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QEP Writing Through Revision

SACSCOC and QEP

Successful implementation of Spalding's Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) is a required element of our accreditation reaffirmation.

According to the SACSCOC "Principles of Accreditation," quality enhancement and the assessment of ongoing institutional improvement are central: 

"At the heart of SACSCOC’s philosophy of accreditation, the concept of quality enhancement presumes each member institution is to be engaged in ongoing improvement of its programs and services and be able to demonstrate how well it fulfills its stated mission. Although evaluation of an institution’s educational quality and effectiveness in achieving its mission is a difficult task requiring careful analysis and professional judgment, an institution is expected to document the quality and effectiveness of all its programs and services." (p.2)

And, the QEP is a big piece of that core goal of ongoing improvement:

"The Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) is an integral component of the reaffirmation of accreditation process and is derived from an institution’s ongoing comprehensive planning and evaluation processes. It reflects and affirms a commitment to enhance overall institutional quality and effectiveness by focusing on an issue the institution considers important to improving student learning outcomes and/or student success." (p.7)

Because Spalding's QEP is focused on classroom-based writing, this means that our accreditation reaffirmation hinges crucially on faculty members being held accountable for implementing pedagogical initiatives like those outlined on this website. Please be in touch with the QEP Director if you have questions!

Spalding Mission and QEP

Spalding Mission and QEP graphic

I want to try to convince you that focusing on reflective writing in our classes gives our students real clout as they go into the world with a Spalding degree and carry with them Spalding’s values. I hope you will be inspired to think about how you might integrate what I will call a disposition toward reflective classroom practice into your courses: STEM, non-STEM, undergraduate, and professional alike.

The QEP is titled “Writing through Revision.” But what is revision? And, why do it? To “polish” our prose? To make it “error free”? I will contend that’s a superficial reading of “revision.”

If we consider revision a disposition toward reflective classroom practice, what this means is instilling in our students a willingness to “blow it up and start over,” no matter what they already have on the page. But why? If I, as an instructor, 1) have clearly articulated a set of expectations to my students, and 2) have given them what I believe is an ample amount of time to create a “finished” product, why do we need them to “start over”?

There are pedagogical justifications for this that come out of composition and education theory. But our QEP proposal points to the Spalding mission statement, claiming that “revision” is institutionally relevant because it promotes “quality undergraduate and graduate liberal and professional studies.”

However, at our strategic planning retreat on September 8th, 2017, the first thing the facilitators did that morning was to have each person pick one word in the mission statement that they felt most important, to them.

What was interesting to me was that the words from the mission I just quoted were not the go-to; rather the words people chose also focused on parts of the mission statement that you might call “supra-pedagogical”: “diverse,” “community,” “needs,” “times,” “tradition,” “spiritual,” “values,” “service,” and “justice.”

So, I have empirical evidence from ourselves as an institution that what we value instilling in, and modeling to, our students is not only “facts,” “education,” or even “learning,” but rather also the liberal values that go along with it.

I want to make the case that focusing on “revision” gives us a medium to accomplish these “supra-pedagogical” goals at Spalding, because it forces us to acknowledge that student learning and evaluation should not primarily concern the products students produce, but rather the process of production itself. This shifts the burden of learning and evaluation squarely onto both skills and values.

First, process-based writing promotes understanding and empathy across boundaries of race/religion/ethnicity/sexuality/gender/ability. Writing can help to solidify one’s thinking on a difficult issue, to wrestle with others’ stances, and be an impartial vector to facilitate difficult discussions. And, effective writing is predicated on effective discussion and empathetic listening. Gesturing at theory, these observations go back to the very birth of the “multi-literacy” movement in the 1990s, of which this QEP is a theoretical grandchild.

Second, one perhaps perverse effect of moving our lives online is that text is more important than it has ever been. While it’s true that technology has upended the notion of what is possible in the classroom visually, aurally, and in terms of quantification, people nevertheless consume and produce more text than ever before. A report cited in The Atlantic estimates that the average worker writes 41,638 words per year just of email. This is almost equivalent to the length of the novel The Great Gatsby.  (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/01/you-probably-write-a-novels-worth-of-email-every-year/266942/)

What follows is that a healthy, informed sense of information literacy is perhaps the most valuable gift we can give a Spalding student. Critical analytical thought, and writing as a vector to it are crucial to fostering this literacy. “Revision” is part of this effort insofar as its goal is to translate critical thought into text that is produced through multiple iterations on behalf of an accurately imagined audience.

Third, being able to write persuasively on behalf of those without the power/tools to do so is the essence of “service.” Good work and acts are only as good as one’s ability to scale them beyond confined borders – which necessitates the capacity to engender empathy in others. While we all see the import of emphasizing “supra-pedagogical” values, the real social justice question in front of us is: “does Spalding send good people into the world who possess the specific tools necessary to meet the daunting, scalar challenges of peace and justice facing humanity and the planet?” Process-based pedagogy, and writing as its vector, is critical to fostering those tools because 1) it encourages productive communication, and 2) it is focused inherently on messy, open-ended problems.

Finally, let me show you an example of what I would call productive “revision” as I have laid it out here: one that speaks directly to the communication of complex ideas, to empathy toward an imagined “other,” and to an aspiration to peace and reconciliation:

In 1919, The London Times asked a distinguished German scientist to write a short article for its pages that could be digested by the British public, on the pretext that scientific communication between Germany and the UK had faltered during WWI. Here you can see that scientist’s struggle physically on the page – in his attempt to make the difficult content understandable, certainly, but also – especially at the beginning of the piece – the struggle to promote reconciliation with this act of written communication across cultural boundaries.

What was the article?

It was titled “What is the Theory of Relativity?” and it was written by a guy named Albert Einstein.

But, why is the fact that Albert Einstein used theoretical physics to bridge brutal cultural antipathies through the popular press – why is that an object lesson for us here at Spalding?

Fostering and maintaining our “community” is at the very foundation of the spiritual charter of our institution. I would contend that a broadly-implemented writing-intensive curriculum may be the single most leveraging action we can take on behalf of this charge.