Faculty Seminar on the Teaching of Writing Transforming Undergrad Courses

The University of Virginia's Bond House is the location of the April 16 A&S staff meeting to discuss plans for an Inclusive Excellence plan.

For 10 years, the Faculty Seminar on the Teaching of Writing has helped UVA faculty develop effective writing instruction for undergraduate courses stretching across the liberal arts and sciences. Sponsored by the Office of the Provost and led by A&S faculty from the Department of English’s Writing and Rhetoric Program, the four-day seminar offers practical teaching suggestions while applying the latest research on the teaching of writing.

Since its launch, 165 faculty have completed the seminar and applied its lessons to design or revise courses with writing requirements, providing instructors such as Fahad Ahmad Bishara with “transformative” experiences.

“The Seminar helped me better grasp that my discipline was — at its core — about writing; historians are nothing if not writers,” said Bishara, an associate professor of history. “Through the Seminar, I learned how to make writing central to my courses, as a means of teaching students how to engage with documents, intertwine narrative with analysis, and ultimately, produce textured, engaging research. I wouldn't have thought to do any of it – nor would I have had the skills to – were it not for the Seminar.”

Faculty who complete the 2024 Seminar, scheduled for May 28–31, will receive $2,000 in research and professional development funding. The deadline for applications is Thursday, April 25.

“One of the great things about the Faculty Seminar is that it helps faculty incorporate writing into their classes in a way that is very manageable. It's doesn't have to be about reconceptualizing the class from the ground up,” said T. Kenny Fountain, director of the College’s Writing and Rhetoric Program and former instructor of the Seminar. “It recognizes that most people are juggling a lot of responsibilities, but if you make a few small changes, you can really improve your students’ writing.”

The seminar has evolved with advances in technology and the latest pedagogical research, including practical applications for teaching writing in the context of ChatGPT and other generative AI platforms, said Heidi Nobles, director of UVA’s Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) initiative.

“WAC is based on longitudinal and empirical research from the last 50 years, and those research outcomes seem to be holding steady in terms of what students need for learning how to write well and what teaching faculty need to support that,” said Nobles, an assistant professor of English. “We are introducing some AI-specific content with this seminar, and WAC has been doing workshops all year on teaching writing in a time of generative AI. In the seminar, AI-related content will be incorporated for people to engage at the level they want.”

The seminar has helped past participants such as Krista Varanyak, a lecturer in the Department of Statistics, re-charge and re-design their courses for a more rewarding teaching experience.

“I was burnt out and frustrated with student writing before I participated in the Faculty Seminar two years ago. The Seminar truly refreshed my mentality and provided me a new perspective going into Fall 2022,” Varanyak said. “I made some small changes to my courses (Intermediate Statistics) based on what I learned in the seminar. Particularly, I wrote more clear assignment sheets and had a preliminary writing assignment, with ‘low-stakes’ writing mixed in. I am blown away with the level of writing across the board in my students’ work over these last two years. I always dreaded reading final project reports but now, I am filled with so much pride and excitement for my students.”

The brief application for this year’s seminar can be found here. For more questions, email Heidi Nobles.