Online Directed Self-Placement at Daniel Webster College, Nashua, New Hampshire


Daniel Webster College has placed its students using DSP since 1999.  The on-campus, in-person version of DSP took four hours, but when it was over, students had all placed themselves.  Incoming first-year students met in groups of twenty to thirty with the WPA in August during New Student Orientation; at that meeting, students completed a self-graded grammar diagnostic; students were provided the opportunity to discuss the writing courses with both student orientation leaders and the WPA.  Last year the director of the Office of Academic Resources realized that she could use extra time during orientation for social activities.  As a result DSP went online in 2006, using Blackboard as the platform.  

Currently, students are sent a letter by the Writing Program regarding the steps they need to take and giving them a July 1 deadline to choose between a non-required basic writing course and the standard first-semester required writing course.  The process includes a grammar diagnostic and a Macromedia presentation that introduces the writing program director, whose voice guides the students through a series of choices and explanations    There are sample student papers (A and B grades) from EN 101 for students to peruse before making their choice.


 Discussion Board, a feature of Blackboard, gives students the opportunity to ask questions.  This year only 50% of the students had placed themselves by the July 1 deadline.  The writing program directors will be exploring solutions to this problem.  In part, it was a problem because it was so time-consuming for the director during a non-contract time (summer).  She had to constantly tally the non-responsive students and contact them.  This year, part of the solution will involve hiring a work study student, probably an experienced writing center tutor, to keep on their case. 


More time for DSP was given during late orientation.  Students are given an in-class writing exercise during the first two weeks of class and, when appropriate, encouraged to consult with the WPA about their placement.  It's the final "safety net."  Students are advised by their instructor and the WPA if they are perceived as having made an incorrect self-placement.  However, students can ultimately decide to remain in the course of their choice.  It occurs within the first 3 class meetings. 

An interesting side effect of online DSP is that it has improved the clientele that visits WC.  Alexandria Peary, the Writing Program Director, suspects that the online communication of DSP familiarizes incoming students to the Writing Program (and thus its Writing Center).  Students perceive the WPA as approachable because of their online/email initial interaction, if it is worded in a "friendly" way.  A group meeting of first-year students and the WPA does not afford that semblance of "intimacy."  So, because these students have an initial contact with the WPA/Writing Program that is highly personal, they feel more comfortable utilizing the Writing Center early on and regularly.  This is what I suspect.  The Writing Program and Writing Center become associated with a particular person, and they go the Writing Center because it is akin to interacting with a person.


Resources for Exploring Online DSP at Daniel Webster College

Letter to new students about online DSP

Script from online Macromedia presentation for online DSP

Online grammar diagnostic

SAT and course performance statistics for student self-placements