In Australia we don't have "composition" courses at our universities. You, as I understand it, do.
All I really know about these classes is informed by my extensive knowledge of academic blogs, so my understanding might be a little bit biased. (Y'think? Yes. You talking to yourself? Yes.) As far as I know, composition courses are usually taught by adjuncts or TAs in the English department, in many places are compulsory for students from all disciplines, not just literature or language majors, and involve lots of practice in writing academic-style texts. (Please correct any misapprehensions here.)
So I was recently talking to some fellow post-PhD wannabe academics, and we were commiserating about how even the scummiest low-level underpaid adjunct jobs are hard to come by. We need more badly paid teaching positions that are only semi in-our-fields and for which we are overqualified! Yeah! And since these guys are in English, they suggested that we could create sucky jobs for all of us if we could only persuade the university to bring in composition courses. They then talked to their HOD, and they seem interested, and it looks like the English department might be willing to try it in collaboration with linguistics (i.e. me).
My questions to you are the following:
- Is this a really bad idea?
- Do composition courses work? Do students improve their writing skills through direct instruction in composition more than they would just be writing regularly in their own disciplines over the three year undergraduate period?
- Assuming that there is no way in hell we would be able to make these courses compulsory, how could we avoid turning them into English-for-second-language-learners classes? (We have a large non-native English speaking population here, and for obvious reasons, composition courses are likely to appeal to them more than they would to the average student).
- The English department people are considering trying to attract public servants to these courses too (public servants taking one-off university classes are a lucrative and sought-after market in this city, as their departments happily pay full fees). Do you think it would be possible to create some sort of coherent writing course that would work for both academically-oriented undergraduates and professional public service writing? (Personally, I think it sounds really difficult, but perhaps not impossible, given creative course design).
- If you have taught composition, do you focus on academic writing as a genre, or more generally on constructing coherent, grammatical, well-phrased texts?
- Anything else we should be bearing in mind?