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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Ordinary Writing in the Engaged University

Ann M Feldman.

This presentation illustrates how students in a first-year writing program can use writing to participate in public conversations and change civic contexts. I argue that writing instruction can challenges current conceptions of service learning in which students use writing to reflect on their experience rather than change situations. Ordinary Writing in the Engaged University offers an alternative to service learning’s knee-jerk response to send first-year students out to work in literacy centers or to help in soup kitchens as a way to raise students’ sensitivity to the urban context. By developing a writing program that presents writing as an intellectually challenging, problem-solving activity that takes place in social contexts, UIC can rewrite service learning’s unexamined assumptions based on charity and noblesse oblige. Ordinary Writing in the Engaged University explores how learning to write at an engaged institution can contribute a key intellectual strand of an undergraduate education while contributing to a mission of civic engagement.
The work of UIC’s first-year writing program, which is at the core of this project, is interdisciplinary; students in every major and every college take these writing courses, creating a ripple effect throughout the campus. As students focus on solving situated, local problems through writing in a variety of genres (proposals, letters to the editor, reviews, feature stories, interviews, research projects, and argumentative essays), they see that knowledge and information do not reside only within the walls of the university. These problems can only be solved through partnerships between academic and metropolitan sources of knowledge. Students go beyond academic research to complete writing projects based on site-specific knowledge developed from interviews with local participants and from documents, archives, and observations that emerge from local situations.


Ann M Feldman  (United States)
Director, First-Year Writing Program
Department of English College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
University of Illinois at Chicago

Ann M. Feldman directs the first-year writing program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a program that asks students to participate in important public conversations through writing. The program asks students to situate writing in current, local contexts and to write in a variety of genres: essays, reviews, proposals, manifestos, feature stories, and opinion pieces. Feldman trains instructors through ongoing seminars, develops curricula, and assesses learning for the program’s 3,500 students. Two textbooks, written by Feldman, offer a conceptual framework for the writing program: Writing and Learning in the Disciplines (HarperCollins, 1996) and In Context: Participating in Cultural Conversations (with Nancy Downs and Ellen McManus, Addison-Wesley Longman, 2002). Earlier work on cognition and learning focused on writing processes. An edited volume, Writing in Real Time (Ablex, 1987; published under Ann Matsuhashi) offered cognitive approaches to writing processes as did numerous journal articles such as “Cognitive Questions from Discourse Analysis: A Review and a Study.” Written Communication, 1984, 1 (3), 307-339 (with Karen Quinn).

  • Writing
  • Civic Contexts
  • Public Conversations
  • Genre
  • Service Learning
  • Partnerships

(30 min Conference Paper, English)