As a new member of the Writing Groups team—and a new tutor to boot—I was mystified by all the acronyms and new vocabulary I encountered during my first weeks at the UCWbL. SNL, AP, ILP, competencies, the grid—I had no idea what any of it meant, and I was expected to help coordinate this team? Oh dear.
Even though the Writing Groups team is working to expand its services to include various Writing Groups at all of DePaul’s campuses, most of our work still involves collaboration with the School for New Learning (SNL). SNL students work toward their degrees not only by taking classes but also by completing independent study projects that fulfill “competencies,” or areas in which students demonstrate that they have significantly advanced their knowledge. ILPs—Individual Learning Pursuits—allow students to earn academic credit by translating their personal life or work experiences into a project that fulfills a competency. APs—Advanced Projects—are similar, but rather than describe previous experience, students complete research projects that expand their knowledge of a topic.
SNL projects are quite different from the assignments we usually encounter in the UCWbL, and they present some significant challenges—both for students and tutors. Since the topics for ILPs and APs are guided by the student’s own interests, each project will be different. Students complete proposals that must be approved by their advisors before they begin, but after that the parameters of the projects are largely self-determined. So much freedom is both a blessing and a curse: students are encouraged to value and explore their own experiences, but the lack of crystal-clear guidelines and rubrics often leaves them overwhelmed and frustrated.
I got a glimpse of how daunting (but also how fulfilling) these projects can be during Monday’s Advanced Project Forum in the Loop. Writing Groups Coordinator Edward Evins and SNL graduate and writing center tutor Jill Anderson facilitated a wonderful discussion. This was my first experience with SNL students, and I certainly learned a lot about what we as tutors can do to help them navigate the AP/ILP process. A major theme that emerged during the discussion was frustration with the proposal process itself—many students had ideas they were really excited about but said they were having trouble communicating these ideas to their committee. So what can we tutors—even those of us unfamiliar with the SNL—do to help?
A good place to start is the project proposal itself. Encourage students to brainstorm several different proposals and identify themes, different questions, or even versions of the same question. For APs, it’s key that the project is both “doable” and “provable.” Ask students to think about how they would research their topic: what resources are available? Is the research plan feasible? APs must also provide an “artifact” or “deliverable”; that is, something that shows the student has answered the research question. Try asking students to identify their ultimate goal: do they want to emerge from the project with a new website? A successfully argued thesis? A new computer program? A plan for further research? Once the student has refined the project goal, the focus can shift to brainstorming ways to justify the project—that is, ways to prove to the student’s committee that it meets the requirements for an AP.
And, if you notice an appointment with an SNL writer on your tutoring schedule, check out SNL’s Writing Guide. It’s a great resource with detailed information about SNL projects and even some examples.