Posted in CBW 2016, CCCC 2016

CBW INNY Award Presentation

This year’s winner of CBW’s award for innovation (known as the INNY) is the writing program at Boise State University. Heidi Estrem, Dawn Shepherd, and Karen Uehling are presenting how they changed Boise State’s placement system.

Heidi begins by asking the audience to identify potential questions or issues we have about program policy or institutional process at our home institutions. She then continued by describing the limitations of Boise State’s then-current placement program, which was mandated by the state; every public institution in Idaho had to use the same system. This was a problem, for reasons that are obvious to any writing instructor–different student populations, different needs.

What Boise State did: created consensus and commitment by writing a whitepaper; found their allies by canvassing/meeting with stakeholders at each campus in Idaho; kept an open mind and developed a specific target and deliverables; created pilot projects and pushed for evidence-based placement; and kept the momentum going.

Karen Uehling is now discussing how the basic writing course structure changed at Boise State. The new model is called English 101 PLUS. (101+?)

The Idaho State Board of Education adopted “Complete College Idaho,” a corporate model. The Boise State WPAs were never able to get their stretch course to be credit-bearing, which was a huge source of frustration since this program was very successful. When the process of change the course curriculum began, it was difficult, as the stretch program worked well and instructors loved the course.

How Boise State revised its program: Reviewed “Complete College Idaho” options and selected the ALP approach. Planned new course with current stretch instructors and piloted a new course. Found allies and wrote a grant proposal for course and faculty development, not only for Boise State, but also the College of Western Idaho, Boise State’s sister community college.

New course ran in Fall 2013. They now have a for-credit English 101+ course and a three-hour English 101 course. This process gave the writing instructors a voice and input into the changes in the writing program.Karen wraps up by saying,”We are teaching the students, we care about them, we SHOULD have a voice in what we’re doing.”

Dawn Shepherd is now discussing the curricular change, which was prompted by general education reform at Boise State; new university learning outcomes; and research in the field on threshold concepts and writing transfer. Those affected by the curriculum change include students, FYW instructors, a second-year course (UF 200) that is writing intensive; and the instructors of the Communication in the Disciplines course, offered by every department on campus. Quotes Chuck Paine: “If you don’t get buy in, don’t do it.”

What Boise State did: used a quilting metaphor that honored a feminist conception of collaborative work; developed a “survey that helped make connections between local values, current pedagogies, and new research in the field; slowed the process down to allow for processing, which included coffee talks; instructors were given $5 Starbucks gift cards so they could meet in dyads and talk over the changes; and writing groups were formed. During 2016-17, the curriculum will continue to be developed through experimentation and pilot projects.

The discussion then returns to the audience’s institutional context. The audience is identifying their stakeholders and choosing one to identify values, attitudes, and assumptions. The audience is asked, when you return to your institution, what is one action you can take? The audience then does a write-pair-share activity.

For more information, the Boise State writing program has compiled resources on Google Drive at






I'm an Associate Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where I teach graduate and undergraduate courses in writing, literacy, and folklore.

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