Recent Trends in Writing Instruction and
Composition Studies in Canadian Universities

Tania S. Smith, April 1999

NOTE: A more recent version of this research has been published here:

"Recent Trends in Undergraduate Writing Courses and Programs in Canadian Universities," in Writing Centres, Writing Seminars,
Writing Culture: Writing Instruction in Anglo-Canadian Universities. ed. Roger Graves and Heather Graves. Winnipeg: Inkshed Press, 2006. p. 319-370. Distributed by Trafford Publishing

Canadian writing instruction has suffered from a lack of indigenous scholarship in comparison to the bulk of materials generated about postsecondary writing instruction in the United States. This lack can be partly explained by the relatively recent reemergence of rhetoric and composition as a scholarly discipline in Canada. The field of composition in Canada is younger than the American field, not as institutionalized, and is made up of scholars and teachers from a variety of fields of study. Because writing instruction has been carried out in a variety of disciplinary settings besides first-year English courses, it lacks a unified site of inquiry such as "freshman composition," and is to that extent more interdisciplinary and eclectic than American composition scholarship. Nevertheless, radical changes and improvements in the ways that writing is taught in Canadian universities are now occurring as a result of communication among Canadian writing scholars and between American and Canadian scholars. Some faculty at Canadian universities refuse to imitate (or even seem to imitate) American models of writing instruction, and some even use the accusation of Americanization to resist change. But other scholars see benefit in cross-border discussion of writing theory and invite good ideas to immigrate and become transformed and "naturalized." Canadian writing scholars do cleverly adapt American rhetorical and comoposition theory and also form their own theories to construct surprising and promising curricula, methods, and programmatic structures for the teaching of writing and teaching through writing.

As a relatively new field that is increasing in influence, composition studies in Canada needs continually to redefine its goals and struggles. Syntheses of recent developments in Canadian writing instruction, such as the one I attempt here, can help Canadian language scholars to situate themselves within their historical and institutional frameworks. Only by being aware of the past struggles, present developments, and some future possibilities, can Canadian language scholars be fully responsible to the values of fellow scholars and their society as they influence the way Canadians learn writing at university.

American compositionists can also benefit from paying attention to Canadian developments. Because the bulk of composition scholarship has been done by Americans, written for American readers, and based on research done in American classrooms, it is easy to forget that theories and practices grow out of geographical and political sites, and are therefore heavily marked by those sites. But it is not in composition studies' best interests to continually study writing instruction within its own national borders and thus become too ingrown and blind to other possibilities. On the other hand, there is also a danger of too great a dependence on foreign theory. Canadian writing instruction has benefited greatly from American composition theory, but Canadian scholars continually discover that it cannot, and should not, be exported and implemented in Canada just as simply and easily as American movies and chocolate bars. Ideally, open-minded and resourceful scholars, teachers, and administrators creatively adapt and intermix ideas from various international settings to develop innovations in writing instruction in their own institutions.

The scholarly community that unites many of those interested in writing at the Canadian university is the CASLL/ Inkshed group. Because much of the information I present here is gained from e-mail discussion among members of this group, or through connections that these scholars have suggested, it seems appropriate to begin by discussing this association. Then, after describing the state of graduate studies in composition and rhetoric in Canada, I present a description of the history and recent state of writing instruction in the undergraduate curriculum, as organized by Canadian departments of English and other disciplines. From this point onward, I use the voices of Canadian language scholars to try to define what "Canadian" writing instruction and composition studies is. Through their descriptions of how writing is and could be used and taught in Canadian universities, I create a collage that depicts the present and future of Canadian practices and theories of writing instruction.

Professional Associations

The rough equivalent and downsized version of the CCCC in Canada is the Inkshed group, started in 1983. In fact, the Canadian Caucus at CCCC is largely made up of Inkshed members. In 1993, ten years after its formation, it was baptized with a formal acronym, CASLL, the Canadian Association for the Study of Language and Learning, pronounced "castle." About this community of composition scholars in Canada, Anthony Paré of McGill University writes,

the very small number of Canadian scholars working in this area have, like their American counterparts, specialized (technical and business writing, genre studies, rhetorical theory, history of rhetoric, rhetoric and science, etc.), but our numbers here in Canada are so small that the various fragments do not create much in the way of sub-communities. CASLL, like CCCC, serves as common ground. (Jan 18, 1999)
Since 1994, CASLL/ Inkshed has published several important monographs in composition, the most important one for the purposes of this essay being Roger Graves' Writing Instruction in Canadian Universities (1994). The yearly Inkshed / CASLL conferences, newsletters, and e-mail listserv seems to be the headquarters for Canadian Compositionists. But, as Paré notes, it is a small group: their conferences usually have less than 50 participants. CASLL described itself thus on its 1998 call for papers:
CASLL's aim is to provide a forum and common context for discussion, collaboration, and reflective inquiry in discourse and pedagogy in the areas of writing, reading (including the reading of literature), rhetoric, and language. Our members include teachers and researchers in schools, colleges, universities, and corporations.
With such a small number they can ill afford to be exclusive. Inkshed publications writes in their notice on the copyright page of their books that the group is "committed to providing a venue for alternative conceptualizations of language and discourse which challenge traditional theories and their attendant pedagogies. Inkshed Publications is also committed to giving voice to emerging, different, and marginalized discourse." This open-mindedness and inclusivity is part of what makes CASLL/Inkshed members' writing and administrative achievements so unique.

Russ Hunt believes one of the positive products of the Canadian study of writing has been the activity of "inkshedding," whereby the scholarly Inkshed conference becomes an exercise in writing to learn. This technique is described in Hunt and James A. Reither's 1994 article in Contextual Literacy. Since there are usually fewer than 50 participants present at the conference, attendees can all participate through writing a response to each session. After writing, people walk around the room and silently read what others have written, making lines beside the margins of sections that they find particularly intriguing. Once or twice a day during the conference, these favorite sections will be typed into a document and "published" at the conference for all to read. New Inkshed participants are thereby powerfully initiated into the idea of writing to learn, and the co-authoring publication of collected "inksheds" is a literacy practice that unites Inkshed members as a community. Hunt incorporates inkshedding into his instruction at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Doug Brent at the University of Calgary speaks of the ways in which the process of inkshedding influenced his classroom instruction in his 1996 presentation, and Catherine Schryer uses the practice in her writing courses at the University of Waterloo.

Other Canadian professional organizations are concerned to some degree with writing instruction. The rough equivalent of the NCTE in Canada is the CCTE (Canadian Council of Teachers of English), which covers English education at all levels and is largely an organization of scholars in departments of Education, although it does not exclude scholars in English departments. The Canadian Association of Teachers of Technical Writing (CATTW) shares some members with CASLL. CATTW has published a refereed journal, Technostyle, for over a decade, and also has annual conferences and newsletters. There is also the Canadian Society for the History of Rhetoric, which holds annual conferences and has about fifty members.

Canadian Graduate Studies in Composition

The CASLL/Inkshed group, as well as the other scholarly associations, will play key roles in the growth of graduate work in composition and rhetoric in Canada. At present, there are few Canadian graduate programs that approximate an American degree in composition and rhetoric, and even at those institutions, graduate students often must become like Renaissance men and women, stretching their minds across academic borders to study rhetoric and writing through a variety of disciplines, depending on what is availabel at their university. Writing scholars find themselves in various administrative, teaching, and professorial positions in colleges and universities, and are therefore not concentrated in one discipline or locality--this makes it difficult to offer graduate (or undergraduate) programs in writing and rhetoric, difficult to create what can be called a discipline, a field of study, recognized by Canadian universities. Graduate instructors who teach rhetoric and composition (a rare opportunity) also struggle with a lack of Canadian scholarship in the area (Graves, "Teaching").

W.F. Garrett-Petts says that "the relative absence of Canadian grad programs in rhetoric/comp, and the relative emphasis on reading rather than writing, necessitates an ongoing rearticulation (perhaps even reinvention) of the discipline to suit local circumstances." (Mon 1 Feb 1999). While this situation encourages "rearticulation" and "reinvention" of the discipline, the relative absence of graduate training in Canada for new scholars in the field of composition studies is a crucial issue, as Inkshed members frequently ask each other where to direct people for graduate study. In 1995, Graves wrote that he was aware of only three graduate programs in Education departments (as opposed to English departments) that offer graduate courses in composition theory and pedagogy: The University of Saskatchewan, The University of Manitoba, and McGill University in Montreal. Currently, three other institutions offer such possibilities: the University of Waterloo, Simon Fraser University, and the University of British Columbia. In contrast, there are over 70 graduate programs to choose from in the United States.

One of the best known Canadian graduate programs in rhetoric is at the University of Waterloo. Professor Catherine Schryer explains that they offer an M.A. and Ph.D. program in which one can specialize in "rhetoric and professional writing or rhetoric and discourse analysis with a minor emphasis on composition studies" (April 1, 1999). She claims that dissertations are now emerging in areas such as "the rhetoric of banking; the rhetoric of mediation; the rhetoric of Indian Affairs etc. Some empirical studies of the classroom are also emerging" (Sep 22 1998). The Waterloo English website describes the M.A. degree in English Language and Professional Writing as one "designed to help students understand the nature of language and its various applications - whether literary, journalistic, or technical - and to educate students to write effectively and to supervise and guide others in their writing, whether in academic fields or the marketplace." "The Ph.D. program at Waterloo," it explains, "integrates literary study with language study in the areas of rhetoric, professional writing, discourse analysis, and composition theory. It is designed to prepare candidates for posts in university teaching and research, and, in the case of professional writing, for other appropriate positions." Catherine Schryer explains that "the Composition part of the program is present but not nearly as well developed as in American programs" (April 1, 1999).

In "Teaching Composition Theory in Canada," Roger Graves says he believes there are several reasons for the lack of graduate courses in this field in Canada. English departments rarely offer such specializations as they do in the U.S.; there is less need for composition instructors (and their training) than in the U.S. where first year composition is required for all students; and there is a lack of funding for such graduate programs, funding brought about by the public's and administration's desire to improve the quality of undergraduate teaching (factors which helped to create graduate composition programs in the United States). According to Graves, an additional ideological barrier to composition scholarship is that Canadian language scholarship is still "neocolonial." He explains,

while not colonial -- having shed some of its heavy reliance on British literature, language and ideas about the place of writing in society -- the vision of university education that has dominated the Canadian academy is not postcolonial either (showing an awareness of identity, agency, resistance, provisionality, situatedness). (110)
However, Graves also believes that Canadian language scholarship is moving toward a more positive "postcolonial" position of questioning and redefinition because of the pressures exerted by the needs of non-native speakers of English and French Canadian speakers in colleges and universities. Based on this assessment of the Canadian situation, Graves predicts that the growth of composition as a discipline will not happen as it has in the United States. Instead of being centralized in English departments, he believes the field will be tied to writing within the disciplines and to workplace writing, and recommends that composition "should focus on the situatedness of its theories, histories, and practices" (114).

Because of the rarity and relative newness of such graduate programs, many of today's composition scholars in Canada have received their graduate training in Rhetoric and Composition in the United States. Like Roger Graves, I chose to study Rhetoric and Composition at the Ohio State University, where two faculty, Andrea Lunsford and Nan Johnson, provide a link to Canada, having taught at the University of British Columbia for many years, and being among the founding members of Inkshed. Another problem is the availability of work for people with rhetoric and composition Ph.D.s in Canadian universities -- the proverbial "brain drain" of exemplary Canadians moving to the United States is evident in this field as several compositionists, such as Lunsford, Johnson, and even Graves, have chosen to work at English departments in American universities, where they also receive higher pay and status. Judy Segal writes wistfully about the past state of graduate study in rhetoric and composition at the University of British Columbia, saying "the program is not as full as it was when Andrea Lunsford and Nan Johnson were here in the 1980's" (Tue 22 Sep 1998). She explains that graduate students in composition and rhetoric now need to construct an interdisciplinary program for themselves. Nevertheless, a study of current developments in Canada gives reason for a guarded optimisim similar to that of Roger Graves'. A recent increase in employment advertisements for writing specialists and a concurrent increase and strengthening of undergraduate writing courses, WAC programs, and writing centers are offering some hope for advanced students in rhetoric and composition.

A Historical Background of Canadian Writing instruction in English Departments

In 1994, Roger Graves wrote a ground-breaking description and analysis of the theory and history of writing instruction in the Canadian setting, Writing Instruction in Canadian Universities. His history of writing instruction in Canada posits that in English-speaking Canada, at least, writing has played the role of "cultural defense" and more recently, "bureaucratic assessment tool" (10). In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, "the English [universities in Canada] sought to establish institutions that would save their youth from the evils of republicanism rampant in the rebel [American] colonies to the south" (11). In the nineteenth century, as in the United States, Canadian universities based in Christian denominations gradually combined and became secularized, and an emphasis on rhetorical training in speech and writing became overshadowed by the reading and critical study of literature. Graves posits that as an outgrowth of their separate histories, French-Canadian, Anglo-Canadian and American writing instruction could be characterized as "three solitudes." At the time Roger Graves presented his survey of 61 universities, there were 87 Canadian universities, the largest being approximately 50,000 students at the University of Toronto (36). There are no private universities. There is no national test instrument like the American SAT to sift students into "remedial" and regular writing classes, but some universities have their own "effective writing" tests to be passed at some point before or during undergraduate study.

The most distinctive difference between Canadian and American writing instruction is that Canadian English departments offer "literature and composition," instead of merely "composition," in first-year courses that the majority of undergraduates are required to take (although some U.S. universities offer first-year writing courses that incorporate literary readings). The Canadian lit-comp course remains primarily a course in the literary criticism of canonical texts, with a minor component in basic writing skills that is mainly instruction in the avoidance of common errors. Its demographics are different from those of American composition courses. Even though Canadian university enrollments boomed in 1945, "no move was made to staff first-year composition classes," says Roger Graves, because of an attitude that "exams should bar the door against the barbarians," an attitude influenced by British emphasis on exams and streaming ("Teaching" 112). Currently, Canadian universities accept fewer than half as many students as American universities, based on enrollment and population statistics (Graves, "Teaching" 113). Instead of having writing program administrators, the English department usually designates a faculty member as the supervisor of first-year English instructors, and this person usually gives them training and handles their problems throughout the school year.

The teaching of writing within English departments is still done in this traditional way in the majority of Canadian universities. As one example, I offer the University of Alberta in Edmonton, the university where I obtained my honors B.A. and M.A. in English literature. "Literature and Composition" courses at the University of Alberta have traditionally been 8-month long surveys of post-1800 British, American, and Canadian literature in which students write academic, analytical essays about literature. The 1998/99 academic calendar listed two introductory English courses, English 100, "Literature in English, Beginnings to the Present," and English 101, "Critical Reading and Writing," described as "A critical study of literature in English, concentrating on works written since 1800, with a minimum 30% of class time devoted to writing instruction" (526). In 1994 Roger Graves explained that Canadian English departments market their courses to students and other departments as if they were "universal guides to clear writing," but in reality they are "introductions to reading and writing within the discipline of English studies" (56).

When I was trained as a first-year English instructor in 1994 and 1997 at the University of Alberta, I and my peers were given only 8-10 hours of training, and a very small portion of that time was training in "writing instruction," which seemed to be interpreted as grammar instruction, grading, and written response to student writing. The bulk of the seminar was about syllabus design and leading discussions about literature. As a result, I and my peers were led to believe writing instruction was just that simple, and since there was no way to enforce it, far less than 1/3 of class time in English 110 was spent "going over" the common errors in class. More intensive writing instruction techniques (such as the use of multiple drafts and peer response) were briefly mentioned as possible methods, but were discounted as too time consuming for the instructor. Therefore, although the course was to include a writing instruction element, this element was often treated superficially as a matter of form and grammar, and teachers could easily get away with spending far less than the required percentage of the course discussing such matters which could easily become boring and tedious. Without more intensive training for writing instructors, and some sort of institutional controls on syllabi and methods, such courses are handicapped in their mandate to teach writing.

While the English 110/100 course was required for the majority of humanities, arts, and sciences students, some special populations were offered a specially-designed course that focused more on writing. For example, the University of Alberta's English department offered a separate introductory course just for Engineering students, a course "designed to develop the student's ability to write the narrative, descriptive, expository, and persuasive prose fundamental to all written communication." According to the 1999 calendar description, in this course "Instruction and practice will be integrated with the study of prose models drawn from modern essayists. A review of basic grammar will be included" (526). While such a course, taught by a well-trained composition teacher, has the potential of being quite useful to engineers in their professional writing, if it is led by a traditionally-trained literature instructor it may easily become a class focusing on reading the literary essays and writing critical/analytical essays about them-- a literature course, not a writing course.

When I studied for my B.A., there were three optional courses in expository writing offered after the first year--introductory, intermediate, and advanced expository writing--and a similar three optional courses were offered in creative writing. By 1998 these writing courses had been eliminated. The 1999 catalogue listed English 299, "Essay Writing for Education Students," a course restricted to students in the Faculty of Education. The ability for most students to avoid courses devoted to writing, and the status of "optional" writing courses now eliminated or offered only to students in Engineering, Education, or other contracted departments, were evidence of the low status and limitations of composition instruction in the university and English department.

For ESL writers enrolled in the University of Alberta, there were no credit courses that addressed their needs and prepared them for academic writing. My work as a freelance tutor of ESL writers at the University of Alberta 1995-97 demonstrated to me the urgent needs these writers had which were not being addressed in any systematic manner through course work. Remedial writing courses for ESL students were offered through continuing education courses (at the Faculty of Extension) and Effective Writing Resources workshops were offered and recommended to struggling students--but none of these courses carried credit toward academic programs, a sign that they were considered merely preparatory to the work of a university student. The Effective Writing Resources office also offered free tutorials, but only to students enrolled in their workshops. Many students preferred to actually hire a freelance tutor like myself while taking a difficult course involving writing, rather than enroll in remedial writing programs which did not apply directly to the challenges they faced in university courses.

Research demonstrates that in general, traditional English departments in Canada have been reluctant to take notice of writing issues except when pushed by outside forces. As shown in Roger Graves' survey, the English department at the University of Alberta is not unique in their general attitude toward writing instruction as something merely superficial, remedial or introductory. He tells us that "English department spokespeople were the least likely to write discursive comments on [his] survey form," and M. Moore experienced the same phenomenon when attempting to make a similar survey in 1986 (Writing 38). In 1976 the Association of Canadian University Teachers of English (ACUTE) organized its own study of undergraduate education in Canadian English departments. Three possibilities were considered to remedy a crisis of poor student writing: "literature and composition" courses, basic writing courses, and writing centers. They proposed, but only as an "emergency measure, a stop-gap," the use of basic writing courses and writing centers, saying that basic writing was a "threat" and "'insidious danger' to the proper work of English departments" and should not be taught by regular staff (Graves, Writing 28). These authors charged high schools with laxity in their duty of instructing in grammar and recommended that remedial English courses not be offered for credit. In this report the idea of a temporary fix at college for a high school problem was prominent.

Russ Hunt, the manager of the CASLL listserv and an English professor at St.Thomas University in Eastern Canada, did a survey of writing instruction in 1981, when he was secretary of the Association of Chairs of English Departments.1 He believes that first-year composition courses never developed in Canada because the English model of university was dominant, a model that assumed that only the elite came, and because of the dominance of British literature in Canada in mid-century before the boom in university enrollments (Oct 9, 1998). As recently as 1992, in an article in Textual Studies in Canada, Frank Davey asserts, according to the paraphrase of Laurence Steven and Catherine Schryer, that "during periods of fiscal restraint English departments ought to cut composition courses since such courses are peripheral" (Introduction, Contextual Literacy 2).

These attitudes toward writing are not only strong in English departments, but are present to a lesser degree in the university system at large. In December 1996, Jim Bell of The University of Northern British Columbia wrote in the Inkshed newsletter of "the rate at which writing centers have been extirpated recently" despite their success at teaching students writing processes. As I learned from experience as a student and high school English teacher in Alberta, people expect high schools to take care of writing instruction. Unfortunately, because high schools also aim to prepare students for the university English course,2 their grade twelve English 30 courses and provincial exams in English are just as focused on belles lettres instruction as most university English courses are.

Outside English studies, however, a tradition of composition studies in Canada has grown in the field of Education. In 1981 the CCTE published a book edited by Ian Pringle and Aviva Freedman, Teaching Writing Learning, based on contributions to the 1979 CCTE conference at Carleton University titled "Learning to Write." It is a collection of papers by Canadian scholars (a few by scholars from other English speaking nations), half of them working in Ontario Education councils and Education departments at Ontario universities, the other half working in universities in other provinces, mainly in Education departments and in public schools. The topics and approaches of the scholars share similarities with those of writing scholars in the United States and the United Kingdom at the time, for example, "linguistic and psychological methodologies," evaluating and teaching "correct" English, teaching the writing process, and putting students in contexts that motivate them to write. The collection covers all education levels from elementary to post-secondary, and concludes with an article by Ontario Education about the "Language across the Curriculum movement" (using writing, speaking and listening). This book is evidence of the rise in theorizing the teaching of writing outside (but including) the field of English studies in Canada. This concern is still active in the CASLL/ Inkshed group. In the 1989 Inkshed Newsletter, Nancy Carlman called for a greater communication between different academic disciplines interested in language, and between language teachers across all levels of education, elementary to post-secondary (Baardman).

Writing Across the Curriculum

Russ Hunt suggests that in Canadian writing instruction "we got to WID [Writing in the Disciplines] before there was a WID" (Oct 9, 1998). As Roger Graves narrates, in the middle of the twentieth century, professional disciplines, particularly Engineering, pushed to create writing courses that were more practical for their students, and this resulted in special arrangements with English to offer "service courses" to their disciplines (such as first-year English courses for Engineers), and where these arrangements were impractical, professional disciplines created separate writing courses of their own. The Canadian scene in 1994, as Roger Graves describes it, was a natural outgrowth of English's refusal to teach a form of composition that could be used for writing in other disciplines. Graves presents the results of his survey of 61 universities, which reveals that writing instruction is going on largely outside of English departments, in Engineering, Education, Law, Business, and other disciplines. There were at that time "isolated writing courses in a wide variety of settings" -- in settings outside of English (Writing 33). Graves concludes that improvement in the field of writing instruction would best be initiated in an organized and structured manner within and among the disciplines, instead of proceeding in a disconnected and haphazard fashion.

In 1994, the same year that Graves revealed the presence of writing in the disciplines in Canada and recommended writing across the curriculum, a second book was published by Inkshed Press: Contextual Literacy: Writing Across the Curriculum, edited by Catherine F. Schryer of the University of Waterloo and Laurence Steven at Laurentian University. This volume speaks about the writing instruction and writing processes of physicians, engineers, and even members of the community. In the same spirit of challenging disciplinary boundaries, Inkshed published W.F. Garrett-Petts and Donald Lawrence's Integrating Visual and Verbal Literacies in 1996, thereby officially bringing together literature, composition, technology and communication studies.

In the last 15 years across Canada, writing courses in disciplines such as Engineering, Education, and Journalism have only begun to be linked together by cross-disciplinary writing programs. Writing Across the Curriculum is now being formally organized by writing specialists in some universities. Roger Graves encourages these developments in his book, and in a later essay predicts that the adoption of writing across the curriculum will move Canada into a truly "postcolonial" period in writing instruction, which would differ from the "neocolonial" period he judged he was in in 1995; such a "postcolonial period . . . will necessarily force teachers and students to question what makes writing good" ("Teaching" 114). Good writing is characterized differently in various university disciplines, so there is a need for writing scholars to promote a rhetoric that will assist writers in adapting to, and critically thinking about, genres and stylistic expectations.

The institutionalization of WAC often involves a struggle against the established attitudes and structures of universities in order to unite various sites where writing instruction is already happening at a university. In the 1994 Inkshed volume Contextual Literacy, Mary-Louise Craven, James Brown and John Spencer describe how WAC was institutionalized at York University. At York, the Writing Workshop for WAC tutoring was founded separately from the English department in 1967. This writing workshop had suffered because of its lack of departmental status and its tutors' and administrators' lower institutional status. Since 1987 York has had a Computer-Assisted Writing Center, but it had its own struggles against the perception that technology is merely a way to make writing easier, and against a lack of involvement of professors. As well, the University's introductory courses that were designed 25 years ago to orient students to a variety of university disciplines had largely become electives and suffered from low instructor pay and the threat of loss of funding. An opportunity to unite these ailing programs came in 1989 when an Associate Dean in charge of a Critical Skills Programme also became the Director of the Writing Workshop. In the Faculty of Arts, a university task force was created in 1990 to restructure Arts courses so that they would include a critical skills component, which meant explicit instruction in writing and critical skills. In short, the various groups and entities which had already engaged in writing instruction across the curriculum were finally able to unite and share the common mandate of working with College instructors to help them integrate WAC into their courses.

Composition scholars play a key role, not only in uniting departments and centers where writing instruction is happening, but in improving the implementation of writing instruction and writing to learn. They do so by giving workshops to train instructors in the use of writing in their classes, and by proposing administrative changes that increase the spread and depth of writing instruction across the university. For example, a WAC program is now in place at Laurentian University, and pilot projects are underway at the University of Toronto, including some with special attention to the needs of non-native speakers. Margaret Procter at the University of Toronto notes that "about half the incoming students in Arts and Science take seminar courses, in which they get practice doing reading, writing, and speaking about particular issues in the disciplines. These courses could become the backbone of a multiplex writing requirement for Arts and Science, helping it to catch up to the solid Language Across the Curriculum program in Engineering" (April 1, 1999). At the Laurentian University, Philippa Spoel says they have a bilingual English and French WAC program. She explains that their "WAC program exists in part because [of] a graduation writing competency requirement," and as a result there is a "fundamental tension . . . between the concept of improving writing skills/learning to write "better" (which the competency requirement presumes) and the concept of writing as a mode of learning (a more WAC assumption)" (Feb 11, 1999).

The First-Year Composition course debate

Among CASLL / Inkshed members there has been a recent debate on the listserv about whether first-year composition courses of the American style, or any course that is "merely" composition (a course some see as being separated from content-disciplines), should or should not be instituted in Canada. Russ Hunt says that if it were not for the fact that his colleagues in writing instruction would lose their jobs and traditional English professors' views of writing would triumph over compositionists, he would like to see "standalone" writing classes abolished. He has continually argued that writing courses need to have a context of coherent reading and knowledge-making in a discipline in order to make writing more than just an academic exercise of writing to an instructor. Robert Irish, director of the Engineering Writing center at the University of Toronto, agrees, saying that there is no "content" in a composition course per se. He asks, "is the only way to teach writing to have separate courses in writing? I have trouble with this precisely because most such courses are 'contentless.' At the same time, as someone in the thick of WID, I wish for more. I'd like to see a real writing course for my students, at the third year or so, in which they can focus on content as well as their communication. Our first such experiment in this begins next term" (Oct 13, 1998).

Philippa Spoel at Laurentian University notes that the relative lack of expressivist pedagogy in Canada could be a cause of this attitude toward American-style composition courses. She explains it this way: "I think we tend instead to stress writing as engagement with a subject matter, rather than engagement with 'the self'--at least, in a university context. Which may be why we haven't introduced many writing courses which don't have a clear academic subject (whether that be literature or engineering). Our emphasis on the reading/writing link and on critique . . . seems to me to be connected to our non-expressivist tradition" (Oct 14, 1998) Likewise, Dr. Schryer suggests that it is "because of the history of the 'whole' language approach and even the Lit.Com [literature and composition] approach here in Canada that we have a history of retaining the interaction of reading and writing in our courses" (Sep 22, 1998). Along the same lines, Christine Skolink, a Canadian graduate student at The Pennsylvania State University who graduated from the University of Toronto, proposes a compromise solution for teaching first year composition in Canada: a course that takes a rhetorical view of writing about literature. She says that it would be one way of avoiding the composition-literature schism that is evident in many American universities.

Christine Skolnik argues against Russ Hunt and Robert Irish's resistance of composition classes in Canada: she writes, "The argument that Canadian universities are generally more advanced in rhetoric and composition because they've invested in writing centers or WAC/WID programs rather than composition courses-- is frankly unpersuasive" (Oct 9, 1998). The idea that composition courses are somehow dangerously American is prevalent in English departments in Canada, and this patriotic issue creates some resistance to programmatic and curricular innovation. Therefore Skolink feels the need to forestall the accusation of Americanization. She says, "Call me a brain-washed, Americanized Canadian, but I'm not advocating the "American system," I'm just trying to fight for what I see and experienced as a distinctly *Canadian* academic and ethical problem/challenge" (Oct 9, 1998).

In 1998 American scholars on the listserv defended first-year-writing courses for their socializing role and the way they introduce students to university discourse. Robert Irish answered them, "I don't want you [in the United States] to abolish FYComp either because if you did, the literature heads in Canada would smile :) and say, see, it doesn't work. Of course they already say that, but without the 'see'" (Oct 14, 1998). Russ Hunt agreed, and suggested that other courses, even, as Robert Irish had suggested, as unlikely a candidate as introductory biochemistry, could be tagged to play that socialization role, and as a result have its enrollment reduced to 20 students a section (Oct 14, 1998).

Catherine Schryer at the University of Waterloo would likely have difficulty socializing students in her writing course. She says she lectures to 200 students for one hour a week in her writing course in the Department of English. To deal with the imposing class size creatively, she hires teaching assistants to help her and has "active workshops for 2 hours a week with inkshedding, discussion groups, peer editing, drafts, an interactive web site that supports the course etc." But she feels little security that her nontraditional methods will continue. The administration wants to challenge the format because it wants to enroll more in the course, and calls "the "newer" elements i.e., the workshop approach--foreign, non-Canadian." Schryer elaborates: "What counts now as "American" style composition are many of the practices that many of us [in Inkshed] currently advocate. So for example interactive workshops, attention to invention, drafts, collaborative projects etc. etc. are often viewed (within English departments) as strange foreign and not-to-be trusted practices." Schryer continues: "What counts as "Canadian" seems to be the mechanistic style focused courses as present in many of the handbooks that have been revised into "Canadian" editions. This kind of course can be taught to large groups of students through TA help especially if TA's are only expected to grade tests. So one TA can be expected to take on 50 students--impossible, of course, if the TA is working in a more interactive, draft-driven course" (Mar 3, 1999).

In reply to Schryer, Russ Hunt explains that this Canadian view of writing, "the choice of the 'mechanistic, style-focused courses,' is actually driven more by a set of goals focused mainly on weeding out those who don't get it rather than on trying desperately to help those who don't get it build a model of discourse where they might" (Wed 3 Mar 1999). Kevin Brooks at the North Dakota State University offers a historical and economic explanation for Canadian English departments' disaffection for American-style composition courses. He says that

Canadian archival materials and publications from the 40s, 50s, and 60s pretty consistently identify the ghastly or beastly nature of teaching composition; Canadians were also acutely aware of the exploitation of graduate students that fueled US composition courses and seem to have not wanted to repeat that practice (partly because there were so few graduate students to exploit!); and many members of Canadian English departments saw serious problems with American comp: it seemed to teach only mechanics, it seemed to teach fuzzy logic, and/or it ignored the value of great literature. In short, I don't think Canadian English departments received as much external pressure to be practical as did American English departments, and Canadian English departments did not seem to see the financial pay-off of undertaking comp to be worth risking what they saw as their professional integrity. Maybe these pressures/values are changing? (2 March 1999).
According to descriptions of some English departments' undergraduate course offerings in professional writing (described in the next section), it seems to be the case that pressures are indeed felt and values are changing.

New Programs in English Departments

Unforeseen by Roger Graves in 1994 is the recent willingness of some English departments to expand their notions of writing instruction. In the past 5 years or so writing minors or degrees within English departments have been created, as well as interdisciplinary programs and degrees that develop writing skills in several disciplines.

In a 1994 article Laurence Steven attempted to convince English departments to change their attitudes toward writing. He says that on the one hand, English departments act as if they were the cure-all for the university's ills in writing, and on the other hand, they scapegoat high school programs when they held responsible for teaching entering students who are not capable of university-level writing. He suggests that instead, "English needs to embrace writing instruction as the legitimate university discipline of thought and discovery it has been for thousands of years. Courses in rhetoric in the upper years need to exist side by side and/or integrated with literature courses, and should supplement revamped first year composition offerings. Departments should teach composition at the first year level on their own disciplinary terms, not those dictated by clients they feel obligated to serve" (121). He advises that the "service course" situation be abolished, the system in which "other disciplines . . . keep sending their 'problems' to English," a system which means lower pay and part time, non-tenure stream teaching faculty who are usually women, and over-enrolled sections (122). The new attitude that English should take is to "help students to be inquirers more than technicians" when learning to write in a variety of disciplines (124). This excellent argument, because it was published in Inkshed's Contextual Literacy rather than in a forum such as ACUTE (the literary journal of Canadian English scholars), may have reached only the converted. But it is a model of argument that may be imitated by Canadian scholars interested in changing the role of English in the teaching of writing.

At one Canadian university, an informant in an English department (who chose to remain anonymous) wrote to me this year about a possible shift in an English department's participation in writing instruction. In the past, the professor said, the department had ignored the proliferation of speaking and writing in the disciplines courses in the professional colleges on campus. Convinced that the department risks losing the first-year clientele who take English courses, this professor and others in Arts and Science were trying to revitalize the role of English by starting "an interdisciplinary program . . . which would bring English together with other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences . . . and which would link us with professors and other researchers/teachers in Education, Commerce, Engineering, etc." The response to this proposal, sadly, was open conflict in the English department, and the professor wrote a few months later to ask for confidentiality and to say that "the results of our interdisciplinary efforts are very much in doubt." This example illustrates that though it seems like many English departments are open to WAC and interdisciplinarity, deep resistance may be hiding under the surface.

But some departments of English are making large strides toward writing instruction-- they are actually creating undergraduate honors majors in writing. Robert Irish says that the University of Waterloo's innovative program in Rhetoric and Professional Writing and co-op program in the department of English could have been attracting students that may have otherwise gone to the University of Toronto for a more traditional English degree. According to a departmental newsletter by Prof. Tom Adamowski, between 1992 and 1997, English enrollments at U of T dropped by 25% (they have now levelled and are equal to enrollment in the early 1980's). Waterloo's English enrollment grew during the same period (Oct 19, 1998). Catherine Schryer of the Waterloo program replied to Irish, clarifying that growth in English has only occurred in two areas: in the rhetoric and professional writing program, and in their service courses (Oct 19, 1998). The Honors degree in Rhetoric and Professional Writing allows the option to study in a co-op program. According to the website of the University of Waterloo's English Department, The RPW program consists mainly of writing courses, English literature courses, courses from an "intensive study" area of the student's choice such as Biology or Economics, and a Computer Studies course.

Will Garrett-Petts, Associate Professor of English at the University College of the Cariboo in Kamloops, British Columbia, and an editor of the journal Textual Studies in Canada, writes about the Rhetoric and Professional Writing program offered there. Writing courses are set vertically in the curriculum so that each year students take a writing course. There are 9 courses one can take after first year composition, with titles such as "intermediate writing," "writing in the disciplines" "scholarly editing" and "rhetoric and composition theory." The program crosses over with Journalism, so that Journalism students can take English courses for elective credit, and vice versa; English RPW students can also get credit in specified courses in Philosophy, Theatre, and Anthropology." (Feb 1, 1999)

According to Philippa Spoel, Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario also has a rhetoric stream in its undergraduate Honors English program. "Students focus on rhetoric courses rather than lit. courses (though they still take some lit. courses). The required rhetoric courses are a 2nd year "Composition and Rhetorical Theory" course, 2 half courses in the history of rhetoric (from classical to contemporary), and a fourth year special topic seminar course. As well, students have to take a few rhetoric electives, which vary from year to year" (Feb 11, 1999).

At the University College of Fraser Valley, a four-year college in British Columbia, students can choose among three streams within a literature BA, and offer three optional courses in Advanced composition and rhetoric. There, Rhonda Schuller says she is trying "to get a 3rd concentration in Applied English or Rhetoric recognized and approved within our department" (Feb 19, 1999).

Russ Hunt, preferring that composition be taught not as an end in itself but as part of knowledge-making, has created an interdisciplinary program that bridges English courses with courses in other disciplines. He incorporates writing instruction as only one element of a greater scholarly endeavor at the first-year level at St. Thomas University through the Aquinas program.3 Since 1994, in the Aquinas program first year students have been able to enroll in a liberal-arts theme of study, such as "Gender and Society," learned through three coordinated courses from various disciplines (such as Religious Studies, Sociology, and English). This program is unique in that the same 36 students participate in this course of study for a full academic year, and the assignments and activities for all the courses are coordinated in an integrated curriculum of "phases" of study. The course results in one final grade, but students receive university credit for all three courses. In 1993, before its formal implementation, the English Department adopted a set of goals for the reading, writing, library use, and learning processes of students who enroll in English 1006, the course that is part of this Aquinas program. The writing goals include writing to learn, writing to communicate and to influence others, and writing with appropriate conventions of usage. The program's founder, Russell Hunt, is the owner of the CASLL/Inkshed listserv. As a result of Dr. Hunt's career of successful innovations in teaching, he won the 1998 Instructional Leadership Award from the Association of Atlantic Universities.

Looking Toward the Future

In 1994 Roger Graves predicted the future of Canadian post-secondary writing instruction by arguing that it will grow in its interdisciplinary form in response to practical contextual factors such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, economic recession, increasing partnerships between business and university, and the changing landscape of North American employment. He was right. Writing instruction in Canadian universities today is in a far greater state of flux than it was in 1994, retaining some of its former features as well as new ones. Many established English departments such as the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto continue to be resistant to involvement in writing instruction at higher levels, and resistant to involvement in interdisciplinary programs. But change, even in this resistant atmosphere, has been happening quickly in the past five to ten years, with the creation of rhetoric and professional writing programs and interdisciplinary courses in some English departments.

The cultural, institutional, political, and economic differences between the U.S. and Canada, and differences among universities within Canada, both limit and encourage innovations in writing instruction. Ann Beer of McGill University explains that the challenge for Canadian compositionists is to learn from the diversity in Canada and to be aware of the differences from the American context when studying American theory:

I have certainly felt at many 4Cs conferences that the Canadian contingent, or should I say Inkshed group, had a set of contexts and principles in their minds that were extremely different from many of the US participants. Perhaps much has to do with the huge diversity in Canadian ways of teaching writing -- there are almost no "norms" (such as massive first year comp courses) that can be taken for granted, which may lead to a particular kind of watchfulness and, I hope, openness. (Oct 9, 1998)
The kind of watchfulness I believe would be good for Canadian compositionists is an awareness of the trends and recent developments that I describe here, which I hope will create a sense of excitement about the radical adaptations Canadians are making in the field, sobered by a sense of the challenges posed by traditional institutional attitudes and structures that limit the study and practice of writing insruction in Canada.

I recommend a continued openness to American composition theory in the midst of the tension that Ann Beer describes above. When teaching Canadian graduate students in composition, Roger Graves found that American materials were more theoretical, covering topics such as feminism and institutional politics, were more useful for his graduate class than those closely tied to pedagogical practice. I also recommend an openness to new visions and sites of writing instruction in Canada such as, for example, the Aquinas project, the integration of visual and verbal literacies, and the study of writing outside the university in professional, community, and high school contexts. Such openness will result in including more scholars in the CASLL group and bringing them closer to the possibility of publishing a journal.

The trends outlined here include the development of an uniquely Canadian discipline of composition studies forming through the CASLL. The Inkshed listserv already performs an essential function of uniting many writing scholars across Canada, and the yearly conferences are crucial in forming a sense of community and sharing of instructional methods (such as inkshedding) and research. The spirit of collaboration is strong in the CASLL group. In the journal English Quarterly in 1996, a group of four CASLL members, Stanley Straw, Laura Atkinson, Sandy Baardman, and Pat Sadowy from The University of Manitoba published an article together describing the kinds of collaboration and coauthorship that they engage in, and the unique insights that it has given them on the varieties of collaborative authorship and the factors at play. According to the plan published on the Inkshed website, at the Canadian Roundtable during CCCC in Atlanta in March 1999 Canadian writing specialists planned to further their discipline by exploring "the ways in which writing is central and visible throughout the curriculum in Canadian universities and colleges, although the methods of delivering writing instruction are extremely diverse." Henry Hubert picked up the argument that first year composition courses should be offered in Canadian universities, saying that they can be a basis for further writing in the disciplines. Carrying writing further into the discipline of Engineering, two presentations discussed writing in engineering at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Another addressed ESL and community issues by describing institutional arrangements that ease non-traditional students into academic writing, and another presenter will promote the continued involvement of English departments by describing how second-year writing courses in an English department are favored by students in English as well as other disciplines.

Another proof of the scholarly importance of the CASLL community is the lively discussion that flourished on the CASLL listserv in response to my question about recent trends in Canadian Composition-- this discussion provided a large part of the research I present in this essay, thereby helping to compensate for the lack of current publications on the topic. As I was revising this paper, many of my peers on the CASLL listserv expressed interest in having their own copy, and in April of 1999 Russ Hunt offered to make the the essay available on the Internet for Inkshed listserv members to read and offer feedback. Beginning in April 1999 a group of listserv members organized a separate electronic forum in which they would discuss each other's on-line courses and thereby educate themselves. Given the small number of scholars over a wide geographic area, electronic communication through this listserv and the Inkshed website plays a key role in keeping the community active between the yearly conferences, and for those who cannot attend conferences. The marked increase in the number of messages per month over 1998 and early 1999 attests to an increase in collaboration and activity among CASLL members which may result in an increase in Canadian research, publication, and improvements in admininstrative structures and in writing pedagogy.

If the CASLL group were to publish its own journal and have it listed in the MLA Bibliography and ERIC, it would raise awareness outside the electronic world of Inkshed discourse, as well as further secure the institutional status of Canadian compositionists who contribute to it. If WAC spreads to more universities, it could raise the status and influence of scholars in Writing Centers, who may gain professorial as well as administrative positions. Roberta Lee, supervisor of the Writing Center at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, says her dream is to see "an academic position here [at the writing center] that is an interdisciplinary position, at the center of the academic life of the university--combining teaching an upper level writing course, working in the Writing Centre and coordinating the Writing programme as a whole" (Feb 16, 1999).

So many surprising innovations have happened recently that it seems there is less time to wait for dreams to become realized; there is a crucial window of opportunity. It is encouraging for the growth of Canadian graduate programs in rhetoric and composition and the increase of the number of Canadian scholars in the field that it is becoming more possible to find nontraditional positions, such as appointments within communication studies and engineering programs. For example, Jennifer MacLennan, who earned her Ph.D. in Speech Communication (with an emphasis in Rhetoric) at the University of Washington in Seattle, was mobile enough to move from the English department at the university of Lethbridge to an endowed chair position in Rhetoric and Technical and Professional Communication at the University of Saskatchewan, where she is in the College of Engineering (Feb 2, 1999). She says that her reception in the Engineering college has been very congenial. During her six years at the University of Lethbridge she singlehandedly developed a stream of twelve rhetoric courses, and led many students to presentations at the Northwest Communication Association conference, and into graduate school in communication. Another rhetoric and composition scholar, Doug Brent, is Associate Dean in the Faculty of General Studies at the University of Calgary, where he is coordinator of the Communication Studies program, an interdisciplinary BA that has been in existence since 1985. "The program features a broad range of courses in history of communications, cultural studies, empirical studies, media studies, and of course, rhetoric" (Doug Brent, April 1, 1999). There is a proposed Bachelor of Communication Studies degree now in development, a program which is pending approval by the government and should be running by September of 1999. The four-year Communication Studies degree would incorporate the diploma in Communication Arts offered by the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, and it is highly sought after, having to turn away half of its undergraduate applicants. (Feb 23, 1999).

Writing scholars at Canadian Universities therefore currently have several indigenous models to choose among to tailor to their particular institutional circumstances. They can create hybrid forms of communication studies departments, interdisciplinary programs, rhetoric and professional writing programs and WAC programs, changing the face of traditional departments such as English, Education, Engineering, and Journalism.

But institutional position and power is not just sought for the sake of a field of study, not just for the comfort of intelligent people interested in studying and teaching writing. And change is not made just for the sake of change. Scholars in these positions and programs need not only to band together and concentrate on the growth of their own discipline, but also to continually look outside their institutions and national borders as well as across disciplines for how language is used and taught. I think that CASLL members would agree with me that the broad goal of composition scholarship in Canada is to improve the ability and confidence of Canadians to participate fully and responsibly in society, sustaining it, critiquing it, and transforming it through the skilful use of language.

Works Cited

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1"The CACE Questionnaire on English Departments and Writing Programmes: A Report." CACE Newsletter, No. XIII (May 1981), 3-20.

2There is an alternative English course, English 33, which prepares students for writing in the workplace, but it is known as the "less advanced" course. The majority of students elect to take English 30 instead.


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