08. An Ecological Heuristic

for Programmatic Curricular Revision and Transformation

Figure 1. Cartoon representation of a forest with plants and animals as a ecological heuristic that relates to writing program administration.
Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and to begin to think multidimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience -- to appreciate the fact that life is complex.
—M. Scott Peck
Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.
—Pete Seeger

As Writing Program Administrators (WPAs) we are often agents of change in our programs and institutions; however, navigating, leading, and sustaining those moments and initiatives of change can prove complicated. This is often because we must face the reality that the programs we hope to effect change in are actually complex ecologies of material and discursive conditions which “emerge through complex networks of interrelations, depend upon adaptation, fluidity, and the constant motion of discursive systems, are generative and constitutive of diverse rhetorics and discourses, and exhibit a range of other ecological characteristics” (Reiff, Bawarshi, Ballif, & Weisser, 2015, p. 4). Comprehending the proverbial “lay of the land,” or understanding these programmatic ecologies and their dynamics, requires a WPA’s concerted time and effort. If we hope to be agents of informed and sustainable change in our programs—change that “extends beyond mere revision and involves radical changes in structure, content, outcomes, and at times, even culture” (Hein & Regel, 2011, p.8)—we have to not only understand these ecologies but also how to move within (and against) them in order to effect (and understand the effects of) change. In short, we need to be able to stare programmatic complexity in the face, not be paralyzed by it, and somehow charge forward into it.

This chapter will attempt to work on the razor’s edge between complexity and simplicity in order to better arm WPAs as they make these charges. To that end it will provide an ecological heuristic that can guide WPAs through the process of making transformative, reflective, and sustainable curricular alterations at the programmatic level.1 My hope is that this heuristic will help WPAs find manageable ways to approach and engage their complex programmatic ecologies. More specifically my hope is that the guiding visual in this chapter (see Figure 1) will help WPAs simplify, clarify, and resee the interconnected complexities of their administrative work. As Tim Peeples (2002) has contended about metaphoric conceptions:

Each new conception also reframes our work, defamiliarizing its landscape so we can become more aware of them. Additionally, each new conception takes steps toward a theory of writing program administration and opens doors to theorizing new or revised administrative practices. (as cited in Handa, 2005, p. 202)

This chapter’s guiding visual representation will attempt to defamiliarize WPAs from their programmatic ecologies in order to help them understand their complexities in manageable ways thus “[opening] doors to theorizing new or revised administrative practices” (Peeples as cited in Handa, 2005, p. 202). While the WPA Consultant-Evaluator service can certainly assist with these initiatives of assessment and change, many of our programs and institutions cannot afford such services; what we can all do is ask questions, reflect, and plan with careful intentionality. I argue that this visual simplification of inherently complex systems can serve as a generative tool to help WPAs with that type of reflective, intentional planning so they can effect more informed, sustainable, and successful programmatic change.

Step 1: A (Complex) Ecological Perspective

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it.
—Alan Perlis

This chapter’s heuristic is an extension of the field’s established applications of ecology theory to writing studies and administration. More than three decades ago Marilyn Cooper proposed an ecological model of writing, and since then Margaret Syverson, Byron Hawk, Sid Dobrin, Collin Brooke, and Jenny Edbauer, among others, have provided nuanced explorations and applications of ecology theory to a wide array of areas. It has become a popular critical lens for rhetoric and composition scholars, so much so that Reiff et al. argue “much of the current theoretical work in writing studies works from an inherently ecological perspective” (Reiff et al., 2015, p.3). This chapter’s guiding visual directly applies ecology theory to writing programs and the work of writing program administration, much the same way Reiff et al.’s collection first did in 2015.2 Like them, I argue that “[writing programs] are not just like ecologies, nor are they simply useful metaphoric examples of ecologies. They are ecologies themselves, in every sense of the word” (Reiff et al., 2015, p. 4). But what does that actually mean for WPAs?

Four explanatory characteristics prove particularly relevant in conceptualizing the ecologies of writing programs and thus to this chapter’s heuristic: interconnectedness, fluctuation, complexity, and emergence.

Interconnectedness First, the ecologies of our writing programs are interconnected and thus “consist of multiple intertwining parts that act on one another in various ways” (Reiff et al., 2015, pp. 4–5). Understanding this characteristic shifts WPAs’ focus toward seeing their programs as networks of intertwined components rather than compilations of individual units or pieces.
Fluctuation Second, programmatic ecologies “are in constant flux and continual transformation. [They] evolve over time, are influenced and transformed through actions and activity, and fluctuate, grow, and wither as a result of internal and external forces” (Reiff et al., 2015, p. 6). Recognizing this ecological characteristic can help WPAs productively utilize the malleability and adaptability inherent in their programs rather than being blindsided, confused, or frustrated by it.
Complexity Third, the ecologies of our writing programs display complexity, meaning their “components are strongly interrelated, self-organizing, and dynamic” (Reiff et al., 2015, p. 8). Understanding this third characteristic can move WPAs toward seeing order, patterns, and structure rather than unpredictable chaos in their programmatic components and systems.
Emergence Finally, writing programs display emergence, or the tendency for actors and objects in these systems to consistently move toward “greater development and evolution” (Reiff et al., 2015, p. 9). When WPAs shift focus toward seeing this characteristic they are able to understand and capitalize on the ways in which their programmatic actors and objects form more complex behaviors as a collective, achieving things that individual parts (or even simple combinations of individual parts) could not.

Overall, an ecological way of thinking productively moves us away from piecemeal, linear, cause and effect frames of mind concerning writing programs and toward interconnected, mutable, complex, and emerging ways of thinking that can help WPAs “unpack the complexity of writing program development, maintenance, assessment, and transformation” (Reiff et al., 2015, p. 8). It is this kind of (re)thinking that I argue is necessary in order for WPAs to effect meaningful change in their programs. However, to some degree and at some point, WPAs are obligated to operate in pragmatism, begging the question: How can a WPA adopt this complex mindset while not being paralyzed by it? How can theories laden with and founded in complexity help us act in the everyday settings of our writing programs?3

Step 2: A (Simplified) Ecological Heuristic

Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it.
—Alan Perlis

In this way, the complexities of programmatic ecologies make visual representation a necessity for the pragmatism of administrative work. Read: A visual simplification can provide a starting point to make complex ecological thinking manageably useful and thus valuable to WPAs. Figure 1 adopts the above ecological frame of mind and its four basic characteristics and (simplistically) details a remixed combination of a generic food chain (with trophic levels) and the intertwined elements of its ecosystem. This ecosystem is not meant to represent scientific accuracy,4 but rather to serve as a visual device to represent the intertwined elements involved in effecting curricular change at the programmatic level. There are eight major elements (comprised of both actors and objects) in the ecosystem, and each element is labeled with its basic scientific term and its accompanying WPA programmatic parallel:5

Figure 1. Figure 1. Cartoon representation of a forest with plants and animals as a ecological heuristic that relates to writing program administration.

Figure 1 Writing program administration as an ecological heuristic

The Soil/Minerals represent the foundational programmatic learning outcomes
out of which Producers/Plants or a program’s curricula grow and are sustained.
Consumers/Herbivores or the pedagogical training a WPA provides feed off those curricular plants while
Consumers/Carnivores or institutional support structures limit or constrain the amount of herbivores or training that can exist.
All the above elements eventually reduce down to and feed Decomposers a program’s assessment practices, and
All the above need (a preferably consistent and sustainable) Water or funding source in order to thrive and sustain.
However, the Sun/Energy or support for the WPA herself is also needed for the system to survive and sustain.
Finally, the Atmosphere or the current programmatic moment needs to exhibit and maintain favorable conditions in order for the system and initiative to be viable and successful.

The elements of this ecosystem are deeply intertwined and thus affected by one another; constantly changing and shifting in response to one another and over time; linked in patterns and structures of complexity, and constantly emerging or developing together over time. This visual heuristic is meant to be a generative starting point—not an exhaustive or perfectly accurate representation—WPAs can use to enter the ecological complexity of programmatic curricular change.

Step 3: A Sample of (Generative) Examples

By visualizing information, we turn it into a landscape that you can explore with your eyes. A sort of information map. And when you’re lost in information, an information map is kind of useful.
‐ David McCandless

My hope is that this visual can serve as a heuristic that can be applied to a range of programmatic contexts and curricular initiatives (for example, those focused on the meaningful pedagogical inclusion of multimodality, multilingualism, ESL needs, community literacy, service learning pedagogies, college literacy, critical reading, developmental writing, supplemental instruction, etc.).6

In order to demonstrate how a WPA might utilize the heuristic for her own generative purposes within her own institutional contexts, the remaining part of the chapter will (deductively) move through two phases:

  1. A general description of how each (biological and programmatic) element enacts the ecological characteristics listed above: interconnectedness, fluctuation, complexity, and emergence.
  2. A specific narrative of how my own (in process) curricular revision efforts at Buffalo State College enacted these ecological characteristics and behaviors.

1. Soil/Minerals: Goals and Outcomes

Cartoon representation of a forest with plants and animals, highlighting an analogy between soil and writing program goals and outcomes.Any curricular change or transformation necessarily involves altering the foundational tenets that frame and guide that program. In Figure 1 these programmatic goals and outcomes are the soil or minerals on which the entire ecosystem feeds and rests.

Potential Ecological Connections and Relationships

The soil and its minerals provide the nutrients that producers (plants) and consumers (herbivores and omnivores) require in order to live in an ecosystem (interconnection). Soil devoid of nutrients cannot sustain basic plant life which in turn cannot provide the necessary food for consumers higher up the food chain, trophic levels, and ecosystem (fluctuating complexity). This soil is also partly comprised of material provided by the system’s decomposers and heavily affected by both water sources and atmospheric conditions (interconnected emergence). Similarly, a program’s learning outcomes or goals provide the basis out of which a program’s curriculum should grow. Without outcomes that are nutrient rich/based in best practices, a curriculum cannot grow and thrive and all other levels of the system (e.g., pedagogical training and support structures) cannot sustain properly. Furthermore, these outcomes must be created using local materials and information from one’s previous assessment cycles. Finally, the (re)vision of these outcomes requires dedicated time and effort from the WPA who needs commensurate reward structures, and to some extent, the overall process of revision needs to be kairotically situated.

2. Producers/Plants: Curricula

Cartoon representation of a forest with plants and animals, highlighting an analogy between plants (trees and flowers) and writing program curricula.Any coordinated programmatic revision cannot sustain unless those efforts include changes in the curriculum, changes that provide encouragement, consistency, and/or regularized approaches for how your chosen area of focus should be handled in the program’s writing courses. These curricular alterations are the producers or plants in the image that grow from the soil and feed the ecosystem’s consumers.

Potential Ecological Connections and Relationships

Plants need nutrient rich soil, water, and sun in order to grow and sustain (complex interconnection), and they can only do so under certain atmospheric conditions (fluctuating emergence). They are in turn food for a range of consumers in the system and a vital part of the decomposition process (interconnected complexity). Any curricular revisions need to align with and meaningfully serve the goals and outcomes of the program; therefore, these two ecological elements are intricately intertwined and interdependent. Furthermore, these curricular changes cannot be carried out without proper training and professional development, which is affected by funding and WPA availability. Similarly, these curricula cannot sustain or remain vital without ongoing assessment and careful attention to institutional timing.

3. Consumers/Herbivores: Pedagogical Training

Cartoon representation of a forest with plants and animals, highlighting an analogy between herbivores (rabbits) and writing program pedagogical training.If the foundational tenets of a program—like its goals, outcomes, and curricula—are being altered, those who teach that curricula must be properly trained and supported. These efforts in pedagogical training are the consumers or herbivores in the heuristic’s visual, which thrive on the ecosystem’s plants and work in balance with the system’s carnivores.

Potential Ecological Connections and Relationships

Consumers/Herbivores require plants (and by extension soil), water, and sun (complex interconnection) in order to survive and thrive (emerging fluctuation). They also live in delicate balance with the ecosystem’s carnivores (fluctuating interconnection) and depend on atmospheric conditions to survive (complex emergence). Intricately intertwined with the goals, outcomes, and curriculum development is instructor training and professional development. Programmatic goals and outcomes cannot be supported without accompanying curricula, which cannot be properly implemented and delivered without training practices focused specifically on your area of interest. Furthermore, these professional development trainings live in delicate balance with various institutional support structures. Finally, these training practices are not only interrelated to the elements listed above, they also heavily rely on practices of assessment, available funding, and WPA investment—elements and interdependencies which are addressed below.

4. Consumers/Carnivores: Institutional Support Structures

Cartoon representation of a forest with plants and animals, highlighting an analogy between carnivores (a fox) and writing programs' institutional support structures.Large-scale curricular transformations that are properly aligned with outcomes and include accompanying pedagogical training necessitate the support of various stakeholders and entities on campus and in the community. In Figure 1 these institutional support structures are the consumers or carnivores which depend on and live in delicate balance with the ecosystem’s herbivores.

Potential Ecological Connections and Relationships

Consumers/carnivores require herbivores (and by extension plants and soil), water, and sun (complex interconnection) in order to survive and thrive (emerging fluctuation). They also live in delicate balance with the ecosystem’s herbivores and resources: too many herbivores left unchecked by carnivores will overuse the ecosystem’s resources; too few herbivores and the carnivores perish from lack of food source (emerging fluctuation). Programmatic goals and outcomes cannot be supported without appropriately aligned curricula, which cannot be properly implemented and delivered without training practices, all of which must be supported by and held in delicate balance with institutional support structures; changes that take place inside a program that remains closed off or siloed to the other entities in the institution or community, no matter how well informed or beautifully scaffolded they may be, cannot thrive. These programmatic curricular transformations must be supported and in balance with entities outside of and larger than the writing program if they are to sustain.

5. Decomposers: Programmatic Assessment

Cartoon representation of a forest with plants and animals, highlighting an analogy between decomposers (mushrooms) and writing program assessment.Transformative curricular revision requires more than tacking a few additional goals, assignments, or training workshops on to our already existing programs; it requires summative and formative assessment practices (complete with feedback loops) that touch a wide array of programmatic elements. These assessment practices are the decomposers in the heuristic’s visual that take in pieces from nearly all of the ecosystem’s elements, break them down, and feed them back into the system.

Potential Ecological Connections and Relationships

Decomposers take material from producers and consumers (elements that are by extension connected to an ecosystem’s soil, water, and energy source; complex and fluctuating interconnection) and break down their output matter (emergence). They then help put nutrients back into the soil for plants and the rest of the ecosystem to consume (fluctuating emergence). All the elements discussed above—goals, outcomes, curricula, teacher training, and support structures—are intricately interwoven with assessment; all four of those elements need to be considered in a program’s assessment practices. However, assessment is also interrelated and interdependent on available funding as well as a WPAs’ available time. Finally, when done in a formative manner, these assessment practices feed back into a program’s outcomes and curricula in future programmatic iterations and revisions.

6. Water: Funding Source

Cartoon representation of a forest with plants and animals, highlighting an analogy between water (rain and a river) and writing program funding sources.Any type of coordinated administrative effort necessarily requires (preferably renewable) funding in order to succeed and sustain. In this heuristic’s visual funding is the water source that sustains plants, consumers, and decomposers alike. It is represented by intermittent rain showers and a consistent river stream.

Potential Ecological Connections and Relationships

Water is a fundamental requirement of life for plants, consumers, and decomposers alike (complex interconnectedness). An ecosystem can sustain on intermittent (rain)water supplies; however, it can flourish and thrive when a stable, consistent water source is present (fluctuating emergence). On some level, funding is required for the success of nearly all the other elements in the ecosystem—goals and outcomes, curriculum development, training and professional development, and assessment. This means WPAs must budget thoughtfully, creatively, and with a holistic vision. However, the additional time, work, and effort these practices require will connect to the remaining two elements in this ecosystem.

7. Sun/Energy: WPA Support

Cartoon representation of a forest with plants and animals, highlighting an analogy between the sun and writing program administrator support.Needless to say, all elements in the ecosystem listed above—those that are necessary for the creation and maintenance of successful curricular revision—require dedicated time and effort from the program’s WPA. Therefore, in this ecological heuristic WPA reward structures are represented by the sun or energy source.

Potential Ecological Connections and Relationships

Plants (and by extension herbivore and carnivore consumers) and decomposers (and by extension the soil; complex interconnection) all rely on and are heavily affected by an ecosystem’s energy source (fluctuating complexity). The ecosystem simply would not exist without a consistent energy supply (emergence). Each one of the elements explored above requires time, effort, and continuous, careful consideration by the program’s WPA. Each of these elements lives in a delicate balance with all the others, and WPAs must take the time to create goals and outcomes, develop aligned curriculum, train instructors to deliver this new curriculum, coordinate with institutional support structures, assess all the above practices, and find, secure, and maintain funding to support all these practices. Therefore, in order for the ecosystem to survive and thrive the time and effort that WPAs invest must be acknowledged, valued, incentivized, and rewarded through formalized institutional structures.

8. Atmosphere: Kairotic Moment

Cartoon representation of a forest with plants and animals, highlighting an analogy between atmosphere (a blue sky) and writing program kairotic moments.Every element discussed above is influenced and affected by time and an array of local and national kairotic factors. This kairotic moment is represented in the ecosystem visual by the atmospheric conditions that exist around and support the entire ecosystem.

Potential Ecological Connections and Relationships

The growth of plants and decomposers, the health of consumers, and the weather patterns that affect rain and sun patterns are all affected by the atmospheric conditions in which an ecosystem exists (interconnected fluctuating complexity). Only certain atmospheric conditions allow weather patterns and thus certain plants and animals to grow and thrive in a given location (fluctuating emergence). WPA scholarship is full of narratives and case studies that highlight the important and pivotal role of kairos. Curricular revision and transformation and all the elements involved in its ecosystem are all affected by national, local, political, and personal kairos. Rather than being blindsided, frustrated, or derailed by those influences, a WPA working from an ecological frame of mind such as this can factor in (and potentially leverage or capitalize on) these influences from the very start of her revision project.

An Applied, Contextualized Example

In order to demonstrate the usefulness of the heuristic, I will provide a brief description of my (in process) curricular revision efforts at Buffalo State College (BSC) and detail the ways in which this ecological frame helped me more intentionally reflect, plan, and implement change. The table below offers generative questions that WPAs can utilize as they move through each ecological element of their own revision efforts. These questions will be addressed and explored within my BSC context below.

A Sample of Considerations Regarding [insert ecological element]
What research and best practices exist from scholars in the field? How can you contextualize and incorporate that into your efforts?
How can your work connect to/collaborate alongside/build off of existing structures/entities/initiatives in your program or at your institution?
What stakeholders should/do you want to include in your efforts? (E.g., deans and chairs, faculty and adjuncts in the program, writing committee members, faculty senate members, general education faculty, writing intensive faculty, support services staff, etc.)
How might your efforts be assessed within existing assessment practices? Will new assessment practices be required? How might these projects connect to accreditation requirements and timelines?
What state and local processes of approval are necessary in order to make these changes?
What kind of compensation/reward structures can you (your state, institution, college, or department) offer to those who participate in your efforts?
How can you connect with and utilize the communication systems and pipelines already in place at your institution in order to promote, encourage transparency, and circulate successes regarding your efforts?

Personal, local, and state kairotic moments (atmospheric conditions) created the exigence for my programmatic curricular revision efforts. First, I recently started a new position as the director of the College Writing Program at BSC, and taking cues from my campus interview, I wrote yearly financial support of the writing program as well as “start up funds” for programmatic revision into my contract (intermittent and sustainable water sources). Furthermore, in the final rounds of negotiations I also combed through the tenure and promotion guidelines with my chair and dean to ensure that any large programmatic revisions would not simply “count” toward tenure but would qualify as “scholarly work” in my tenure review (sun/energy). Next, I learned quickly that first-year writing courses had only recently returned to the purview of the English department after a long (and seemingly traumatic) pilot project. This failed initiative left the program without a director or a vision, thus the kairotic moment was right for curricular reexamination (atmospheric conditions). In that first semester while researching the history of the writing program’s and institution’s learning outcomes, I also learned that one of the ways we were working to rearticulate (and thus differentiate) ourselves as an “urban engaged” campus was by utilizing a 2015 mandate from the governor regarding the integration of “Approved Applied Learning” into our campuses’ curricula (carnivores). BSC’s Approved Applied Learning plan included a wide array of grant-funded professional development opportunities for faculty (herbivores and water) which were being underutilized by general education faculty (those who taught courses with the largest impact on student retention, yet another focus of my administration; carnivores).

With the conditions around me swirling with contract-guaranteed financial support, departmental calls for curricular revision, and state mandated (and funded) Approved Applied Learning initiatives, I began researching applied learning. I dove into the materials provided by SUNY, as well as research within rhetoric and composition and the scholarship of tTeaching and learning. I also met with directors of BSC’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement (the creation of a seperate president-appointed work group) to explore the support they offered for revising pedagogical practices and building community partnerships (carnivores). I combined scholarly language with selections from BSC’s institutional mission and learning outcomes concerning urban engagement and drafted a four-year curriculum revision plan for my dean.

The plan included creating a first-year writing committee comprised of adjuncts (who I will later argue for full-time positions for considering the workload necessary in the plan) who would participate in all of BSC’s and SUNY’s (funded) “Approved Applied Learning” professional development (carnivores, herbivores, and water) and then meet together with me to collaboratively draft programmatic learning outcomes that align our local prerogatives with the national WPA outcomes (soil). The plan details how these will then be presented to the larger faculty cohort for discussion and revision before being officially drafted for the dean, faculty senate, and SUNY general education approval (soil).

Next, writing committee members will select “core concepts” and “core assignments” (plants) for the programs that align with their applied learning-focused learning outcomes (soil). Committee members will draft sample lesson plans and assignment prompts that will be shared on our faculty website (plants). They will then share what they have learned in their professional development with the larger first-year writing cohort during a two-day summer faculty retreat (herbivores)—which the dean’s office has agreed to financially incentivize (water) since we combined the institutional mission of applied learning with the campus’s focus on first-year student retention. These retreats (herbivores) will include committee members presenting best practices and sharing programmatically aligned pedagogical resources (plants) and faculty members creating, drafting, and posting their own pedagogical materials to the shared website (plants).

As new curriculum rolls out, committee members will work with me to develop an assessment plan that includes (direct and indirect) methods and project timelines (decomposers), and I will integrate our yearly findings and feedback loops into our official departmental and accreditation assessment reports (decomposers and carnivores). Representatives from the offices of Civic and Community Engagement and Institutional Effectiveness have offered to attend our committee meetings to help provide guidance and best practices (decomposers and carnivores).

We will be sharing our pilot applied learning courses at the SUNY writing conference (plants and herbivores), as well as with the larger English department (carnivores). I also hope to send committee members to the upcoming SUNY-wide Applied Learning Summit (herbivores and carnivores). Finally, after all members of the cohort have had a chance to pilot new courses for at least two semesters we will be holding a college writing program symposium to share pedagogical resources, lessons, and assignments with one another and the campus as a whole (plants and herbivores). The event will mark the curricular revision’s unveiling to the campus community and the start to our next phase of revisions: building a larger culture of writing on campus and across disciplines (carnivores).

In and of themselves the steps detailed above are not particularly revolutionary; they reflect common practices that WPAs employ when making curricular changes. However, utilizing this ecological visual and heuristic as I made these changes highlighted the deep interconnections between my efforts and allowed me to leverage and capitalize on those fluctuating interdependencies in order to build something—allow something to emerge—that I never would have been able to achieve with piecemeal, linear, or cause and effect thinking.

Step 4: A (Measured) Perspective

I dwell in Possibility
— Emily Dickinson

The everyday work of writing program administration requires that a WPA continuously oscillate between realistic complexity and everyday pragmatism. Our programs are comprised of interconnected, mutable, complex, and always emerging elements that we must not only understand but navigate and act upon if we hope to effect change. My hope is that this chapter, its ecological heuristic, and the accompanying visual representation both honor and simplify (rather than oversimplify) programmatic complexity in order to empower WPAs to take informed action toward sustainable curricular change. We cannot all bring in WPA consultant-evaluators, but we can utilize a heuristic to help us more intentionally reflect on our programs and our initiatives for change. The heuristic is by no means exhaustive, scientifically accurate, or perfectly aligned metaphorically; rather it is meant to serve a generative function. It is meant to help new WPAs enter their programmatic ecologies in more prepared ways; it is meant to help seasoned WPAs defamiliarize their ecologies in order to (re)enter them in new and innovative ways. Overall, it is meant to help all WPAs dwell in the complex, interconnected possibilities of their programs...and then leave those generative places and effect transformative, reflective, and sustainable curricular change.


1. While curricular changes are just one of many that a WPA may need to address, these initiatives are often the most commonly encountered and valued by our institutions; therefore, they provide a productive example for exploration.
2. The chapters in Reiff et al.’s collection worked to detail specific programmatic contexts in order to reveal the ecological nature of our writing programs. In contrast, this chapter works to provide an overarching heuristic that can be applied to a variety of contents. In short, Reiff et al.’s collection worked inductively to explore the usefulness of ecological theory; this chapter attempts to work deductively.
3. It should be noted here that attempting to simplify a model that is inherently and intentionally complex is at best counterintuitive and at worst intellectually useless. There will, undoubtedly, be systemic and relational nuances that are lost, glossed over, and/or misrepresented in this process of simplification. However, as I have argued above, this process of simplification is undertaken with the intent to help WPAs move within (and against) their own complex programs as they initiate change. Ecology work often uses metaphors akin to interconnected and interdependent knots or looped systems; however, knots and interconnected loops must often be undone and untied first in order to be understood. This chapter will work to untie and unknot these structures ever so slightly in order to understand their loops, then retie those knots in order to honor the complexity of the system. I argue that the insights gained in the act of pulling apart these knots, examining their interconnections, and retying the system far outweigh the relational nuances that may get lost or misrepresented.
4. Again, Figure 1 is not scientifically accurate; rather, it is a combination of common scientific visual representations like food chains, food webs, trophic levels, and ecosystem maps. The point here is not to perfectly align scientific principles with WPA practices but rather to utilize the complexity and ecological relationships that foreground these types of scientific visuals to help us better understand our own programs and how to move within and against them.
5. It is important to note here that often in writing studies scholarship, ecological theory and its systems are primarily comprised of and organized by actors and objects. In contrast, the elements of this ecological heuristic are programmatic elements or entities which can be made up of a wide array of material, discursive, human, and nonhuman entities. This subtle shift reframes the foci of the ecology toward tasks and the creation of elements in a way that emphasizes the WPA’s agency to effect change (as opposed to simply move between agents and resources).
6. As noted above, this heuristic is meant to be utilized when WPAs hope to effect transformative change, the kind that Hein and Regel, Brady, or Reid argue for that extends beyond ad hoc changes, tweaks of small elements, or pilot projects with small groups of faculty. This heuristic is meant to assist with creating cultures of continuous, recursive, reflective practice that are programmatically cohesive.


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