Berks faculty awarded grant to enhance writing instruction

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Credit: Penn State

WYOMISSING, Pa. – Three Penn State Berks professors have been awarded a grant to assist Penn State faculty who incorporate student writing as part of their inter-domain courses. The grant enables Professors Christian Weisser, Holly Ryan, and Jennifer Dareneau to study the types of writing that occur in inter-domain courses and to develop workshops for faculty to effectively use writing as part of their teaching pedagogy.


The University rolled out its inter-domain courses in 2019, with the goal of presenting material from two different educational perspectives, giving students the opportunity to expand their mindset. Nearly 400 inter-domain courses have been added to the Penn State curriculum across all its campuses. Students earning a baccalaureate degree must complete six credits of integrative studies courses, which include both inter-domain and linked courses. 

The grant was awarded by Penn State’s Office of General Education and has been divided into two phases. In the first phase, the researchers surveyed and interviewed faculty teaching inter-domain courses to determine how they teach student writing, how much writing is involved, and the types of writing in their courses. The study also asked faculty how they feel about their ability to provide instruction in this discipline. 

Ryan, associate professor of English and Writing Center coordinator, said, “Writing is a core skill for our graduates, so the more opportunities they have to write in their general education courses the better. By doing this project, we are hoping to not only increase the amount of writing that our students do, but also help faculty use writing effectively in their teaching so students get the most out of the experience.” 

The group worked together to collect data. Together, they surveyed the relevant literature and created 30 survey questions. Using Qualtrics, the team emailed all the faculty who have taught inter-domain courses over the past four semesters.  

Weisser, professor of English and program chair of the writing and digital media program, explained, “We had a tremendous amount of feedback with 170 faculty responding, which represents 34% of those teaching inter-domain courses. We collected a lot of data from a broad cross-section across the Penn State campuses.” 

After analyzing the survey, the group conducted follow-up focus groups with 20 Penn State faculty from different campuses. 

What did the data reveal? “Some of these faculty had little or no training in teaching student writing,” stated Weisser. “And the faculty who do use writing in the courses wanted more tools for getting even better content from their students.”

Now in the second phase, Weisser, Ryan and Dareneau are develop training workshops for faculty, which will be taught in various cohorts at Penn State campuses. 

Weisser teaches an inter-domain course in Digital Cultures, which looks at changes in cultures and issues such as cyberbullying, privacy and social media. Digital Cultures is classified as both a communication course and an information sciences and technology course.

Penn State Berks developed its Writing across the Curriculum program (WAC) 10 years ago. The Berks WAC program is the only one in the Penn State system to provide training, resources and advice about writing instruction for Berks faculty in all disciplines who want to increase the amount and effectiveness of the writing assignments they require in their classes. The Berks WAC also offers a series of training workshops for a select group of faculty applicants. 

For more information, contact Weisser at [email protected].