Writing and Communication Skills

Approved by the Senate on 16 April 2008, upon recommendation of the Vancouver Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Writing and Communication Skills. The approved recommendations appear in full text below. Additional recommendations were circulated for information and are contained in the PDF report as Appendix I.

The following is excerpted from the Committee’s report.

This report was informed by a review of the work of several previous committees that have explored this issue (see Appendix II) and the happy circumstance that put at least two people who had participated in those discussions on the current committee. In addition, the broad representation of academic units in the membership of the committee ensured that many current initiatives in learning and teaching at UBC Vancouver were brought to the table. Additional ideas and advice were provided by other academic units at UBC Vancouver (through the Committee of Deans), at UBC Okanagan (through Senate and Deans), and by Enrolment Services units.

It was relatively easy to reach consensus on the principle that development of proficiency in writing and other communication skills is fundamental in an undergraduate education and the University is therefore responsible for providing students with experience in communicating both in a research context for scholarly purposes and in more general ways as educated citizens. The first principle leads to a second, viz that at least some of the learning should take place in the student’s discipline and therefore a distributed model is endorsed.

The Committee feels that all undergraduate degree programs should require several courses (we settled on the equivalent of nine credits)that provide guided instruction and feedback on writing or other forms of communication (see Appendix I). If such a requirement were instituted, then three credits of the requirement should be fulfilled with a course requiring extensive writing in the English language, preferably to be taken in the first year of the program. The additional credits could be within dedicated writing/communication courses or integrated within courses having a larger purpose. A “communication course” must provide formative feedback before any summative evaluation of communication abilities occurs: that is, it must emphasize constructive, collegial response to student writing or oral communication rather than simply evaluating and grading it.

A decentralized model for teaching communication has strong resource implications, both for the development and support of appropriate communication courses and for the redistribution of responsibilities between faculties for the teaching of communication. The current financial climate of the University does not favour the ambitious proposal set out in Appendix I. As such, the recommendations of the Committee cannot be implemented as envisioned at the moment, but the Committee recommends to Senate that the full proposal be implemented once the financial situation of the University is more amenable. In the meantime, individual faculties should be encouraged to work toward the goal as opportunities arise and a series of recommendations to that end are presented for Senate’s consideration.

Committee Recommendations

Therefore, building on curricular strengths where they exist and anticipating innovation on the part of academic leaders, the Committee makes the following recommendations:

  • That all undergraduate degree programs submit to the Senate Curriculum Committee – in time for consideration for publication in the 2009–2010 print version of the UBC Vancouver Calendar – a statement (of 200–300 words) of the nature of communication in the discipline, the value of acquiring general and discipline-specific communication skills, and the characteristics of courses that would provide opportunities for the acquisition of those communication skills, i.e., courses with appropriate learning outcomes and instructional practices that include feedback before summative evaluation of communication abilities occurs;
  • That all undergraduate degree programs audit their course offerings with the aim of identifying “communication courses” that support the development of communication skills as defined in that program’s new Calendar statement; that each program submits to the Senate Curriculum Committee a list of such communication courses; that the Senate Curriculum Committee recommend to Senate for inclusion in the program’s Calendar entry the list of those courses that meet with their approval; and that said process be completed in time for production of the 2009–2010 print version of the UBC Vancouver Calendar;
  • That the Senate Curriculum Committee be directed to report to Senate on the participation of undergraduate degree programs in recommendations 1 and 2 at least annually;
  • That the Faculty of Arts continue to offer a first-year course accessible to students across the University that provides instruction in writing suitable for university studies and that other faculties and schools be encouraged to collaborate with the Faculty of Arts on the design of the curriculum in that course to better suit the needs of students in their programs;
  • That the Faculty of Arts be encouraged to pilot ASTU 150 and writing-intensive courses at second year and above, and that the Faculty of Applied Science be encouraged to pilot APSC 176, and that both faculties provide Senate with a report by March 2010, including data that can inform future budget allocation decisions at the level of the faculty and the University. Other faculties are also encouraged to initiate changes consistent with the recommendations in Appendix I as opportunities arise and to provide Senate with reports;
  • That faculties and schools be encouraged to use resources such as the Teaching & Learning Enhancement Fund and the Teaching & Academic Growth unit to improve the effectiveness of instruction in communication; and that the Provost be encouraged to put priority on the allocation of discretionary funds to this effort;
  • That the Vancouver sub-committee of the Council of Senates Budget Committee be asked to take up the issue of decision-making and priority-setting with regard to campus-wide academic initiatives in general as well as this initiative specifically;
  • That Senate request the Provost to put priority on funding for a writing and communication requirement in future budget discussions with the goal of implementing the proposal for a writing and communication requirement as detailed in Recommendations A through I (Appendix I), and that the Provost report to Senate annually regarding progress toward implementing these recommendations; and
  • That, having completed its responsibilities to the best of its abilities given the realities of financial constraint, the Ad Hoc Committee on Writing and Communication Skills be discharged.

This information is for quick reference. For the full text of the Minutes of Senate, which include the motions and discussion, please see the Minutes Archive.