Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English


Rhetoric and Composition



First Advisor

Elizabeth Miles


Assessment practices are part of the work of writing program administration (WPA), and the WPA function can take several forms. While some scholars champion certain constructions of WPA - be they collective, collaborative, post-masculinist, distributed, and so on - Stories that Shape: The Work of Writing Program Administration argues that what is most crucial isn’t that a program implements a particular construction, but that the specific construction in play suits the specific context of the program in which it is located. And because programs change - because the larger field of rhetoric and composition changes - the work of WPA, and the construction of the position of a writing program administrator, must change accordingly and appropriately.

Stories that Shape outlines the history of URI’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric, starting with its housing in the English department, moving through the development of its major, and up through its existence as a stand-alone department that offers a bachelor of arts, situating these changes in a historical and local context. It then tells the story of the WPA work that two committees undertook. The first was the round of outcomes-based assessment of general education writing courses that the Assessment Committee orchestrated. The second outlines the changes that the First-Year Writing Committee made to the general education learning outcomes and to the department’s most frequently offered course, WRT 104: Writing to Inform and Explain. These stories illustrate the department’s collaborative, distributive WPA model. Further, they demonstrate the ways that WPA work is formative, generative, and rhetorical, capable of creating change at the department, program, and classroom level.

Nationally (and locally), the majority of general education courses (including writing) are taught by instructors off the tenure-track. This includes per-course instructors and graduate teaching assistants, a population whose professional identity is often in flux or under scrutiny. Gaining a sense of what the teaching majority values and believes about teaching writing is essential for anyone doing WPA work.

Through anonymous surveys and semi-structured interviews with per-course instructors and graduate teaching assistants, Stories that Shape explores three issues that should be of interest to writing program administrators and those responsible for WPA work. Research participants were asked to outline their own teaching objectives (as they relate or do not relate to the department’s general education learning objectives); to define teachability (what they value in textbooks and teaching resources); and to reflect on the value of teaching disciplinary terms and concepts in first-year, general education courses. These instabilities can be perspectives that writing program administrators, compositions, and writing scholars use to understand the field - broadly and generally - and they can be perspectives that enable them to ask how, why, and whether or not a program or department - locally and specifically - can, should, or even wants to change.



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