The following interview with professors Jami Blaauw-Hara of North Central Michigan College and Mark Blauuw-Hara of the University of Toronto-Mississauga was conducted via email in August of 2022. This is the second of four parts.
David Starkey: Mark, you’ve been involved a lot in writing program administration. You were the WPA at North Central Michigan and you’re a past President of the Council of Writing Program Administrators. What have you learned from being a WPA that’s made you a better classroom teacher?
Mark Blaauw-Hara: Being a WPA and teaching definitely feed into one another. One key area that I’ve focused on, based on the interplay between the two roles, is the tension between instructor autonomy and departmental consistency. As an instructor, I’d like to be able to do whatever I want in my classes, and I think most instructors feel like that. However, as a WPA, I understand that there absolutely must be strong consistency between sections, or the course ceases to have any real meaning. If writing courses are required to graduate, and if they are required for specific academic programs and degrees, the writing program has a responsibility to ensure some amount of consistency across sections–otherwise we lose our justification for requiring those courses. Another thing I’ve learned from working in the two contexts is the value of transparency and communication–if you’re asking someone to do something, whether that’s a student or a colleague, it’s really important to have good lines of communication open and to be trustworthy and honest. And finally, being connected with the WPA community outside my school really helped to bring back cutting-edge scholarship and pedagogy to the program and my own classes.
DS: Jami, can you talk about how you and a colleague brought the corequisite model of developmental writing to North Central, where the resultant program won the 2019 Diana Hacker TYCA Outstanding Program Award? Were there certain elements of the traditional ALP model that you foregrounded that made your program excel?
Jami Blaauw-Hara: We have always been a small department, and when we were all unified in our esteem for, and understanding of, writing scholarship, it was easy to make changes. My colleague and I discovered the ALP model from a conference in Baltimore and were persuaded because we had long been tweaking content to improve our success rates for developmental writing. It was a game changer to consider that the model was the problem, not the content. At the time, Mark was our WPA, and he was supportive of the model and helped scale it up with administration. Our college had been chosen as an Achieving the Dream institution, so we were new and eager for data-driven experiments. The pilots of ALP showed that students not only passed developmental courses at higher rates but also that they persisted in subsequent semesters. This was a great motivator for administration. Soon after, we experimented with textbooks and another colleague found that a writing about writing approach was working really well in her classroom. After a pilot, we scaled that up as well. I would say that we were in a sweet spot of having confident, experimental colleagues following the research at a college needing to prove that it made data-driven decisions.