Over the past two years, faculty in the WKU English Department have been creatively rethinking the English curricula to ensure that our programs serve 21st-century English majors well. Historically, our department has focused on literary study and preparing English secondary teachers (EST), but over time, we have added concentrations in creative and professional writing and developed a certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). While we continue to uphold the central value of literature in our discipline and to cultivate the growth of excellent teachers and writers, the faculty saw a need to create more coherence within the major and to provide more flexibility for students in all of our concentrations. Consequently, we took a comprehensive look at our programs, developed a set of goals based on the positive work we were already doing, and created core learning outcomes to help all English majors be even more successful after graduation, not just on the job market, but as human beings.
Two aims that guided the revision of the English major were increasing course options for students so that they can explore their passions while developing a core to the major across all concentrations to build coherence. Ted Hovet, chair of the curriculum review committee, believes that “the new curriculum will increase the connections that exist among classes within each concentration and across the English/EST major as a whole. Students will gain a stronger sense of how the variety of materials that they study within the major revolve around a handful of core learning outcomes. These learning outcomes—which emphasize communication, critical thinking, writing, and research skills—will prepare WKU English majors to make an impact on the world beyond Cherry Hall.”
EST professor David LeNoir was pleasantly surprised at how the core establishes a certain amount of flexibility while retaining its cohesiveness: “Although they look very different in some respects, the concentrations employ the core in ways which make transitions among them possible. An EST major, for instance, can double-major in a literature concentration for as few as nine additional hours, a creative writing concentration in as few as eighteen hours, or a professional writing concentration in as few as twenty-one hours.”
Here are some of the specific changes to the English/EST majors:
· We made our English Language course (English 304) a 200-level course so that majors would take this required course earlier in their careers, allowing them to better apply their understanding of grammar and linguistics to style in creative and professional writing and literature classes. Exposure to linguistic concepts early in their careers would also give students more time to complete a Teaching English as a Second Language certificate, which could create more employment opportunities after graduation.
· We created Introduction to Digital Texts and Media, a course designed to give students an option to explore the rhetorical, critical, and ethical dimensions of digital composing, producing genres such as web videos, podcasts, blogs, websites, and video essays. While this course will be of special benefit to professional writing students, we believe that creative writing and literature students will gain an understanding of how to create and analyze texts in these new media and that EST majors will better learn to use digital texts in classrooms. Angela Jones, professional writing professor, elaborates, “Increasingly, our students are securing internship and job opportunities that require them to create, distribute, manage, and measure digital content. Our students need to be not only critical readers of digital texts but also conscious creators of that content, both for their study within the English major and for their eventual employment.”
· We increased the number of course options for professional writing students to include courses from other departments. As Jeff Rice, professional writing professor, notes, “Revisions to the PW curriculum provide students with a strong base in traditional professional writing concepts, but also help develop writing skills required by many of today's employers. The curriculum now includes courses in high-demand areas, such as social media writing and marketing, digital photography production, and writing with/for various technological platforms or purposes (like grant writing). Adding these courses to the PW curriculum will help make our students more competitive in a variety of professional writing fields.”
· We developed a new course called Reading as a Writer designed especially for students in creative writing. Creative writing faculty determined that students need to be more conscious of craft, the technical and artistic choices that professional writers make in the writing process. Creative writing professor Rebbecca Brown explains that “students will interpret and analyze a variety of texts through a writerly lens with the goal of becoming more aware of the creative choices they make when composing their own poems, shorts stories, essays, and dramatic works.” This course will free students from the limiting idea that creative writing is merely self-expression and give them a new tool for studying literature, which they will learn to see through the lens of an aspiring writer.
· We distributed required courses across concentrations, which will allow us to offer more special topics courses in each area. As literature professor Dr. Lloyd Davies comments, the redistribution allows us to be “more responsive than in the past to current research and teaching interests of faculty and gives us more flexibility to teach a variety of subjects and authors.”
· We expanded the capstone course for literature and EST majors to allow them to apply their skills to new literary topics appropriate for senior-level study and not simply to synthesize work already done as in the past capstone. Students will have opportunities to conduct significant academic research and bring to fruition a rich written project. Literature professor Alison Langdon explains, "The Literature/EST capstone course will offer a unique opportunity to explore a particular topic deeply across a range of literary texts. The culminating project will showcase our majors’ skills in literary analysis, meticulous research, and critical thinking.”
The time and attention that the English faculty invested in this process demonstrate how much they care about student learning. Rob Hale, Head of English, introduced the idea of curriculum revision based on conversations he had with colleagues during his first year on the job. “In some departments curriculum revisions can be divisive, but in our collegial department, we put students’ interests first.” Linguistics professor Alison Youngblood “was pleased at how well the department worked together. There were a lot of strong feelings, but I never saw any unprofessionalism or disrespect among our coworkers. I’d expect nothing less from our group.”
These changes further cement the English major as one of the most important, relevant, and powerful majors to seek. Lloyd Davies explains, “The English major, with its emphasis on reading and writing, continues to be the best route to a good general education at WKU; these are essential skills in all areas of life, especially in an increasingly technological world. The English Department’s focus on literature also provides indispensable exposure to the lives of people in other times and places, encouraging students to confront the enduring questions of meaning, purpose, and truth that they will face throughout their own lives.” In the new WKU English curriculum, majors will continue to graduate with reading, writing, and critical thinking skills that will enable them to thrive in a variety of careers. Faculty will also continue to nurture our students’ imaginations, to foster in them a profound love of literature, and to promote their understanding of the subtleties of language and how it can be used for a variety of purposes.
For more information please visit https://www.wku.edu/english/undergraduate.php