Margaret Weaver and Leslie Seawright
“One of the most contested and questioned courses offered in graduate-level English studies.
— Sidney Dobrin
Institutional history is both a blessing and a curse. It can facilitate the identification of potential minefields, but it can also prompt inertia and fear of change. Unfortunately, the latter is more common in higher education. This was true in our department. The pandemic, though, served as a catalyst for gaining institutional perspective on what Sidney I. Dobrin (2005) refers to as “one of the most contested and questioned courses offered in graduate-level English studies”—the composition practicum.
Dobrin emphasizes that his 2005 edited collection Don’t Call It That: The Composition Practicum examines scholarly questions surrounding the practicum, such as the infamous theory/practice debate, “rather than simply addressing ways in which to more effectively offer the practicum” (p. 3). We contend, however, that the ways we offer the practicum are intimately connected to issues of validation and legitimacy, and thus deserve attention. A practicum’s effectiveness is not simply measured by whether it trains graduate teaching assistants to teach composition; a practicum’s effectiveness can also be measured by faculty buy-in, participation, and positive reception.
In this webtext, we first establish what happened, concurrently with the pandemic, that forced us to step back and reevaluate the composition practicum at our institution. The next section details what we did—that is, how we reconsidered the space in which we offer the composition practicum. Finally, we share what it’s like now, reflecting on how a consideration of space/place improved faculty buy-in. It is our hope that this webtext can serve as a guide for other WPAs seeking to engage with their colleagues in enlivened pedagogical discussions. As we have discovered over the past year and a half, space/place (whether human-made or “natural”) precedes all other influences (Dobrin & Weisser, 2002b). The composition practicum must, therefore, be considered as no less than an ecosystem if it is to be sustainable within a department of English. Read Less