Quality Initiative to Improve Student Writing

Why this Initiative?

In Fall 2013 NMSU launched a four-year Quality Initiative (QI) project to improve undergraduate student writing in the disciplines. We focused on writing for several reasons:

  • Effective Communication is one of NMSU's identified student learning outcomes, and is identified in our Vision for the Baccalaureate Experience.
  • Research indicates that the ability to communicate effectively and think critically (through writing) are fundamental to the learning process.
  • As an institution, we want to graduate students who think critically, communicate well, and are prepared to be successful in their chosen professions and/or in pursing graduate education.
  • Current research indicates that external stakeholders, particularly employers, identify written and oral communication as critical skills necessary for success in professional settings.
  • Results from a 2004 survey of 120 major American corporations that employ nearly 8 million people overwhelmingly indicate that writing is a “threshold skill” for hiring and promotion among salaried employees (United States: The National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges. Writing: A Ticket to Work… Or A Ticket Out, A Survey of Business Leaders.College Board, 2004).
NMSU Provost Dan Howard states that the QI was, "designed to help students learn, to help students communicate effectively, and to produce students who have essential skills valued by employers, graduate schools and professional schools."

Research shows that the only way to become a better writer is to write. Research is also clear that writing aids critical thinking, is a unique mode for learning, and helps student to engage with and process new subject matter. A major focus of the QI was to ensure NMSU students have ample and varied opportunities to write. Toward that end, a significant portion of our QI involved Writing-to-Learn (W2L) practices, as well as Writing in the Disciplines (WID) and Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC),

Writing as a Process

A statement posted on the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research website reads, “To learn we must place new knowledge into a cognitive framework. Writing provides the process needed to relate new knowledge to prior experience (synthesis). It also provides a means by which knowledge is symbolically transformed via language into icons. Finally, the written material, the product of this process, is concrete and visible and permits review, manipulation, and modification of knowledge as it is “learned” and put into a framework.”

When experts write, they go through a recursive process. Over time, this becomes inherent. As educators we often forget that for our students, this is not an automatic, and certainly not an inherent process. In the following three short videos, NMSU faculty from multiple disciplines describe their own writing experiences, including writing to learn, revising, and targeting specific audiences.

Write to Learn

Faculty Revise

Consider Audiences

What We Did

  • We collected data from over 15 sources to answer questions such as:
    • How well do students write?
    • How do we communicate about writing with students?
    • What are faculty and staff perceptions about writing?
  • We provided Faculty Development through mini-grant awards to faculty who incorporated informal writing as a tool to enhance student engagement with and understanding about course content. In the following short videos Writing-to-Learn participants share what they learned and how they applied these concepts in their courses.
  • We conducted institutional research to inform the initiative, and we published scholarly articles. 

Writing to Learn Cohort (2014) Panel

What We Learned

  • Faculty who believe that writing helps their students learn are more likely to require students in their courses to write
  • When students are required to write in their discipline, they believe that writing is important.
  • When students are not required to write in their discipline, they do not believe writing is important in their discipline.

Additional Findings >

Our research has been published in peer-reviewed journals:

 Predicting Faculty Intentions         What Influences Faculty to Assign Writing

Institutional Perspectives: Improving Students' Writing @ NMSU