Authorship at UW-Milwaukee

UWM's writing program uses a set of curriculum-wide goals to assess final portfolios of student writing at the end of each semester. However, these goals determine more than if a student passes or fails portfolio review. The goals shape the content of every instructor's course, and they structure daily class activities, assignments, and approaches. If we read the goals carefully, what do they tell us about UWM's approach to student authorship and textual authority in general?

[1] The course goals don't use the word "author." Instead, the language emphasizes writers and writing choices, as though avoiding a hierarchy of "published author" above "student writer." For example, the goals state, "With their interpretive essays, a writer will articulate and maintain a controlling purpose by reflecting not only on what matters to the writer of the interpretive essay but also on what matters to those who are addressed in the writing and what matters to those who are being responded to in the writing." In this language, "the author" remains absent, granting "the writer" more authority.

[2] The course goals don't take the printed essay as a baseline. Through the use of the words "text" and "ideas," the goals emphasize composition and arrangement, and they could easily fit a visual text or a collaboratively-authored web site: "Critically interpret course texts by identifying and analyzing strategies, key terms, distinctions and questions being asked within a given text."

[3] The course goals make some effort to warn against plagiarism by encouraging credibility/ethos in the student writer. For example, one goal states that students should "make use of the ideas of others accurately and fairly by providing the context of the texts being interpreted for readers, such as background information, brief summaries, definitions of key terms, and examples." The emphasis on the rhetorical relationship between writer and reader develops a reason for documenting and contextualizing sources, rather than just a warning. Student writers are asked to consider how their use of source material could positively or negatively affect their reader's perception or understanding; this principle could easily apply to the use of source material in wikis and remix videos (whereas the "don't plagiarize" commandment begins to seem artificial or incomplete in networked, dynamic new media spaces of creativity).