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Program Pathways

In order to build upon the successes of its predecessor, the second QEP will have three complementary and overarching pathways to help bridge the gaps between core and major: curricular and pedagogical innovations, enriching educational experiences that will emphasize collaboration between Academic and Student Affairs, and faculty and staff development and engagement.

Pathway 1: Curricular Innovations

One major role that CREW has is the prompting of faculty members to identify the most compelling and accessible texts in their discipline or teaching subjects. The idea here is that if faculty require close reading and more intentional reading assignments, then student competencies will increase, and their reading and writing will be enhanced. Faculty members teaching CREW courses will join learning communities of their own, exchanging ideas about how to incorporate the teaching of close reading for effective writing into their syllabi. For example, in the College of Liberal Arts, department chairs recommended select sections of ENG 101, ENG 102, HIS 101, and SOC 101 to be the first courses to incorporate the CREW learning strategies and outcomes. This identification happened during the fall of 2018 in order to be implemented by January 2019. The participating faculty members who are teaching these sections first met in December 2018 to discuss the student learning outcomes and possible common reading assignments. In January 2019, those same said faculty members learned how to deploy a common rubric -- the AAC&U rubrics on reading comprehension and/or writing competency in the Blackboard course management system used by the University. The University's assessment specialists provided the participants with a checklist of CREW standards to make the reforms uniform and intentional. The faculty members, their department chairs, and assessment staff have planned a follow-up series of meetings throughout the semester to monitor the progress and to fine-tune the stated outcomes. Between 2019 and 2023, many more sections both within and without the general education core will become involved, and the program will eventually impact at least two-thirds of the University's undergraduates.

Faculty will be recruited to participate in CREW through presentations at University meetings (e.g., Opening Session, Faculty Senate, General Education Council, University Assessment Advisory, and University Curriculum Committee), faculty orientation sessions, by word of mouth, and through the CREW website. Faculty who participate in CREW will have access to programming funds to support the development or enhancement courses to include CREW outcomes.

Courses must possess CREW Certification, which will designate specific courses as reading and/or writing intensive. This certification will include elements of the certification process used in the first QEP to designate courses as critical thinking intensive. To fully participate in CREW initiatives, faculty who teach General Education core courses will have to complete an application process and be trained to adapt their courses to meet CREW learning outcomes.

Pathway 2: Enriching Co-Curricular Activities

Another major role of CREW is for students to be able to recognize the usefulness of close reading outside of the classroom. Norfolk State University has a long-standing tradition of providing high quality co-curricular activities on and off-campus featuring authors, scientists, artists, politicians, activists, humanitarians, and more. In keeping with this tradition, co-curricular activities planned to supplement the close readings within the classroom include the Common Reader, the establishment of CREW mates—peer tutors assigned to CREW sections; student-led CREW reading seminars and discussions; invited authors to give talks and workshops with faculty, staff and students, as well as programs that allow for in-depth discussions on writings that impact our contemporary world.

Specifically, the Office of Student Activities and Residential Housing and Life support curricular activities through programming that reinforces the skills, concepts and issues theorized in the classroom. For example, in spring 2019, the NSU Theatre in collaboration with the Virginia Stage Company will present Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye — a classic novel that touches on issues of colorism, class and race. An after-performance talk is scheduled to analyze and evaluate Morrison’s writings with the interpretative performance of the show.

Since 2012 the Common Reader program has moved beyond a mere reading of a common text by first-year students to also include guided discussions during first-year orientation, integration into the first-year seminar course and talks by authors and/or scholars. For the second QEP, CREW, the Common Reader program beginning in summer 2019 will include the selection of text that will engage in the close reading process by students, staff and faculty to include incorporation into first-year courses (i.e., ENG 101, HIS 101, BIO 100 and SOC 101), as well as author talks. This will introduce students from their inception into NSU to the close reading process and will help to make a strategic connection between close reading and its usefulness in their courses, as well as to their understanding of common (and even popular) texts. Ideally, the Common Reader selection will include a presentation and talk by the author.

Student leaders, including Honors College students, will be trained as CREW-mates. CREW- mates will be trained on the close reading process and then will self-select texts to read closely with other students in non-classroom settings. In February 2019, the student members of the Selection team have planned a close reading and discussion on the lyrics and graphics of “This is America” by Childish Gambino, including the music video. This CREW-mate designed program includes a comparative discussion of Langston Hughes’ classic poem “I Too Sing America” with this popular song.

CREW-mates will also serve as peer-tutors for first-year students in CREW-designated courses to model and reinforce improved reading skills. Further, CREW-mates will serve to reinforce the process of analysis, review, reflection and application.

Co-curricular activities will highlight the feasibility and practicality of the QEP. The basic yet impactful necessary skills of close reading and effective writing transcend discipline and career. Through programs that include art, literature, performance and discussion, students will be able to see the relevance of critical readings of texts in their everyday lives, thought processes and ability to articulate their own perspectives. In February and March 2019, the University’s Black History Month is sponsoring a series of brown-bag lunch CREW events where readings and discussions related to the theme, Black Migrations, will occur to include tentative titles:  Black Migrations and Religion; Black Migrations and Women, Black Migrations and Genealogy.

Additional co-curricular activities include close readings of interpretive art—fine art, music/lyrics, videos and films. For instance, the Honors College presents a Film Series that often corresponds with literature.  After viewing the film, audience members engage in a structured discussion with a scholar, author and/or director regarding the film. Honor students who participate then write on the experience focusing on their strategic knowledge of the writing process including, but not limited to, tone, context, audience, purpose, and more. 

All such co-curricular activities will be identified as CREW activities. A survey will be sent to participants to capture their experiences of close reading.

Pathway 3: Faculty and Staff Development and Engagement

The QEP Director, in collaboration with the General Education Council, will design, oversee, and assess a comprehensive QEP faculty and staff development program. The faculty and staff development program will include faculty and staff training sessions during the summer of 2019, an additional one-day training session for lead faculty members in fall 2019, at least four follow-up training and information sessions (a minimum of two per semester) organized by general education core subject area and conducted by lead faculty members, a one-day faculty and staff training session during spring 2020, and one review and feedback session for participating faculty and staff at the end of the each academic year conducted by the QEP Director. Finally, each summer from 2020 to 2024, the QEP Director will lead a planning and assessment retreat. The General Education Council and lead faculty from participating general education classes will be expected to participate in this retreat, where course and other evaluation data will be disseminated and discussed.

Faculty communities of inquiry (COIs) will be organized by general education subject area (e.g., communications, humanities, natural sciences, etc.) to form a learning network focused on embedding pedagogical and co-curricular strategies to develop and assess student attainment of the CREW student learning outcomes.  A community of inquiry is a learning network or community in which a process of social learning occurs. Members of the community share a common interest and collaborate to share ideas, find solutions, and build innovations.  In 2004, Milton D. Cox, the pioneering proponent of this kind of pedagogical reflection, defined faculty learning communities as a cross-disciplinary group (recommended size is 8-12 members) engaging in “an active, collaborative, yearlong program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning and with frequent seminars and activities that provide learning, development, interdisciplinary, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and community building.”  The primary purpose of the communities of inquiry for the QEP will be to provide continuity, sustainability, and a forum to embed close reading for better writing outcomes in general education courses.

The communities of inquiry are designed to enhance faculty collaborations and will focus on 1) identifying and implementing best practices for embedding CREW outcomes in general education courses and developing close reading for effective writing strategies, 2) using current research findings in developing effective pedagogies and assessment measures, and 3) sharing best pedagogical and assessment practices to promote the scholarship of teaching and learning.  In addition, communities of inquiries will assist in developing a campus culture of inquiry focused on improving CREW outcomes in students.

Professional development is key to the success of CREW. In the same way that faculty members cannot assume that all students inherently know how to read academic materials before they are assigned, the CREW initiative understands that faculty, staff, and student leaders must be aware of the available strategies for close reading for effective writing before they can apply them in the classroom and beyond. Accordingly, the QEP Committee decided that the best approach to this development would be a collaborative and interdisciplinary one in which participants from a wide range of programs could help each other to acquire the relevant teaching techniques. Here the Committee turned to the long-standing templates for faculty learning communities put forth by Milton Cox of Miami University in 2004 and further expanded to become professional learning groups to include staff and/or student leaders. The University's first QEP included what we labeled communities of inquiry (COIs) to have faculty and staff to consider the various aspects of critical thinking skills, and the Committee thought that CREW could draw upon that experience to inculcate close reading for effective writing. Further institutional support for the COIs on campus would come from the newly revived Center for Teaching and Learning, which had helped to launch similar efforts for the University's first QEP on critical thinking.

Beginning in the fall of 2020 through the Plan's fifth year, the Committee intends to sponsor a series of communities of inquiry for topics and techniques revolving around close reading for effective writing. These COIs could focus on such subjects as picking the most appropriate reading assignments, using films and visual media as core texts, vocabulary-building, previewing secondary articles, teaching historical context, annotation, and building a multicultural canon for associated disciplines in the general education core. These COIs would be targeted at those faculty and student leaders in the general education core initially, but their invitation to participate would be open to all relevant stakeholders who would like to commit their time and energy to the discussion sessions that would extend over a semester. Each COI would consist of 8-12 members, and they would be paid stipends for their participation. Yet, for these stipends, they would be expected to show how their syllabi and/or assignments were enhanced by their participation in this development. The process is as important as the product here, but the ultimate goal must be student success. Accordingly, the Committee envisions specific assessment instruments to see how professional development from the communities of inquiry directly helped to improve student performance in reading and writing. These could include classroom visits from COI colleagues to verify and critique the introduction of new instructional design. The Committee could also compare student performance in classrooms informed by COI development with that performance without such enrichment.   

In conjunction with these communities of inquiry, the QEP Committee intends to invite external experts to campus to talk about the latest scholarship on the teaching of reading and writing. Topics might include the practical deployment of nationally-recommended pedagogical approaches which would include the habits of close reading for effective writing. These experts could reach interested stakeholders beyond the COIs who may not have the available time to devote to more sustained development.  In the pilot phase, the Committee has sponsored lunch-time close reading seminars on a diverse array of academic materials from Presidential speeches through metaphysical discourses. These seminars could be run at the same time as the COIs in order to reach more personnel and student leaders who did not have the opportunity to engage in a specific community. Finally, along with the direct curricular changes, the Committee hopes to instruct faculty members of CREW sections directly in the techniques of close reading for effective writing. This training with the selected, nationally-vetted rubrics and the close reading habits has already begun with the pilot in spring 2019, and it will become quite robust with the envisioned scaling up of the program. This training may also be tailored for those student leaders who may offer tutorial assistance to their colleagues: the CREW mates. This effort will help to build a core of CREW leaders who can teach others through example. 

Sharing experiences and successes with close reading for effective writing will be important in generating and keeping broad-based support. The Committee hopes to highlight the work of COI leaders via the QEP website and other University vehicles and channels. In turn, COI leaders could begin their own blogs or wikis on close reading for effective writing with Committee approval. This kind of publicity and marketing will help to build interest and participation in CREW that will affect a significant proportion of the University's stakeholders and, particularly, of its undergraduate students.