W2015 Departmental WID Projects: Nursing and Social Science

In response to a Call for Proposals in October 2014, WID received four applications for departmental WID projects.  Across the board, the project applications were carefully conceived and elaborated.  Resources permitted the selection of two projects: one in Nursing, and the other in Social Science.  Each project is proceeding in W2015 under the leadership of WID Writing Fellows from the respective departments.

The Nursing WID project, led by Robin Simmons and Michelle Maguigad, focuses on the design of writing and critical thinking learning activities that will better prepare Nursing students for the provincial professional examination, which is overseen by the Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec (OIIQ).  A topic of interest for the WID-Nursing team is how the OIIQ’s inventory of competencies, called “the Mosaic,” can be transformed into a student-friendly heuristic, and used more intentionally in learning activities leading up to the exam.  

Mosaic OIIQ

 In the past, the exam consisted of both a written component and a clinical component (the infamous OSCE, or objectively structured clinical examination).  However, the OIIQ revised the format in 2014 to eliminate the clinical component and expand the written examination.  Now, the written exam is a sequence of complex scenarios and questions that test not only foundational nursing knowledge, but also the decision-making skills of candidates.  The 40 scenario, 130 question format presents a formidable challenge on many levels: reading comprehension; analysis and synthesis of data; identification and explication of procedures; prioritization of actions; and not least of all, the composition of concise and accurate written answers that satisfy the stringent requirements for accuracy and clarity established by the OIIQ.    In view of the disappointing performance this past fall of candidates from across the anglophone network of college and university nursing programs, this project is, without question, a timely and important undertaking.

The second project addresses the Social Science Integrative Seminar, which is that program’s Comprehensive Examination.  Davina Mill (Psychology) and Lisa Steffen (History) are examining broadly the design of research writing tasks in the course, and instructional approaches supporting the writing process.  IS is a “capstone” research course, integrating knowledge and skills acquired in at least three social science disciplines, and in the required Research Methods and Quantitative Methods courses that come earlier in the methods sequence.  A central concern in this project is how the effective design and delivery of IS can enhance the “integrative” in Integrative Seminar.  Of particular interest are methods of teaching the effective use of sources; options for problem-based research questions that would pre-empt plagiarism and “data dump” papers; collaborative activities that support revision and editing; rhetorically-situated problems as the focus of inquiry; and the use of a range of social science genres that address specific audiences with specific purposes.  One WID concept that is already proving helpful in this project is Anne Beaufort’s framework for understanding disciplinary discourse communities (Beaufort 2007).  Beaufort argues that as students develop toward competency in any specific field, their writerly judgement must evolve in four particular domains: in the subject matter of the discipline, evidently; in the genres or conventionalized forms of writing used by experts as they develop and communicate ideas; in the rhetorical strategies that the disciplinary community recognizes as valid forms of argumentation; and not least of all, in the writing processes that are most effective in moving thinking-writing tasks towards completion.  

Beaufort 2007                                                                                   (Beaufort 2007)

This framework permits us to identify where teachers are currently placing their instructional emphases, and where approaches might be adapted to foster learning that is truly integrative, in the sense of acculturating students to the discourse communities of the social sciences.

If you have any questions about these projects, and/or about how to prepare a proposal in response to the next CFP for departmental projects in Fall 2015, don’t hesitate to contact Anne Thorpe or Ian MacKenzie.



Beaufort, Anne. (2007). College Writing and Beyond: A Framework for University Writing Instruction. USU Press; Logan, UT.

Lessard, Louise-Marie, and Chantal Lemay.  (2014)  Guide de préparation à l’examen professionnel de l’Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec, 3édition.  OIIQ; Montreal QC.


Call for Department and Program-based WID Projects

carpentry project
Writing in the Disciplines at Dawson invites faculty members to submit proposals for department and program-based projects focused on writing, critical thinking and active learning in the disciplines.  Building on the college-wide presence of WID Writing Fellows and Spring Institute participants, these projects add a new level of WID support for innovations in instructional and curricular design.  One or two projects will be selected for the W2015 semester.

 Proposals should be submitted to Ian MacKenzie or Anne Thorpe, WID Co-directors, by Wednesday, November 5.   If you would like to discuss a potential application, don’t hesitate to contact Ian or Anne.

Who can apply?

Groups of several faculty collaborating under the leadership of at least one teacher who has participated in the WID Writing Fellows or the WID Spring Institute.  Applicants should consult with their department chairs and/or program coordinators on project objectives in advance of the submission of a proposal.

What kinds of projects are eligible?

Projects will be formulated around specific objectives such as the following:

  •  Develop and share new discipline-specific curricular materials that exploit the link between writing and critical thinking
  •  Develop and share knowledge about new instructional approaches (eg. in-class writing, use of sources, effective peer review, new writing technologies, etc.)
  • Assess and report on the achievement of program-level competencies in writing and communication
  •  Evaluate and make recommendations on the development of writing and critical thinking skills across sequences of required courses
  •  Conduct and report on research on discipline-specific approaches to writing and communication in departments / programs at other higher education institutions
  •  Design and conduct a series of department-based professional development activities focused on writing, critical thinking and active learning
  •  Similar or related objectives

Are there models for this type of project?

Over 2012-13, a pilot departmental project was completed in the Physical Education department.  Four Phys-Ed Writing Fellows designed and conducted a department-wide consultation on how reflective writing is assigned and evaluated in PE courses, and published a set of guidelines, best practices and models for department members.  View the project documentation in Joanna Farmer’s WID Teaching Portfolio at https://writing.dawsoncollege.qc.ca   Currently, WID is working with three Writing Fellows in Electrical Engineering Technologies to develop evaluation rubrics for laboratory activities and reports, as well as for the third-year capstone project.

What resources and support will be made available for projects?

One or two sections of course release for W2015 will be assigned to successful projects, depending on the nature and scope of project proposals.  WID Directors and Writing Fellows will collaborate with project leaders over the duration of the project.

How can groups apply?

Apply directly to Ian MacKenzie or Anne Thorpe with a one-page proposal containing the following:
1)   Detailed statement of the objectives of the project
2)   Individuals involved
3)   Department / program needs to which the project responds
4)   Anticipated impact on student learning
5)   Timeline for completion and evaluation of project activities and artefacts


Research Sightings: Writing with Tablets in Higher Ed

tablet notes

As the semester got underway this fall, you may have noticed an increase in the number of students in your classes who were working on tablets for reading texts, taking notes, and drafting assignments – when they weren’t sneaking a look at Instagram.  I wondered aloud with both students and colleagues about the impact of tablets on thinking and writing, and my questions sent me searching for research on the topic.

  In “Multidisciplinarity and the Tablet: A Study of Writing Practices” (2013), Jennifer Ahern-Dodson and Denise Comer, teacher-researchers at Duke University’s Thompson Writing Program, take up the question of how the tablet impacts both scholarly writing practices across disciplines, and practices in the teaching of writing itself.  In a year-long study at Duke, the authors followed a group of 76 student tablet-users in 4 different courses (French, Environmental Science, Public Policy and Journalism, and First-year Writing and Composition), as well as 6 faculty members who met regularly in a community of practice. 

Ahern-Dodson and Comer found that the tablet had important positive and negative impacts, depending on when it was used in the writing process, and in what disciplinary contexts.  The tablets had a significantly positive impact on students using the device and its apps for reading, annotating, note-taking, short bursts of drafting, and data collection – all activities that we might describe as belonging to the generative, pre-writing phase of the writing process.  Faculty too reacted positively to the tablet’s note-taking versatility, both for responding to student work and for designing assignments.  For example, the French teachers loved the ability to micro-annotate student papers with both written and verbal remarks, while the public policy professor designed assignments based on the students’ ability to record interviews, create and collate field notes, and draft and post articles, all on the same device.

However, both students and faculty agreed that the tablet offered no advantages when it came to in-depth composing, and perhaps even impacted the writing process at this stage in a negative manner.  Not surprisingly, both groups complained about the awkwardness of extended sessions of touch-screen typing, and the inadequacy of word processing apps.  Arguably, both of these deficits may be symptoms of a technology still in its early stages of development: touch screens may improve rapidly (and users will soon be touch-screen natives and not adopters), and word processing apps will quickly evolve.   It is still notable, however, that both faculty and students, after an extended period of use, strongly preferred their older laptop, desktop or even pen-and-paper tools over the tablet.  The authors mention particularly the limits of the tablet in facilitating the iterative “movement from thought to text” (70); in other words, the reviewing, revising, reorganizing and deleting of chunks of text, when the big picture of an argument and its individual parts are coming into focus.  In short, the tablet does not optimize, and may even interfere with, a critical late phase in the composition process.

Ahern-Dodds and Comer – who characterize themselves at the outset as committed to digital literacies and multimodal composition – nevertheless conclude by advising teachers to open a critical dialogue with students using tablets on the advantages and disadvantages they offer, both with respect to particular kinds of disciplinary learning activities, and with respect to the writing process.

Do you have thoughts on the use of tablets by students, or on tablet applications in your classes?  Or are you in fact using a tablet already in your teaching, or for your own scholarly research and writing?  With what impacts? Let us know.

Ahern-Dodson, Jennifer, & Comer, D. K. (2013). Multidisciplinarity and the Tablet: A Study of Writing Practices. The WAC Journal, 24, 63.