Every university on the Higher Learning Commission’s Open Pathway must plan and implement a Quality Initiative. NMSU’s Quality Initiative is “Expert Insider Prose: Developing Students’ Disciplinary Expertise in Writing” or more simply “Writing Within the Discipline”, a comprehensive effort to improve student writing. One focus of the initiative, which has been underway for several years, has been to gather data about student writing at NMSU. Among the questions we are trying to answer are: how well do students write, how do we communicate about writing with students, and what are faculty and student perceptions about writing?
Research from many institutions shows that the only way to become a better writer is to write, and that the writing process helps students understand information and think critically about subject matter. Data gathering at NMSU has demonstrated that faculty who believe that writing helps their students learn are more likely to require students in their courses to write, and that when students are required to write in courses in their discipline, they believe writing is important in the discipline. The converse holds true as well: when students are not required to write in their discipline, they do not believe writing is important in their discipline.
We have also learned that many NMSU faculty members do not believe that they have the time or expertise to require writing from their students, and that they are often unaware of simple strategies that allow for impactful writing, even in large courses.
In addition to gathering data, colleges and departments at NMSU have embarked on efforts to improve writing. The university has supported these efforts by offering workshops and open forums, and by awarding mini-grants to three faculty cohorts (18 individuals in total, representing departments from all colleges) that are studying and implementing “writing to learn” strategies in courses they teach.
The good news from the Writing-to-Learn mini-grant project is that faculty members from all disciplines, when given information and support, are able to successfully implement writing requirements in their courses and that this writing enhances learning in their courses.
As NMSU moves forward with its Quality Initiative and works toward the goal that all students will have multiple and varied writing opportunities during their university experience, it is important that the university help faculty members better understand how to implement meaningful writing requirements into courses. One element of this effort is the integration of elements from the more recently developed Writing-to-Learn (W2L) program into the long-standing Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program, which will be offered May 15-19 and will be led by Marieka Brown, Kefaya Diab and Kelly Whitney. Applications for the program will be available beginning next week, and will be announced through the Teaching Academy list serve, NMSU Hotline, and on the Faculty Talk list serve. I hope many of you will participate.
With all best wishes,