History of WAC

Since the mid-1970s, nearly half of U.S. colleges and universities have established Writing Across the Curriculum programs.  For a history of the WAC movement in the U.S., see the University of Northern Illinois'
A Short History of WAC.



In 1991, under the leadership of the English Department, the College of Arts & Sciences launched an ambitious writing-across-the-curriculum program (WAC) at Howard University. The goals of the WAC program are twofold: to help students learn to write and write to learn.  In other words, the writing-intensive courses that are the centerpiece of the WAC program help students master the text conventions of a particular discipline, while reinforcing skills learned in Freshman English.  At the same time, the courses empower students to use writing assignments to read and think critically about the subject matter of the discipline.

At Howard the WAC program is a voluntary, collaborative venture guided by college-wide standards. Each year teachers volunteer to participate in a series of workshops: "Designing Assignments," "Revising Syllabi," and "Handling the Paper Load." During the workshops, the teachers collaborate on the revision of their syllabi to meet the Guidelines for Teachers of Writing-Intensive Courses in the Disciplines. These guidelines call for frequent prewriting, writing, and rewriting of assignments that promote "writing to learn" as well as "learning to write." To enable teachers to respond to the assignments, the guidelines also limit the class size to 20 students. Once a syllabus meets the guidelines, the College's WAC Committee approves it and assigns the teacher's section a 700-level number and a WRTG suffix (e.g., 050-701-01 EVOLUTION-WRTG). At that point, the section fulfills the third writing requirement in the College of Arts & Sciences and the Division of Allied Health.

Because of the support of the English Department, the Dean's office, and teachers throughout the University, the WAC program has grown dramatically. So far 73 teachers in the College of Arts & Sciences have completed the workshops. These teachers represent nearly every department in the College. Since August 1994, 10 teachers from Allied Health, 1 from Continuing Education, and 1 from Engineering have also joined their ranks. Consequently, the number of writing-intensive courses has soared. While Allied Health offered its first 13 writing-intensive courses between Fall 1994 and Spring 1999, Arts & Sciences scheduled 178 from Spring 1993 through Spring 1999. In addition, some departments, such as Math, History, Afro-American Studies, Physical Education, and Physics, have started requiring their majors to take a writing-intensive course within their field.

Students report that such courses are valuable, especially as a tool for learning the subject matter. Questionnaire surveys of the Spring 1993 - Spring 2001 classes reveal that the students believe their WAC courses have helped them think critically, read carefully, organize their thoughts, understand the lessons, and reinforce Freshman English writing skills. Consistently, students have given the highest ratings to WAC's effects on their thinking and reading. Data from focus groups sessions and paired classes (WAC vs. non-WAC) support these findings.


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