Human Dimensions of Global Warming

The W is for Writing


W Courses at Penn State

GEOG 438W is a writing-intensive course, but what exactly does that mean? It means I have some strict criteria to follow in order to meet that designation.

If you really want to read all about the requirements, you can find them in this Faculty Senate Guide to Curricular Procedures.  However, I've copied the highlights below:  

  1. Writing Assignment Design

    (Our Climate Stories and the Reading Reflections relate to this criterion.) Both informal and formal writing assignments should relate clearly to the course objectives and should serve as effective instruments for learning the subject matter of the course. Instructors should communicate to students the requirements of formal, graded writing assignments in writing, not just orally. In writing-intensive courses, writing assignments are characteristically designed to help students investigate the course subject matter, gain experience in interpreting data or the results of research, shape writing to a particular audience, or practice the type of writing associated with a given profession or discipline. Much of the writing may be informal and ungraded, yet meaningful, so students are encouraged to think and discover through a process in which mistakes are a natural part of learning. Examples of such writing include one-minute papers at the beginning, middle, or end of class; reactions to lectures, labs, and readings; journals, logs, and notebooks of observations, readings, and other experiential activities; letters to classmates; weekly digests; e-mail dialogues; records of peer group discussions; and stories of one’s thinking on a problem.
  2. Treatment of Writing as a Developmental Process

    (This is why you'll submit iterative drafts for the exams.) Students will be afforded opportunities to practice writing throughout the semester, with emphasis given to writing as a process that develops through several iterations. Typically, writing-intensive courses require multiple writing assignments, a sequence of preparatory writings (outline, formulation of thesis, first draft) leading to a final product, or informal writing assignments (e.g., regular journal entries, field notes, short in-class papers, revision of first draft) that aid students in developing other written documents. Experimentation with assignments is encouraged.
  3. Written Feedback from the Instructor

    (I'll provide editorial and content-related feedback on each of your exams both in Track Changes in Word and with detailed rubric commentary.) Opportunities for students to receive written feedback from the instructor and to apply the instructor’s feedback to their future writing will be built into the course. The instructor will clearly identify and explain the type of writing required in the course and will provide guidance as needed. A writing-intensive course may also include peer review of written work, tutorial assistance, instructor conferences, group writing projects, the use of writing or learning centers, teaching assistant feedback, and classroom discussions of assigned readings about writing. The use of diverse feedback mechanisms is encouraged, but none of these mechanisms should substitute for the instructor as the principal source of written feedback to the student.
  4. Evaluation of Writing

    (All visible in our grading rubrics, which are published in advance.) Writing will be evaluated by the instructor, and writing quality will be a factor in determining each student’s final grade. Before students begin writing, instructors will communicate to students the criteria by which their writing will be evaluated. Sound criteria for assessing writing quality include, but are not limited to, the writer’s ability to direct the material to an intended audience, the employment of organizational strategies, the development of both content and reasoning, adherence to conventions of a particular discipline, accuracy of the information presented, citation and integration of sources, grammar, diction and syntax, and spelling. Writing assignments should be worth at least 25 percent of each student’s final grade.


Lessons 2 through 11 have built in writing symposia (and associated quizzes) that cover topics and tips aimed at improving your writing. An expectation of this course is that you will incorporate this material into your weekly writing assignments. Moreover, this material is cumulative, so that by the end of the semester you will be incorporating all of the topics and tips into your writing. For instance, once we cover transitions, you need to use transitions in all subsequent assignments –– not just that lesson’s assignment.