate to goals and learning outcomes perpetuate the responsive learning that the department describes as a core value. In addition to aligning with departmental values, the execution of designing and implementing these learning outcomes happens collaboratively as the program works together to design course guidelines and SLOs in committee. Dr. Fulford says that in theory, they should reflect considerable local knowledge from the committee members. The challenge then comes from trying to pack too many outcomes into a given course.

“For example, our ENG1210 Comp II course represents considerable intellectual stretch for students as they grapple with disciplinary differences in approaches to writing. At the same time, our current guidelines indicate that we expect faculty to also have students writing longer papers than they did in Comp I.”

Dr. Fulford has noted in conversations with FYW instructors that meeting the breadth of these outcomes is not always feasible in a single semester. She says that many instructors, like herself, are concerned about the depth of knowledge that students take away from English 1110 and English 1210 as each attempts to cover so much ground.   

As a teacher and an administrator, Dr. Fulford has found that it is important to her to revisit goals and outcomes with her colleagues so that they might discuss their priorities for students asking, “When students end a semester, what are the few things we want all to be able to do better than when they started?” And by answering that questions together, they can better emphasize and shape what that kind of instruction will look like and share the necessary resources for doing so.

However, from student’s end-of-course reflective statements, Dr. Fulford has found that their histories, experiences and identities – those elements of student identity that enter the classroom – often bring their own learning priorities that counter those that faculty believe they’re teaching the most intensively. But for Dr. Fulford, “that’s not really a problem, it’s more an outcome of human diversity.”

The program’s attention to student diversity is a part of its very architecture, as university and departmental values center the importance of a global perspective and cultural awareness. Dr. Fulford’s own work as a teacher and administrator clearly take up writing as a site of “language diversity” (Miller-Cochran: 2010) wherein the program has a responsibility to attend to the realities and needs of the student population they serve.


Miller-Cochran, S. K. (2010). Language Diversity and the Responsibility of the WPA. Cross-language relations in composition, 212-20.

Smit, D. (2002). Curriculum design for first-year writing programs. Ward and Carpenter, 185-206.