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Composition Forum 42, Fall 2019

Collaborative Tactics in a Globally Focused Cocurricular Writing Program

Jacquelyn Hoermann-Elliott, Sarah Ruffing Robbins, Whitney Lew James, and Meagan Gacke Reed

Abstract: This program profile describes a globally focused cocurricular writing program led by faculty, staff, and graduate students from academic affairs and student affairs. Revisiting the program’s first two years, the authors (three graduate students and a faculty member) assert that writing-oriented learning activities within Texas Christian University’s (TCU) GlobalEX program were productively positioned to enable students to engage with other cultures and hone skills for becoming intercultural navigators. Drawing on a similar approach from Fernando Sánchez and Daniel Kenzie to apply Michel de Certeau’s ideas about tactics in cultural work, our program profile identifies important features shaped by this program’s cocurricular context that can be productively drawn upon both in non-course contexts and in curricular spaces. These include writing reflectively within flexible structures arranged to support learning through progressive stages; capitalizing on multimodal composing genres conducive to collaboration; and situating writing in public contexts without the individual pressure of grades.

This program profile draws on composition studies research on tactical pedagogy (Sánchez and Kenzie; Mathieu) to revisit the pilot years of GlobalEX, a writing-supported cocurricular intercultural learning initiative at Texas Christian University (TCU). To set our scene, we begin with a representative student leader’s reflection, one of a number of formative assessment texts looking back on the role of writing in his and his peers’ work in the program:

The act of writing ultimately brought our team closer. After each EXplore [small-group activity chosen by individual teams] and as we prepared our final project materials, our team came together in order to write. In this sense, we drew closer through the task of writing as new discussions sparked and new commonalities surfaced. Writing became an essential backbone for our group’s success.

This student leader’s emphasis on the place of writing in the first two years of GlobalEX was not unique. Formative reflections and post-participation interviews with undergraduates involved in GlobalEX’s launch echoed his assessment. How did a cocurricular initiative without the structure of grades or course credit wind up eliciting such strong student claims about writing as central to what was, in many ways, an informal learning experience?

In the writing program profile we present here, four of the facilitators for the program’s first two years revisit how tactical applications of their knowledge of writing-to-learn approaches helped shape GlobalEX’s pilot years into a writing program as well as a cocurricular global learning space. Each of us took on leadership duties for GlobalEX at different stages in its two-year launch. The three co-authors who were then English department doctoral students (Jackie, Whitney, and Meagan) came to the initiative at different stages, whereas the faculty member (Sarah) was involved throughout its launch years, along with undergraduate student leaders and staff members from International Student Services. Revisiting our experiences by reflecting together for this program profile, the four co-authors came to an enhanced understanding of how we brought our knowledge of writing-to-learn pedagogy from a WAC (writing across the curriculum) tradition to an enterprise initially launched with a goal of promoting global learning in a cocurricular context. By taking a tactical approach to our own participatory leadership in GlobalEX, we helped shape this initiative’s approaches for addressing the learning goals originally identified by its founding collaborative team and, through that process, reaffirmed our own understanding of how composition studies can contribute to university-based learning beyond traditional academic courses. At the same time, we developed an appreciation for how composition studies teacher-scholars can benefit from partnerships that reach beyond traditional classroom curricular contexts.

Our analysis draws on Fernando Sánchez and Daniel Kenzie’s report on a somewhat similar writing-to-learn/WAC experience. Sánchez and Kenzie analyzed an example of how Michel de Certeau’s framework on strategies and tactics can contribute to studies of writing programs operating outside the typical pattern of WAC programs (which are usually envisioned for curricular institutionalization). They point to WAC’s long-standing focus on cultivating strategies which, from the start of an initiative, aim to produce a space, carry out a predetermined set of objectives, and implement an action plan. In other words, Sánchez and Kenzie argue that most WAC-type writing programs aim for a strategically organized set of immersive experiences seeking to build permanence and expand in size or scope in a curricular context. In contrast, they report, a WAC program in which they were involved, took a more tactical rather than a strategic approach, consistent with de Certeau’s explanation of how tactical cultural work tries “to identify and take advantage of the opportunities afforded by a particular situation,” and thus “capitalize[s] on opportunities rather than on an extended vision” (122). For Sánchez and Kenzie, such an approach aligns with recent advice from Elizabeth Wardle, who “has noted how writing program administrators can benefit from paying attention to and seizing opportune moments that develop within their institutions” (123). Accordingly, they explain how their own writing program experience grew out of a collaborative opportunity at Purdue University—one that did not have the formal structure of a WAC program to guide it and thus required a more open, tactical approach. For Sánchez and Kenzie, a partnership with Purdue’s Animal Sciences department allowed them various “kairotic moments” and tactical opportunities to incorporate some of their own knowledge as writing studies scholars into collaboration which, in turn, further enhanced their abilities for future tactically oriented leadership of writing programs.

Along parallel lines, and as our own narrative below will illustrate, in developing a cocurricular program, we engaged in a partnership with TCU undergraduates and staff from International Student Services, as well as the Center for Digital Expression (CDEx). Our own shared background in literacy education and our experiences teaching undergraduate writing enhanced our ability to contribute to a multi-faceted collaboration with diverse partners. To support and monitor participants’ learning through the first two pilot years, as we’ll show in detail below, we were able to facilitate multimodal reflective writing and ongoing, informal writing-to-learn activities into the initiative’s activities, as well as more formal writing for public audiences. In doing so, we helped make GlobalEX a writing program as well as an intercultural learning initiative.

Accordingly, in this profile, we will trace the student-driven catalyst behind GlobalEX’s launch, discuss how this initiative functioned in its pilot years as both a writing program and a cocurricular global learning model, describe its multi-stage design, and explicate how this design, itself, positioned GlobalEX as a writing-to-learn program. Accordingly, we will also outline how the key learning processes for participants drew from composition pedagogy, promoting writing to reflect, multimodal composing, and writing for public audiences. Further, we will identify key takeaways from the program’s first two years that have implications for composition studies--both potential benefits to the field that could be achieved through enhanced engagement with cocurricular initiatives and possible carry-over from this particular project’s model into curricular contexts.

An Opportunity for Tactical Collaboration Emerges

In the spring of 2016, two honors students—a freshman (Brian Neihbur) and a senior (Ryker Thompson)—approached faculty member Sarah Robbins (one of our co-authors) with a question: How might a program be designed to bring international students together in sustained connections with U.S.-based counterparts? Both Brian and Ryker had noticed that the continuing growth in the number of international enrollees at TCU had not been matched by increased interactions between those students and their peers from the U.S. Might an organized program, with carefully conceived activities, lead to meaningful opportunities to resist the barriers that seemed to be blocking sustained social exchange? This question soon led to development of GlobalEX, the cocurricular writing-supported initiative at TCU designed to engage international and domestic undergraduate students with an interest in shared learning about global issues and about each other.

The first phase of planning for the program began soon after the informal dialogue when Ryker and Brian sought support from faculty member (and co-author) Sarah. She arranged a meeting with staff members from International Student Services, who enthusiastically embraced the goals identified by Ryker and Brian. Tapping into their various networks, this small group in turn brought six more underclassmen onto what became an active planning team, with four international and four “domestic” students meeting bi-weekly throughout the spring semester of 2016 with Sarah and staff members Lizbeth Branch and James English. The eight founding student members of GlobalEX constituted the first undergraduate leadership team to take on the challenge of building the program. Accordingly, this cocurricular initiative involved representation from both academic and student life at the university. But it also positioned students in key roles for program design from the outset. And, at each phase of planning and initial implementation, graduate students would be at the table as well.

Why were the faculty sponsor and graduate student co-authors of this essay, who do not bear assigned responsibility to support cocurricular endeavors, drawn to this initiative? For one thing, the university has been striving in recent years to embrace new pathways to enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusiveness—making it more likely that we could tap into resources emerging around that goal.{1} Additionally and more specifically, our inclination to listen heeded the call of Jason Schneider’s recent scholarship on taking an active and interested approach to listening to and honoring the passages of international students as they navigate American universities. As such, our shared identity as teacher-scholars who draw on composition studies, feminist theory, and cultural studies to guide our work became a useful resource for the envisioning and development of GlobalEX. As a tactical space, in de Certeau’s (and Sánchez’s and Kenzie’s) terms outlined above, we were able to bring our academic training into conversation with students’ needs for a cocurricular enterprise we wanted to support.

Envisioning GlobalEX as a Writing Program

Although not a writing center or a traditional first-year composition program situated in academic courses, GlobalEX certainly was, from the outset and as manifest in a variety of cocurricular structural stages, “devoted to the undefined goals of literacy education” (Finer and White-Farnham 9). That is, at a functional level, the pilot years of GlobalEX enacted a writing program in its design and implementation, including tapping into participants’ expansive, inclusive, and diverse literacies. In Writing Program Architecture, Bryna Siegel Finer and Jamie White-Farnham claim that various subfields within composition studies are quick to define and delineate what writing programs should look like, but what counts, in fact, as a writing program should be expansive, inclusive, and diverse. GlobalEX’s structure was guided by a purposefully sequenced set of writing experiences, one of the most salient components for assessing writing programs (Witte and Faigley). And as a program driven by written assessment frameworks and the building of a globally-focused writing archive, the program resembled the work of many larger FYC programs.

GlobalEX was also a writing program in experiential terms for its undergraduate participants and its upperclassmen leaders: they wrote their way through the program’s learning stages, outlined in more detail below. From its inception, for all the students involved, GlobalEX was designed to be and operated as a writing-to-learn experience emphasizing collaborative multimodal composing grounded in reflection throughout and across its stages (EXplore, EXchange, EXtend). Participants moved from open-ended inquiry linked to interpersonal actions to shared study to product-generated public sharing. At each stage, within its cocurricular context—as an interest group that evolved into a multi-stage program for cultivating intercultural communicators—GlobalEX utilized ongoing formative assessment--one hallmark of writing to learn. These formative writing assessment activities--both to support its individual participants’ learning and to monitor how well the program was achieving its broader goals--capitalized on reflection. As such, GlobalEX was employing writing-guided formative assessment features usually associated with academic writing programs, but in this case, free from the pressure of grades, and, for the program itself, from any certification concerns.

Cocurricular Learning Drawing on Composition Studies

The term cocurricular takes on many modes and models, depending on the location of program delivery and the intent(s) for student learning. Some service learning programs, for instance, are counted as cocurricular learning models, as are field experiences, field trips, internships, externships, living and learning communities, and in some cases, extended first-year learning programs managed through university units with names like “Student Success” (Kennedy-Phillips et al. 5). Whatever the main teaching methods and specific goals, cocurricular learning occurs when students achieve academic learning outcomes in spaces that take them beyond the confines of the typical classroom space. These programs have been gaining in popularity as teacher-scholars and academic staff in a range of disciplines pilot new cocurricular learning models, many of which have yielded evidentiary support for student success attained through such beyond-the-classroom opportunities.{2}

Significantly for our profile of GlobalEX as a writing program, in Measuring Cocurricular Learning, Lance C. Kennedy-Phillips, Angela Baldasare, and Michael N. Christakis call for cocurricular programs to draw more directly on curricular approaches to learning. The authors state that their claims are based on trends seen in the last two decades of cocurricular growth, which confirm that cocurricular models work best when “sponsored not only by a student life or student development office but by academic programs and academic support units,” as when “some collaborative ventures, such as first-year experiences, cross divisional lines and permeate the institution” (6). Thus, this research suggests that a solid cocurricular model is reinforced by the knowledge and abilities of both academic and student affairs professionals, not one or the other. Additionally, these cocurricular assessment pioneers call for a “culture of evidence” rather than a “culture of anecdotes,” stating that the progress of a cocurricular model must continually be assessed and re-assessed for effectiveness and for curricular revision (Kennedy-Phillips et al. 5). The structure of the program we helped pioneer at TCU embodied these features, since it drew leadership from both academic faculty and student affairs staff and imbedded a blend of writing-supported learning activities with formative program assessment in its model.{3}

Meanwhile, consistent with cocurricular models, student leadership remained at the heart of the program. In a very purposeful way, students who were serving on the planning team employed writing-to-learn techniques, ongoing reflection, and preparation of public documents (such as recruitment materials) as they worked to envision and guide activities for the pilot and succeeding semesters. Thus, GlobalEX emerged as a cocurricular writing program driven by a dedicated cohort of undergraduate student leaders, with mentoring from a faculty sponsor, staff, and grad students. As signaled in its name, GlobalEX embraced global intercultural competencies as experiential learning goals for all its participants.{4} In much the same way that Winzenried et al. have argued for students “bringing to the table their different experiences” in “non-traditional classroom spaces,” GlobalEX leaders, from the outset, sought to close the intercultural gap that often exists between domestic and international students by designing globally focused, intellectually stimulating activities that brought these two groups of students into conversation with one another beyond the classroom (Wehlburg et al.).

Significantly, GlobalEX became a cocurricular program at a time when global learning and intercultural competencies had been identified as vital elements in its home university’s mission, consistent with national trends in such work (Gill, Whitehead). In fact, the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), a required element for regular reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), was then focused on fostering global learning, so the GlobalEX initiative was able to secure some limited funding in support of its launch from the university’s QEP committee, as well as from the Student Government Association. The writing which student leaders did to request these relatively modest funding infusions provided one of many opportunities for student leaders’ learning through composing for diverse audiences.{5} And, for the first-year student participants who joined the program in Fall 2016, based on the leadership team’s collaborative planning, writing was infused through every phase of these new community members’ learning journey. (Below we will revisit the three-stage design for GlobalEX’s initial launch and implementation.)

In revisiting GlobalEX’s first two academic years of operation, the leadership group (the upperclassmen founders, the faculty sponsor, staff, and grad student mentor-supporters) conceived of the program as developing organically, through an evolving design self-consciously aligned with both TCU’s commitment to diversity and intercultural learning as a part of its mission and the then-current QEP’s focus on global learning as providing both material and programmatic support. In particular, everyone involved embraced diversity—as represented both by TCU’s growing cohort of international students and its increased attention to drawing formerly under-represented domestic-US students—as a strength/resource rather than a deficit. In that vein, GlobalEX affirmed a vision for cross-cultural learning articulated in a writing program strand developed at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, and described in a Composition Forum program profile by Margaret Willard-Traub. Like the Cross-Cultural Writing (CCW) sections organized at UM-Dearborn as an option for first-year composition, GlobalEX (though using a cocurricular rather than a curricular path){6} created organized learning activities and a “rhetorical location” facilitating student interactions “with ‘cross-cultural’ and transnational emphases [to] afford students unique opportunities to learn to write for public audiences with backgrounds, experiences and socio-political affiliations very different from their own” (Willard-Traub). Also similar to Dearborn’s CCW curricular program, GlobalEX in its pilot years provided “opportunities for substantial reflection in order to develop an awareness in students of their own rhetorical locations” (Willard-Traub). In our case, these efforts included both writing within the learning community itself and writing to/for various publics. In that context, if some first-year participants might not have described GlobalEX as a “writing program” per se, certainly the upperclassman who helped create its three-stage design and who mentored freshmen joining the enterprise were enthusiastic partners in blending reflective, multi-modal writing for a range of audiences into the activities through which they mentored the newcomers.

Envisioning Linkage Between Global Learning and Writing

Writing was positioned to play a key part in the process of envisioning this program. First, even during the early planning, as noted above, eight student members of the leadership team composed texts aimed at articulating program design. Between meetings, Sarah worked online with student leader Brian Neihbur to prepare and circulate an agenda. Then, during the meeting, by “group-writing” around specific planning points (such as what the calendar of activities should be for first-year participants joining the initiative in Fall 2017, how those pilot participants documented their shared activities, and even what the program should be named), all eight students on the leadership team joined in “composing” the program’s elements by collaborating in writing that embodied and forecasted the pilot structure. These meetings continued throughout the summer via Skype, with the wide range in international time zones where various student leaders were located making the circulation of written texts before and after virtual meetings even more important. As various textual artifacts emerged from this process—aimed at a fall launch that required recruitment of participants as well as a calendar of activities—faculty member Sarah and then graduate student Jackie enshrined those documents (even in their tentative form) on a web space provided by the university’s Center for Digital Expression, a crucial partner for GlobalEX in its first two years.{7} From wherever they were in the world (and they were indeed as far-flung as Asia, Africa, and Europe), GlobalEX students could see and respond in conversation and more writing to the evolving textual reality of their about-to-launch cocurricular program. Even after the program launched, project leaders (upperclassmen and this essay’s co-authors) modeled and encouraged such writing-intensive activities as preparing written agendas, keeping and circulating meeting minutes, and creating visual representations of various elements in the program design. The original student leadership team of eight saw early on the benefits that writing could bring to the management of the GlobalEX initiative, including providing a record of management that could be passed forward to incoming student leadership, year by year. Furthermore, we think that these writing-to-learn activities became second nature to the undergraduate leaders through their inaugural semester of bi-weekly meetings, so much so that they assumed from the outset that writing would be a major part of what the new first-year participants in GlobalEX would do.

As a result of this purposeful integration of writing into our “envisioning” period, the program arranged a type of “literacy landscape” students might not otherwise have been able to articulate fully or draw on when mentoring newcomers to the community starting in Fall 2016. Thus, already in its pre-launch planning phase during Spring and Summer 2016, the goals of the program were defined and repeated in written documents (such as the meeting agendas and descriptions shared with university officials) generated by the planning team as follows:

  • Students will work with global and/or local-global ideas and people.

  • Students will carry out collaborative and reciprocal learning in an intercultural context.

  • Students will reflect on shared global-learning experiences.

These inscribed goals—also placed on the early webpages aimed at attracting the first group of new participants—enabled the leadership team, potential recruits for the fall 2016 launch, and potential supporters such as faculty and administrators across the university and community members with related interests (like the Sister Cities organization) to see how GlobalEX was purposefully aligning with aspects of the university’s vision and mission. That rhetorical match also helped build shared understanding of the program’s mission in ways that would later enable it to extend beyond the life of the QEP on global learning.

In reflecting through their writing and conversation on how their project could best bring domestic and international students together for shared global/intercultural learning, the leadership group determined that first-time student participants benefited from activities that unfolded in stages, leading to a competition that celebrated all participants’ intercultural learning while awarding the “top” team of participants a meaningful prize. First-semester freshmen who applied to join GlobalEX were assigned to teams (usually four students, two “domestic” [from different U.S. regions] and at least one international) to progress through the program together in the fall term.{8} The leadership team hammered out a design that included written descriptions for three stages of writing-supported learning for these incoming student participants to embark on in teams. (See, for example,

By the start of the new academic year in Fall 2016, GlobalEX was ready to launch as a pilot. We supported the student leaders’ recruitment efforts, which aimed (and succeeded) at drawing approximately two dozen first-year participants to the initiative. Again, writing in multiple modes was essential to program-building, as the leadership team held information sessions presenting multimodal texts describing the program’s goals to incoming first-year students, created signs and flyers advertising its timeline and goals, and created an easy-to-complete online application.

To operate the program in its first two years, working along with the undergraduate leadership team of eight, we led first-year participants through the various stages of intercultural learning in the program (EXplore, EXchange, EXtend), each of which placed writing-to-learn at the forefront. By collaborating with the student leaders, we created writing prompts for each stage, provided support for participants’ writing processes, and generated assessment frameworks for that writing, which functioned both as a learning tool and a means of monitoring student learning. Along the way, the upper-level student leaders were simultaneously mentoring the new first-year participants in writing by providing models for their texts and also making preliminary efforts to create and archive various historical records of GlobalEX’s inception and ongoing growth. In other words, all the writing that the student undergraduate leadership team, graduate student mentors, and faculty sponsor collaboratively created to guide GlobalEX addressed a clear purpose—promoting intercultural learning. The same was true of the multi-staged reflective writing that first-year participants—collaborating in teams—generated across their engagement in the program’s three stages of EXplore, EXchange, EXtend, as we will outline below.

As the four-member first-year teams progressed through the first year of GlobalEX, they could follow written descriptions of each phase on the program website as they generated reflective multimodal writing to chronicle their participation in each stage. Below, we describe how first-year participants progressed through their introduction to GlobalEX with the support of mentoring—in their writing and their learning—from the upperclassmen who had helped plan the program in the first place.

This image depicts the three stages of GlobalEX in their chronological order (from the Explore stage to the EXtend stage).

Figure 1. A Visual Depiction of the Phases of GlobalEX. (Click the figure to view a larger version.)

Phase I: Explore (In the 2016 pilot year, September 12th–October 3rd)

In this stage, teams explored at least two global and/or local-global events on campus or in Fort Worth. Types of events students might choose to do included dinner at an international restaurant, discussion panels on campus, and visiting a local refugee center. The goal of Phase I was (and continues to be) to invite students to explore different local-global topics while they get to know each other, creating a “third space” of collaborative inquiry. Teams then document their “Explore stories” in multimedia accounts for their collaborative digital portfolio.

Prompts for this phase encouraged teams to combine photography and narrative in documenting their EXplore activities. In both the first and second years, these multimodal narratives communicated the enthusiasm with which students used these activities to get to know each other better and their beginning efforts to appreciate cultural diversity—such as by attending an on-campus diversity-focused event examining Native American communities as diverse national cultures.{9} Other teams left campus together to try a restaurant with culinary offerings and traditions that none of the teammates were familiar with. Or, they might attend a “foreign” film on a topic about which no team member was an expert or hear a campus speaker’s talk on a complex global issue, such as immigration or distribution of natural resources across national boundaries. The physical action of leaving campus to visit a space where no student felt like a stakeholder in a certain cultural tradition or meeting up to listen to an expert on a topic about which no team member was an expert, meant that all students were functioning outside of their original social contexts and even outside the classroom disciplines they were becoming accustomed to in the “regular” curriculum. As a result, students negotiated new cultural encounters together, and later, they wrote collaboratively in their eportfolios about what that experience was like. To read or see more of the students’ reflective, multimodal writing work from the EXplore stage, visit the “Meet the Teams” section for 2017-18 first-year participants. Click on a team name, and then choose “EXplore” stories:

Though reflective writing-to-learn principles and practices remained important to first-year participants’ engagement with GlobalEX throughout all three stages of the program design, it was especially important during the EXplore Phase. As facilitators, this essay’s co-authors aimed to practice rhetorical listening (Ratcliffe) by quietly absorbing suggestions from the upper-level student leaders as to what writing for this stage might look like and by offering ideas when we felt appropriate. We heard students saying, in their own informal vocabulary, that reflective writing-to-learn strategies (Intervention Studies), metacognitive learning (Gorzelsky, et al.), and multimodal composing (Selfe) like they had been doing during and for the envisioning meetings of spring/summer 2016 would also be strategies the incoming first-year participants could use. So, we challenged those leaders to produce multi-modal examples to help guide GlobalEX “newbies” in writing for this stage.

Extending out from this writing-to-learn mindset, our undergraduate leaders were well-prepared to model reflective writing as a means of creating a shared space for learning—one where neither U.S.-based nor international students were the experts, but where collaboratively constructed knowledge and skills emerged through shared reflection. Therefore, in the pilot year of the program, the student leaders worked themselves in two breakout teams to prepare sample EXplore stories while emphasizing that these samples were only examples for consideration, not rigid templates to follow.{10}

Elizabeth G. Allan and Dana Lynn Driscoll’s compelling research on reflection helps us to define reflective writing as that which takes place over a period of time, through thorough exploration of ideas and an invitation to partake in metacognitive analysis (38). One of the greatest benefits of reflective writing is this process’s ability to help students understand their writing and learning processes, and oftentimes transfer of learning beyond coursework is observed (Allan and Driscoll 38, Sommers 124). In this case, of course, all the writing was occurring outside of coursework. Accordingly, we were pleased to see how students used their EXplore stories to document their “lived curriculum” with an “experienced curriculum” they were encountering with others (Yancey and Bowman 18). Significantly, we noted, in the program’s second year, the EXplore stories became more detailed and creative in their integration of multimodal tools such as photos with written responses,{11} and student leaders proposed that, for the upcoming third year, GlobalEX might extend the number of EXplore stories from two to three.

Phase II: Exchange (In the 2016 pilot year, October 3rd—November 11th)

During this stage, we asked each team to dig deeper into one local-global topic selected by the group. Global Topics could be as simple as learning more about an international foundation in Fort Worth or as sustained as beginning a project-based partnership with a local refugee center. Teams submitted preliminary written plans for a public-sharing event they would host in Phase III, and they continued to document their progress in this phase in their online team pages.

Prompts for this stage encouraged teams to write their way toward a plan for intercultural inquiry addressing publicly significant global issues, such as how local refugees might be welcomed and supported in the local Fort Worth community or what the university might learn from international students’ views of U.S. relations.

One goal of this stage, in terms of writing, was to move participants beyond multimodal narration about—accompanied by some reflection on—something they did in an EXplore activity to a phase of reflection that was more analytical and that envisioned pathways to research. Similar to the scaffolding activity described by Sommers in “Reflection Revisited,” we held a whole-group meeting of all GlobalEX first-year teams where they gave informal presentations of what they were starting to do for an inquiry project and how they were planning to share that learning in a formal presentations toward the end of the GlobalEX calendar. As Sommers suggests, such a low-stakes collaborative activity can allow novice writers to expand “their own writing repertoires” (107), as well as create some distancing in time and identification with text between a middle stage and what, in a curricular context, would be an upcoming end-of-course reflection (108). In the case of GlobalEX, reflection during the EXchange Phase also gave participants a chance to learn from other small-group teams’ ideas, thereby helping prepare them for more formal, public presentation of their learning in Phase III, as well as for writing the end-of-program individual and group reflections we hoped would create a meaningful capstone text and cognitive take-away.

Phase III: Extend (In the 2016 pilot year, November 11th—December 2nd)

By the time participants reached the EXtend stage (Phase III) of GlobalEX, they were ready to take on a position of advocacy by connecting their inquiry to public writing. Each team made their learning (from Phase II inquiry) public by hosting a public-sharing event. Examples of core texts produced for the public-sharing events have included storyboards, art displays, roundtable discussions, group presentations, and websites. After hosting their event, each team documented their learning—about the topic they chose, about collaborative public dissemination, and about intercultural learning, more broadly—in a final retrospective report, again using a multimedia approach.

We suspected that first-year students might find this stage challenging, so we provided examples, even in the first year, via sample products prepared by members of the student leadership team. By year two, students could refer to the previous year’s materials online.{12} In both years, each team worked with an upperclassmen mentor and could call on additional support from English Department graduate students supporting the program.

Composition Studies scholarship on public writing undergirded our facilitation of Phase III. For example, Paula Mathieu’s ongoing work to frame tactical exercise of agency through writing as a pathway to hope had always been a foundational guide for faculty member and co-author Sarah’s pedagogy, so she was able to draw on that conceptual resource in helping to envision the EXtend Phase. For instance, Mathieu’s linkage of contemplative practices with cultivating hope in the face of major social issues helped drive discussions with the student leadership team about how to support first-year students’ entry into EXchange and EXtend work in GlobalEX as a path to addressing questions emerging from shared inquiry into intercultural differences via their EXplore activities. (See, in this context, Minnix’s Composition Forum interview with Mathieu.) For students involved in GlobalEX, their collaborative literacy practices opened possibilities for claiming social agency.

At the conclusion of the EXtend stage, a celebratory banquet was held in both of the first two years to spotlight the impactful work the student participants had on both local and global communities and student leaders announced which GlobalEX team’s public-sharing project received the highest assessment marks from outside reviewers (volunteers from TCU faculty interested in global learning and graduate students from the English Department). The reviewers considered the student participants’ compositions in several forms, including their public-sharing performances, digital and physical composition materials created in connection with the event, and the reflective writing students composed in eportfolios. The team with the highest assessment marks was awarded with a trip to learn more about another culture through a week-long study abroad experience along with several upperclassmen members of the leadership team and international office staff. (For rubrics used by evaluators, see resources under “EXtend materials”:

EXtend presentations ranged widely in topics addressed and modes employed. This freedom allowed student groups to make rhetorical choices, not only about the content of their inquiry but also about the most effective methods for acting on that research and relaying information to outside stakeholders. For instance, one group presented on global and local food insecurity by integrating traditional academic research and experiential learning. Their final presentation blended primary interviews with fellow students and community members, reflections on conducting a canned food drive and serving at a local food pantry, and secondary research on global food statistics. The students reflected that “completing our research and activities was surprisingly easy but having each of our team members to write our reflections about our experiences was slightly difficult” at first, though ultimately “rewarding.” They reported that the cocurricular space provided an opportunity to “learn more about our community as well as others around the world” by escaping the “bubble” of the university.

Student participants during both pilot years of GlobalEX built on the reflective writing modes they had experimented with during their EXplore stage as they moved into inquiry research and public sharing of their learning. For example, one team utilized digital writing and communication tools extensively in Phase I and II, including employing Skype and email to learn about Guatemalan school children who lacked school supplies. During this team’s EXtend presentation, they utilized images, text, and recorded video of Skype conversation with students from Guatemala to show their audiences how they conducted their investigation and then distilled their data into a compelling PowerPoint presentation advocating for school supplies for their Central American counterparts. For these students, both multimodal data collection and their reflection were central to their learning process. And intriguingly, when reflecting on their overall learning through the program, they completed this task in mostly typed text. The high quality of all their writing—both multi-modal and more traditionally text-based—led those of us leading the program to see that students can benefit from opportunities to choose their preferred mode of text-making, based on their own goals for a rhetorical situation.

Overall, despite relatively predictable variation in quality across different student teams, we believe every group in both the two pilot years acquired skills for future engagement in complex social issues. Thus, we join Warren-Riley and Hurley in “encouraging students to recognize their own advocacy practices and teaching them to carefully approach how they construct texts” so as to prepare them “to be more social-justice minded public writers and rhetors in the future.”{13}

One First-Year Team’s Writing Experience

One revealing example of how student participants benefited from their GlobalEX experience comes from the team with the highest assessment marks in the pilot year. Team Hunmol—which in ancient Mayan culture means “United”—consistently documented their learning in each phase of the program.{14} The team’s interest in international education led them to find and virtually interview a mentor who was spearheading educational interventions in Guatemala. The team then arranged to Skype into the school where this sustained outreach initiative was happening; taking the young Guatemalan students on a video “tour” of their university, they also “visited” their young counterparts’ school, noting both its positive energy and the limited instructional resources available there. This interview prompted them to create a public sharing event in which they discussed what they learned, invited their mentor to speak to the TCU community via Skype, and then collected school supply donations for their mentor’s students in Central America. They described elements of their learning in a group entry for the team’s online portfolio. Their post-event reflection summarized some of their key takeaways:

Through this GlobalEX project, we learned about eliminating stereotypes and biases about people that are different than us. We feel appreciated for having all the resources that we're having here in the U.S., and we understand that as a global citizen, we should help other students to have better educational [resources.] ... This is a great opportunity for us to grow as a student in a global community, and we're glad to be a part of GlobalEX. Thank you for having us.

The students’ gratitude toward the program can be felt through their words. Notably, they locate themselves in academic contexts, such as when they say, “a student,” as well as non-academic contexts of learning they see as being part of “a global community.” Their words demonstrate the cocurricular, third space nature of GlobalEX, an experience that cannot unfold as a project on a syllabus.

The following year, 2017-2018, included planning to transition GlobalEX to a permanent home in the Student Affairs Office, since the university’s “Global Learning” QEP was drawing toward a close. In that second year of the program, as part of an effort to create a learning archive that assisted new staff supporters’ understanding of the program, student participants were invited to submit reflections on their learning for publication on the program’s web space. Participants were told they could write about any aspect of GlobalEX they liked, but they were also given some questions to prompt their reflective writing. Asked to choose one memorable event from their program participation, students also received these open-ended prompts to guide their composing:

  1. What happened? Description of the event/experience/project

  2. So what? Information about why the experience is important (what you learned or were surprised by)

  3. What now? What you will do with the knowledge you gained from your experience

During that exercise, Theo, a student from Greece, used this composing opportunity to look back on the arc of his entire first-year experiences in GlobalEX. He wrote:

My first day interacting with GlobalEX could never have prepared me for the journey ahead. Three full months of working on a project that me and my team members were all so passionate about would produce a great result; one that I could never expect. Our project revolves around the picture that 21st century TCU students have on refugees compared to their background and their experiences in life. It was so interesting to see how different the views of people were depending on the state they were coming from, their gender, and their race.

When the day of the final presentation was coming up, it essentially was the end of many sleepless nights working on editing our documentary, but when the time came, we were able to make the most out of it. To be honest I was anxious about how our efforts would be met by the audience and I was surprised how much attention people gave to our project and how many good feedback we got.

It felt almost liberating to see the TCU community being so excited about my project and embracing our vision. Overall, through the entire experience, I was able to feel more comfortable with public speaking and gained confidence in myself only because of the encouragement of our audience.

As Theo’s learning narrative exemplifies, by the time they presented their projects in the EXtend phase, GlobalEX participants had developed shared expertise in connection with the inquiry topic their team had chosen to research. And they had also acquired great confidence in their ability to serve as intercultural communicators—both within the project’s student learning community and beyond to larger public audiences.

Collaborating with Institutional Partners

Worth noting, at this point, is that the four co-authors of this essay are no longer actively engaged in GlobalEX program delivery. The two staff member pioneers who helped us build this program have since taken the lead on defining guidelines for student participation, since, as part of the needed step of finding a permanent home for the program, GlobalEX moved from its incubation site within the temporary QEP Global Learning framework, and supported by CDEx, to Student Affairs. Because cocurricular program building is at the heart of much university staff work, we are confident that these colleagues will continue to foster intercultural learning in productive ways. In keeping with Sánchez and Kenzie’s belief that WAC programs ought to “evolve” across institutions in order to promote positive change, we helped organize the tactical plan to move GlobalEX into a more stable institutional home, where we anticipated permanent funding would be possible to acquire when the global learning QEP ended, and where we hoped the program could have a greater reach in terms of recruiting sustained undergraduate participation.

Of course, as writing faculty might argue, we contend that keeping writing at the heart of any cocurricular program would be in the best interest of student participants. But we were not surprised, in GlobalEX’s third year, once this co-author group was no longer engaged in program delivery, to see multiple elements from the multimodal composing stages fall by the wayside in favor of less writing-intensive approaches to supporting learning-in-progress. What we might have done differently, in hindsight, was invest more time, during the two pilot years, in conversations with Student Affairs partners about the role of writing in cocurricular third spaces. Further, we might have involved them more directly in such tasks as creating reflective prompts for each of the program’s learning stages, as well as in facilitating the composing students did in the first two years to tell their learning stories in the webspace provided by another of our program pilot partners, the Center for Digital Expression. Time crunches, unsurprisingly, often meant that various partners and individual facilitators wound up doing tasks that felt most familiar—in our case, for instance, supporting the writing elements of the pilot years.

Relatedly, because GlobalEX was supported by funding and personnel from both academic and student services, we sometimes found ourselves speaking a different language, during initial envisioning and through pilot years one and two, with these partners. For example, we so appreciated how our visionary partners from International Student Services complemented our own teaching skills and interests by building on their special expertise at forging strong and sustained relationships with students (not bound by semester calendars). For example, that productive stance led them to be particularly invested in such program components as a week-long trip outside the US to a winning team of first-year participants and members of the student leadership group. Conversely, some of our staff partners did not always see the role of reflective writing per se as being critical to the metacognitive development of the participants’ intercultural learning. Their focus in the pilot years was directed more on the activities students did together during the first EXplore and on the final projects showing engagement with an important global topic in the closing EXtend stage—and not as much on the reflective composing we saw as informing and supporting those stages.

In retrospect, we are reflecting ourselves on questions about whether the “contest” aspect of the program—though it certainly served as a motivator in a context without grades to push participants toward excellence—may lead GlobalEX, long-term, to focus less on process-oriented learning and more on product preparation, especially if reflective composing moves further into the background. Along those lines, Schneider cautions against the limits of a “results-oriented approach,” and Kennedy-Phillips et. al. suggest that such an emphasis can push a cocurricular program in an extracurricular direction (6). Reflective writing-to-learn, we contend, is especially important for keeping undergraduate writers abreast of their own intellectual and intercultural development, so we hope it remains a central part of GlobalEX going forward.

Key Lessons for Writing Program Administration

Earlier in this essay, we identified three features of GlobalEX that marked its particular “writing program” identity: writing reflectively within flexible structures arranged to support learning through progressive stages, capitalizing on multimodal composing genres conducive to collaboration, and situating writing in public contexts and purposes without the individual pressure of grades. In closing, we want to reaffirm how those traits align with other scholars’ ideas about what makes a writing program but also to suggest how the cocurricular context in which we operated has useful lessons for both other similar endeavors and for more traditional programs situated within academic curricular homes.

For this essay’s co-authors, GlobalEX called upon skills and values we share as writing teachers, but it also enhanced those skills, as we adapted our pedagogical approaches to what was, for us, a new context: teaching that guided cocurricular learning. The writing pedagogy approaches we infused into GlobalEX are now more firmly a part of our repertoire for curriculum-situated teaching. Through GlobalEX, the four of us shared experiences in mentoring students to progress from theme-based inquiry documented in exploratory storytelling, to synthesizing findings in narratives on learning process, to disseminating writing to public audiences within a meaningful social framework. For example, from working with GlobalEX student leaders on an array of communications for recruiting new team members and attracting audiences to public events, we have seen the potential power of student-created visual rhetoric that embodies meaningful messages about community-based intercultural learning. And we have seen strong examples confirming that having models prepared by more experienced student composers can have a highly productive impact on novice student writers who are developing skills for using expanded genre norms to guide composition.

We also learned lessons about the importance of de-linking assessment from grading and increasing the flexibility of course timelines. Like the student participants, we were operating in a context where, though writing was continually being assessed, it was not being graded for course credit but instead evaluated for its impact on learning and its ability to reach larger publics effectively. Similarly, though the activities calendar was loosely aligned with the academic one, it stretched across multiple semesters, including for members of the undergraduate leadership team. Therefore, student participants’ increasing abilities as global learning navigators and communicators could be marked in their moves to learn and enact new roles within the program, such as preparing models of writing for the next year’s novice participants or presenting a program overview (as one group did) for the university’s Board of Trustees. Some GlobalEX undergraduate students even moved beyond on-campus presentations to joining sessions at academic conferences (as one group did for a regional gathering on undergraduate research, and as another did for the CCCC national convention). Supporting undergraduates’ continued growth through such pathways, in turn, encouraged us to think hard about how we could loosen tight timelines in our course-based teaching, provide increased opportunities for collaborative composing that incorporates reflection, and seek venues for our students’ work to reach public audiences.

Looking ahead, then, whatever shape GlobalEX may take at TCU, we will be able to draw on its writing-focused features from its envisioning phase and its first two pilot years in our own curriculum-oriented writing pedagogy. And, having been an active part of its launch, we will be open to learning more in the future through partnerships in cocurricular enterprises that include writing in their program vision.

Acknowledgments: Major thanks to the institutional partner whose collaborative contributions enabled our efforts to conceive and facilitate GlobalEX as a writing program as well as an intercultural learning program: TCU’s Center for Digital Expression (CDEx). Thanks also to the faculty/staff committee supporting the QEP on global learning, especially Professor Ed McNertney; the English Department; and staff from International Student Services—Liz Branch and James English. Thanks also to Composition Forum’s Program Profile editors for thoughtful guidance.


  1. With any cocurricular undertaking, time, energy, intellectual—and sometimes financial—investment of resources are necessary--a reality that might be discouraging to anyone reading this article who aspires to develop similar cocurricular programs. For the graduate student partners who are co-authors of this essay, as well as two others who were charged with formal assessment research on the program’s efficacy, compensation was available through the university’s Center for Digital Expression (CDEx) and/or the Quality Enhancement Plan on Global Learning, which in turn made committing long hours to the development and initial delivery of this program professionally and financially persuasive. For the faculty member, GlobalEX aligned with research and teaching interests, as well as with personal commitments she has to supporting intercultural learning. In underscoring our access to these resources, we would point again to de Certeau’s call for would-be cultural change agents to seek out tactical spaces of opportunity. In this case, the space for agency in intercultural learning aligned with our personal interests as well as the university’s mission as it was being addressed through the QEP; but it also provided a chance for us to share our knowledge and skills as composition studies teacher-scholars. Other institutional settings, we’d predict, would have parallel, if not equivalent, spaces for collaborative agency. (Return to text.)

  2. Individual studies of cocurricular learning have addressed diverse questions about program design and implementation. For example, one study of students pursuing associate degrees in Hong Kong found that cocurricular learning had the greatest impact on learning when introduced and executed in the middle of the academic year rather than the end of the year (Chi-Hung et al.). In 2018, two separate studies of cocurricular learning in nursing programs dealt with cultural competence specifically and found that cocurricular learning—when introduced in off-campus contexts—was successful in increasing students’ awareness of social justice issues and sensitivity to cultural differences (Davis et al. 110; Chan et al. 43). (Return to text.)

  3. Graduate students Ashley Hughes and Rachel Chapman Daugherty collaborated with then-Associate Vice Provost Catherine Wehlburg and faculty member Sarah Robbins to blend several methodologies for assessing GlobalEX in terms of its effectiveness in promoting undergraduate global learning. They will be reporting on that process in a separate study. (Return to text.)

  4. To be clear, GlobalEX was driven by student leaders who initially expressed interest in expanding cocurricular intercultural learning and who remained in the forefront of the initiative through its pilot year of 2016-17. When we refer to participants, on the other hand, we mean the undergraduate students that the original student leaders recruited and supported, beginning in Fall 2016, as these first-year students progressed through the activities planned by the student leadership group (then mostly sophomores). (Return to text.)

  5. We recognize that the institutional supports of this program—such as faculty advisors, formalized meeting times and (albeit limited) financial resources—likely made the initial efforts to launch the program easier than if such supports didn’t exist (Gallegos).We hope this profile and our online resources will be helpful to others seeking to do similar work. (Return to text.)

  6. Here, too, we see a parallel to Willard-Traub’s program report, where she emphasizes the “Institutional Context Matters.” Specifically, though TCU’s vision and mission were already touting diversity and inclusiveness in 2016, as GlobalEX was being envisioned and launched, there were not yet any curricular paths open for such a program. Not until the spring of 2019 did the university, via a faculty senate vote, begin considering the possibility of creating new curriculum requirements dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusiveness. The cocurricular space, in contrast, was more open and accessible for such work at that time. (Return to text.)

  7. In the middle of GlobalEX’s first two years of operation, the CDEx underwent a name transition from New Media Writing Studio to its current name. For the sake of consistency, we will refer to this digital center as the Center for Digital Expression (CDEx) only. CDEx’s contributions to GlobalEX included regular access to its staff, meeting space, and tools such as video cameras. (Return to text.)

  8. Attention to diversity in team formation included other factors as well—such as gender and anticipated major. (Return to text.)

  9. (Return to text.)

  10. For one example of how a group of student leaders modeled writing for the EXplore Phase, see “Ladera Palms”: (Return to text.)

  11. Here are two examples from GlobalEX’s second year of EXplore narrative reflections: and (Return to text.)

  12. Here are two examples of EXtend reporting from year one: and By year two, participants’’ multimodal presentations had become more elaborate and their reflections at the end of the program more fully developed. Our scaffolding materials (e.g., guiding questions) also became more effective through revision. (Return to text.)

  13. Also drawing on Warren-Riley and Hurley, we noted how the everyday writing of student leaders who helped manage GlobalEX in its pilot years contributed to the entire project community’s sense of shared agency. Whether drafting a meeting agenda or using tools like Snapchat to send reminders about an upcoming “help” session for first-year participants, for instance, the semi-public writing of student leaders fostered a body of shared language that would later feed into more formal public writing such as recruitment sessions explaining the program to potential members, requests to student government for supplemental funding, or conference presentations. (Return to text.)

  14. In GlobalEX’s pilot year, the prize for the top team was to join several members of the student leadership team and staff from the international student services office on a trip to the Mayan Yucatan peninsula in the week just after the close of spring semester 2017. As a forecast of that on-site learning opportunity, all the GlobalEX teams of first-year students in its pilot year were given a Mayan name. (Return to text.)

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