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Innovative Course Design at Ohio State

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I’ve had a chance during the last month to visit several college campuses and I have come away so impressed with what’s going on across the country in terms of innovative writing pedagogy. Certainly that was the case last week when I visited my old alma mater, Ohio State, for an alumnae board meeting and had the chance to visit with Scott DeWitt, who heads up the Digital Media and Composition Program there (and has served as vice chair for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy as well as the DMAC Institute that brings students and scholars from around the country to Columbus every summer to learn how to use media most effectively in the teaching of writing and speaking).

I got to hear about a new course Scott has developed, one that features internships that call for digital media applications. In the course he is teaching now, he has four teams working on projects: one focused on undergraduate students and their experiential stories; one focused on faculty, who tell stories about their fascinations and obsessions; one that produces podcasts intended for faculty, staff, and students; and one that focuses on alumnae. Called “Mapping Alums,” this project records alumnae telling stories of their time as students and embeds these stories on an interactive object map. I think there are 20 students in the class, which personally seems a little too big to me—15 would be more manageable—but Scott is managing it with his usual enthusiasm and absolute dedication to student-initiated learning.

In addition to this exciting project, Scott has an idea for “storytelling for engineers,” which would aim to show engineers how much they need to rely on narrative to get their points across: sounds like another winner to me!

These projects are all taking place at the initiative of the Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy faculty, but they are doing so within the Department of English at Ohio State. More than almost any English department I’ve visited in the last several years, Ohio State’s is determined to reverse the enrollment decline by offering courses like the one Scott is teaching, courses that put students in the driver’s seat and support them as they take powerful messages out into the world. The Narrative and Medicine project (spearheaded by James Phelan) is another such effort, as is a new program that combines English and Math. If English departments are going to prosper, these are exactly the kinds of projects they need to undertake, ones that take advantage of the “participatory turn” in learning and that focus on what students can achieve, especially when working collaboratively.

Before I left, I got to visit the graduate “Lunsford lounge” (I spoke with one grad student who says she spends hours there every day since it is a quiet place to work away from her two teenage kids!) and saw the redesigned English office. I well remember entering that office 46 years ago when I began my PhD journey at Ohio State. For 45 of those years it has looked exactly the same, but no more! What a spruce up it has undergone, as these photos show.

I’d love to hear about innovative new curricular projects – and see photos of redesigned spaces. Please send!

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Image credit: Andrea Lunsford

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.