Mid Western University
A WAC Initiative in Nepal by Shyam Sharma
Midwestern University is one of the six younger public universities established by the Nepalese government as part of the federalization initiative after the democratic revolution in 2006. After the promulgation of a fully democratic constitution in 2015, it is receiving great support from the government and making greater strides. Midwestern University’s students are mostly students of the Midwestern region (one of the former five and now seven), who are primarily from lower and middle economic class by Nepali standards. The university was established to both increase access to higher education (so that these students do not have to go to the capital for quality public education) and to make that education adapted to the needs and realities of the region (which is far off the center). Instructors at Midwestern are also mostly from the same region.
I am a Nepalese expatriate and I have quietly contributed to Nepalese higher education (on Friday nights, as I put it) since I came to the US, through journals and blog-based magazines on English language teaching, academic conversations via the web, and mentoring young scholars in the field of Writing Studies. The WAC projects at Midwestern University came out of a conversation that I had with visiting scholars from there whom I was asked to pick up from JFK airport in New York two days before they had their first formal university visit in Connecticut, a ferry ride across the stretch of Atlantic. The university officials, who were also experienced and passionate teachers, requested me to share my expertise about writing, and I obliged. I do not have an official role or position in the University.
In 2015, a number of “modernization” initiatives were developed during an educational tour of five US universities by Midwestern University’s then Vice Chancellor, Registrar, and two other scholars. Even though the discussions involving Writing Across the Curriculum initiatives were not part of the official events, the fact that a Nepalese expatriate was involved in it made it easier for them to be materialized into a series of highly successful WAC initiatives.
First, an initiative titled “Writing Across the Curriculum And in the Professions” (WACAP) was started. It is noteworthy that the sound “wac” means “vomit” in Nepali (esp. in the west), but the title also reflects a broader interest among the participating faculty members, as well as the university administration, to make writing serve both as a means of academic success and professional growth for students. With the highly effective coordination by Yadu Gyawali, a professor of English Language Teaching at MW, the ten instructors—including from engineering, physics, sociology, economics, and several humanities disciplines—participated in a yearlong series of (ten) webinars. Gene Hammond, a writing and rhetoric professor from Stony Brook University, led one of the webinars and Charles Bazerman, professor at UC Santa Barbara and a pioneer in WAC and WID movment, ran the final one. Shyam Sharma (who provided this iWAC profile of Midwestern University) ran the rest of the webinars.
Second, the WACAP webinar series coincided with and notably boosted a much broader conversation about the shift that Midwestern University scholars and administrators were having about making the major shift from traditional exam-intensive higher education system to the new semester-based system, defined as a more student-centered approach to teaching/learning and assessment. In fact, the latter part of the WACAP webinar series treated WAC as a “catalyst” for this broader transformation, further giving rise to a three-day conference, titled “Transformations in Nepalese Higher Education” at the end of July 2016. Four Writing Studies scholars—plus one from Higher Education, one Fine Arts, and two more from other disciplines—will be visiting Midwestern University for this summer summit, which is likely to be repeated in future years. The participants of the WACAP initiative will be recognized at this event. The event is likely to draw some national attention, with possibilities for replication at other universities, including in the form of shorter events adapted for other universities.
Finally, outside of events involving US-based scholars, Midwestern University has a number of initiatives that are designed to boost academic writing, both through curriculum and pedagogy and through faculty research and scholarship. Thus, WAC initiatives at this university influence and are influenced by a broader set of developments in higher education.
There were, and are, certainly challenges that participants of the WAC initiatives face at Midwestern University. Because the transnational initiatives heavily depend on internet connection and computer equipment, we have often tried and failed to make the training events happen (in fact, the final event, led by Bazerman, was the most impacted—there were some connectivity problems even at the second, successful attempt). However, considering the significant improvement in internet connection in the past few years, we are optimistic in this area. The other challenge is of the difference in needs, understanding, and interests among faculty from different disciplines; however, the willingness to learn and implement new ideas has trumped the challenge, and participants have actively developed discipline-specific strategies for integrating writing. Since the WAC initiative is a “training of trainers” project, the trainees have started training their fellow instructors from their departments, often combining participants from related disciplines. The university administration has been highly supportive of the initiative, and it is direct support and great interest from the current Vice Chancellor that both the WAC initiative and the international conference have become possible.