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About John Webster
John Webster has taught at the University of Washington since 1972, arriving with a BA from UCLA and an MA and PhD from UC Berkeley. He has specialized in Early Modern literature, literary theory, rhetoric and composition, and pedagogical practice, and has published articles on Sidney, Spenser, Renaissance rhetoric and poetics, and the teaching of Renaissance poetry. Professor Webster has won both the English Department's Award for Distinguished Teaching (2000) and the University's Distinguished Teaching Award (2009).
Professor Webster was Secretary-Treasurer of the International Spenser Society from 1990-2000. His edition and translation of William Temple’s neo-Latin Analysis of Sidney’s Apology for Poetry appeared in 1984.
From 1986 to 1994 Webster was Director of Expository Writing for the University, overseeing the training and performance of teaching assistants for the English Department’s first-year writing programs (annual enrollments of approximately 6000). He has since worked in a variety of English Department and University mentoring programs for teachers of writing and teachers of literature. In 2000-2001 he taught the English Methods course for the University of Washington School of Education’s Teacher Education Program, and from 2000 to 2005 he was Co-Director of the Puget Sound Writing Project, a professional development program for K-12 teachers in Western Washington State.
In 1998 Webster's work with the emerging genre of Teaching Portfolios led to his being selected by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to participate in the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. He also has served on the Modern Language Association’s Executive Committee for the Division of Teaching as a Profession (1999-2004). From 1981-2008 he led the University of Washington’s biennial London Theatre and Concert Tour. He continues to teach London Theatre courses for the Department of English's Literary London Study Abroad program.
In November of 2003 Webster was appointed the inaugural Director of Writing for the College of Arts and Sciences, and in that position has now been working with faculty, administration and students to make writing a central part of every student's experience at the University of Washington, in all disciplines and throughout all four years of each student's college career. He has presided as well over the founding and development of the Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC). First begun in 2004, the OWRC has grown from a site serving a few hundred students over a school year to a site serving well over 12,000 students annually. OWRC has also become a major means of supporting international students; it offers over 4000 tutoring sessions a year to Multi-language speakers (MLS) and has developed quarter-long MLS supporting writing-based tutorial groups.
In 2004 Webster also established the English 108 program: a bridge course for incoming undergraduates who feel less than fully prepared for College level writing. Titled “Writing Ready: Getting a Start on College Writing,” English 108 has provided significant levels of support for all incoming students, and particularly for international students. Conceived not as a remedial writing course but as an intensive immersion into an academic reading, writing, speaking and listening environment, English 108's assignments engage students in the study of cognitive science as it applies to writing and problem-solving. (For a more complete description click here). Webster still directs the training of teachers for this course and coordinates the curriculum.
Publications from the past few years include a lengthy biographical article on John Seton, the Cambridge University logician (c.1509-1567) in The Dictionary of Literary Biography (2003), “Whose Poem Is This Anyway? Teaching Spenser Through the Stanza Workshop,” in Pedagogy (Spring, 2003), “My Troubles with Perry: Developmental Scheme or Humanities Curriculum?” in the Proceedings of the International Conference on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: 2001 and 2002 (2003), and reviews of Salvatori and Donohue's The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty (2005) in Pedagogy (Winter, 2005) and of Bernstein, Burnett, Goodman and Savory, Making Teaching Visible: Course Portfolios and the Peer Review of Teaching, in Pedagogy (Winter, 2009). “Going International: Getting Ready to Write Through English 108” appeared in Writing Matters, Spring, 2012, and “On the Challenges of Working with the Writing of English Language Learners,” appeared in the National Teaching and Learning Forum, 22 (2013).
From 2013 to the present Webster's principal efforts have been in practical course design. He has developed two new, and now highly popular, courses. The first to be designed was English 270: The English Sentence Past and Present. The primary goal of this course was to attract a student population that was approximately 1/2 native speakers of English and 1/2 students who are mainly but not ony international students. The motive for this mix is an understanding that while the UW has been successful in attracting large numbers of international students, these same students, in spite of bringing strong English skills with them from their home countries, can still struggle in their first year or two to work comfortably with English in university level classes. At the same time, our domestic population has generally not had experience working with or even socializing with speakers of other languages. Thus the two populations do not always learn to talk with each other, leading to isolation on the part of the international students and to a loss for domestic students of a huge educational opportunity to make friends and coworkers with our amazingly gifted and hard working international students. As a bonus, the largest number of students in this class are STEM students seeking distribution credits in the English Department. They tend to be looking to strengthen their writing skills, just as many international students, too, sign up for the class to strengthen their writing skills. Working together, students write papers for almost every class, building a portfolio across the term of as many as 10,000 words.
The second course, English 244: Reading Drama, to be offered for the second time this coming spring, brings the same goal of Teaching Across Language for the students it draws. The first version of this course was perhaps the most successful class Webster has ever taught. Much of that was the good luck of a hugely interesting blend of students, and the second iteration this year will give some sense of whether the course design/description will again bring a class filled with students as dynamic and engaged as was last year's amazing group.
The English 270 project has been documented in two presentations to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Conference that takes place on the UW Campus every Spring (2017 and 2018).
Most recently, Webster delivered guest lectures on Shakespeare at the University of Ljubljana, in Slovenia (November, 2019).