English – Innovation Grant

Alternative Academic Pathways

Faculty Leads: Heather Adams and Risa Applegarth

Starting in the Spring of 2023, the English Department at UNCG launched a pilot program designed to meet the needs of students facing challenges in courses with a writing component. Many students find obstacles in the process of learning to write and need extra assistance to understand and engage with this learning process and become confident in their writing skills in the long term. When students are struggling with writing in their courses, they may choose to drop these classes. The project team recognized an opportunity: students who consider withdrawing from a class before the middle of a term (thus avoiding a failing grade) can potentially be encouraged to enroll in a course created to start at mid-semester. Enrolling in the mid-term start course does not negatively impact the students’ financial aid and offers a way of obtaining additional classroom support while maintaining the same number of enrolled credit hours.

In order to support these students who are struggling and ensure that they have a clear option for maintaining their course load, the English Department has begun offering 7-week courses which emphasize writing skills and writers’ agency, identify opportunities to engage campus resources, and cultivate a sense of belonging at UNCG. The courses begin halfway through the semester, allowing students who are dropping a course to transition to this alternative path. The courses offered in the pilot were designed to support the needs of any student seeking additional support and were created with special attention to students hoping to cultivate their writing knowledge in advance of taking ENG 101.

The 7-week ENG 100 course is designed with flexibility and personal growth in mind. To foster students developing skills and confidence in their writing, the course relies upon the use of alternative assessment, a framework which moves away from traditional letter grades “awarded by” an instructor and allows students to play a more active role in naming and assessing their learning. Students’ self-assessment is based on activities that they engage with the guidance of the instructor: setting concrete goals, engaging peer response, and systematically reflecting on their work and writing development. This format allows instructors to meet students where they are and help them to specifically target areas where they are struggling. After completing this course, students will still need to complete the MAC requirement for writing and will be encouraged to re-enroll in ENG 101 and use their newfound skills to succeed where they have struggled before.

The English faculty and staff heading this project have worked collaboratively to consider the areas where students are facing difficulties and employ the best, research-based pedagogical approaches to expanding students’ knowledge and supporting their growth. The team also design surveys to ensure that the course is meeting and continues to meet student needs. They are committed to continuing to improve and adjust these courses based on student outcomes and feedback, collected data, and up-to-date research. The project team had a full debrief at the end of the semester with all project leaders and instructors, in order to consider the strengths and limitations of the project and discuss ongoing improvements.

In an effort to leverage these efforts, the English department also hosted a symposium on alternative assessment methods in April 2023. Learning about alternative assessment has been foundational to developing coursework which supports a variety of student needs and is something that the project team has become deeply passionate about. This symposium was a way of amplifying the work with the department and connecting with other departments on campus in order to share knowledge and encourage innovative course structures in other disciplines.

Want to Learn More?
Visit the English Department’s website or contact Heather Adams (hbadams@uncg.edu) and Risa Applegarth (risa_Applegarth@uncg.edu)