CSU Launches Initiative to Improve Student Writing

Three Columbus State University forums last fall drew 175 faculty, staff and students who identified writing as a critical ability and area of improvement for CSU students.

Also, more than 1,000 campus respondents to an online survey identified writing effectively in a variety of forms and contexts as the greatest need for improvement in student learning.

These conclusions have initiated a five-year, $1.8 million project at CSU titled Writing the Solution: Steps Toward Developing Competent and Professional Student Writers. The initiative targets CSU students and faculty and represents the universitys Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP, a recently added accreditation requirement by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

CSU Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Gina Sheeks, who chaired the committee that developed the framework for this initiative, said such focus on student learning will translate to CSU graduates strengthening the skill level of the professional workforce locally and beyond. We know from nationwide studies that employers commonly identify written communication as a frequently-lacking skill among young professionals.

The value of college graduates with strong writing skills extends to professional fields including technology, healthcare, teaching, law enforcement and management, added Sheeks, also a communication professor.

The CSU plan, projected to impact 4,000 students, features two components: competent writing that targets grammar and critical analysis in lower-level writers, and professional writing that guides upper-level writers in conforming to professional writing standards of a given field.

With the plan recently endorsed by accreditors, CSU next will establish the Office of Quality Enhancement Programs to facilitate project. The office will be staffed with a Ph.D.-holding director, a program specialist and administrative assistant. The staff will guide participating faculty whose incentives will include stipends, formal recognitions, and annual review and promotion considerations. Faculty writing fellows will be appointed to guide other faculty as well.

Brian Schwartz, associate professor of biology and vice chair of the QEP committee, said providing faculty with the tools to help the students is significant to the plan. We will learn how to make more effective writing assignments and provide better feedback to students. Also, the program will provide faculty with incentives to implement changes in their classrooms.

Primary QEP collaborating entities will be the CSU Writing Center, CSU Libraries and the Center for Quality Teaching and Learning.

In addition to Sheeks and Schwartz, CSUs QEP committee has included CSU accreditation director Joyce Hickson; Cindy Henning, assistant professor of mathematics; Beth Holmes, director of the Center for Quality Teaching and Learning; Bill Hortman, associate professor of educational leadership; Terry Irvin, department chair of basic studies; Arlene Johnson, associate professor of political science; Callie McGinnis, dean of CSU Libraries; Tom Loughman, professor of business administration, Jim Owen, associate professor of English and Jamie Williams, Student Government Association president.

It was truly a collaborative effort. We couldnt have successfully developed this plan without each person on the committee, said Hickson who prepared to help lead the project through training administered by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools over two years including a QEP Institute in Orlando and various other workshops and conferences.

Hickson also recruited a pair of lead evaluators experts from outside institutions to evaluate the CSU plan. Professors Lynne Rhodes (writing) from the University of South Carolina at Aiken and Alison Morrison-Shetlar (faculty development) from Central Florida University both have reviewed and endorsed the plan on behalf of CSUs accrediting body, which will next assess CSUs QEP in 2011.

For more information on CSUs QEP, visit http://sacs.colstate.edu/plan.htm.