A select group Mississippi State faculty members are taking students down the same path they've travelled to accomplish "Maroon & Write," the university's writing-to-learn quality enhancement plan.
Also known as the QEP, the enhanced educational program is designed to create a new writing-centered culture across campus for undergraduate majors in all academic majors. Writing-to-learn coursework includes responsive journals, directed freewriting and assigned essays, whether the class is a traditional composition class or not.
Nine faculty members participated this summer in the Maroon Institute for Writing Excellence, MSU's training opportunity for teachers interested in learning how to use writing-to-learn strategies to reinforce class content. The teaching style works to strengthen writing and critical thinking skills, according to English department head Rich Raymond, the institute facilitator.
At a recent campus Center for Teaching and Learning luncheon attended by faculty and administrators from more than 25 campus units, Raymond explained how institute participants responded as both doubters and believers when introduced to writing-to-learn classroom techniques.
"One of the keys to dealing with writing-to-learn theory was giving ourselves permission to talk about not just what we believed, but what we were doubting," he said. "You don't need to be an English teacher to teach this way, but you do need to be a writer and you need to experience what it feels like to actually use and learn strategies in the classroom as a student."
Also at the luncheon, two institute participants--one incorporating writing-to-learn initiatives this semester and the other scheduled to test them in the spring--shared their classroom experiences.
In his Internet marketing course, Robert Moore, professor of marketing, quantitative analysis and business law, is piloting the same techniques he plans to use next semester. His approach is to give the students freedom through writing, he explained.
This semester, Moore requires students to respond to online prompts he sends each week. When introducing the concept, he said the students asked how much they would need to write.
When Moore asked if they'd be willing to commit to a paragraph, he said the students seemed unsure. He then asked if they would write one sentence. They agreed.
"I haven't had a single student that wrote one sentence to any of the journal prompts yet," he said. "But I let them have the freedom to write how much they want to write or not write. They get ownership of what they're going to learn, but they are writing to learn."
Similarly, English instructor LaToya Bogard is using writing-to-learn techniques in an introduction to literature course. Her students have been responsive thus far, she said.
"I was a little bit skeptical about selling this to my students," she admitted. "They have a short period where they can add or drop the class, and I thought when they saw they would do a lot of writing, they would drop, but no one did and that speaks volumes.
"I believe that they see this as a benefit," Bogard continued.
Bogard said she constantly reminds the students that assigned writing projects are not busy work or punishments. By writing more and improving their skills, students in her class are improving their employment prospects and their future career opportunities, she said.
Bogard is one of three MSU faculty members now incorporating writing-to-learn strategies in fall semester classes. The others include English associate professor Matthew Little in an American literature survey and forestry professor Stephen Grado in a forest resources survey.
Moore and four others Maroon Institute participants will be launching writing-to-learn classes when spring classes begin in January 2014.
Michael Brown, music department head, plans to apply the strategy in history and appreciation of music, while Jamie Larson, animal and dairy science assistant professor, will use them in a practice in physiology of reproduction course. Senior extension associate Rick Noffsinger, a part-time human sciences instructor, will use the technique in introduction to technical writing in agricultural communication; Donald Shaffer, English and African-American studies assistant professor, in introduction to African-American studies.
Major campus units represented at the luncheon included the College of Architecture, Art and Design, Enterprise Information Systems, Forestry and Wildlife Research Center, Mitchell Memorial Library, and offices of the Graduate School, Institutional Research and Effectiveness, and Provost and Executive Vice President.
In addition to those already cited, other academic departments in attendance included counseling and educational psychology, finance and economics, geosciences, history, instructional systems and workforce development department, kinesiology, landscape architecture, management and information systems, marketing, plant and soil sciences, political science and administration, psychology, social work, and sociology.
"Writing across the curriculum really gives us the opportunity to reinforce course content through writing," said library professor Deborah Lee, another summer institute graduate.
For more about MSU's QEP, visit at http://facebook.com/QEPMSU or follow the plan on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MSUQEP or @MSUQEP.