English Department

English Department Learning Goals

Departmental Mission and Goals for Student Learning:

  1. To assist students in improving their critical and creative writing, and to help them express ideas coherently, with clarity, precision, forcefulness, and grace;
  2. To enrich the cultural background of students through the study of significant works of literature and the programming of extracurricular literary events;
  3. To provide for those students who choose to major or minor in English a rich, intensive program of study of literature and film through textual analysis and an understanding of historical periods, cultural movements, and critical and theoretical approaches, while emphasizing Literary Studies, Film Studies, or Creative Writing.

Program Assessment:

In assessing the outcomes of the English major, the Department uses the senior thesis as the major object of direct measurement, given that the thesis best demonstrates the progress our students have toward our goals for them. A statement of the thesis goals is below. It should be noted that though this plan names the Department chair as responsible for some items, the chair and the Department are welcome to delegate such duties to individual members.

The measures that we employ are the following:

Senior Thesis evaluation

Each thesis is reviewed by two faculty members, and each senior defends the thesis before a panel of three faculty members. In addition, the thesis instructor and the second readers make recommends for the Kenneth Story Best Thesis Award; we all review these theses, and make a collective decision. This process ensures that we have all read several theses, that some of us have read some in common, and that all of us have read some in common. The Department uses this information to assess the thesis seminar itself, but more importantly the major program. Essays from ENGL 297 are saved for “before/after” comparison of specific desired competencies, such as close textual reading and ability to engage secondary sources substantively.

Senior written program feedback

Each year, in the thesis seminar, the seniors provide written feedback on the program. The form should ask them several questions about the program; it should also ask for them to reflect on their own intellectual growth. These documents are scanned, distributed to Department members electronically, reviewed, and discussed at the following departmental retreat.

Biennial review of ENGL 280, & 300- and 400-level courses

Every other year, the Department (or subset thereof) collects and reviews  course descriptions, syllabi, assignments, and—where applicable—grading rubrics to ensure that individual course designs contribute to the desired learning outcomes for the major. This review also enables us with a formal way of sharing “best practices” within the department.

Annual majors/minors meeting

Prior to spring registration, Department members meet with non-senior majors and minors (and potential majors/minor) to disseminate information and solicit student questions, comments, and concerns.

NSSE data

Every retreat, the Department reviews data from the National Survey of Student Engagement to help assess campus-wide commitment to writing as well as campus-wide engagement in extracurricular literary activities.


The chair collects and records from the Department such information as student conference presentation/attendance; internships; and English major event participation. This information is not a direct measure of student outcome, but contributes to our ability to spy any trends or correlations between these activities and learning outcomes. The chair also collects and records all departmentally-sponsored extracurricular events.

Postgraduate evidence

The Department chair will collect and record from the Department and other sources (career services; alumni affairs) any information on postgraduate accomplishments of our majors.

Senior Thesis Objectives for the Literary and Film Studies Emphases (encapsulates goals for student learning in the major)

  1. The thesis essay will present an original, compelling argument. It must at once explicate the issue and appreciate its complexity. The thesis must also make a case for its own significance: Why does this matter? An audience unfamiliar with the text or the approach should still be able to follow the argument.
  2. The thesis will engage secondary and critical sources in substantive ways. Instead of dropping occasional supporting quotations, it should make those sources an integral part of the line of argumentation and inquiry. The sources should be discussed.
  3. The thesis will demonstrate command of its own methodology (including its limitations).
  4. The thesis will show familiarity with the other pertinent and important scholarship.
  5. The thesis will place its subject in a larger aesthetic, cultural, and/or historical context.
  6. The thesis will be well-organized, solidly and compellingly argued, and gracefully written, free of grammatical errors and stylistic gaffes.
  7. The thesis will demonstrate mastery the MLA style in terms of format, documentation, citation, and other matters.

Senior Thesis Objectives for the Creative Writing Emphasis (encapsulates goals for student learning in the major)

  1. The senior thesis will consist of a brief aesthetic statement and an extended creative manuscript of a single literary genre (poetry, fiction, or nonfiction).
  2. The aesthetic statement will place the creative manuscript in a larger aesthetic context, including literary influences and issues of form, craft, and genre. It will engage secondary sources in substantive ways, discussing the secondary sources listed in its bibliography.
  3. The thesis will be in Standard Manuscript Format, gracefully written, and free of grammatical errors and stylistic gaffes (unless errors are intended to produce specific effects).
  4. The creative manuscript will demonstrate engagement with the contextual and formal issues put forth in the aesthetic statement.
  5. The aesthetic statement will demonstrate mastery of MLA style in terms of format, documentation, citation, and other matters.