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Graduate Creative Writing

Overview: 

Creative Writing at the University of Arizona is a preeminent program in the field. In its last national survey in 1997, U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of Arizona ninth of nearly 200 creative writing programs (top 5%). Poets and Writers cited UA as one of nine “distinguished” programs in the United States (2004). In 2015 Poets & Writers (2015) ranked Arizona's MFA programs in nonfiction as #2 nationally. Aligned with the UA’s Five Year Strategic Plan, the program’s overall objective is to increase achievement in creative expression, and, in alliance with the Poetry Center, to expand community engagement, bringing access to creative work and practice to the public.

Expected Learning Outcomes: 

Outcome 1: Students will demonstrate ability to produce sustained literary work of professional quality in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or a hybrid form, demonstrating technical confidence, mature inquiry into literary form, and a well-developed individual voice and aesthetic.

Outcome 2: Students will show ability to analyze literature and articulate responses on craft with acuity and depth regarding form and language, literary and cultural contexts, predecessors, genres, and historical traditions.
 
Outcome 3: Students will be able to appraise and place their own work within literary and cultural contexts.
 
Outcome 4: Using experience in literary outreach, community service, or teaching, students will develop skills that may be used as a basis for careers in education, publishing, arts administration, and other humanities-focused fields and fields that benefit from the incorporation of the arts and humanities.
 

 

Assessment Activities: 

Indirect assessment (ID below) tool: beginning in 2016, the program instituted an exit survey taken by graduating MFA students (the form for this survey is attached). In addition to providing specific quantitative feedback on the four core expected learning outcomes above, we also asked students to report on the manageability of their workload and scheduling with the teaching that most of our students do, and asked them for feedback on some possible programmatic changes.

Direct assessment (D) tool: In 2017 the faculty decided to formally require an MFA thesis defense for all graduating students. The shape of that defense will be determined by the student and adviser, but at the defense the faculty adviser will evaluate the student's abilities with regard to our three main learning objectives (numbers 1-3 above) and fill out a form (attached) that corresponds with the exit survey. This will act as a direct assessment of how well we are meeting these learning outcomes, and will provide ongoing data to compare with the self-reporting done via the exit survey. 

The faculty has formed a Creative Writing assessment subcommittee to research how other graduate arts degree programs are doing assessment so as to get a better sense of what tools are appropriate to the field and to the sophistication and variety of the work our students do in the program and after graduation.

    Assessment Findings: 

    Summary of Indirect (ID) and Direct (D) assessment data 2016–. Full data in attached excel worksheets.

    Expected Learning Outcome 1:

    The MFA program has prepared [me/this student] to produce sustained literary work of professional quality in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or a hybrid form, demonstrating technical confidence, mature inquiry into literary form, and a well- developed individual voice and aesthetic. 

    2016 ID: 55% strongly agree; 45% somewhat agree
    2017 ID: 100% strongly agree
    2017 D: 85% strongly agree; 15% somewhat agree

    Expected Learning Outcome 2:

    The MFA program has enabled [me/this student] to analyze literature and articulate responses on craft with acuity and depth regarding form and language, literary and cultural contexts, predecessors, genres, and historical traditions.

    2016 ID: 9% strongly agree; 73% somewhat agree; 18% neither agree nor disagree
    2017 ID: 57% strongly agree; 43% somewhat agree
    2017 D: 71% strongly agree; 29% somewhat agree

    Expected Learning Outcome 3:

    The MFA program has enabled [me/this student] to appraise and place my own work within literary and cultural contexts.

    2016 ID: 18% strongly agree; 73% somewhat agree; 9% neither agree nor disagree
    2017 ID: 43% strongly agree; 57% somewhat agree
    2017 D: 71% strongly agree; 29% somewhat agree

    Expected Learning Outcome 4:

    The MFA program has helped [me/this student] to develop skills that may be used as a basis for careers in education, publishing, arts administration, and other humanities-focused fields and fields that benefit from the incorporation of the arts and humanities.

    2016 ID: 36% strongly agree; 45% somewhat agree; 9% neither agree nor disagree; 9% somewhat disagree
    2017 ID: 57% strongly agree; 43% somewhat agree
    2017 D: not evaluated

    We’ve experimented with other questions germane to program changes that do not directly apply to the Learning Objectives. See the attached relevant exit survey results for more information.

    Anecdotal data from our 2016 exit survey indicated that students overwhelmingly reported a sense of being overworked in the MFA program, which is, after all, a very intense 2-year program. Between the teaching load (which is high compared to peer and aspirant programs, a problem that we run into with recruiting each year), the courseload (3 courses per semester, higher than other graduate programs in English), and the many opportunities for extracurricular involvement in literary organizations, magazines, presses, and community outreach, students in 2016 reported that they do not have time to take advantage of the many opportunities that are here for them. Those anecdotal data have shifted a bit in 2017.

    Change in Response to Findings: 

    With indirect data from just two years, it’s clear that we will need to continue to collect data over the longer term before coming to any big conclusions, but that preliminary data suggest that the program is doing an excellent job with outcome 1 and a slightly less excellent job with the other three learning outcomes. Data on all four outcomes indicate that 2017 is an improvement over 2016.

    Direct assessment data from 2017 correlate roughly with the indirect data.

    It's worth noting that we are no longer sure that outcome 4 is an expected learning objective for all students in the MFA program. Some students come to an MFA program to focus squarely on their own work and do not have interests in the opportunities for professional development that contribute to outcome 4. Others come to develop editorial or arts administrative skills as they come to improve their own writing. And either way, as the survey suggests, it's clearly difficult for students to find the time between coursework and teaching to get involved in these programs.

    Because our exit survey findings regarding the students’ workload and how it affects students’ ability to take advantage of the many opportunities available to them in the program was so stark, and because it reflected our own internal sense of the intensity of the program and how it related to difficulty, in Fall 2016 the MFA program proposed a change to a 3-year, lower-intensity (but still fully funded) MFA program. This was approved in December 2016, and students entering the MFA program in Fall 2017 will be part of a 3-year, lower-intensity, and more-flexible program.

    We will continue to collect both indirect and direct data in the years to come as we transition to the new 3-year program (which will take 2 years to really come into full effect). 

    Updated date: Fri, 09/15/2017 - 16:54