Mellon grant for writing groups at Penn

Profs win writing program grant

By Edward Sherwin
The Daily Pennsylvanian

April 3, 1998

Students at the University already have "Writing About..." courses, Writing Across the University courses, in-house writing advising, the Writing Center, Electronic Writing Advising and the Kelly Writers House.

Now, make way for "collaborative writing groups."

English Professors Al Filreis and Peshe Kuriloff have won a $448,000 grant from the New York-based Mellon Foundation for this new program, which falls under the Foundation's "Cost Effective Uses of Technology in Teaching" initiative.

As part of the program, students will be able to participate in non-graded, not-for-credit writing groups for a full year to satisfy the University writing requirement, rather than taking one or two of the existing semester-long, writing-intensive courses. Each group will consist of 15 students and a graduate student instructor and will meet over e-mail listservs and in small group discussions.

"This will break down the constraints of time and space of ordinary classes," said Kuriloff, who resigned last month as head of the University's WATU program. "It's less an instructor giving out assignments and making demands of students and a lot more collaboration."

Filreis, the director of the University's Writing Program, emphasized that the writing groups will rely on work from other classes -- such as term papers, essays and lab reports -- to create interaction between the program's participants. The groups will have no formal assignments.

"It folds into the life of your courses," he said. "That's why I say it's the truest form of 'writing across the university'."

The writing groups will be residentially based, with next year's three groups being based in Hill House, King's Court/English House and one other college house that has not yet been determined, according to Kuriloff, the program's director. The program will expand to six groups for the 1999-2000 academic year and will encompass eight groups in the third and final year of the program.

The funding from Mellon will only cover the first three years of the new initiative, which will then be evaluated and either disbanded or folded into the Writing Program. The money -- which was put into University accounts last week -- will be used primarily to pay for the graduate students' fellowships.

Kuriloff said two of next year's graduate student "facilitators" -- English graduate student Carolyn Jacobson and Political Science graduate student Scott Silverstone -- have signed on so far. A third, from a non-English field in the humanities, will be named shortly.

Mellon Foundation Secretary Richard Ekman praised the program, which is one of only four or five of its kind funded by Mellon so far, as an "imaginative use of information technology."

"The ability for instantaneous communication between students and teachers and among students is enormous," he said. "There is an advantage over traditional methods of teaching."

According to Filreis, one of the main benefits of the program is the constant level of communication between the students and teachers.

"We think that basic academic support can happen in the 'between spaces' between and among classes," he said. "We want to see if we can take advantage of all the time not spent in courses."


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Last modified: Friday, 03-Apr-1998 17:57:08 EST