For the past two weeks, the University of Lynchburg’s incoming first-year students have been signing up for their classes during summer orientation. This includes the first classes offered from the new DELL general education program.
That means they’re signing up for classes like “How Does Music Start a Revolution?” “Humans vs. Robots: A Survival Guide,” and “Harry Potter and the Good Life” — a class that has caught the attention of media outlets, including local TV stations and the website Mental Floss.
But another big change to the curriculum is a completely revamped first-year writing course.
Dr. Leslie Layne, coordinator of college writing at the University, worked with the rest of the English department to create the College Writing Workshop, which combines two semesters of composition into a one-semester workshop.
It also cuts the class size nearly in half, meaning students will get more personalized attention to help them master writing more quickly.
“My vision for the College Writing Workshop is that we will have a lot of active learning in the classroom,” Dr. Layne said. “With a smaller number of students in each class, we can really get to know students’ writing very well and give them more personal, directed feedback.”
The new class uses a workshop model that will give students opportunities to practice writing techniques a couple of times, and then apply them in an essay. Each workshop zeroes in on a specific writing skill, such as turning run-on sentences into more manageable ones. Students will work together to critique each others’ writing.
“We’re going to have more writing groups and collaborative learning,” Dr. Layne said. “I’ve tried collaborative learning in my classes, and I think that has paid off because students feel pretty comfortable with their writing groups of three or four people.
“With the collaboration and active learning that we’re doing in the classroom, at the end of the class period they will have done something productive. They’re not just listening to a lecture. They’re doing something that gets them somewhere.”
The course focuses on essays and persuasive writing. Dr. Layne said it’s important for students to master the skill of expressing themselves and supporting their ideas.
“Everything they do in life is an argument, and a lot of it’s an argument in writing,” she said. “They need the ability to say something and back it up, whether it’s convincing their boss to give them a raise or convincing their significant other to go to this restaurant for dinner.”
First-year students also can take the College Writing Studio course if they want to focus more on fundamentals of writing before taking the workshop. Either way, students will have a welcoming atmosphere where they can learn writing with professors who can guide them along the way.
Dr. Layne said most universities continue to offer traditional first-year composition courses with larger classes. She’s happy to see the University of Lynchburg make an innovative switch. “I am really looking forward to getting to know the students’ writing on a more intimate level and to be able to give them feedback that they need,” she said.